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Yann Gross’ Jungle Book Defetishizes Western Perceptions Of The Amazon

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The Jungle Book: Contemporary Stories of the Amazon and Its Fringe
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The Amazon has long been a place of Western intrigue; its people and its nature mythologized and fetishized in equal parts. Yann Gross’ photographic expedition to the Amazon basin moves beyond such facile generalizations, revealing instead the everyday life of the indigenous inhabitants of this vast jungle area.

A traditional prophecy said that one day, a giant snake would come and swallow up the Suruí people, destroying them and everything else in its path. The snake arrived in 1969: it is called the Trans-Amazonian Highway. Measuring 4000 km long, this road has changed life in the Amazon forever. In just three years following its completion, the Suruí population dropped from 3000 to below 500; this is but one of many stories of tragedy engendered by the highway.

Gross, on a self-funded expedition that followed the Amazon River and the Trans-Amazonian Highway, determined to capture the stories he found along the way. Forgoing cliches, he photographed moments media outlets were not interested in; beauty pageants, shamanic gardens, and the Amazon’s first indigenous rap group: Brô MCs.

“The idea wasn’t to romanticize the Amazon, or to present it in a dramatic way”, he explained in a talk for Aperture. “The way I wanted to photograph all these things was more in a poetic way, because the reality is much more complex.” The result is The Jungle Book: Contemporary Stories of the Amazon and Its Fringe, a conceptual-meets-documentary publication that presents daily life in the Amazon at a time of ecological disintegration.

The monograph was published by Aperture and is available for purchase here.

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The Dance of the Bald Uakaris

The dance of the bald uakaris (Cacajao calvus) interpreted by the Chambira cultural group, Santo Tomás, PeruThe contemporary Mashakaras are artistic interpretations of a lost Cocama ritual. The indigenous villages around Iquitos have been absorbed by the expansion of the city, and the traditions unique to every community gradually disappeared throughout the late twentieth century as Cocama legends and rituals became more influenced by other cultures.

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The Fishing

"Ribeirinhos" fish, hunt and collect fruits to feed their family. Every morning Daniel goes fishing in a lagoon close to his house. From top to bottom : Piraña, Fasaco, Sungaro, Tucunare.

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Valentina Del Aguila Vasquez, Iquitos, Peru, 2013. Vasquez is considered to be the most beautiful woman in the Amazon. She won the Miss Amazon Confraternity beauty pageant in Leticia, in which Brazilians, Colombians and Peruvians all participate. The first prize includes an envelope with US$1,000, an orthodontic treatment and cosmetic surgery at a reputable clinic in Bogotá.

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Freshly caught caiman is prepared as breakfast in the Bolívar community at the banks of Rio Curaray, Peru.

MF Marcelita, Río Itaya,Iquitos, Peru

The Peruvian Navy confiscates vessels discovered transporting drugs. The boats are often left abandoned and rusting along the riverbanks.

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Gold nugget, Delta Uno, Peru. In the jungle boomtown of Delta Uno, buying gold is easy. The mercury-amalgamation process involves mixing elemental mercury with silt that contains tiny pieces of gold. When the mercury is added to the silt, it sticks to the gold, forming a solid mercury-gold amalgam. This amalgam is then heated, which vaporizes the mercury and leaves behind the gold. The mercury often seeps into the air and rivers, polluting the environment in the Madre de Dios region.

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Perpera Surui, a former shaman, is now the porteiro, or church doorkeeper. The Surui all speak the indigenous language and are proud to defend their identity. However, since the first contact with the outside, various influences changed the daily routine of the Surui lifestyle: an evangelical church is the weekly meeting place for the community and the mass is spoken in the Surui language.

All images © Yann Gross