Underwater Landscape (Paisagem Submersa) is a project by the Brazilian photographers João Castilho, Pedro David and Pedro Motta. From 2002 to 2007 they documented the drastic changes in the Jequitinhonha Valley. Since 2006 this impoverished region in southeastern Brazil has been the site of the highest hydroelectric dam in Latin America. Seven communities were displaced by the reservoir; many of the 1150 families that lived in the area were forced to find a new source of living.
The Jequitinhonha Valley, in the northeast of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, is one of the poorest regions in Brazil. Since the 1970s the region has been subject to rigorously executed environmental politics. One of the most radical interventions was the construction of the Irapé hydroelectric project, which is intended to provide an economic stimulus for the impoverished region.
The down side is however that an enormous dam on the Jequitinhonha river has flooded out a large part of the valley. As a result, the already scarce fertile land in the area has been as good as lost. A large proportion of the 1150 farming families - many of whom had never been outside of the valley - were forced to relocate. The homes and farms where they were born are now at the bottom of a massive reservoir. Moreover, because of its illegal nature these families never received compensation for the loss of their other important source of income, small scale diamond extraction.
The Jequitinhonha Valley
In 2002 three Brazilian photographers decided to document the lives of the families involved. Independently of one another, João Castilho, Pedro David and Pedro Motta regularly travelled to the valley. There they recorded the daily life of the farm families, events surrounding the clearance of the region and the changes in the landscape, among other things.
But their documentary photography goes much further than the objective rendering of the current realities and revealing social injustices. With the force of their own imagination the photographers have created a parallel, literary reality. Through the poetic light, the artistic compositions and well-considered combinations of colours and patterns the photographs obtain an extra, symbolic significance.
Underwater Landscape is a small history of the Jequitinhonha Valley, but at the same time deals with great human themes: our connection with the land and cultural identity, disasters and higher authorities, being uprooted and starting all over again.Underwater Landscape thus tells a story that is as universal as the stories of the Flood, the Exodus and the Promised Land.
In 2005 Noorderlicht presented a selection from the project in progress during the photofestival Traces & Omens. Since then the final photographs have been completed. Underwater Landscape is appearing in book form in 2008.
Opening Friday, 14 November, 5:00 pm with Mr. Carlos Asfora, minister at the Brazilian Embassy in The Hague.