Sunday, August 9, 2009

Daniel Beltra returns from Prince's Rainforests Project Assignment

Daniel Beltra, courtesy of The Prince’s Rainforests Project and Sony
Earlier this year photojournalist Daniel Beltra was announced as the winner of the Sony World Photography Awards 2009 Prince’s Rainforests Project (PRP) Award. Receiving the award at the Gala ceremony was just the beginning for Daniel as his prize was a fully-funded assignment to document the rainforest regions of the Amazon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia. We caught up with Daniel just as he arrived back from the last stage of shooting in Borneo.
How did you feel receiving the Sony World Photography Prince’s Rainforests Project Award?
It’s a tremendous honour and an incredible opportunity. Just going to the main tropical rainforests in the world and coming back in one piece is an achievement in itself. I had only three or four weeks per country which is not much given the scope of the project. Since February when Scott called to tell me I was the winner life has been extremely intense!
How have you found the experience of documenting the rainforest regions of the Amazon, the Congo and Indonesia?
I worked a lot in rainforests for many years so in some respects it was not a new experience. It was very interesting to go from one rainforest to the next so quickly. It was my first time in the Congo so that was definitely a highlight for me but it was the hardest of the three regions to work in because the conditions are really difficult. It’s saddening to see what’s happening to our rainforests but it feels good to be doing something about it.
The three rainforests are all suffering in different ways. The Amazon is getting lost at a very fast pace thanks to the logging, agriculture and meat production of large companies. In the Congo, it’s a different story; it has been through political turmoil so people have been trying to make money from the logging in the rainforest to survive. As the country stabilises the rainforest risks becoming vulnerable to big companies moving in. Indonesia is in the worst shape of all three of them, for example, Sumatra only has 15% of its rainforests left and the whole of Indonesia has lost around half of its rainforest. A lot of the problems come from carbon released by the burning of peat lands to dry the land out for agriculture, palm oil plantations and paper and pulp (Acacia and Eucalyptus plantations).
The Prince’s Rainforests Project aims to raise global awareness about the impact deforestation is having on our planet. Is this something you feel strongly about personally?
Yes of course, I’ve been working on it for over 10 years during which I’ve worked closely with Greenpeace. Deforestation is a drama happening and I think we need to expose it. I’m a photojournalist by trade but since the beginning of 90’s I’ve been working on conservation issues and it has become my speciality.
What was the highlight of the assignment for you?
Well the highlight was to meet Prince Charles! Even though it wasn’t part of the trip, to see him so motivated, concerned and personally involved in a subject like this was amazing. He has the power to reach a lot of people so it’s great that he has this commitment.
On the trips you see so much deforestation so when I had time to spend in a pristine area it was a real treat. Being with the Orang-utans at a rehabilitation centre for them in Sumatra was very special; the Centre takes them in to the forest and teaches them how to survive in the wild again. We share the largest part of our genetic code with them so it’s really interesting to interact with them.
What are your plans once you return from the assignment and do you have any particular hopes for your future as a conservational photographer?
I just want to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I want to have my voice heard. I want to slow down or reverse the damage that’s been done. The project is still going on; I am editing the photographs now in preparation for exhibitions of the photographs opening later this year and for a book.
Sony and the PRP are delivering a stunning interactive exhibition that will combine Daniel’s new photographs with Sony technology to allow people to experience the glory of the rainforests and understand their plight. The exhibition will open at Kew Gardens, London on October 3rd 2009. More details on other exhibitions and book will be announced on our News page soon.
To watch HRH the Prince of Wales talking about the Award
Daniel Beltra, courtesy of The Prince’s Rainforests Project and Sony