2016 — professional
Aaron Vincent Elkaim (b.1981) is a Canadian documentary photographer and founding member of the Boreal Collective. Currently based in Toronto Canada, Aaron approaches his work with a focus on collonail narratives where traditional culture and environmental degradation collide. Since 2011 he has committed himself to exploring narratives where people still connected to the natural world are being impacted by industrial development. While highlighting important human and environmental rights issues, Aaron addresses the need to protect the natural world by revealing our profound connection it.
Aaron's work has been recognized by a number of institutions including Burn Photography, 2014 Oskar Barnak Award, The Society of Publications Designers, the Daylight Photo Award, American Photography, the Magenta Foundation, Photolucidia, PDN, the Lucie Awards, and Visura among others. His clients include The New Yorker, The New York Times, TIME Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, HUCK, Macleans, The Canadian Press and The Globe and Mail.
The sound of thousands of different species harmonizing echoed in my ears as I lay in my hammock on my first night in the Xikrín community of Pot Crô on the Bacaja River in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest; the name of the river means “that which flows is our veins.” I awoke at first light to find children playing a game of who could stand in a red ant hill the longest before having to jump into a puddle for relief. In that moment and in the days and weeks that proceeded I saw how those born and raised in the midst of nature were different than the rest of us. Their needs and desires were not determined by material goods, but by what nature simply provided and they were fighting to protect it.
Plans for the Belo Monte Dam Complex began in 1975 under the apex of military dictatorship. It would be built on the Xingu River, home to Brazil’s first indigenous reserve. In 1989 the Kayapó, a tribe of which the Xikrín are a subgroup, mounted a massive public campaign to oppose its construction due to fears their river would be destroyed. International financiers soon pulled their support, and the project was shelved.
In 2007, then Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced the Accelerated Growth Program, the largest investment package to spur economic growth in Brazil in the past 40 years. A cornerstone of this program is the industrialization of the Amazon, with the construction of over 60 major hydroelectric projects; Belo Monte has been at the forefront. The energy generated will power cities thousands of miles away and fuel local mining initiatives, such as Belo Sun, which will be Brazil’s largest gold mine and is feared will compound the impacts to the Xingu River. Now nearing completion, Belo Monte is considered the third-largest dam in the world. It is displacing over 20,000 people.
Hydroelectric dams are touted as clean and renewable sources of energy, yet hundreds of square miles of land are flooded and complex river ecosystems permanently transformed while new infrastructure and population growth open the forests to increased logging, mining, and agriculture. Under the guise of renewable energy, the Amazon Rainforest is being eroded along with the cultures and communities who depend on this precious ecosystem for their sustainable ways of life.
I have witnessed the lives and anxiety of indigenous communities facing the impacts of the Belo Monte Dam. Under the legal conditions for the dam’s operation these communities were promised fair compensation for the destruction of their habitat, yet as the reservoir fills, those obligations remain unfulfilled. On the tributaries of the Xingu, I experienced the life of the ribenerious, descendants of the workers from Brazil’s hundred year old rubber boom who have forged sustainable lives from the natural wealth of the rainforest. I also witnessed the struggle of the Munduruku tribe who are fighting to save their traditional lands and way of life on the neighbouring Tapajos River where the next mega dam is planned.
In recent years Brazil’s development of the Amazon has progressed at a staggering rate, as these new developments come to fruition it is vital to be a witness for both the people who call the Amazon home, and the World who depends upon it’s health. It is far to late to stop the Belo Monte dam, but it must be judged it for what it is. We understands the importance of the Amazon Rainforest, yet what happens there is often shielded from our vision. With the support of the Alexia Foundation I will focus on witnessing the fallout from Belo Monte and other region dams. This will include the impacts of the loss of construction employment for local and migrant workers, the growth of collateral industries such as mining, logging, ranching, and agriculture, and most importantly the stories of those who are being robbed of their birthright, the natural world that surrounds them. I will also continue documenting the struggle of the Munduruku people in their fight to stop the Sao Luiz do Tapajos Dam. The consequences of hydroelectric expansion in the Amazon must be understood, this is my goal.