Rivers have shaped the landscape of the earth, carving out valleys and creating floodplains and deltas. They exercise huge influence on human development. Rivers have provided water and fertile soil to support large concentrations of population. They have acted as vital transport channels for the expansion of human settlement into continental interiors and for the movement of people and goods for trade.
In more recent human history the energy of rivers has been harnessed first to drive flour grinding mills and today to generate electricity. This has involved controversial schemes of dams and channel diversions in several area of the world.
Rivers are vital in the hydrological cycle which ensures the drainage of water from the land back into the sea becoming available once again to fall as rain.
This photograph depicts the Orange River near Upington in South Africa. At 1400 miles it is the longest river in South Africa flowing from east to west into the Atlantic Ocean, passing through the arid regions on the southern edge of the Kalahari Desert. Although Upington is the only major settlement through which it flows the river is important to the South African economy for hydroelectricity and irrigation.
As well as their material and economic benefits rivers provide a rich stimulus to the human imagination. Rivers are a symbolic resource for reflection on the paradox in human experience of the co-existence of endless change and constant presence; provoking thought on time and mortality.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Heraclitus