Striving for Co-Existence: Aaron Vincent Elkaim’s Work in the Amazon Basin
For three decades, the indigenous people of the Xingu River in Brazil have been at the forefront of a battle against the construction of one of the world’s largest hydroelectric plants, the Belo Monte Dam. The Xingu River is home to 16 indigenous tribes, and is a biodiversity hotspot in the Amazon Basin. It’s here that photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim traveled for his long-term ongoing series “Where the River Runs Through.”
Elkaim, who studied cultural anthropology and film in university, has always been interested in original communities. He was raised in Winnipeg, where Canada’s largest number of indigenous people reside.
Shot over the course of two years, “Where the River Runs Through” is Elkaim’s third long-term project. Through his work, he shows how deeply connected the Xingu people are with their land. “The history of conservation, as defined by American conservation, has been to keep people out of the land, because people are destructive,” he says. “And that’s backwards, because these people’s lives, their whole way of life, is [organized] around surviving with the land. So they’re deeply invested in protecting the forests around them.” In fact, Elkaim points out, these indigenous communities can help the country to monitor the land. As “the eyes and ears of the forest,” they can raise the flag in the case of illegal logging or mining.
After decades of construction and legal battles, the Belo Monte Dam is projected to be finished in 2019. Now, at the neighboring Tapajós River, the Munduruku people are resisting the next proposed dam, the São Luiz do Tapajós. The direct effects of such dams include river flooding and drying, the development of the land and increased mining operations in the Amazon, all which cause displacement. Elkaim recently received a $20,000 Alexia Foundation grant, and for the next year he’ll pursue the story, traveling to Brazil to document three stages of the issue: the fight against dam construction, the reality of the situation during construction, and the continuing effects of a dam. “I’m interested in documenting the whole narrative of hydroelectric [construction] in the Amazon,” Elkaim explains. “It’s not just about the third-largest dam in the world. It’s about the long-term destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which is the most important ecosystem on our planet.” (Read the full story)
All photos © Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation