Photographer Tommaso Protti captures the many sides of the Amazon

The photographer was given the Carmignac Photojournalism Award to raise attention to the deforestation crisis in the Amazon, plus also shine a light on ordinary life. His work is now on show at the Saatchi Gallery in London

The Carmignac Photojournalism Award annually funds the production of an investigative photo reportage project on human rights violations, and geostrategic issues in the world. For its tenth year, the award is dedicated to the Amazon and the issues related to its deforestation. 

Italian photojournalist Tommaso Protti was given the $50,000 grant to complete the work, and, accompanied by British journalist Sam Cowie, Protti travelled thousands of miles across the Brazilian Amazon for six months to create the series, Amazônia. 

Top: Novo Progresso, Brazil, August 13, 2020. A billboard shows propaganda for the president Jair Bolsonaro at the entrance of Novo Progresso, Pará state. Above: Portrait of Paulo Paulino at Jenipapo dos Vieiras, Maranhão, January 30, 2019. Paulino was killed on November 1, 2019 in an ambush by illegal loggers inside the Arariboia Indigenous Land. All images: © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac

“Since the beginning, the idea of the project was to put together a variety of situations and topics. The main focus was to raise attention around the crisis, that the Amazon is reaching a turning point,” Protti tells CR. “But I also wanted to offer a glimpse at ordinary life in the region where people date, go to parties, worship and try to make the best of life, just like anywhere else.” 

From January to July 2019, Protti started from the eastern region of Maranhão travelling on to the western region of Rondônia, through the states of Pará and Amazonas, portraying life in the modern day Brazilian Amazon. The photographer returned in August 2020, to document the fires that were ravaging the landscape again. This time, Protti travelled along BR-163, the controversial road built in the 1970s during the dictatorship to open up the jungle to colonisation, which enabled him to investigate the impact of Covid-19 on indigenous communities living in the area as well.

Grajau, Maranhão, 2018. A deforested area in the southern Maranhão State seen from the helicopter of the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources. Maranhão is one of the worst affected by forest fires and illegal logging, and has lost 75% of its Amazon forest cover

“I wanted to create a portrait of a modern Amazon escaping from the clichés of an untouched nature and naked indigenous tribes,” notes Protti. “My goal was to present a place where environmental and social crises overlap, highlight the social fabric of the region and direct attention to issues like impunity and poverty.”

While his work for the Carmignac Foundation has lasted a year, Protti has actually been documenting the Amazon since 2014. “The Amazon is an immense place with a multiplicity of problems and stories, it is impossible to dig and go deep without having a good amount of time to investigate and explore everything,” Protti explains. “It is a region in constant transformation and it takes time to understand it.”

Crepurizão, Pará, 2019. Drunken garimpeiros (wildcat miners) in a bar in Crepurizão, a gold mining town in southwestern Pará State. The town’s entire economy revolves around illegal gold extraction
Kayapó Indigenous Territory, Pará, 2019. Kayapó children play behind a waterfall in the Kuben-Kran Ken village, in the southern Pará State. The Kayapó’s territory is the largest tropical protected area in the world. It serves as a crucial barrier to deforestation advancing from the south

Protti captures his subject matter in black and white and the series is scattered with thoughtful portraits, landscapes, moments of tension and busy scenes. He approaches his photography as a tool to educate people.

“My aim is to drive the viewer into the complexity [of the subject] and intrigue them with my choices and aesthetics,” he says. “I believe that this way stimulates research, inducing whoever looks to pay attention to the captions and then to inquire and question themselves about the situation.” 

Araribóia, Maranhão, 2019. Members of the Guajajara forest guard patrolling the Araribóia indigenous reserve in Maranhão State beat another indigenous man whom they suspect of collaborating with illegal loggers

Each year, the work created as part of the Carmignac Photojournalism Award is shown in two major exhibitions in Paris and London. Having already been exhibited at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, the show of more than 80 photographs and five videos by Protti is now on display at London’s Saatchi Gallery. A monograph of Amazônia has also been published. 

“It is an honour and a great satisfaction,” Protti says of the award. “Prestige aside, there are no grants like this in photojournalism that allow you to work for a year on a single project dedicating yourself entirely to what you love to do. It was a privilege to have obtained this award.” 

Crepori National Forest, Brazil, August 15, 2020. A garimpeira – wildcat miner woman – on an illegal gold mining site in the Crepori National Forest in southwestern Pará state. High gold prices combined with recession in Brazil have led to a new gold rush in this mineral rich region

The Carmignac Photojournalism Award 10th edition featuring Tommaso Protti’s Amazônia is on at Saatchi Gallery, London until July 18; @tomprotti

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes