South America’s Amazonia Blurs the Present and the Past

Tracing the route of a 16th-century expedition, a photographer finds that in the jungle today, tribal myths coexist with modernity.

Noble savages, lost cities, pristine wilderness—Amazonia has always conjured romantic myths and stereotypes. But what is the jungle really like in the 21st century? In 2011 I set out to find the answer.

My interest actually began in 2008, when I was working with an indigenous community to reforest a patch of northeastern Brazil. The youngsters in the village liked to talk about the purity of tribal life, but it was a borrowed nostalgia. Like most kids their age, they danced, drank, and played soccer. One evening they refused to take me to a party; I wasn’t dressed well enough. At that moment I realized how much our perceptions and projections can differ from reality.

After that I started to read books about Amazonia. One of them was an account of the Spanish soldier Francisco de Orellana’s voyage down the Amazon River in the 1540s—the first European exploration of the region (but not, of course, the last). I decided to follow in the footsteps of that expedition, to see what the route is like today.

Read This Next

Battle to control America’s ‘most destructive’ species: feral pigs

How coffee can help forests grow faster

The forgotten fossil hunter who transformed Britain’s Jurassic Coast

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet