Tommaso Protti’s investigation into the social fabric of the Brazillian Amazon

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Addressing a range of issues that span deforestation, drug wars, and daily life, ‘Amazônia’ goes on show at Saatchi Gallery today

Tommaso Protti first visited the Amazon in 2014 on assignment to cover the environmental impacts of the Belo Monte Dam — a controversial project that threatened to displace 20,000 people and flood large parts of the rainforest’s indigenous land. Protti arrived with preconceptions, but what he discovered was far from the vast jungle landscapes he had imagined. Built on the Xingu River, the Belo Monte Dam sits on the outskirts of Altamira, a once-quiet Amazonian town. Due to urban development and displacement from the construction of the dam, the city’s population has tripled, and has become one of Brazil’s most violent cities.

“It was an Amazon that I didn’t know about. I found a very different social fabric than what I had in mind,” says Protti, who has been reporting from urban regions of the rainforest for the past five years. Together with journalist and “adventure companion” Sam Cowie, Protti has covered issues such as the growing number of drug gangs, the rights of indigenous communities, and the effects of deforestation.

In 2019, Protti became the laureate of the Carmignac Photojournalism Award. “The grant allowed me to think bigger, to reach more people and places I hadn’t before,” he says. The resulting reportage, captured across thousands of miles across the Brazilian Amazon — from the northeastern region of Maranhão to the states of Pará, Amazonas, and down to Rondônia in the west – goes on show at London’s Saatchi Gallery today.

Focusing on the Brazillian Amazon, which covers 60 percent of the whole rainforest, Protti covers a range of stories that show how the social, humanitarian and environmental crises overlap. “At some point, we realised that something big was at stake,” says Protti. “We felt the need to convey our experience and the variety of topics in one long-term project that could offer a new vision of the Amazon.” 

Amazônia by Tommaso Protti is on show at Saatchi Gallery, London until 18 July 2021.

Read more about the project here, in an article originally published on British Journal of Photography in September 2019. 

Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.