The Amazon Rainforest is a crucial buffer to slow down global warming. It’s also home to thousands of undiscovered species that could help cure diseases like cancer. This vast natural treasure trove should be preserved at all costs. 

And could this urgency to preserve the Amazon pave the way for a new way of life, based on care and conservation, as opposed to production and consumption , where mankind a nature co-exist better harmony?  But the Amazon is being torn down. It’s losing a football pitch of forest cover every minute as deforestation spikes again after years of successive fall. Scientists say it’s reaching a crucial tipping point: if deforestation continues its upward trend, the forest will begin a slow, but irreversible, process of desertification. What are the drivers of this destruction? Violence, greed, corruption, poverty, inequality, bad governance and inefficient public policy, are just some of the intersecting factors leading to the forest’s demise. For Terra Vermelha: Life and death in Brazilian Amazon, photojournalist Tommaso Protti and British journalist Sam Cowie travelled thousands of miles and to produce this exhibition which takes us into the heart of the crisis which offers a candid look at the varied landscapes and lives of those living in the shadow of the world’s last great remaining tropical forest.The title Terra Vermelha or “red earth” is a reference to the Amazon’s red soil, but also the savage bloodshed that this forested kingdom has suffered for centuries and which continues today. Here, indigenous activists fighting to protect the forest for future generations from the loggers, land grabbers and miners who want to exploit the region’s riches for private gain.    In the Amazon’s urban metropolises, warring drug gangs kill for control of the cocaine trade and desperate Venezuelans fleeing civil strife live in skid-row style street encampments. In the countryside, peasant activists resist the predatory advance of the agricultural frontier and while state led mega-projects like hydroelectric dams destroy traditional river communities.  What remains of Henry Ford’s failed Amazon industrial utopia after his ambition to create an American style suburb on the banks of the Tapajós River was crushed by the forces of nature? The exhibition allows us a glimpse at ordinary life in one of the planet’s most extraordinary places where people date, go to parties, worship and try to make the best of life, just like anywhere else. The Amazon has once again topped international concerns. Brazil’s far-right authoritarian president Jair Bolsonaro, who took office at the beginning of the year, is allied with the country’s powerful farming lobby and has moved to reduce forest and indigenous protections.   But his views are shared by many here who yearn for better lives and feel that nature is a barrier to progress. Perhaps the Amazon’s cruelest contradiction is that its vast natural wealth is enjoyed by so few of its inhabitants who in the main are desperately poor. The Amazon is at crossroads. Terra Vermelha: Life and death in Brazilian Amazon captures the dichotomy between preservation and exploration of the forest and forces us to consider our own positions.

Sam Cowie