Claudia Andujar – The Yanomami Struggle

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Review by Melanie Chapman •

Let’s be honest, many of us are tired of the changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. We want to travel again, to socialize with friends and move freely through crowded spaces. We want to feel less scared about the future, to care for our sick, and be able to hug loved ones. We may even feel nostalgia for times not so long ago that resemble a way of life we’d grown to believe would never change.

And yet for some, the slowing down of our daily lives compels us to consider the benefits of a simpler, more grounded existence. Thus, the arrival of Thames and Hudson’s new photobook Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle comes at a perfect moment.

Chronicling over 40 years of research and activism dedicated to the protection of one of Brazil’s largest indigenous communities, this stiff cover book presents over three hundred of Andujar’s photographs, as well as interviews and excerpts from various publications and drawings by Yanomami artists.

Andujar shot on film during numerous trips into areas so remote that until quite recently, its inhabitants thought they were the only humans on earth. The very act of documenting their lives proved quite challenging. The rainforest was so wet and dense that making photographs was especially challenging. To her credit, Andujar embraced the smears that a foggy camera lens produced, and this adds to the sense of being up close and personally involved with the daily activities shown. She also experimented with infrared film, a variety of formats, and ventured into a more artistic approach when documenting shamanistic rituals, allowing light flares and trails to convey the spiritual component of “out of body” ceremonies.

Published in conjunction with a large retrospective held at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris, there is so much content in this book that one can feel grateful for the opportunity to hold it as a physical object. Part ethnographic study, part comprehensive overview of one woman’s life’s work, the only thing light about this book is the weight of its physical pages. The matte printing feels appropriate to the subject matter and the era in which these fascinating images were made. The flexibility of the binding, the ease with which these pages turn, will invite you back and encourage you to read the numerous and informative essays, both about the Yanomami people and Claudia Andujar’s journey to the Amazon in order to find herself.

Flip through the pages and notice the various layout choices made when presenting the massive collection of Andujar’s images. Spend as much time as you can entering into the world of large dimly lit communal houses, feel the humidity in the air and the coolness in the river. Take in the maternal affection of children held up for Andujar’s camera, perhaps notice the similarities in her portraits to Walker Evan’s images of itinerant workers from the 1930s.

Trekking into the deepest parts of the Amazonian rainforest was always difficult and came with great personal risk. However, the biggest threat to Andujar’s work and her safety came not from the “primitive” Yanomami tribe, but instead from the military dictatorship ruling Brazil at the time. Farming and logging companies wanted the land, and lack of protections by the Government would eventually bring devastation by way of disease.

The near annihilation of the Yanomami people in the 1970s and 80s sadly has its equivalent now with the arrival of Covid-19 wiping out entire villages along the Amazon river. Thus this book of images made in the last century has particular relevance to those of us contemplating the destructive path of a global pandemic and how fundamentally our daily lives can be changed by unseen forces.

Take your time, as Andujar did, to become familiar with a culture that developed long before industrial technology invaded, long before outsiders cut up their land and nearly destroyed them. You might gravitate towards the more anthropological aspects of this story; you might take a more visual approach and gaze deeply into the faces that emerge from the forest in her experimental multilayered images.

After reading the extensive essays, and absorbing the landscapes, rituals, and details of the Yanomami way of life, you may find yourself as Andujar did, wishing to be a member of their community. What they “lacked” in comfort, they gained in collective effort and care. No matter how you approach this impressive new book, Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle will give you much to look at, and even more to contemplate.

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Claudia Andujar – The Yanomami Struggle

Photographer: Claudia Andujar, born in Neuchatel, Switzerland and resides in Brazil

Essays by Claudia Andujar, Thyago Nogueira and Bruce Albert

Text: English

Published by Fondation Cartier our l’art contemporain, with Thames & Hudson, copyright 2020

Stiff-covers, 336 pages, 300 illustrations, Printed in Brazil

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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