“I get very melancholy, looking at this little monkey,” says Magnum photographer Nanna Heitmann to the Phoblographer in an interview about this image that’s part of the current Magnum Square Print sale. “For me, the image represents human intervention in nature and how civilization creeps into the remotest corners of our planet and became a kind of symbol for our story about the peatlands and what their discovery means for the world. Although, of course, the scale is much greater than this sad little monkey.” Nanna she hopes that people look at the photo and realize the impact of civilization encroaching further into the most remote parts of the jungle.
From the impact on communities, to the pollution of once pristine areas, to the global impact – there’s as much CO2 buried under these forests as the U.S. has blown into the air in the last 30 years, and it’s up to the Western world to protect it, since we are the biggest polluters on this planet.Nanna Heitmann
Nanna Heitmann was on assignment with West Africa correspondent Ruth Maclean for the New York Times in the Congo Basin of the Democratic Republic of Congo when she shot this image. “In this region, a vast network of peatlands had been discovered and mapped – one of the largest carbon reservoirs in the world,” she states. While working on the report about what the discovery of these vast peatlands meant for the communities and how it was possible to preserve the pristine peatlands, we noticed the many old, wooden diesel boats that floated down the great Congo River overloaded with passengers, which soon turned to become a second side story we wanted to work on.” These boats are the only link between remote communities in the Congo Basic and the DRC capital, Kinshasa. And if they break down, you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere for days or weeks without food.
…AI is probably one of the biggest threats to journalism and photojournalism today.Nanna Heitmann
Pastors travel on these boats and preach to the passengers and give spiritual support. Nanna recounts barely being able to hold on when she climbed onto one of the boats because the diesel was everywhere. Plus, it was thick and slippery. She focused so hard on not slipping that she almost missed the opportunity to photograph this monkey: who’s apparently a mascot for the ship. It was jumping around and frightened but couldn’t get far because it was tied to a rope.
“I wonder how many of these week-long trips this little guy has been on.”
These days Nanna shoots mainly digitally, sometimes even with a cell phone. However, she initially shot with a large format camera and with film. This, she feels, was very important tin developing her photography language and process. She slowed down and carefully selected the frame.
We asked Nanna, a Magnum photographer, what her thoughts are on AI in photography. She first heard about it in Jonas Bendiksen’s book, The book of Veles. “…his book proved that even experienced photojournalists who deal with photos on a daily basis are not immune and were not able to distinguish fakes from Jonas’ real work,” she states. “But at the same time, Jonas’ manages to explore, play with and question, and challenge photography as a medium.” Nanna hasn’t had much time to think about it otherwise because she’s so busy with journalism in Russia covering the war right now.
She admits that she’s barely come into contact with it, but that it’s, “probably one of the biggest threats to journalism and photojournalism today.” Specifically, she references misinformation campaigns in Russia. Indeed, Nanna believes that it’s a powerful tool that in the hands of the wrong people could be dangerous. “…we need patterns and ways to quickly detect falsification and raise awareness in our current day society.”
Image by Nanna Heitmann. Used with permission.
Weegee, Miranda Barnes, Roger Deakins, Alfredo Jaar, Hannah Reyes Morales, Larry Sultan, Todd Hido, Judd Apatow, Stuart Franklin, The Anonymous Project, and more are joining Magnum photographers and estates for Vital Signs (April 17–23). During the sale, for one week only, more than 100 museum-quality prints, signed by the photographers or estate-stamped, are available for just $110. All prints will be on view at the Magnum Gallery, London, from Monday, April 17 to Saturday, April 22, and available on the Magnum website.