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.
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.
Deforestation, unregulated development, pollution. All of these scenarios are driven by the same forces; poverty, weak institutions, corruption and savage self-interest. More than in other places, in the Amazon region it becomes clear that land is worth more than human life. And on the path towards the destruction of the planet, the first and closest step for mankind is still its own annihilation... The violence consuming the Brazilian Amazon affects us all and sometimes we are even the unknowing perpetrators of it.’ - Tommaso Protti