Your browser is no longer supported. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

4. Promote the work of specific people and communities and avoid stereotypes

The 'selfie' of the other. In popular belief, the image of the "Indian" is almost always static and refers to the past, nudity, headdress, bow and arrow. Outside of these stereotypes, the person is no longer considered "Indian" or "pure". As an indigenous image maker, this sometimes raises a dilemma: what image are we showing the other, or rather, what image does the other see through what we want to show? Our "yearning for image" is precisely the deconstruction of this "indigenous image", making of this image the very continuity of the transformations that we indigenous peoples are.

Indigenous peoples do not dress, act, think or speak according to pre-established Western expectations. The same applies to forests, which must be represented in all their diversity, without fixating on general regions such as the Amazon Rainforest.

There are many different forests in Abya Yala (an Indigenous term referring here to Central America and parts of the South American continent) such as the Atlantic, Catinga, Paramo and Valdivian forest – which should receive as much attention as the Amazon.

It is important to promote visuals that go beyond negative stereotypes, while avoiding the use of language and images that exacerbate discrimination.  

EN: A Xakriabá man looks over the Cerrado forest in the village of Caatinguinha, Xakriabá Territory, Brazil. ES: Un hombre de Xakriabá mira por encima del bosque del Cerrado en la aldea de Caatinguinha, territorio de Xakriabá, Brasil. PT: Um homem da etnia Xakriabá observa a floresta de Cerrado na Vila Caatinguinha, território Xakriabá, Brasil Um homem da etnia Xakriabá observa a floresta de Cerrado na Vila Caatinguinha, território Xakriabá, Brasil

When it's Amazon Day, people say, “Can I use one of your pictures to talk about the Amazon?” I say, “But this is Cerrado, it's not Amazon.” People see an Indigenous person portrayed, thinking that Brazil is only the Amazon, but he's from the Cerrado, not from the Amazon. This is also a kind of generalisation, thinking that there are only Indigenous peoples in the Amazon.”

Edgar Kanaykõ, Ethnophotographer and Anthropologist, Xakriabá people, Brazil

Be mindful of the language and images you use, so that you can protect the dignity of individuals and combat harmful biases. Support the future that Indigenous Peoples are choosing for themselves, according to their own languages and their own sense of ancestry and destiny.

Give voice to specific individuals, communities and forests, avoiding terms or narratives like ‘uncontacted tribes’ which are generic and prone to negative stereotyping. As traditional practices are changing rapidly, it is vital to support and visually reflect cultural and climate adaptations that are shaped by genuine Indigenous self-determination and cultural resilience. This applies not only to Indigenous Peoples in the Territories, but also to Indigenous communities in farming areas, industrial zones and cities. 

The other thing one discerns from long term engagement with Indigenous peoples is how rapidly custom and practice changes, and that what seems eternal is actually constantly being reshaped – that IS self-determination”

Marcus Colchester - Forest Peoples Programme, 2014

Lilia, community leader from the Cocama people, her husband Aldo and their daughter Ainara travel through the jungle on their way to the raft they set up on Lake Tarapoto, Colombia to control the exploitation of fishing in their territory.

When we always make the same images we end up creating a stereotype. For many years, we’ve been photographing traditional peoples in exotic ways, and the resulting images would perfectly fit in a museum. These images create the illusion that traditional peoples don’t use anything other than traditional hand-made clothes, that they don’t use technology, among others, contributing to an image of 'purity'. The acceptance of these images as the only truth has direct consequences in the lives of any other traditional people that don’t match the stereotype. They are attacked, their identity is questioned, and they are called invaders, in order to grab their lands and their resources.”

Pablo Albarenga, documentary photographer and visual storyteller, Uruguay

EN: The members of G.I.A. during a routine traveled by the Amacayacu River, near the community of San Martín, Colombia. ES: Los miembros de G.I.A. durante una rutina recorrida por el río Amacayacu, cerca de la comunidad de San Martín, Colombia. PT: Membros do G.I.A., durante uma patrulha de rotina, às margens do rio Amacayacu, próximo à comunidade de San Martín, na Colômbia.
Lilia, community leader from the Cocama people, and Karina, from the Natütama Foundation, feed a manatee they found stranded on the banks of the Amazon River in Colombia, while trying to locate its mother.

Nixiwaka Yawanawá from Acre state in Brazil protested outside Nelson’s exhibition in London. “As a tribal person I feel offended by Jimmy Nelson’s work Before They Pass Away. It’s outrageous! We are not passing away but struggling to survive. Industrialised society is trying to destroy us in the name of ‘progress’, but we will keep defending our lands and contributing to the protection of the planet,” he said.”

John Vidal for The Guardian, 2014

Photographer Jimmy Nelson’s highly staged work depicts exoticised and idealized traditional peoples, providing a clear example of othering and fetishisation – a scenified image of the ‘untouched and pristine Noble Savage’.

His work centres his own voice and his own role, adventuring to distant lands to document these peoples “before they pass away”. His approach, affording those in his images little agency or voice, reflects that of the White Saviour. 

Nelson cites as his inspiration the controversial 19th century photographer Edward Curtis, who created an extensive collection of romanticised images of Native Americans, calling them ‘the vanishing race’.

EN: Various Jimmy Nelson books ES: Algunos libros de Jimmy Nelson PT: Livros de Jimmy Nelson

They still have this almost salvationist, religious type of view that Indigenous people are forgotten by God and things like that, even in the 21st century.. These views perpetuate and serve as tools so that not only do the media continue to use language that racialises, discriminates against or stigmatises Indigenous communities, but they also serve as tools directly for society itself to continue to segregate these communities. So it is important to change the narratives … [they’re not] going to be changed overnight or just by talking more softly to an Indigenous person, or eating their food or telling them everything now ... Narratives are changed by listening to the voice of Indigenous people themselves. Because only they know what it is like to live there. If we are going to talk about ethics, we have to start from there."

Sara Aliaga Ticona, photojournalist, Aymara people, Bolivia

or the Yuqui people it is imperative and important to protect their territory from illegal activities that could put their inhabitants at risk. But above all, it is important to protect their territory from illegal activities that could irreparably damage the ecosystem that surrounds them and of which they have been the protectors. Photo credit: Sara Aliaga Ticona, photojournalist, Aymara people, Bolivia

Sometimes journalists go with a preconception of what we want to see. For me, the first thing is what they really are, and to reflect them in the best and most creative way ... to reflect an event without distorting it, without exoticising it, without magnifying it, without sensationalising it, as is generally done.”

Sara Aliaga Ticona, photojournalist

EN: "Existential Reflection". Portrait of Yanelis Cunampio, member of an Embera traditional dance group ES: “Reflejo existencial”. Retrato de Yanelis Cunampio, miembro de un grupo Embera de danza tradicional PT: "Reflexo Existencial". Retrato de Yanelis Cunampio, membro de um grupo Embera de dança tradicional

Images continue to negatively affect communities and therefore forests. The images represent us as: marginalised, poor, ignorant, vulnerable, or go to the extreme of representing us idealised as mystical, fierce protectors of mother earth - and of course the vast majority of society, including Indigenous people, assume that this is the condition of Indigenous Peoples. Which triggers a range of events that do not favour the environment or society.”

Mara Bi, photographer, Embera people, Panama

EN: "I am Embera." Painting with body paint made with the jagua fruit. ES: “Soy Embera”. Pintando con pintura corporal elaborada con la fruta de jagua. PT: “Sou Embera”. Pintar com pintura corporal feita com a fruta jagua.

Photographer Jeison Riascos founded the Talento Chocoano platform in 2010. “I call it empowering and making visible, showing the positive content of the region. This type of content was not published and when they talked about Chocó they simply talked about stealing or killing or raping. They never talked about anything good. That’s why this platform was created, which allowed [people from Chocó] to have a voice in the country and in the world.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Talento Chocoano (@talentochocoano)

I always consider how what I publish is going to affect people's mental health. I look for the character or the story to make the person, when they see it or read it, they feel seen."

Jeison Riascos, photographer


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Talento Chocoano (@talentochocoano)


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Talento Chocoano (@talentochocoano)

Download the full report

Download the full report

This report provides the foundation for this web-based resource. Commissioned by Climate Visuals and produced by Nicolas Salazar Sutil with picture research by Jaye Renold, it includes conversations with Indigenous leaders and photographers, media stakeholders and NGOs in 10 countries.