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Natura Belaunaldia is a powerful series of portraits of the generation of young activists against climate change in Spain’s Basque Country. Ana Maria Arevalo took these portraits in the protagonists’ homes, in the place where they spend most of their time during the quarantine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

LFI: How did you come up with the topic, and what role does it play in your life?
Ana María Arévalo: The emotional toll the COVID-19 pandemic takes on all of us is unprecedented. There has been an incredible amount of suffering among us. It is important to talk about the root causes of all this, which is linked to the imbalance we’ve created with Nature. With the Ayün fotógrafas collective, we decided to create a collaborative project called The Nature Within. It explores in chapters the problems leading up to the pandemic, such as environmental exploitation, overpopulation, pollution, and detachment from Nature.
Being based in Europe, it was evident for me to portray and interview some of the members' of the powerful ecological movements that emerged with Greta Thunberg: Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion, among others. These movements are driven by a generation that opposes the belief of an apocalypse.
They have realized that the promises of consumerism and eternal economic growth are destroying their future. They understand that we are one species among many, and we must find our way back to Nature, and therefore to life. The future is unknown; but what is certain is that this generation is fighting to bring back the narrative of beauty to reconnect with Nature. During this particular time in history, it is essential that we support them, listen to them and learn from them.

What was your photographic approach?

There were still strict safety measures and quarantine in place in Spain at the time I started the project, so I had to be very strategic when approaching the protagonists. First of all, I called them on the phone for an interview, during which we got to know each other. I explained the project briefly and asked them about the reasons why they belong to the different movements, and the roles they play within them. Their answers were quite varied, but the main reason was because they refuse to believe that our species will come to an end. They want politicians and those responsible to take action towards a greener future, balanced ecosystems and social justice related to the climate crisis.
We also discussed the image that would be paired with their portrait: it could reflect the main reason for their protests or how they felt during the quarantine. I gave them two options for taking the portraits, but first they needed to send me images or videos of their rooms; that way I could know where the light was coming from and where I wanted them to be. The first option was for me to go to their homes and take a portrait as quickly as possible. The second option arose if they happened to live with a person vulnerable to COVID-19, or if the family of the protagonist preferred for the portrait to be taken from a distance, so to speak. In that case, I would meet the protagonist with one of the people they lived with – normally a motivated parent –, and give them instructions and the camera. Then they would return home with the Leica and a tripod, and we’d have a zoom call where I would guide them towards a successful portrait. It actually worked better than I thought it would!

How many people have you portrayed in total?
In the course of around one month I photographed 19 activists, all younger than 30 years of age, and the corresponding landscapes. It was beautiful to get to know Spain’s Basque Country while doing the project. It has beautiful, dramatic landscapes and all the protagonists were kind and open.

How did you find your protagonists?
I wrote them a message on instagram! One of the good uses we have for social media is that it allows us to connect. They were super nice about getting the message rolling, and those who were interested wrote to me directly on WhatsApp.

What did you learn from this project?

I was impressed by how aware these young environmentalists are about the need to reverse the climate crisis, and how we can achieve it. My protagonists taught me that they are growing up in a world that has forgotten to talk about positivism and solution-based narratives. Making this project changed the way I want to approach story-telling, to show the efforts of people who are doing their best to avoid future pandemics. My personal mission as a visual storyteller has become more solution-based.

(Interview: Danilo Rößger)

All images on this page © Ana María Arévalo Equipment: Leica Q, Summilux 28/1.7 Asph.
Gin (21) poses for a portrait on July 14, 2020 in Donostia. Gin is a member of Fridays for Future Bilbao and Extinction Rebellion.
Nerea (24) poses for a portrait on July 13, 2020 in her home in Donostia. She is a member of Fridays for Future Donostia.
Mencia (18) poses for a portrait on July 26, 2020 in her home in Donostia. She is a member of Fridays for Future Bilbao.
Maria (21) poses for a portrait on July 28, 2020 in her home in Gorliz, Spain. She is a member of the GOAZENUP club which organizes initiatives to collect plastic from the rivers and beaches near Bilbao.
Eneko (28) poses for a portrait on July 17, 2020 aboard the MATER boat in Bilbao. He is a member of the crew of the MATER, eco-museum boat.
Aihnara (19) poses for a portrait on July 20, 2020 in her home in Vitoria-Gastéiz. She is a member of Fridays for Future Vitoria-Gasteiz and Extinction Rebellion Álava.

Ana María Arévalo

Ana Maria Arévalo Gosen (born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1988) is a visual storyteller focused on the fight for women’s rights and environmental issues. She is a National Geographic Explorer and a member of Ayün Fotografas. Mixing rigorous research with intimate stories, she wants to make a positive impact through her projects. In 2020 she won the LUMIX and Lucas Dolega Awards for her series Días Eternos about the conditions of women in pretrial detention in Venezuela. Días Eternos was published in LFI 3/2019.

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