Remember that sensational set of photos of the ‘uncontacted’ people from the Brazilian-Peruvian Border? Well a couple weeks ago, Simon from HENRY, shared link that I think some of you maybe interested in. The link I speak of is this news piece, “Secret of the ‘lost’ tribe that wasn’t.”
In the news piece, Peter Beaumont, the author clarifies somethings that the press didn’t quite cover thoroughly. Firstly, the tribe photographed hasn’t been completely unknown to outsiders. In fact, ‘the tribe’s existence has been noted since 1910.’ Al-Jazeera got a chance to interview one of the sertanistas behind those photographs, Carlos Meirelles. Meirelles works for FUNAI, the Brazilian Indian Protection Agency dedicated to searching out remote tribes and protecting them,
“Meirelles described how he found the group, detailed how they lived and how he planned the publicity to protect them and other tribes in similar danger of losing the habitat in which they have flourished for hundreds of years.
Meirelles admitted that the tribe was first known about almost a century ago and that the apparently chance encounter that produced the now famous images was no accident. ‘When we think we might have found an isolated tribe,’ he told al-Jazeera, ‘a sertanista like me walks in the forest for two or three years to gather evidence and we mark it in our GPS. We then map the territory the Indians occupy and we draw that protected territory without making contact with them. And finally we set up a small outpost where we can monitor their protection.'”
So Meirelles is a conservator of indigenous peoples and interested in finding more about them. He further explained the motivation behind the photos,
“…the Brazilian state of Acre offered him the use of an aircraft for three days. ‘I had years of GPS co-ordinates,’ he said. Meirelles had another clue to the tribe’s precise location. ‘A friend of mine sent me some Google Earth co-ordinates and maps that showed a strange clearing in the middle of the forest and asked me what that was,’ he said. ‘I saw the co-ordinates and realized that it was close to the area I had been exploring with my son – so I needed to fly over it….’
When I saw them painted red, I was satisfied, I was happy,’ he said. ‘Because painted red means they are ready for war, which to me says they are happy and healthy defending their territory….’
…But the revelation that the existence of the tribe was already established will provoke awkward questions over why a decision was made to try to photograph them – a form of contact in itself – in order to make a political point.”
So what do you think? Was photographing these people ethical?