Landrush – Dry West

I have been documenting the historic drought in California and it’s effect on agriculture in the Central Valley earlier this year and last year over a two month period. I traveled from the Sierra Nevada mountains and drying reservoirs  all over the Central Valley to film and photograph farmers who pushed out plantations and fallowed fields, the highly industrialized almond and walnut harvest and families whose wells went dry over a year ago.


Dry West is one chapter of my larger documentary project LandRush I am working on with my partner Frauke Huber since 2011. LandRush an artistic exploration of the impact of large-scale agro-investments on rural economies and land rights, the boom of renewable fuels, the reallocation of land, and the future of agriculture around the world. It asks what does „modern“ agriculture mean.


Like in the other LandRush chapters from Ethiopia, Brazil and Iowa we experiment with different forms of storytelling and publication forms. While the other chapters where first published in an interactive iPad-App designed and programed for World of Matter exhibitions all over the world I chose to publish Dry West in a cascade of magazine stories in Germany.


Dry West was first published as a print and iPad story in the monthly magazine Cicero in August. The iPad story included 4 additional short films and video interviews. This one publication paid for about half the cost of the two reporting trips.

One month after the first publication Dry West was published a second time by Germanys largest newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in the Science section as well as a multimedia scrollytelling story online:


Süddeutsche Zeitung: Bis zum letzten Tropfen


While collaborating with a writer in the two other publications, in the case of Süddeutsche Zeitung I also wrote the reportage text. Although writing a story for a daily newspaper isn’t financially viable – it just takes me as a photographer who doesn’t write daily too much time to come up with a solid text, even if like in case of Sueedeutsche Zeitung the fee was relatively fair – it presented a great opportunity to expand my toolset and visibility within the small science journalism community. Photos, text and online combined paid about a third of the total costs of the story.


Last week Dry West was published in the magazine Leica Photography International (LFI) in English and German as well as a short online trailer and an interview on the Leica Blog. LFI are long term supporters of the LandRush project. Besides the beautiful publications the great team there supports us with Leica M cameras and lenses. Not having to care about buying costly equipment and working with some of the best lenses available is a great relieve for a completely independent long term project like LandRush. You can order the magazine here:


LFI – Leica Fotografie International


Also available for the Ipad and Android

For me Dry West is one example how it is possible for independent journalists to work on their own long-form stories in an ever more challenging media landscape with deteriorating budgets for quality journalism. To finance two transatlantic multi-week reporting trips I had to build a bridge of different publications that each contribute a part to the story. For this it is fundamental to always keep my rights, license only onetime non- exclusive use, and never sign author contracts that reduce the chance for future sales.


Including a small production grant Dry West made a profit of about 4000 € to date. Not a lot considering I spend four month on the story: three weeks research, two month on location, over a month editing and writing.


But now we have the material for the next LandRush chapter that will be shown in exhibitions in Denmark, Switzerland, Brazil and Sweden within the next year and builds towards a larger online publication for BFC. And this were only publications in Germany. If we are able to sell it to other international markets, it might start to become a viable model.


So: If you happen to be an editor, contact us for licensing. If you know a publication that might be interested in a solid story about California’s drought, agriculture and climate change: Let us know. And if you want to become a long term supporter of LandRush – let’s talk.