Faces of The Rainforest

I frequently hear people say we are in the era of communication. With the same certainty they affirm this is the era of images. In this communication through images, television dominates and constructs the history of events. Television organizes the world: politics depend on visibility, the economy is moved by propaganda. Social dramas and even wars only “exist” as news and only touch one if they show strong images capable of causing impact.

Yet sometimes I think that just the opposite happens: the production of news and images seems to take the reality out of the facts, transforming them into objects of consumption so that they can be discarded. Anesthetized by excessive stimulation, deceived by advertising, we often disconnect ourselves from the reality in front of our eyes. We become ignorant of real-life drama, and involve ourselves in virtual dilemmas. Facts and fiction, soap operas and news, everything is mixed up. At the end of the day we can free ourselves from war, hunger, violence — all the evil in the world – merely by turning off the television or throwing away the newspaper.

In this hurried era, many people seem to obey the verse: “They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not.” The information is incalculable, the images are uncountable. The haste and superficiality preclude seeing and hearing. They consume everything that is quick and shallow and without understanding or distinguishing that which is slow and profound. These members of the globalized world form public opinion, run institutions and control businesses. In some way, they participate in this construction of the world and help create the consensus of civilization – if not as producers at least as consumers of the ideas and feelings that dominate the West.

However, above the line of this horizon and beyond the visual reach of many on the inside, reality is in motion. There is a real world inside it and there are places and people who remain there, with their troubles and marvels even if they do not appear in the lightning images and fleeting news stories.

The Amazonian people live in this real world. It is very difficult for these people to communicate their real existence, their tragedy and glory, pain and joy. Every once in a while there is some turmoil, such as the murder of Chico Mendes, which troubles civilization’s guilty conscience. Then the moment passes, routine settles in, the forest recedes into the background and nobody pays any more attention. Meanwhile, there in the real world, colonization advances – devastating and corrosive: communities resist, governments take positions.

Yet there are those who have ears to understand and eyes to perceive. Over many long years of struggle, the Amazonian people have been finding friends and allies who have become partners in their projects and important intermediaries in their contact with institutions, public opinion, governments, and decision-makers. Some of these friends are journalists, photographers, filmmakers – people who work with news and know the world of communication from the inside. These people have made an effort to show the world the treasures that are contained in both the biodiversity and social diversity of the Amazon. Through these efforts, they have produced a message not intended for quick, superficial consumption, but for those seeking knowledge of this reality. Their cause: defending life.

Valdir Cruz strives to understand and comprehend the Yanomami. He has joined the cause of these oppressed people who are refugees in a territory where they once lived lives of freedom and plenty. He has endeavored to find support for health services, territorial defense and governmental and institutional attention. Cruz’s work as a photographer reflects this personal commitment, which also includes something very dear to us, namely, recognizing and redistributing benefits. Part of the work obtained from these images is given back to these people.

Cruz´s work is not objective and scientific documentation, nor is it purely aesthetic, reporting, or aimed at propaganda. It contains a bit of science, art, skill and communication but is mainly the expression of personal anguish, an attempt to grab us by the shoulders, shake us and say, “Look!” The photographer hopes to allow others to look through his eyes and accept his promise and his commitment to the struggle of the people he has photographed.

His images remind me of when, as Minister of the Environment I was following the forest fires in Roraima in early 2003. The strong images of the fire brigades fighting to keep the fires from advancing into Yanomami territory remained with me. In the middle of a telephone call via satellite, we established a dialogue between President Lula and the leader Davi Yanomami. More than just a status report, everyone there including the President, perceived and understood that the forest people were allies. Chico Mendes’ fight for these people allowed an indigenous leader to communicate his real existence, his tragedy, his pain and his joy to the nation’s leader.

I’ve never been to the Yanomami villages, but I carry memories of forest life in my soul. I know how the branches and leaves filter the light, how it descends deep into the forest in golden strands. I´ve felt the touch of the branches; I´ve swum in the rivers; I´ve been in the straw-covered houses and I´ve slept in hammocks. This is how I know images mean more than what they show.

How will someone not familiar with the forest and its peoples see these images? I don’t know, but I hope they do not rush, that they do not allow themselves to be taken over by the rhythm of consumerism. The photos ask to be understood rather than seen. An Indian holding an ear of corn represents so much: a relationship to nature, a way of living, a way of feeding oneself, of working, planting, waiting and harvesting. It is everything one experiences between planting and gathering.

In a certain way, I hope these images help pay our debt to the forest peoples which is, after all, the debt we owe our lives, our families, our cities, our humanity. Our debt is time. The time to stop. To observe. To perceive. To understand. To see ahead. To go beyond merely consuming images and news. To be able to act correctly at the right moment. A gesture of solidarity, a commitment, a look filled with care and respect for Creation, for the gift of life.

Marina Silva – Minister of the Environment
December 2003