Local photographer Brittany Anzel App is putting the water issue — the lack of water, really — right in front of people’s eyes with her newest water project: Where There Once Was Water.
She said she’s doing it so people see with their own eyes that water has and is disappearing from local bodies of water. She started at the beginning of the year photographing dry lake beds. This summer — after taking a break to get married to Steven Anzel — she got the opportunity to see and photograph most of the lakes in the county.
Her passion for raising awareness about water issues starting in 2008 when she spent a Semester at Sea as the staff photographer. The ship circumnavigated the globe stopping at places such as Africa, India and Brazil.
“I remember seeing a woman in India — older than my mom — in a muddy puddle in the middle of the street, because that was the only water available,” App said, adding that it was a sight she saw over and over. “When I got back from my four months at sea, I know absolutely there had to be something I could do.”
So she ran a half-marathon in spring 2009 and raised $2,500.
“In the scheme of things I didn’t do all that much — I ran 13 miles, some people do that every day,” App said.
So she figured if she did something really crazy she could raise a lot more money. While talking to a friend, she said, “I bet I could raise a lot of money cycling across the country.” Even though she just pulled it out of the air as something crazy, she said she knew the moment the words were out of her mouth that she’d do it. Even though she didn’t cycle and didn’t even own a bicycle, she set her mind to it and started a Facebook page for it to see how it would be received.
Right away she got a message from George Griffin, a teacher in San Luis Obispo that App did not know. Her offered her a free touring bike, she just needed to get it tuned up — which led her to meeting the man she would later marry. The project just kept growing and growing. She spent three months at the end of 2010 cycling from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.
“We ended up raising $15,000 for WaterAid International,” App said.
App was joined by friend Garrett Russell, a videographer, who made a 16-part series after their ride, which App said took him a year and a half to edit. The series is available for free viewing at http://cyclingforwater.com/watertension.
“Meanwhile, the water situation here in California kept getting worse and worse,” App said, which led her to do something in regards to serious water issue in California. “I chose water because no matter who you are … no matter what, none of us can survive without water. It’s a basic human need. … Without water we’re done for.”
She said she’s not intending to preach, she’s just sharing what she sees.
“I want people to think [about it],” App said. “If we don’t see it, maybe it’s not really real. I was that way until I did a Semester at Sea. … Once I saw it, it was so real. I couldn’t not do anything about it.”
So far she has photographed the dry lake beds of San Antonio, Laguna and Atascadero lakes from the ground, and Lopez, Santa Margarita, Atascadero, Nacimiento, San Antonio and Laguna Lakes and Whale Rock Reservoir from the air.
“They’re all so sad from anyway you look at it,” App said.
While she’s currently focusing on local bodies of water, she said that it’s not just a local issue, but it makes sense for her to start locally and then expand throughout the state.
“Seeing the drought so intensely manifested on a local level is terrifying,” App said. “It made sense to start here and let the project manifest itself. … The visuals are equal parts beautiful and terrifying.”
While App shot a lot of lakes from the air, she is slowly releasing them on her Facebook page, Where There Once Was Water, to give each photograph the attention it deserves.