Over the last 40 years, the Amazon Biodiversity Center has been observing how nature is changing in the Amazon Rainforest — the largest and most important global ecosystem. With seven working camps on its 620-square-mile research reserve, the center was founded by Dr. Thomas Lovejoy to support scientists and students conducting field research on forest fragmentation and the impact of biological diversity. In particular, Camp 41 holds a special place in the hearts of travelers who have visited the Amazon as guests of Dr. Lovejoy.
Also known as the “godfather of biodiversity,” Dr. Lovejoy is one of the world’s foremost ecologists. Through his life’s work, he’s studied habitat partitioning and led one of the world’s largest ecological experiments in the rainforest. Scientists, journalists, politicians, and celebrities have joined Dr. Lovejoy at his research base in the Amazon, where they witnessed firsthand what was at stake in one of the world’s most diverse rainforests.
Berlin and Rio de Janeiro-based Kristin Bethge is a social documentary photographer who visited Dr. Lovejoy in the Amazon while on assignment for the German magazine brand eins. The project was intended to capture the Amazon’s flora and fauna as well as Dr. Lovejoy’s activities in Camp 41, while giving insight into the personality of the man who’s dedicated his life to preserving nature. A few months later, brand eins gave permission to publish the story in other magazines outside of Germany. So, Krisitin and brand eins’ writer Fabian Federl pitched a proposal (text + photo pdf) to the Danish magazine Mayday and they agreed to publish the story — turning into a paid collaboration with Mayday. The story was also published in France, Portugal, and Austria.
The exciting fact about the story of Dr. Lovejoy is that it was published in many different countries and the editors sometimes had very different image choices and layouts, so the same story was told very differently visually.
This project just fits perfect into my photographic style or let’s say better the topics I’m focused on in my work. Since 2016, I have been working on the topics of society and nature in the context of memory and identity in Brazil, Guinea-Bissau, and Portugal.
Camp 41 is named after its location at the 41st kilometer marker on the reserve road. Kristin and fellow travelers arrived at the camp via pickup after a long and arduous journey.
Especially the last hour was intense, we had many potholes or maybe it is better to say craters and a fallen tree on our road, which was then sawed through. The road is only possible to pass if you have a very experienced driver who knows the road very well.
In her time at the camp, Kristin learned about the dynamics of assignments that span several days — visual breaks were essential to her ability to “photograph again with a fresh eye and to perceive new things.” With Dr. Lovejoy in high demand at Camp 41, Kristin took care to find the best moments to capture him while maintaining his privacy and not being intrusive.
It was important for me to create a pleasant atmosphere with a good balance, without him feeling that he was constantly being photographed by me.
Since this was her first time in the rainforest, Kristin was simply in awe of the remarkable beauty that surrounded her. With 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 427 species of mammals, and 2.5 million different insects, the Amazon is home to more species of plants and animals than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet.
From a photography point of view, the Amazon rainforest is also a challenge, because most of the animals are hiding and my imagery is very influenced by sunlight and also by harsh shadows, which do not exist in the Amazon because the light is intercepted by the trees. That creates a very different light atmosphere, but it also has its charm. From my feeling, I can say that I find the Amazon much more exciting acoustically than visually. There are so many different sounds of animals that I don’t know, and it’s hard to tell which corner they are coming from. It’s a nature orchestra! And by far, one of the most formative perceptions I have made in my life so far.
It’s been shown by Dr. Lovejoy’s experiment that deforestation, road-making, and settlement-building contribute to species extinction while creating a catastrophic domino effect in the ecosystem. Despite decades of research around the devastating effects of deforestation, commercial exploitation of the rainforest continues. Sadly, Dr. Lovejoy passed away at the age of 80 on December 25, 2021. With hundreds of researchers and dozens of institutions participating over the years, the project continues to produce new findings.
I agree with Dr. Lovejoy and his approach, because once you’ve been in the Amazon rainforest, you won’t be able to get away from it. The experience of being in the rainforest — for me, it felt like entering a different atmosphere — is formative. But even though the experience is subjective, one thing I can say is that the rainforest touches everyone. And we and the governments have the task to protect the rainforest as well as possible from deforestation.
See more of Kristin’s images on her website and Instagram.
Photo Editors: Tobias Laukemper & Stefan Ostermeier
Writer: Fabian Federl
Mayday Magazine Editor: Halle Jarvi
Let us help you Find Photographers, source Stock Photography,
and Produce Your Shoot — or just reach out to hear more!