Born in the Black Forest, Ulla Lohman is a passionate photojournalist who was commissioned by the Yves Rocher Foundation. An explorer at heart, she set off for Madagascar, a region ravaged by mass deforestation, to capture the work being carried out by local communities fighting to protect the island’s forests and biodiversity.
Before embarking on this adventure, were you aware of the problems stemming from deforestation in Madagascar?
“Madagascar was the very first place I travelled to alone. When I discovered this country at the age of 17, I was struck by the mass deforestation taking place and the omnipresence of smoke created by the many forest fires. The fires are lit by local people to clear land they wish to farm. It is a highly destructive practice. That was when I really understood how damaging these fires are to the environment and how dire the consequences of deforestation are. Now I’m back, several years after my first trip, to focus on the issue that affected me so deeply back then.”
You were given carte blanche for your mission. How did you approach this front-line report?
“I’ve always seen my work as a bridge. I build ties between different worlds through my photographs. In Madagascar, my first aim was to delve into people’s everyday lives to gain a deeper understanding. I was met with a warm welcome from the villagers. They opened their doors to me and thanks to their trust, I was able to document their lives and offer people living far away an open window into the island’s situation. For me, it’s essential to allow emotions to flourish in order to narrate the world I see. My photographs speak from the heart: it’s the best way of getting a message across.”
What will you remember about this experience in Madagascar?
“What’s obvious is that this environmental situation is linked to poverty and a lack of education. Local communities are struggling to survive. They often have no choice but to fell trees. Through its schemes, the Yves Rocher Foundation helps villagers to rehabilitate their environment by supporting them in the planting of endemic trees, fertiliser trees and fruit trees that replenish the soil. Setting up nurseries also generates income. This meaningful process makes them proud of the work they do, because they understand how crucial it is on a local level.”
What were your reasons for agreeing to capture this reforestation work?
“I immediately accepted the mission. The idea was to share what these committed, highly motivated people are doing to orchestrate real, tangible change on the ground. These reforestation efforts benefit the environment, wildlife and local communities. I’m particularly sensitive to these issues because I studied natural resource management and learnt that several factors are at play when it comes to protecting the environment. Humans, nature and industry all need to be taken into account. Everybody has a part to play, and it is this ethos that drives the work carried out by the Yves Rocher Foundation. The Foundation does more than simply plant trees. It harnesses all the energy and resources available to create a group dynamic.”
What do trees mean to you?
“I like to see trees as a connection, a link. Their roots are anchored in the soil, while their tops caress the sky. It’s as if they are bridges between us in the living world and our ancestors in the heavens. Ultimately, they are the symbol of life.”
Do you want to find out more about our photography missions? Visit the Foundation’s website and go to the Photography Missions section!