Photographer reveals a red Amazon as it is

Photographer reveals a red Amazon as it is

The red Amazon that emerges from Richard Mosse’s photographs is not the product of a special filter in the camera or color manipulation on a computer in post-production.

What you see there is the rawest reality of the rainforest. It is literally how loggers, miners and ranchers see the region. It is the Amazon seen through a multispectral camera, the same one used by these companies in search of natural resources, and now, by Richard Mosse in his work “Broken Spectre” —which won a bilingual book, exhibitions around the world and also a movie.

As an artist, Mosse intended to relate “the enormous catastrophe that is climate change and the likely extinction of the human race”, he says. “Scientists gave us the information, but the narrative was not discernible. It was beyond human perception in everyday life. But global warming is happening now, not 50 years from now.”

Thus, the photographer spent the last four years —precisely those of the Jair Bolsonaro government— traveling to Brazil using a variety of techniques that could help sound the alarm about environmental crimes in the Amazon. The multispectral camera, the one that turns green trees red, sees colors differently than the human eye.

“Scientists use multispectral images to study the forest. Farmers use it to see where their crops are healthy and where they are dying. where a guy rents a drone with this camera so owners or trespassers can explore the forest,” he says.

The idea of ​​using the very tool of exploration as an art form is not new in the career of Mosse, a 42-year-old Irish photographer based in New York. One of his recent works was the refugee crisis in Europe. Between 2014 and 2016, he made a photographic series called “Incoming”, using military cameras capable of sensing the temperature of a human body from 30 km away. The result, monochrome, revealed the immigrants in a ghostly and not very human way.

“It’s important to find new ways to tell stories,” says Mosse. “In this case, I used this false color palette to tell this story. Deforestation is happening now. According to Philip Fearnside [biólogo norte-americano que morou anos na região], satellite photos indicate that in ten years the forest will be so degraded that it will change from rainforest to savannah. The Manaus region has already become a savanna.”

Another photographer’s technique, in the case of black and white images, was to use a film discontinued in 1999 by Kodak called high speed infrared. “The few rolls that still exist are mythical. And it’s very sensitive to heat. So photographing fires with this equipment is crazy. But as an artist, it brings a degradation to the final material that helps tell the story.” There is also a batch of photographs of the tiny world of insects and roots, taken using another technique by scientists that captures images in ultraviolet light.

The book “Broken Spectre” is coming out in a bilingual edition, English/Portuguese, by Loose Joints, a publisher based in Marseille and London and specializing in photographic art books. In addition to the 392 pages of the main book, it comes with a 48-page booklet with texts by Txai Suruí, a Brazilian indigenous leader and columnist for Folha, Jon Lee Anderson, an American journalist specializing in America, among others, as well as captions for the photos.

For now, the only way to buy the book is through the publisher’s website ( and the price is £49 (R$314). To Brazil, there is a delivery cost of around €29 (R$186).

In addition to the book, there are three exhibitions scheduled so far, two already in progress: one at 180 Studios, in London, until December 30, and another at the National Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne, Australia, until April 23, 2023. The third show will open on August 24, 2023 at the Converge 45 Biennial in Portland, USA.

The exhibitions also receive the 74-minute film “Broken Spectre”, which Mosse directed from footage taken in the locations where he photographed. For this work, he accompanied farmers setting fire to vegetation, miners looking for gold, loggers cutting trees and even recorded the operation of an ox slaughterhouse in Porto Velho, in Rondônia.

It is a contemplative film, which alternates black and white images with others from his special cameras. In fact, Mosse says that he had to create a multispectral camera that recorded video, since until then there were only those that took pictures. “I built a multispectral capable of shooting 24 frames per second and we put it in the nose of a helicopter.”

The only scene in the film in which there is a voice is when a Yanomami named Adneia makes a violent speech to Mosse’s camera. Her tribe was involved in a skirmish with miners that ended in several deaths. Since then, the conflict has been permanent. She curses politicians, asks for help from the Army, questions why whites invade her lands and calls the president “dirty”, among other things. Mosse admits that the social complexity of the Amazon today does not allow whites to be seen simply as invaders without conscience. Since families were brought to the region five decades ago, two new generations have been born there and are struggling to survive.

“We couldn’t have done this job without getting close to the farmers, the miners, the people who cut trees. They don’t perform for our cameras. I got close to a lot of them, buddy, and some of them are very proud of the roles they played perform and how their families provide.”

“Most live without electricity, but they want to have pickup trucks, they aspire to be big farmers. I have 100% respect for all the people I’ve filmed or photographed, including those who cut down trees. It’s a cultural issue and that ambiguity is shown in the film” , says Mosse.

In the exhibitions, “Broken Spectre” is projected onto two very horizontal screens, one next to the other, and the sound of the forest is distributed through 20 speakers. There’s music too, by composer Benjamin Frost. Like Mosse, Frost used special techniques in this work, sampling sounds from insects and vegetation to create his sonic palette.

“We wanted to do a western,” he says. “What we see today in the Amazon is what happened in the United States at the time of the Wild West, pioneers conquering wild areas and destroying what was there before. In the 1970s, the Brazilian dictatorship built the Transamazônica and transferred people who lived in the south of the country to develop the region. But I hate that word, ‘develop’, because the forest was already being developed by the indigenous people in their own way”, he says.

“In this current western, 80% of the forest is being used to produce pasture and cheap meat. And it doesn’t even feed the Brazilian people, but the Burger Kings of Europe. Politically, Bolsonaro and Ricardo Salles are selling the country’s assets to people from out without anything returning to Brazilians. It is very sad to see this, that Brazilians do not gain anything from this ‘development’. The profits are gigantic and Wall Street wins, American banks win.

The Planeta em Transe project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.

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