Full Frame: the promised land


Full Frame features photo essays and conversations with photographers in the field.

The settlers had been living in their camp in the Bolivian Amazon for six weeks, stuck in a bureaucratic doldrums trying to get land with hardly any food left. They felt abandoned.

After some hesitation they accepted me. I slept in the camp. I brought them bags of mangos and coffee. I played games, ate and talked with everyone. They told me about their families and what they would do with their land. They hated being stuck in the camp because they wanted to work. Regardless of whether I thought their hopes were practical, I liked them and was on their side. I was going to be an advocate for them.

Things got complicated when we all went on a scouting trip to see some potential land to settle in the jungle near the camp. After an hour in a canoe down the river and four hours of hiking in the hot, wet, thick jungle, we came to an impromptu camp where we would stay for two nights. The forest had been razed and burned. Some trees were literally still smoking. I realized that if my friends get their land in the rainforest, they’d tear it down to grow plaintains.

I was conflicted and at that moment, my sense of purpose changed — or maybe just muddled. I wanted to make a picture that was terrifying, that somehow showed what could happen if Bolivia haphazardly moved people into the Amazon.

My story had to do justice to the complexity of the issue. The big story of Amazon rainforest destruction is in Brazil and involves agribusiness corporations, but this story seemed, to me, to embody the calculus that pits progress against preservation. These were good, honest, hardworking people who see trees as hoarding valuable space that they could use to pull themselves out of poverty. Even so, trees are not just trees when you are talking about intact Amazon rainforest and the cost/benefit analysis is quickly oversimplified.

It occurred to me that, as photojournalists, much of our very important work is done in the aftermath of tragedies. But, I felt I had to make pictures that said something about a tragedy that hadn’t happened yet because it was one that I could already envision.

About the photographer:

Steve Remich is a photojournalist currently based in the Hampton Roads, Va. Always interested in photography, he took the plunge in 2004 and decided to pursue photojournalism as a career. He worked for a year on a book project documenting Tidewater Community College through the Visual Arts Center in Portsmouth, Va. The book, "Acts of Optimism," was published in 2007.  In 2006, Remich entered the University of Missouri — Columbia’s graduate program in photojournalism where he worked for the contests Pictures of the Year International and College Photographer of the Year.  He took a year off from school to complete two internships and in June 2009, left the United States to spend six months in South America working on two major projects. The first was documenting the annual Catholic pilgrimage from El Cisne, Ecuador, and the second was about land reform in Bolivia.  His work to date has focused mostly on Latin America, both in Hispanic communities in the United States and in Latin America. He is currently finishing his graduate work in Chesapeake, Va.