Striking Photos Capture the Unnatural Transformation of the Amazon Rainforest

By Brian Kahn on at

There was this moment last year when I was sitting in the quietest place in the U.S. and a plane flew overhead, breaking the cocoon of natural sound. It was the sonic emulation of the world we’re creating, writ large. Humanity has crept into every nook and cranny of the planet, and now we’re being forced to confront the ramifications and make our peace with that, including in the art we’re creating.

That’s the conceit of Atmos, a new magazine launched this month that’s an “exploration of climate and culture.” The first issue focuses on the theme of neo-natural—an idea about how (or even whether) humanity and nature can co-exist anymore—and among the features is a series of photographs of the Amazon rainforest by Daniel Beltrá. The Brazilian photographer’s work reveals how nature is ceding ground, both literally and figuratively, to the built environment.

The images show the stark lines of farmers’ fields pushing against the unruly Amazon rainforest, mines carved into hillsides, logs stacked in a manmade clearing, or a pancaked brazil nut tree outlined by tractor tracks like chalk outlining a murder victim. They also show how the divide between the built and natural environment can sometimes smear together, with trees popping out raw dirt or a flock of scarlet ibises crosses the flooded Amazon lowlands.

Overall, the images paint a portrait of the heavy toll human development is taking on the Amazon, which saw its highest levels of deforestation in a decade last year. And they take on new meaning in the face of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new ultra right wing president who wants to make it easier to build more mines, oil fields, and farms like the ones in Beltrá’s images.

Photo: Daniel Beltrá courtesy of Atmos

Among Atmos’ articles and imagery, Beltrá’s work stands out as particularly bleak. The story immediately before it is a Q&A with artist ANOHNI that “reflects on paradise, the patriarchy, and preventing ecocide” while the story after is about a startup working to sequester carbon dioxide in concrete. The placement and subject matter in Beltrá’s work were very intentional, though.

“We knew [his work] had to be a part of the issue because I think neo-natural as a theme really implies thinking about solutions,” William Defebaugh, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, told Earther. “But I think it’s important to have a moment to really show what is happening and that’s also why we chose to put the story right towards the front of the issue.”

The magazine aims to showcase this juxtaposition of problems and solutions, though Defebaugh said he wasn’t a fan of calling things “solutions” since we have a long ways to go before we actually solve the riddle of how we can live within the bounds of Earth. But there’s never been a better time to starting working toward that goal.

“What is happening in the atmosphere of our planet should be a key talking point of what’s happening in the atmosphere of our culture,” Defebaugh said.It’s about creating a new understanding of ourselves and how we fit into the larger picture.”

In the Amazon, we’ve imposed rigid structures and boundaries on the natural landscape. In showing that, Beltrá’s photos act as a clear call to make the borders between nature and humanity less rigid.

nullPhoto: Daniel Beltrá courtesy of Atmos

nullPhoto: Daniel Beltrá courtesy of Atmos

Photo: Daniel Beltrá courtesy of Atmos