Ammunition and rocket shells collected from the fields around the reclaimed province of Agdam, Azerbaijan.
2024 Photo Contest, Europe, Honorable Mention

Looking for Satyrus


Rena Effendi

VII Photo, National Geographic Society
10 November, 2023

Ammunition and rocket shells collected from the fields around the reclaimed province of Agdam, Azerbaijan.

The Satyrus effendi is a rare butterfly species named after Soviet Azerbaijani entomologist Rustam Effendi, who is also the photographer’s father. In his lifetime, Rustam Effendi collected tens of thousands of butterflies, traveling between Armenia and Azerbaijan to hunt rare and endangered specimens. His death in 1991 coincided with the beginning of decades of conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The mountainous region of Karabakh along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, through which the photographer’s father effortlessly traveled on his butterfly hunts, has been ravaged by war, with tens of thousands killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. 

For this project, the photographer retraced her father's footsteps, encountering ruined towns and desolate landscapes littered with landmines, in search of the elusive butterfly, which inhabits a border between Armenia and Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani exclave isolated by war. In her pursuit, Rena Effendi met people on both sides of the conflict who helped her, in spite of mistrust between the two warring nations. The project also sheds light on the ecological impact of human conflict, highlighting the conservation challenges faced by endangered species like the Satyrus effendi butterfly. As habitats are disrupted and ecosystems destroyed, species face extinction, adding another layer of significance to the story. Her journey delves into the complex interplay of personal and political histories, exploring identity, loss, and survival for humans and other species alike. 

Through this blend of personal narrative, photography, and history, the project offers a poignant exploration of resilience and beauty in the face of conflict. It serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness of human and natural worlds, urging viewers to consider the lasting impacts of war on both ecosystems and lives.

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Rena Effendi
About the photographer

Rena Effendi is an award-winning documentary photographer whose work is described as having a deep sense of empathy with a quiet celebration of the strength of the human spirit. She is the author of two monographs, the first published in 2009 entitled Pipe Dreams: A Chronicle of Lives along the Pipeline and in 2013,...

Read the full biography

Jury comment

The jury commends the creative storytelling of this photographer, whose dreamlike aesthetics offer new insight on the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno Karabakh. With a personal narrative as a throughline, the project inspires a new understanding of a pressing regional issue. Impressively, the photographer transcends contentious borders and avoids centering warfare in the images. The butterfly serves as a metaphor and plot, and the dedication and closeness to the identity and crisis are evident.