'We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist," said Brazilian uncontacted tribes expert José Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Junior. "This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence."After seeing this, I started reading up on uncontacted peoples. While I do agree with and wholeheartedly support tribal sovereignty (and their isolation and protection), the fact that the flight likely disturbed the tribe greatly (what on earth did they think it was?) and perhaps could spur some twisted version of "eco-tourism" bothers me.
In fact, I debated whether or not to even post the picture above. Once, when I was visiting Niagara Falls with my family, we visited Ripley's Believe it or Not. Sandy Allen, the tallest woman in the world, happened to be there that day. For a dollar or so, you could have a Polaroid taken with her. We did it, but even at age 10 I thought, this doesn't sit right. It's still an unfiled, odd memory today. Nevertheless, photographs continue to enthrall and circulate. The web site of urban legends, snopes.com, even has a category dubbed "fauxtography," in which it researches (and often debunks) amazing images spread on the internet. On the other hand, seeing this image on the news roll did spur me to learn more about this complicated issue.
Photography has, since its very beginning, been used in an ontological manner. I am reminded of early collections of stereo views of various places and peoples. People could tour the world from the safety of their armchairs. I look forward to seeing Erroll Morris's newest film, Standard Operating Procedure, for another perspective on morally ambiguous photography (and actions). The claim that such photographs have on our collective imagination is powerful. I hope that this generates debate. Does the end justify the means?
I close with a quote from Miriam Ross of Survival International, a non-profit that supports tribal peoples:
"These pictures are further evidence that uncontacted tribes really do exist. The world needs to wake up to this, and ensure that their territory is protected in accordance with international law. Otherwise, they will soon be made extinct."