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Embedded in the Amazon: new ways of narrating indigenous stories

Both journalists took great care to ensure that their immersive coverage was not an intrusion into the communities’ lives. They were passionate about respecting their subjects’ worldview and their stories. “We tried to be as invisible or neutral as possible,” said Badia. “We believe that this narrative is the one that best reflects the reality and the purpose of each of the stories, which is to get a good understanding of who these characters are, what they feel, think and see, and how they want to communicate it.”

Badia and Alberanga ensured their project would be a mutually beneficial partnership for the people they featured so they shared their audio-visual material with the groups to use it for their own purposes.

“This is also part of the success of the project, this proximity, one is not perceived as someone who is going to buy something or extract something, but as someone who is going to do collaborative work, an alliance, a joint project, and not something unilateral or vertical,” said Badia.

The first story in the series was published in June 2019. By February 2020, eight stories had been published. Last year, Badia and Albarenga made a third trip, this time to the Colombian Amazon, from which two more stories emerged, those of José Gregorio and Lilia.

“We were received with greater empathy than if we had landed without knowing what we were going to find,” said Badia. “There is previous work of identification and planning so that, when you arrive, there are already a series of steps, in advance. I think if there is one thing that stands out from all this work, it is the relationships between people.”

Beyond stereotypes

The Gabo Prize 2020 jury praised the series’ careful visual construction and solid conceptual character during the awarding process.

The journalists agreed with the jury that the audiovisual elements of the series were fundamental to its impact because they portrayed the Amazon crisis from the perspective of its people. Albarenga explained that the text, short videos and still images that make up each of the ten episodes complement each other, so that the audience can understand each protagonist’s story on different levels.

“It’s about bringing together different kinds of narratives to tell a story in the best possible way, so that the story is much more holistic in its approach and addresses all those layers of richness embedded in each story,” said Albarenga. “I think it creates a lot more empathy with the viewer and brings them closer to the characters in the stories.”

Each episode includes as a cover image a photograph of the protagonist lying on the ground, which merges with another image of their particular region of the Amazon.

Albarenga found this to be an effective way to show that the indigenous people have a unique relationship with their land.

“I think there was something innovative there and that’s why the images were successful worldwide,” he said. “The relationship between the body and the territory is very clear and, in a way, it is also like paying homage to those territories, to those struggles, to those people. I think that my voice as a Latin American very much permeated there, saying that we must understand that other links with the territory are possible.”

Albarenga won the Sony World Photography Award 2020 for the photographs and subsequently put them together in a photo essay titled ‘Semillas de Resistencia’ (Seeds of Resistance), to which he continued to add images. There are now 17 portraits.

Drone images played an important role in the project, not only to show the vastness of the Amazon, but also as a tool to add context in a terrain where there are few elements to distinguish one area from another.

“Once you get in a track inside the jungle, you can’t see anything, you only see the vegetation around you but you don’t see any horizon, so having vision from above is important,” Badia said. “Using the drone allows, above all, to provide geographical context and context of what is happening and where it is happening, something that otherwise it is very difficult to tell.”

Other than the drone, the only equipment Albarenga used was a camera with a built-in microphone. A small support team helped those on camera to appear more natural and Badia credited Albarenga for his skill in this area also.

“Pablo does this very well: making the camera practically disappear, making it not an intimidating camera, but a camera that is part of the landscape so that the person in the conversation has more weight,” said Badia. “This is achieved through complicity and empathy with the characters that are portrayed.”

For Albarenga, the project’s visual aspects succeed because they communicate the reality of the Amazon’s communities beyond stereotypes, even as the audience becomes aware of the environmental crisis that besets this beautiful region.

“Sometimes we want to dramatise and produce impact and we end up sinning in that ‘porno-mystery’, trying to show crude, shocking realities, and we leave out a lot of beautiful things that happen inside, such as companionship, courage, resilience, resistance,” said Albarenga. “Just as images are a great ally to build stereotypes, the same tool can be used to undo them.”

Badia and Albarenga believe that the core strength of their work is that it breaks new ground in its commitment to a journalism based on empathy.

“I think journalism, especially in Latin America, is in an interesting phase of experimentation, of looking for new ways of telling stories, and I think this work can be a contribution to this trend,” said Badia. “The key lies in a journalism that is very sensitive to the values of the other, of the territory; a journalism that is less intrusive, more understanding, that gives more time to the story it wants to tell and lets it flow. It is an exercise in humility and professionalism at the same time.”

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