Terra Vermelha

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Void, 2023. Edition of 1,500 copies.
Softcover with dust jacket, 224 pp., b/w illustrated, 210 x 278 mm. Photographs and text by Tommaso Protti. Design by Joao Linneu, Myrtro Steirou.

Winner – Carmignac Photojournalism Award

The Amazon Rainforest—often referred to as ‘Lungs of our Planet—has long been idealised as a dense, green expanse and a pristine sanctuary inhabited by isolated tribes. Terra Vermelha, the culmination of 10-years’ work by photographer Tommaso Protti, presents an alternative portrait of the region. Depicting fields ablaze, the dark river as a conduit for cocaine trafficking and urban areas plagued by violence—the images in the book depict a dystopia, dispelling such romanticised notions.

“As I sat in my hotel room in Marabá, a city in the Amazon state of Parà, Jornal Nacional – Brazil’s flagship news program – transmitted images of the country’s newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro: “The indigenous in their reservations are like animals in a zoo,” he said. It was November 2018. […] It seemed like a threat, an omen of bad times ahead. I felt that the slow-motion social and environmental breakdown I had seen in the previous years in the Amazon was about to get worse.”

‘Terra Vermelha’, which means ‘red earth’, opens with visions of a paradise lost. Protti’s photographs show rural areas transformed by deforestation, where land conflicts are commonplace between cattle ranchers, landless peasants and environmental activists. The images in the book journey on to urban areas and shantytowns where Protti was given access following police operations to document the rising violence, mainly related to the drug trade. Further photographs show the hold of evangelical religion on the region, the impact of the COVID pandemic, and the construction of new towns and recently expanded cities such as Altamira, famous for both its hydro-power dam and for being Brazil’s murder capital in 2017.

The book eschews a traditional narrative format to present a nightmarish vision of the impacts of intersecting social and environmental crises. Protti’s uncaptioned black and white images often have a sense of movement and imply events unfolding both before and after the frame. Many images were taken fleetingly at night, leading the viewer blindly around the region.

Tommaso Protti is an Italian-born photographer who has been based in Brazil for almost a decade. He has dedicated himself to long-term projects focusing on themes such as crime, the environment, and rural conflict. His work has been featured in global publications and exhibited worldwide.

Read more:

The Guardian, Photo-eye blog


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