I'll Die For You

Project Summary – I’ll Die For You is a visual meditation on the bond between man and nature. Choosing small farmers as my focus, I explore farming as a diminishing way of life — a consequence of persistent climatic variations, harsh physical & economic demands, its singular nature & a disposition towards urban living.

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“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it, we can have no life.”

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture.

On June 11, 2010, 35-year-old cotton farmer Sanjay Sarate stumbled home and fell to the ground. "I’ve taken pesticide … I’m going to die.”

Over the past 21 years, nearly 300,000 farmers have committed suicide in India. Many borrowed money through government lending schemes or private lenders to plant more efficient crops, but could not pay off their debts due to crop failure. Because of the fast transition India has undergone — from a rural to an industrial, urban economy with an open market, farmers have been confronted by immense social & economic problems. The majority of farmers ended their lives consuming pesticide — others set themselves on fire, hung themselves or threw themselves down a well.

On two separate travels, I met 70 families who experienced the suicide of a father, brother, husband or son.

My paternal grandfather — Hussein, is my inspiration for this series. A farmer in Egypt’s Nile Delta, his devotion to his land eventually annihilated him.

I have since documented farmers in Egypt, Nepal, Ireland, Peru, the Palestinian Territories and soon, the United States in an effort to show the collective vulnerability of living and dying as a farmer today.

With underlined themes around identity, belonging, survival, love & ultimately beginnings & endings, “I’ll Die For You” meditates on a way of life where the fate of man & land is intertwined as one. This is metaphorically implied in juxtaposing close ups of farmers’ skin against details from the landscape & by superimposing man & land in one frame.

As Sanjay Sarate lay on his bed, he hugged his six-year-old son, Sameer. “This is the end of my life,” he muttered. My work is an opportunity to attach a human face to an environmental & social reality some rebuff as abstract. It is also an ode to my grandfather & the many farmers I have been fortunate to meet & those who in death found a retreat.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Chandrabhan Zitheu Chaturkar, 70, hung himself in his house on May 2, 2010. He owed 16,000 Indian rupees (US$217).
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Chandrabhan Zitheu Chaturkar, 70, hung himself in his house on May 2, 2010. He owed 16,000 Indian rupees (US$217).

© Laura El-Tantawy - Trees in reflection.
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Trees in reflection.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Farmer's skin.
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Farmer's skin.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Image from the I'll Die For You photography project
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Ranjana Manoj Chaudhury, 31, became a widow in 2004. Her husband, Manoj Prahladroa Chaudhury, 38, consumed pesticide and died on the very farm he was trying to cultivate on December 24, 2004. “He kept saying I won’t be here for long as I am under a lot of tension, but he never specified anything.” Two or three years before he took his life, Manoj had taken out two loans to put money into the family’s six-acre land. The loans, from both private lenders and banks, amounted to 130,000 Indian Rupees (US$1,765).

© Laura El-Tantawy - Image from the I'll Die For You photography project
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Fayek Mohamed Mahmoud Anabousey, 77, lost access to his West Bank land over a period of several months when Israeli military used it as a training grounds without his consent.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Image from the I'll Die For You photography project
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Krunal Motiram Wasake, 28, threw himself down a well outside his family's house on December 30, 2009. He owed 8,000 Indian rupees (US$109).

© Laura El-Tantawy - Image from the I'll Die For You photography project
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Fayek Mohamed Mahmoud Anabousey, 77, says his soil has suffered irreparable damage from extensive Israeli military and tank presence using his land as grounds for conducting their training.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Farmer's hand.
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Farmer's hand.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Image from the I'll Die For You photography project
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Archana Sanjay Sarate is now raising her children alone. In mid 2010, her husband consumed pesticide. On June 11, 2010, Sanjay Avbhutrao Sarate, 35, stumbled on the family's doorstep and said: "I have taken pesticide. I am going to die. This is the end of my life.” As he took in his last breath, Sanjay lay on a bed and hugged his six-year-old son, Sameer. The family now owes 130,000 Indian rupees (US$1,765).

© Laura El-Tantawy - The River Nile glistening in the sun.
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The River Nile glistening in the sun.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Image from the I'll Die For You photography project
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Prabha Narayan Atram went to sleep on March 24, 2011 exhausted after a long day's work in the field. Next to her slept her husband, 45-year-old Narayan. But little did she know that he would wake up in the middle of the night and throw himself down a well. On March 25, 2011 Prabha woke up to find her life had changed forever. The family owes 25,000 Indian rupees (US$340).

© Laura El-Tantawy - Image from the I'll Die For You photography project
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Ali Figuero, 18, works in a wheat field in the Sacred Valley near Cusco, in the Peruvian Andes. Over the past 10 years, farmers in this part of the country have experienced unpredictable weather patterns, with temperatures rising above average and seasonal patterns rapidly shifting, making crop growth uncertain. In spite of their frustration with these uncontrollable changes, farmers in the Sacred Valley maintain their indigenous belief in Pachamama — Mother Earth. In Inca mythology, Pachamama is a fertility goddess presiding over planting and harvesting with creative power to sustain life on earth.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Farmer's neck.
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Farmer's neck.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Image from the I'll Die For You photography project
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"He was so handsome," said Baby Devraoji Satone, 52, of her son Kiran, 28, who committed suicide on January 18, 2007 due to debt. "I am angry and I feel very upset because he took care of all of us in the house," she added. The family owns a 1.5-acre piece of land where they farm cotton and soya beans, but persistent crop failure due to drought meant there was no money to repay an 80,000 loan (US$1,086) borrowed by Kiran, who was not yet married.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Tree bark.
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Tree bark.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Image from the I'll Die For You photography project
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Thirty-four-year-old Praveen Shaligramji Bhumbhar set himself on fire when no one was at home. He died in hospital. Bhumbhar owed 80,000 Indian Rupees (US$1,086). He was married with three children.

© Laura El-Tantawy - The River Nile.
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The River Nile.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Image from the I'll Die For You photography project
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Farmer Mustafa Foqha, 64. Palestinian farmers who lost their land to the Israeli Occupation feel an overwhelming loss of identity.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Fire.
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Fire.

© Laura El-Tantawy - Farmer's hair.
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Farmer's hair.