Photographing Brazil’s Amazon Warriors for National Geographic

If you’re a photojournalist, there’s no telling where your editors will send you. Some National Geographic photographers visit remote areas of the ocean to swim with sharks and sea turtles. Other creatives are shipped out to North Korea, entrusted with the task of showing what life is really like behind those gates that never open.

National Geographic photographer Martin Schoeller got the phone call and the verdict was Brazil. More specifically, Schoeller was to travel deep into the Brazilian Amazon, where roughly 7,000 indigenous warriors called the Kayapos live and thrive in the largest protected chunk of tropical forest in the world. In this video, Schoeller tells about his experiences among the Kayapo people and displays some of his remarkable work:

Throughout his expedition, Schoeller traveled from village to village throughout Kayapo territory, learning the rhythm of tribal life and watching for beautiful moments to photograph. He documented unscripted moments, certainly—teary reunions, naming ceremonies, and seven year old girls climbing trees with machetes—but he also shot some truly remarkable studio-lit portraits of various Kayapo villagers in their characteristic attire.

fish fishing hunting amazon brazil jungle rainforest canoe boat headdress

When Kayapo hunters catch piranhas, they use them as bait to tempt meatier fish.

indigenous tribe tribal warfare river waterfall forest work native

“The women are just as hardworking as the men,” said Schoeller. “Everybody has their job.”

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The Kayapo use two different kinds of paint: the red paint is oil-based and washes off easily, but the black paint stains the skin for weeks.

Schoeller has photographed several isolated groups for National Geographic, and he packed a mountain of studio equipment on each assignment in an effort to move beyond journalism into the realm of documentary. He used artificial lights and a plain background to create a vibrant and detailed record of every face—not to mention the Kayapos’ spectacular sense of style.

“My approach to photographing these cultures is to treat them the same as if they were a famous person in Hollywood. I bring my lights. I bring my studio setup.” –Martin Schoeller

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