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The Prix Pictet, now in its second year, is a photography prize created to draw attention to the issue of sustainability. For the 2009 competition, the theme was “Earth”, referring not just to the soil beneath our feet but to the impact of natural disasters and the exploitation of natural resources.

Here we showcase a selection of this year’s shortlisted work, with entries ranging in subject from the marble mines of Portugal to the changing shoreline of China’s Yangtze river.

In the words of Kofi Annan, the competition’s honorary president, speaking at the prize’s 2008 launch, “The Prix Pictet will deepen our understanding of the changes taking place in our world, raise public awareness of the scale of the threat we face and of the urgency of taking preventative action.”

Name: Edward Burtynsky

Born: Canada, 1955

Edward Burtynsky travelled from Vermont in the US, to Makrana in India, to Cochicho in Portugal for a series of photographs exploring the environmental effects of quarrying. He likens what he found to an “organic architecture created by our pursuit of raw materials”, with the excavated mountainsides taking on the appearance of “inverted skyscrapers” and “pyramids”. “Ultimately,” he says of his work, “what I’m looking for are interesting places and moments to embody my poetic narrative of the transfigured landscape, the industrial supply line and what that means in our life.”

Name: Ed Kashi

Born: US, 1957

Ed Kashi first went to Nigeria in 2004, soon after visiting Iraq. It turned out to be “one of the hardest places I ever worked in”, he says. “The only difference from Iraq is that things don’t spontaneously explode around you.” The New York-born photographer was there to document the environmental and human cost of oil production in the Niger Delta. Among the images is this one, showing workers in a slaughterhouse, butchering animals to sell at market. Previously these same people might have survived by fishing, but pollution has severely affected stocks. Kashi hopes that the “visceral power” of his work will shock viewers into action.

Name: Christopher Anderson

Born: Canada, 1970

For the past five years, Christopher Anderson has been travelling to Venezuela to explore a country wracked by political instability and driven, economically, by the exploitation of its natural resources. Anderson says he is interested in “looking at how consumption in the developed world creates the conditions for further destruction of the earth in the developing world”. Images include a sugar cane field in the home town of Hugo Chávez, homelessness in Caracas and the bloody aftermath of a rally.

Name: Christopher Steele-Perkins

Born: Burma, 1947

London-based photographer Christopher Steele-Perkins says he wanted to explore “modern Japan and the erosion of natural beauty in the name of progress” in his series of images focusing on Mount Fuji. Although the peak may be protected by national-park status, the surrounding land, once pristine, is quickly falling victim to development. Shot over a four-year period, Steele-Perkins’ photographs deliberately reference traditional images of the mountain produced by artists such as Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Name: Nadav Kander

Born: Israel, 1961

Another London-based photographer, Nadav Kander, visited China five times between 2006 and 2008, documenting “from mouth to source” the people who live along the banks of the Yangtze river. As in “Sunday Picnic”, shot in the city of Chongqing, the subjects are often dwarfed by their surroundings – in this case, both the river and a vast new bridge. “China is progressing rapidly,” says Kander, “and the landscape both economically and physically is changing daily. These are photographs that can never be taken again.”

Name: Naoya Hatakeyama

Born: Japan, 1958

Tokyo-based Naoya Hatakeyama uses his photography, he says, to explore “the relationship between humans and their environment”. His works range from the Blast series, focusing on the clouds of debris created immediately after a quarry blast, to Lime Works, in which Hatakeyama portrays the effects of the limestone industry, from extraction to processing, at sites across Japan. This image, from Lime Works, was taken in 1994.

Name: Yao Lu

Born: China, 1967

At a glance, the photographs of Beijing-born Yao Lu look like traditional Chinese paintings. Closer inspection, however, reveals them to be cleverly constructed montages: fragments of a modern, industrial nation wrought into idyllic, escapist landscapes. Lu says his work is both a comment on environmental damage and the expression of a desire for greater harmony between past and present.

To learn more about the Prix Pictet, visit www.prixpictet.com

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