Florence Goupil on her long-standing work documenting the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest
The French-Peruvian photographer spends her time between the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon jungle, documenting the relationship between the Shipibo-Konibo and the environment.
- Ayla Angelos
- 29 March 2021
Florence Goupil, a French-Peruvian photographer grew up between two cultures. This inadvertently provoked an interest in storytelling, more specifically, “environment, human rights and identity,” she tells It’s Nice That. “But also the spirituality of the indigenous world that my Peruvian grandmother (from the Peruvian Andes) told me so much about.” At the age of 20, Florence went on to study fine art at Ecole Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Rennes, later continuing her education at University Rennes 2. After working in a portraiture studio in the south of France – and thus being trained on a Nikon F5 analogue camera – her pursuits in the medium came to be.
After working as a photographer in France – and regular yearly trips visiting her Shipibo-Konibo friends in the Amazon jungle –Florence decided it was time to return to Peru. “I found myself confronted with myths and indigenous cosmo-vision, but in the same context as when I was a child,” she continues. “In the shadow of racism and the lack of identity of a country that runs towards progress at the expense of its own culture. In order that these ways of seeing and describing the world are no longer despised, I decided to transmit them in images. And this process has been and remains the most complex since it is a constant search for a personal language. It was only during this process that I, myself, changed my way of living, thinking and acting, that I made many decisions to dedicate myself 100 per cent to photography. It is after this set of events that I became a photographer.”
Florence’s practice evolved into a cathartic outlet to make sense of the world around her. While photographing, she seeks out blissful moments among the mountains and forests of the Andean region; a place in which she spends much of her time in deep contemplation. Nature is the centre point of her work, and not only is the photographer currently an explorer at National Geographic Explorer, but she’s also had works published in the pages of National Geographic, Le Monde, El Pais and various others. When not working on a commission in these realms, she’s building a plethora of personal projects delving into topics such as native corn in Mexico and Peru, “and the rites practised by the farmers of these two countries.”
Working predominantly in black and white, Florence’s works are an “intimate expression” that replicate her dreams and childhood memories. Even if the images at hand aren’t solely black and white, their underlying darker hues are there to denote specific stories; to make you stop and think, observing the environmentalist aims surrounding it. It’s important to note, however, that she does not consider herself to be an activist. Instead, Florence has a somewhat different approach to the subject of environmentalism. “That is to say,” she explains, “my work is like the example of a bridge, where my voice does not impose itself over the voice of the indigenous people, who need to be heard.” The metaphor of the bridge, in this sense, is used to symbolise a particular message: “Today more than ever we must listen and understand their way of describing, integrating and relating to the world.”
Florence’s entire portfolio gravitates around this notion of agriculture and the environment, as seen in a recent long-term series The Healing Plants – a project addressing the use of traditional plant-based medicine that’s long been used amongst Shipibo-Konibo indigenous people. This tradition, though, is under threat due to the disappearance of the Shipibo-Konibo elders, thus reducing the knowledge needed to keep the use of plants and biodiversity in the Peruvian Amazon alive. Another, titled Dialogue with Plants, documents the indigenous peoples of the Amazon as they’re isolating throughout Covid-19, in turn finding refuge in the plants and the forest.
Over the course of the pandemic, Florence has been working continuously on a body of work that lenses the indigenous community of Peru during quarantine. “The indigenous people were totally abandoned by the Peruvian state without drinking water or access to public health,” she says. “It was during the report that they made an international demand against three ministries since they never received help from the state to survive the quarantine.” Signifying as such, a photo [seen below] documents Gabriel Senencina, a Shipibo-Konibo leader swimming the Cashibo lake in the rainforest. After being under strict five-month quarantine, he was “locked up in the city of Lima in the overpopulated Canta-gallo indigenous community without drinking water or food supplies.” Florence adds: “There, as a leader, he witnessed the death of three Shipibo-Konibo friends due to the Covid-19 virus. Only in July 2020 was Senencina able to return to the Amazon, his place of origin. I accompanied him in the water, just as I have accompanied him in his process of returning to the forest.”
Florence’s photography is so deep in context and history, that to summarise her ethos and goals as a photographer in all but a few hundred words is a tricky task. Perhaps it’s wise to look to the future instead; with plans to continue her long-term project on native maize, she’ll also be proceeding to document the relationship between the Shipibo-Konibo and the biodiversity of the Amazon forest – work that began during the pandemic and will run for some time to come. Not only this, but she’ll also release a project navigating the environmental impact on the north coast of Peru, where FMFOs have drastically polluted the bay. So, even if Florence avoids referring to herself as an activist, her work causes a vital impact on the world.
GalleryFlorence Goupil and Pulitzer Center RJF (Copyright © Florence Goupil, 2021)
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Florence Goupil (Copyright © Florence Goupil, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.