An insight into one of the most extraordinary places on earth, Amazônia highlights the rainforest’s degradation

The São Paolo-based photographer Tommaso Protti offers a glimpse into the geological vastness of the world’s largest rainforest and the issues that threaten its essential biodiversity.

17 June 2021

The Amazon is home to a whopping 70 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, and accounts for half of the remaining tropical forests on the planet. But due to rapid development and economic activity in the area, its ecosystems are heavily under threat. With this in mind, the Carmignac Photojournalism Award, now in its tenth edition, decided to dedicate its accolade to the cause, recognising Tommaso Protti’s striking black and white photography.

His work recounts the damage inflicted on the region because of deforestation, illegal gold mines, drugs farming and more. In turn, the São Paulo-based photojournalist raises awareness on the Amazon’s degradation due to climate change and human activity while also offering some lighter moments, inviting the viewer to see what daily life is like in one of the most incredible places on earth.

Amazônia takes us through this extraordinary region which maps approximately five and a half million kilometre squares of land across Brazil, Colombia, Peru and other South American countries. The work is currently on show at London’s Saatchi gallery until 16 July 2021. For Tommaso, his interest in photography began with a degree in Political Science where research and deep study became a key part of his practice, something he incorporates into his photography today. His first photographic venture took him to southeast Turkey where he’d been researching the geopolitics of water in the Middle East for his degree thesis. There, he realised an attraction to the idea of being a witness, “to be in the field,” he tells us, “to meet and talk with people and to try and capture it all in my photos.”

The first time Tommaso went to the Amazon was for an assignment on the impact of the Belo Monte dam, a hydroelectric dam complex on the northern part of the Xingu River in the state of Pará, Brazil. “I had many cliches in my mind before leaving,” he explains, he imagined lush green lands and indigenous tribes, but upon arriving in the Amazon, “I quickly discovered that reality was very different, much more complicated and intriguing,” he says. Once there, Tommaso realised that the Amazon is not only a forest, but also a land of cities and people. After that trip, he felt a personal connection with the rainforest and decided to start work on the long term project that would become Amazônia.


Tommaso Protti: Amazônia, Pau d’Arco, Pará, 2019. A landless peasant erects a sign claiming occupation of the Santa Lúcia farm in Pau d’Arco. In May 2017, the farm was the site of a bloody massacre in which ten land rights activists were killed by police. In Brazil’s Amazon States, it is common for landowners to contract off-duty police officers to perform extrajudicial killings and land evictions. Today, the property is occupied by 197 families from the Liga dos Camponeses Pobres (Poor Peasants League, or LCP). (Copyright © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac, 2020)

Photographing the vastness of the region was one thing, but getting there in the first place was a whole other challenge. The latter was the biggest challenge for Tommaso while working on the series, and he recalls the time it took him ten days to visit an illegal gold mine, which he only photographed for one day. “The rest was travel and unexpected events,” he says. Journeying across the varying topographies and snapping up what he saw in his wake, Amazônia gradually came into fruition, “a mosaic made up of different pieces,” a wider collage of territories and experiences encompassed by the photographer’s hasty desire to show everything.

Amazônia sheds light on jungle cemeteries where stranded trees are used as tombstone crosses as well as abject killings at the hands of stolen land or stolen drugs. The photographer depicts these places in candid light, explaining his choice of monochrome photography as “the way I express myself better” as it “gives me freedom in the way I can approach the light and it has an evocative force.” In this way, the viewer gains an objective perspective on the scenes before our eyes. Images of the joyous and the distraught are framed by the same tones and colour choices, allowing the subject of the work to stand out afresh.

Tommaso talks us through a couple of images of notes. The first, a portrait of Paulo Paulino, a member of the indigenous Guajajara forest guard who was tragically killed by illegal loggers in an ambush on 1 November 2019. “I took it before a patrol and it was the only portrait I took during that week with the forest guards,” the photographer says. “Sadly it has become very important. I did not imagine that this boy could be killed.” Elsewhere he documents two drunk garimpeiros, or wildcat miners, in a bar in Crepurizão, a gold mining town in southwestern Pará state. It took Tommaso two days to get to the town, the bar being the first place he went when he touched down. Known as a base for miners to take small planes out to illegal gold mining sites in the region, the photographer finally goes on to say of the photograph, full of suspense and ambiguous emotion, “I learned more about gold diggers in a night in that bar in an illegal mine.”


Tommaso Protti: Amazônia, 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, aided by weakened environmental oversight. (Copyright © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac, 2020)


Tommaso Protti: Amazônia, Altamira, Pará, 2019. These trees died due to the opening of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Altamira, Pará State, which flooded 400 km2 of forest. At the time of its construction, the dam was decried by environmentalists and civil society groups. Today, the project remains mired in controversy with serious questions regarding its viability and accusations of corruption during the bidding process. (Copyright © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac, 2020)


Tommaso Protti: Amazônia, 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, more than 3.2 million hectares of forest and scrubland containing many endangered species. It serves as a crucial barrier to deforestation advancing from the south. (Copyright © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac, 2020)


Tommaso Protti: Amazônia, Novo Progresso, Brazil - August 17, 2020: A chopped tree inside a cemetery near Novo Progresso, Pará state. (Copyright © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac, 2020)


Tommaso Protti: Amazônia, Crepurizão, Pará, 2019. Drunken garimpeiros (wildcat miners) in a bar in Crepurizão, a gold mining town in southwestern Pará State. The town serves as a base for miners to stay and to take small planes to a number of illegal goldmining sites in the region, including on indigenous lands and protected forest areas. The town’s entire economy revolves around illegal gold extraction. (Copyright © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac, 2020)


Tommaso Protti: Amazônia, Novo Progresso, Brazil - August 17, 2020: Kayapo Mekragnotire Indigenous block a highway near Novo Progresso, Para state. Protesters blocked the highway BR-163 to pressure Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to better shield them from COVID-19, to extend damages payments for road construction near their land, and to consult them on a proposed railway to transport soybeans and corn. (Copyright © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac, 2020)


Tommaso Protti: Amazônia, Grajau, Maranhão, 2018. A deforested area in the southern Maranhão State seen from the helicopter of IBAMA, 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. The Amazon rainforest is losing the equivalent of a football pitch of forest cover every minute. Scientists say it is reaching a tipping point: if deforestation continues upward, the forest may never recover. (Copyright © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac, 2020)


Tommaso Protti: Amazônia, Araribóia, Maranhão, 2019. A member of the Guajajara forest guard in a moment of sad silence at the sight of a toppled tree cut down by suspected illegal loggers on the Araribóia indigenous reserve in Maranhão State. With deep cuts to Brazil’s environmental and indigenous protection bodies in recent years, tribespeople across the Amazon are increasingly forming vigilantes. (Copyright © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac, 2020)

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Tommaso Protti: Amazônia, Canaã dos Carajás, Pará, 2019. A landless peasant leader on the Grotão de Mutum landless peasant camp near Canaã dos Carajás. Brazil’s Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Worker’s Movement) fights for agrarian reform across Brazil, where 40% of farmers operate less than 1.2% of farmable lands. (Copyright © Tommaso Protti for Fondation Carmignac, 2020)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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