Marilene Cardoso Ribeiro

Phd Student

[Three of us talking, Delcilene, her mother, Maria das Graças, and me, Marilene] Delcilene – “Our island, our sand beaches, our trees, our home [pause] all has gone. Belo Monte dam has brought nothing to us but death.” Maria das Graças – “Because the islands, the trees, they all died, everything is dead. It looks like a backwood in the backlands [sertão]. Right? The ones where you only see stumps, which we see on the news [on] Sunday. It’s the same thing. (…) When you look around, it’s just sadness. (…) Even so, that’s it: sometimes you [myself, Marilene] can say, ‘Ah, no, it’s because many were angry with Norte Energia [the company in charge of the Belo Monte dam project] and then kept saying that no one liked it and such.’ It is good to go there to look, to see and say, ‘See, [Maria Das Graças] wasn’t lying, look at the impact that the Norte Energia caused.’ (…) According to them [Norte Energia] everything has improved here in our region after the dam, it’s all beautiful. [pause] Our story, the story which we tell, is not the same as [theirs]. (…)” © Maria das Graças da Silva, Delcilene Gomes da Silva, and Marilene Ribeiro

Dead water – a photography-based inquiry into the impact of dams in Brazil

The costs of dams have been underestimated mainly due to the subjective matters involved in them. This practice-based research seeks to reveal the nature and the magnitude of these costs: the damage to people, livelihoods, communities, and, of course, to the environment. To investigate the perspectives of riverine people, as these are the peoples affected most by dam development, and to engage with their stories, this research blends methods and knowledge from the fields of Anthropology, Ecology, and Visual Arts in order to achieve its major aim: to communicate the intangible impacts caused by dams. Photography, in particular documentary photography, plays an important role in the way society operates and is shaped; this research explores this mode of communication with the view to empowering its subjects and giving greater voice to their stories. This project focuses specifically on hydropower schemes in Brazil. The method consisted of inviting people who have been affected by dam projects for hydropower purposes in three distinct areas of Brazil for an interview followed by a photo shoot in which they would be simultaneously the sitter and co-director. During the interview, every participant describes her/his story and feelings about the respective hydro project. The sitter then works collaboratively on the portrait, so that each image is based on an exchange between subject and researcher. The work, which comprises textual pieces that are in dialogue with these portraits and with other visual material gathered, represents how hydropower affects these people’s lives as well as the riparian ecosystem. This practice is also analyzed within the frame of theories and insights concerning (i) photography in the political arena (like those of Ariella Azoulay, and Jacques Rancière), and (ii) perceptions of nature and development (like those of Eduardo Gudynas). This research considers and reaffirms transdisciplinary approaches as a refined means to access, understand, and present complex phenomena (like those of the dams and hydropower) as well as photography as an important agent in the processes of negotiation and transmission of knowledge between individuals, particularly those that involve intangible matters. It shows that affected people are important as voices to expose structures of power in societies, as well as advocating changes in our understanding of hydroelectricity, wealth, and welfare. It highlights that collaboration with the subject, and also with traditional communities, can play a vital role in the disclosure of sensitive knowledge and the way stories are told. | (as informed at the British Library)

Ribeiro’s research was supervised by: Professor Anna Fox (Professor of Photography, UCA Farnham), Professor George Barber (Research Degrees Leader, UCA Epsom)

Marilene Cardoso Ribeiro completed her PhD in 2019.