Yann Gross’s photographic pilgrimage to the Amazon basin demystifies exotic Western narratives to unearth the modern-day existence of the jungle’s indigenous inhabitants.
A traditional prophecy said that some 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’s called the Trans-Amazonian highway.
In the wake of its completion, missionaries rushed in to evangelise the Suruí people, who are native to the Amazon rainforest. This act of faith profoundly changed indigenous beliefs because the missionaries encouraged the shamans to abandon their ancestral rituals.
Perpera Suruí was the wawã, or shaman, of the community of Lapetanha. He is now the gatekeeper for the Evangelical church in the village and has given up his shamanic practice.
The Suruí’s story is just one of many that alludes to the rapid acculturation faced by indigenous communities since the days of colonialism.
A witness to evangelisation campaigns, infrastructure development, abuses of the rubber trade and natural resource extraction, the world’s longest river continues to arouse greed, competition and fascination in its visitors.
Following in the footsteps of past expeditions, The Jungle Book: Contemporary Stories of the Amazon and Its Fringe is a visual experience comprising discreetly staged scenes that reveal the diverse worlds of the Amazon and its surrounding areas.
Published by Aperture, the book contains a collection of stories that demystify Amazonia, probing fiction and reality to both play with the perceived stereotypes and convey the contemporary lived experiences of the local inhabitants.
For the series, Swiss photographer Yann Gross worked with different local communities and documented the dynamic culture of the Amazon as influenced by contemporary economic and social forces.
Gross’s monograph possesses a sensitivity that steers away from exoticised tropes of the noble savage. Instead we see photographs of men clothed in ancestral dress juxtaposed with women due to compete in Western-style beauty contests, while images of trafficked drugs are set alongside medicinal plants, magical charms and wild animals.
The globalised and traditional worlds of the Amazon collide, resulting in a diverse, complex representation of a vast community and culture in a constant state of flux, evolving to the challenges, threats and ravages of time.
Once immersed in this world, the viewer soon forgets romantic clichés of forgotten lands and begins to question the guiding ideals of progress and development that inform escapist fantasies.
“The merit of this book rests for many in its tacit, nearly humble, acceptance that this land doesn’t exist,” explains Arnaud Robert in the publication’s prologue. “It is only an agglomeration, phantoms and reconstructions resolved neither by nostalgia nor by conquest. It answers mirages with more mirages. In the furthest depths of the jungle, we only stumble upon a variant, sweaty and exhausted, of ourselves.”
Gross takes the reader on an immersive, engaging journey, a voyage of discovery that reflects the photographer’s own commitment to document the evolving identity and diversity of the region.
As Werner Herzog wrote to him: “This is big, as it reaches beyond the fever dreams that brood in Amazonia. Looking at this book it appears as if a curse weighs on the entire landscape, everywhere, from horizon to horizon.”