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Culturally-responsive photography in the Añangu community

Jorge Rivadeneyra, elder of the Añangu lowland Quichua community and chief guide for their Napo Wildlife Center ecotourism operation, shows Cristian a bird. The three of us were gathered on the broad sandy beach which is a population playground for the children of the community by the mouth of the Añanguyacu at the Napo river. The Añangu Communal Reserve is located in Yasuní National Park/UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Napo province, Amazonian Ecuador. Model release.

A message from RawRainforest Photography & Educational Tours Director Bruce Farnsworth…

My motivations in founding Raw Rainforest were many.  I want to promote the educational work of respectful photographers and their images, really explore the rainforest in a ways that really reflect it’s diversity and, most of all, give back to those who have hosted my work in the past and advance their community projects and conservation efforts with direct economic support.

For this website, I photographed members of the Añangu lowland Quichua community at their invitation as part of their efforts to promote their community-based tourism venture, the “Napo Wildlife Center”. This work came after five years of continuous residence in the upper Napo river basin that included my masters fieldwork in Environmental Education.  When community members saw some of the photographs on the backscreen of my camera, their comments included “estas fotos muestran el argullo de la gente” (these photos display the pride of the people) and “se nota el modo de vivir autóctono” (you notice the authentic way of life), which was gratifying.

To use the images of Añangu children, I obtained written permission from parents in conversations that were facilitated by an elder of the community. Jorge Rivadeneira introduced me to Bolivar Cerda, another Añangu elder and father of Cristian, the boy pictured here with Jorge and on our home page. The young lady in the canoe on our home page is Cristian’s sister, Katerine Cerda. Jorge explained to me that the Añangu Quichua are concerned for the future, and committed to manage their own resources. He believes the children should be a part of the tourism operation and a part of these photographs.

While working, I am sometimes asked to join in the events around me. So I set my camera down for awhile. When I’m working, I move among the activities I photograph and record “found” moments. Tour participants can be at ease, knowing that their images are not staged or contrived. These are friends, photographed in their own forest, doing what they normally do. No one is paid to pose or asked to “act more native” during our programs at Añangu. This is not Nanuck of the North.

Before Raw Rainforest participants arrive at Añangu, an orientation is provided on what might constitute “culturally-responsive” photography.  I want my guests to know that the Añangu people will recognize your kindness and sincerity, and that language will not be a barrier to a wonderful experience!! We discuss what might constitute environmentally and socially-conscious photography. Your Añangu community guide will let us know which areas are private during out tour, and it’s important to respect that. Some community members might like to look into your viewfinder or the LCD screen of your camera, or even take a turn with the camera. That’s an opportunity for interaction, and we hope you will oblige. Many community members are familiar with the cameras, binoculars and spotting scopes, since community guides and children are involved in their tourism and assist research projects in Yasuní National Park/UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of which their land is part.

I encourage all outdoor photographers to be diligent in their work and obtain written permission when photographing people closely. It elevates our craft, and hopefully will become more the norm.  These are the questions photographers – and all viewers/consumers of  outdoor and cultural photography – should be asking themselves when looking at images such as these.  Did the photographer have permission to make that image? What purpose will it serve? If a photographer can name the individuals in the photograph as I have done here, that should mean – and hopefully does mean – that the photographer declared himself/herself in some way,  initiated a conversation and is truly interested in the individual photographed.   If working honestly, these photographers are transparent and willing to be held accountable for their working methods.  There images should be accompanied by some type of work on behalf of the indigenous community who kindly lent their likeness for the photograph.

The Añangu people are forming their own ideas of what responsible photography should be, and your performance as a guest in the community is very important. We ask participants to take time observing, and participating in, that which they photograph. Spend time away from the viewfinder and go slow. Ask permission before you photograph. Consider giving a set of complimentary prints to the community as a sign of good faith. I have given large archival, fade-resistant prints to Añangu community members who display them inside their family huts. Bolivar Cerda has my photographs of his children proudly hung on his walls. Many photographers promise to send photos, but disappointingly few deliver!

At Raw Rainforest Photogrpahy & Educational Tours, we work proactively to ensure our participants interact with and contribute on a personal level to our host communities.  Respectful photographers can help preserve community-wide support for ecotourism as a sustainable economy. We’ve put up a discussion forum on the RawRainforest Facebook page where you can contribute your ideas on what constitutes “Culturally-responsive photography.”  It’s a concern that is central to my work in the upper Amazon basin.

Keep Ecuador’s Topo River Wild and Free Flowing

It is expected that the Ecuadorian government is still considering the environmental license for the Topo Hydroelectric Project, a project which would devastate a pristine watershed. This will allow the project to begin construction, despite widespread local opposition.

Please help us to voice your concern about the decision to develop the Topo Hydroelectric Project and persuade the President and government decision-makers in Ecuador to maintain the integrity of the Topo River and the Llanganates-Sangay Ecological Corridor. Urge them to consider other alternatives for developing secure and renewable energy for Ecuador, and provide permanent protection for the Topo River to keep it as a wild, free-flowing river for the enjoyment of future generations.

Please forward this message to your friends so that this important iniciative will have more impact.

Kayaker enjoys the wild rivers of Ecuador

Thanks for your help in keeping the Topo River wild and free-flowing!