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Art Photobook Reviews

Liwa Mairin by Valérian Mazataud

Updated: May 10, 2022

ln the ever swelling ocean of photo books that continues to deliver us a new catch on an almost daily basis, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain an awareness of each and every title as they sweep by, carried by powerful and seemingly ceaseless tides that stop for no man.

Very often many of these books end up being dashed upon metaphorical rocks of disinterest, or left to lay flapping on the shores of hopeful acknowledgment like a new species of marine life, gasping for air.

If they are lucky a handful will be picked up, taken home and cherished.

To be examined, talked about and desired.

A prized catch and treasured rarity.

The others, however, are more than likely to be swept up by those same tides and dragged back to the cold and uncompromising dark depths of obscurity.

As a collector, I more often than not find myself picking through those crowded shorelines with many other optimists in the hope of finding another hidden diamond. The delight being that very often we will be on completely different quests for totally different treasure.

Occasionally when the seas are less choppy and the tides less vigorous I will still venture out into the water itself and try to catch the gems as they swim past and before they reach the shore.

However, those times are - like the objects of the hunt itself - becoming somewhat rarer.

Rarer still are those times when the prey jumps willingly into your arms, wildly flapping and insisting that you pay it some attention.

Valerian Mazataud is a marine biologist turned photographer, his self published book Liwa Mairin is a breath taking blend of rich imagery, graceful visual poetic narration and fascinating documentary. The book's title refers to an ancient myth which tells of an elemental sea spirit, a mermaid - Liwa Mairin - which guards the sea and punishes those who plunder and abuse its bounty.

Between 2015 and 2016 Mazataud spent time in the tropical Honduran rainforest of Moskitia, following its inhabitants as they fished the waters of the area for its rare treasure.

Using dangerous, antiquated and unreliable home made equipment, these largely untrained divers spend up to seven hours a day in the deep waters hunting for, amongst other things lobster and the rare and curious delicacy known as a sea cucumber.

Of course, the risks are all for us, prizes such as these, which are so greatly desired are not destined for the local community, these valuable commodities are all bound for global export.

Such is the skill of the edit that Liwa Mairin’s narrative flows as effortlessly as the waters in which the fishermen themselves dive.

It is also a sad inevitability that due to the dangers involved, many of the men are injured or even paralysed as a result of their efforts. The - unavoidably - crude breathing apparatus and lack of readily available decompression equipment alone, accounting for many deaths and injuries. Such is the power of folklore and legend that many see these terrible accidents as punishments and retribution from Liwa Mairin herself.

Moving through the book, the darker side of life in Moskitia is obviously hinted at, but so too is a daily life and routine which appears undeniably enviable.

A natural balance is on display within the edit.

Children play in a river and girls are dressed for celebrations and festivals.

Sunshine bathes every frame and a paradise is sketched out before us, but then skillfully woven through this utopian scenario is the darker reality of daily life in Moskitia.

Images of men in decompression chambers, and on basic skeletal physiotherapy devices. Then the more subtle reminders of the daily challenges.

An image of a man bending, an elegant abstract curve of a back, but our eye drawn to the knife tucked into his waistband.

More glimpses of welcome mundanity.

A fisherman walks along the beach.

A woman gathering damaged and discarded fishing rope.

Both pictures possess a certain duality.

At once understated documentary but also poised and lit in such a way that they could also grace the pages of a glossy fashion catalogue.

In some respects it might become almost easy to forget about the central subject and the hardships endured, such is the quality and vibrancy of Mazataud's photography, however the reminders are always there, never preaching, never melodramatic or craving sympathy. A series of subtle yet powerful punctuation points.

Whether the men and women of this Honduran idyll will see their lives made easier through any attention gained from Mazataud's efforts is unsure, but one thing is for sure, without people like him, important stories like this will continue to go untold and the people forgotten and unsupported.

Then for sure, nothing much changes.

Thank you for throwing yourself on my “boat” Valerian, I wish only the best for your friends.

Liwa Mairin is self published and can be purchased here


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