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Deforestation uncovered: Who are the photographers in the Amazon?

Amazon deforestation is wrecking havoc on the region. And largely only due to dedicated and courageous photographers, do we know the specifics of what is occurring.

In the late 20th century, movies with an exotic Amazon rainforest adventure theme were massively manufactured in the entertainment industry.

Characters such as obsessive research scientists, barbaric indigenous people, insanely gigantic mutant animals, and primitive jungle life were the classic components that made those stories so exciting yet banal at the same time.

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Treehugger: an indigenous Paiter Surui boy, Brazil. (Photo via Rainforest Rescue).

Amazon on film vs. Amazon deforestation in real life

The Amazon was the utopia. To both producers and viewers, the Amazon rainforest was a beautiful and primitive destination. They could temporarily escape from their fast-paced urban life and stressful reality.

It was this mentality of escapism and adventurism that helped generate people’s fantasy of the unknown in the Amazon rainforest.

What does the Amazon rainforest really look like in real life, though? What is happening in the Amazon rainforest in the present day? We still imagine it as a place blessed with flourishing plants and fresh air separate from modern industrial interruptions.

Such impression, however, is largely based on the fantasies created by producers on the silver screen.

As a matter of fact, starting in the late 20th century, the Amazon ecosystem has been steadily down to the road of destruction. Deforestation is still the main reason for the consistent loss of life in the Amazon.

In recent years, as the situation in the Amazon has become more and more severe, photographers from diverse backgrounds have worked to document the heartbreaking deforestation. Contemporary photographers may have some say about the truth.

Richard Mosse

Richard Mosse is an Irish conceptual documentary photographer. He uses color infrared film to create a new perspective on topics such as conflict, crisis, and war.

Inspired by the reports in the media about the expansive burning of the Amazon rainforest in summer 2019, Mosse felt the urge to embark on a journey of documenting sites of environmental crimes and destruction.

With his custom-built multispectral camera, he set off to the Amazon and Pantanal to capture moments of the ecological disaster with unique technology and tell the devastating story of this tragedy through visual representation.

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Multispectral Map Indicating the Range Of Recent Burning To Foliage and Wetlands along Rio São Lourenço, In Pantanal.
(Photo credit to Richard Mosse. Caption via Vice).
amazon deforestation
Silver Gelatin Photograph from Heat Degraded Infrared Film Showing The Aftermath of Slash-And-Burn Agricultural Encroachment Into Primary Rainforest, Southern Amazonas.
(Photo credit to Richard Mosse. Caption via Vice).

“It’s part of my attempt to show the viewer the difficulties, on the one hand, of photographing the vast and abstract narrative of ecocide, while on the other hand showing photography’s power to reveal and understand the scale of Man’s exploitation of the environment.”

Richard Mosse, interview with Vice.

Victor Moriyama

Victor Moriyama is a Brazilian photojournalist based in São Paulo. He documents social issues, humanitarian conflicts and environmental problems.

He is the founder of the Historians Amazonicas Project, a collective platform that gathers works of various photographers who are committed to the conservation of the Amazon rainforest.

As a witness to the tragedy that is happening in his country, he documents moments of the fires burning in the Amazon and the aftermath images through his camera.

soybean farmers
Soybean farmers have burned forestland to expand their acreage. Near Porto Velho, state Rondônia. (Photo Credit to Victor Moriyama for The New York Times. Caption via Visa Pour I’Image).

The Amazon rainforest expands into nine different countries – Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Bolivia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela.

As most parts of the forest are located within the Brazilian territory, the nation holds primary responsibility in the protection of the rainforest. Brazil, however, does not perform a good job as it is expected.

“Amazon deforestation peaked in late 1990s and early 2000s. In the worst phases of those peak deforestation periods, over 10,000 square miles of forest could be cut down in a year, much of that cleared area converted directly to cropland for soy or grazing for cattle.”

National Geographic

Fires may lead to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, but human activity is the main cause of the fires.

What is the reason for this deforestation in the Amazon?

Many fires caused by humans are set up to quickly remove vegetation and clear lands for agricultural activity.

The process goes: farmers and ranchers would leave the felled trees from the early time of the year desiccated. And when those trees are completely dried out, people set them on fire to develop open land.

This doing, however, contributes rather devastating consequences to the balance of the ecosystem in the Amazon.

Unlike many species of trees that have evolved to endure fires throughout time in the western U.S or Mediterranean climates, the humid and moist Amazon rainforest is not adapted to deal with burning.

Intentional burning of the rainforest due to human activity creates a nasty cycle in the rainforest environment. Deforestation renders the rainforest vulnerable to its ability to heal and regenerate through plants breaking down.

In the meantime, the loss of ecology of the Amazon landscape puts the rainforest in an extremely passive situation. Random fires just spread on their own because of deforestation.

The Brazilian government, in fact, plays a big part in encouraging the process of deforestation of the rainforest in the nation.

The government had been putting in efforts in publishing laws and policies that were aimed to reduce the amounts of deforestation. And thanks to the coordinated international pressures, changes were made in managing balance between the forest and agricultural land.

However, the improvement processes have unfortunately set back when Brazil elected a new president, Jair Bolsonaro, in 2018.

Bolsonaro is an advocate of environmental development and has taken advantage of the natural resources in the Amazon during his reign. Under Bolsonaro, agricultural and illegal logging activities in the Amazon burgeon.

Is there any hope for the Amazon?

Fear has developed among the public that fires caused by deforestation will continue to spread. And that they will affect parts of the forest that are still healthy and intact.

If the fires cannot be controlled or slowed down, they will end up doing serious damage to the overall landscape. And still also endangering many species and ethnic groups that coexist with the ecosystem.

With The New York Times last year, Moriyama followed up with the Uru Eu Wau Wau peoples’ struggle against illegal invasions of their lands in the Amazon. People were celebrating the “Indigenous day,” but there was nothing to be celebrated.

In recent decades, indigenous people’s lives have been constantly threatened by “the illegal exploitation of their lands for the extraction of ores, removal of wood, gold mining and livestock expansion.”

Deforestation not only damages the ecosystem, but also almost ‘wipes out’ the ethnic groups that reside in the forest. Changes desperately need to be made.