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Between Two Worlds

Note: I originally created this series as a submission to the 2020 Sony World photo competition. I took these photos while attempting to"hitchhike" the entire length of the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea, a task made difficult by its near complete lack of boat traffic. One of my longest stops was at Elamory logging base camp, near Elamory Village. I was stuck here for more than two weeks before finally catching a ride with one of the motorized logging boats down river to the town of Pagwi. I owe a special thanks to both the villagers and logging employees, who treated me extremely well and were eager to tell me their stories, pose for my pictures, and watch me fly my drone.

The rain forests of Papua New Guinea are under threat from international logging interests. A Malaysian logging company has established its base camp along the Sepik River near the village of Elamory. For the people of this village, who had previously been separated from the nearest developed town by 3 days of canoe travel, the logging company’s arrival thrust modernization into nearly every aspect of their lives. They now exist between two worlds: the old world of subsistence farming, hunting, and fishing along the river and in the seemingly-endless tracts of rain forest that surround them, and the new world of globalization. I spent two weeks “stranded” at Elamory base camp, waiting for a boat to take me downriver, and became fascinated by the way the villagers were adapting to their new reality. In this series, I attempt to document the interaction between the loggers, the village, and the environment.

A child from Elamory village searches for a place to sit and eat his coconut among the piles of timber in the logging yard. The logging base camp consists of several acres South of Elamory village that have been cleared of foliage. The area is now a muddy field of plywood shacks, industrial construction equipment, and large piles of timber waiting to be shipped downriver towards the coast, where they will then be exported to Asia.

A child paddles past the flooded huts of Elamory village in a dugout canoe. The villagers live in traditional huts on stilts roughly 500 meters North of the logging camp. While some of the villagers work for the logging company, the majority of the village's livelihood is earned through subsistence hunting, fishing, and farming in and around the Sepik River.

Elamory Village is located in the remote Upper Sepik region of Papua New Guinea, one of the last truly wild places on the planet. Below these trees, humans have coexisted sustainably with nature for millennia. With the advent of the logging and palm oil industries, the forest has begun shrinking for the first time.

Whistling Kites from the surrounding wilderness patrol the lumber yard in the hundreds, addicted to the constant supply of scraps produced by the loggers.

A child from Elamory village poses on a logging barge. The large, iron vessel contrasts starkly with the village's other structures, which are made entirely from materials found in rain forest.

A child from Elamory village poses on the logging barge during the sunset.

A child from Elamory village expertly maneuvers his kid-sized dugout canoe.

A mother from Elamory village poses with her child on the logging barge.

Aside from the biweekly arrival and departure of logging boats, the Upper Sepik region of the Sepik River sees practically no boat traffic. Its soft-flowing, unperturbed surface perfectly reflected the sunset each night of my stay. From the air, the logging camp stands out starkly; a tiny spec of industry, threatening the vast wilderness all around.

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