Matt Black’s California Drought Photographs Featured in New Yorker

Circle of Blue photographer documents Central Valley water shortage.

Matt Black California drought Choke Point Index water supply Central Valley

Photo © Matt Black / Circle of Blue
A man passes water vending machines in the small farmworker community of Stratford in California’s Central Valley. Click image to enlarge.

Matt Black, the California photographer who documented the deepening drought in his home state earlier this year for Circle of Blue’s award-winning multimedia Choke Point: Index project, was featured this week in “The Dry Land” photo spread published by the New Yorker magazine, and in the “California: Paradise Burning” video on its website,

The New York Times today also noted Black’s photographs of the Central Valley drought.

Black’s immersive, grainy photographs for the New Yorker illustrate the depths of the drought and are similar to those he produced for Choke Point: Index, which recorded in original frontline reporting, data graphics, and photographs the deteriorating condition of freshwater reserves in three iconic farm regions of the United States – California’s Central Valley, the Great Lakes, and the Great Plains.

Black’s black and white photographs of the California drought were first published and received national attention last winter in Choke Point: Index. Black’s pictures accompanied articles by Jeremy Miller. Two of Black’s photographs from that project, along with a third by Brian Lehman, and two others from India by J. Carl Ganter, Circle of Blue’s managing director, won second place honors in environmental photojournalism in August from the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Matt Black California drought Choke Point Index water supply Central Valley

Photo © Matt Black / Circle of Blue
Workers install a grape trellis for a new vineyard being planted in the California Delta. Farmers in the region are concerned that the State’s plan to install tunnels in the area to siphon water south will threaten their agricultural water supply. Click image to enlarge.

Founded in 2002 and based in Traverse City, Michigan, Circle of Blue has earned widespread attention from other news organizations in and outside the United States for its original multimedia reporting on the heightened contest for freshwater resources globally.

Circle of Blue’s news reports are regularly cited, quoted, and often come two years before similar reports are published in the world’s elite media. Its data graphics also are widely republished. The trend-setting data dashboard developed by Circle of Blue and Qlikview for Choke Point: Index was featured in March by the White House Climate Data Initiative.

Circle of Blue’s stable of photographers are no strangers to global attention for work first published on For instance, Carl Ganter’s 2009 photograph of the 100,000 marchers in Copenhagen urging new global climate policy, at the time the largest climate demonstration ever held, was published in hundreds of newspapers, posted on innumerable websites, and became one of the signature images of the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference.

Copenhagen climate change negotiations 2009

Screenshot of Vanity Fair website
J. Carl Ganter’s signature photograph of the 2009 demonstration in Copenhagen, at the time the largest climate change march ever held. Click image to enlarge.

In October 2011, photographs from Circle of Blue reporting in China by Toby Smith – who was on location with me as part of our Choke Point: China reporting team in December 2010 – were featured in The New York Times. Smith, an award-winning contemporary reportage photographer specializing in energy and environment, was a key player on the Circle of Blue team that documented China’s severe water shortage, a story that itself changed China’s economic and ecological narrative.

–Keith Schneider, senior editor

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply