Photo Credit: Courtesy
A view of the Dead Sea from inside a cave covered in salt and other minerals.

(JNS) In honor of 50 years of Earth Day this year, an Israeli-led photo competition by photojournalist and Dead Sea activist Noam Bedein garnered global attention with nearly 9.1 million votes, casted for 3,500 photographers hailing from more than 40 countries around the world.

From Earth Day on April 22 until May 21, more than 13,000 photos were submitted for the photo competition of the Dead Sea, which was initiated to help preserve the memory of the shrinking wonder of the world that spans both Israel and Jordan. According to Bedein, the competition represents a new way to “bring the Dead Sea back to life” by sharing photos that portray the “essence and beauty” of the sea, “the joy it brings to those who visit it,” as well as a way to “illustrate the dramatic changes and environmental challenges it faces.”

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Bedein, with ex-fashion designer turned entrepreneur and art collector Ari Leon Fruchter, whose family are among the founders of the Israel Museum, is currently laying the foundations of the Dead Sea Museum, which features art exhibitions in virtual reality and commissioned digital artworks, with a permanent virtual museum and exhibition. The top 40 images from the competition will be printed and included in an exhibition planned for Sept. 16 at the Dead Sea in collaboration with the Dead Sea Museum, at which point $6,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded.

“With millions of visitors year after year, this natural wonder—once the beauty secret of Cleopatra—is literally vanishing before our eyes. A complex array of environmental, economic and political factors is causing the Dead Sea to disappear at an alarming rate and we feel it is time to enshrine these images before it is too late,” said Bedein ahead of the competition.

Some of the salt formations along the shoreline of the Dead Sea.

Bedein has been photographing the Dead Sea through time-lapse photography for the last four years and leading eco-boat tours there, though both have come to a halt during the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

To make the competition accessible for photographers from all around the world, translations of the material included English, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and all Nordic languages. Israeli embassies in Norway, Iceland, Moscow and London promoted the competition, Bedein told JNS.

“This is a great way for people to show support for an environmental cause. It’s been exciting to see the attention the Dead Sea is receiving,” noted Bedein. “The Dead Sea is a story itself in regional cooperation, advancing water technology and solutions especially for the region, which is lacking water.”

“Jordan is one of the four driest countries in the world today,” he continued. “So the first priority of the ‘Red-Dead canal,’ is providing desalinated water to Jordan with cooperation from Israel, the P.A. [Palestinian Authority] and Jordan.”

“Environmental diplomacy can help promote Israeli water technology and solutions, and, at the end of the day, can influence public opinion,” said Bedein. “For many countries, the first act of normalization with Israel is using its water technology.”

‘One of the greatest wonders of our times’

The competition received much attention in the Middle East, perhaps due to the Dead Sea Revival Project’s partnership with Earth Day Middle East, part of the global Earth Day Network, which sharing an announcement of the competition with 34 Middle East and North African eco-organizations.

Among the 3,500-plus photographers participating in the Israeli-initiated challenge were photographers from the Palestinian Authority, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Rilwan Hasse, 44, submitted his photo from Dubai, expressing that the Dead Sea for him as a Muslim is not only a pleasurable experience, but a religious one as well, as “the Dead Sea is mentioned in the Koran.”

He expressed his intent to spread the message that the Dead Sea is a positive place to visit, telling JNS of his hope that his photograph “will help to spread knowledge about the Dead Sea.”

Khalid Khan, 32, submitted his photo to the competition from Bahrain, photographing the Dead Sea from the Jordanian side. “The Dead Sea is one of the greatest wonders of our times,” he told JNS. “Being the lowest point on earth, it truly captures the essence of a surreal experience for anyone visiting. Sadly, it’s disappearing, and so we need to take the necessary steps to preserve its beauty in our memories.”

He recalled the beauty taking the photograph he submitted, explaining: “It was almost late evening. The sun was setting. I went to the marked spot and was absolutely mesmerized by the beauty of the sea. The distinctive salt formations and the setting sun created a unique experience. I set up my camera and found these beautiful patterns of the salt formations under the surface of the calm sea, so I decided to take a long exposure shot to smooth out the sea so the patterns could be more visible under the sea surface.”

“The message I want to convey through my photograph is that, just as there are hidden layers under the Dead Sea surface revealing the beautiful salt formations that speak of the past, in the same way all us humans have multiple layers of memories and emotions beneath our surface,” continued Khan. “These might not be visible on first sight, but if you look closer and dig deeper, you are bound to find them eventually, helping us better understand each other.”

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Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and the author of the new “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. She was published in USA Today and Forbes after writing about her experiences in Israel last summer. Follow her aliyah column on JNS.org, Facebook, and Instagram.