In Portugal, huge swathes of agricultural land were abandoned by owners, making way for vast forest areas. As the country’s paper industry is well-established and hugely profitable, intensive monoculture of maritime pine and eucalyptus trees developed rapidly. Although crucial to papermaking, eucalyptus trees are also very invasive and highly flammable. Portugal has experienced some major heatwaves over the past few years, which have caused a surge in major forest fires that are increasingly intense, destructive and lethal.
I was very moved by these fire-ravaged landscapes. The devastation is awful. Because when trees burn down, all the life that coexists around them dies too.
For the Yves Rocher Foundation, Spanish photographer Juan Manuel Castro Prieto, member of the VU agency, visited the forests affected in the region of Monchique in the south of the country, to document the devastation left behind and to meet the people doing all they can to bring the fires to an end. Marta, founder of the Futuro organisation, has chosen to look to the future and, most importantly, to act. Since 2011, she has been planting trees relentlessly in the metropolitan zone around Porto. Supported by the Yves Rocher Foundation, she has already planted over 100,000 trees.
Juan Manuel Castro Prieto: a peaceful force to be reckoned with.
With his distinctive style midway between documentary and artistic photography, Castro Prieto brings a human touch to these fire-ravaged environments. This rigorous photographer works with light, employing the delicate sensitivity for which he is now renowned. He channelled his talent, rigorous work ethic and high-impact approach into capturing images for the Yves Rocher Foundation on a trip to Portugal to highlight this natural environment struggling to survive, aided by the kind souls that this master of photography has managed to immortalise, telling their stories through his heartfelt lens.
Large-format view cameras evoke another era. Using this technique to capture these planted trees is a nod to their longevity. They will long outlive us.
Born in Madrid in 1958, as a child, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto was fascinated by the outline of his bedroom door’s keyhole as the light from the living room streamed in, casting a shadow on the wall. “I was introduced to the concept of a dark room from a very young age,” he recalls. “That’s where I found my calling. From that moment on, I was obsessed with photography, absolutely fascinated and enthralled by it.”Today, he works with a large-format view camera, a demanding technique that perfectly reflects this artist’s personality. A meticulously precise photographer, Castro Prieto does not consider himself to be a photojournalist.