As the impact of climate change increases, many developing countries are being encouraged to invest in renewable energy production rather than coal, oil or gas. In the Balkans, Albania has moved towards an energy policy where hydropower accounts for over 90% of electricity generation. However, the social and environmental effects of this “green energy” policy are not all positive.
In the mountainous north of the country, the Malësorët (“highlanders”) have maintained their traditional existence, rooted in agriculture and transhumance, despite generations of struggle against foreign occupation, domestic dictatorship and poverty. Central to this lifestyle and cultural identity, has been their relationship with the alpine rivers that flow through the region’s steep valleys, contributing to its rich biodiversity.
Now as Albania receives energy subsidies and loans from Western banks, dozens of “small scale” hydroelectric dams are being constructed on these rivers with little or no oversight and even less potential for contributing meaningfully to the country’s energy supply. These dams threaten to dry up large sections of the rivers, altering both the unique biosphere of the region as well as the lives and culture of those who have historically fought to protect it.
Nick St.Oegger is a documentary photographer working throughout Europe. His interest in storytelling and the natural world was formed during childhood conversations and journeys with his mountaineer grandfather.
His work explores the relationship between people and their surroundings, often focussing on forgotten communities threatened by modern developmental or environmental concerns. He has spent several years following the impact of a hydropower boom in the Western Balkans. In 2018 he self published Kuçedra, a photo book about Europe’s last undammed river in Albania.
He completed an MA in documentary photography and photojournalism in 2016 at the University of Westminster in London. His work has been exhibited internationally and is held in collections at the libraries of Oxford University, Cambridge University and Trinity College in Dublin. Selected clients include: Vice, Huck, Reuters, Le Monde, Libération, C41 Magazine, De Standaard, Nieuwe Revu, The Calvert Journal, Kosovo 2.0, Trip Advisor, Culture Trip, and Patagonia.