Exploring the Amazon
In this video and article, Miguel Pinheiro, an artist, investigator and journalist shares his insights into the difficulties and opportunities in exploring the Amazon.
Investigative Journalism: An Experimental Craft
There’s a compelling world where investigative journalism and experimental art converge, intertwining uncertainty and imagination into a captivating tapestry of truth-seeking. In this realm, the pathways of discovery are as unpredictable as the strokes of a master painter's brush or the daring improvisations of a virtuoso musician. Both require us to question, explore, and reimagine the world around us. In this article, I invite you on a creative journey to delve into the myriad of questions around us, and to uncover the untold stories that lie within, as we explore the parallels between these two seemingly distinct disciplines.
Act 1 - Jumping into the Weeds
The realms of investigative journalism and experimental art urge us to embrace the unknown, to challenge established facts, and to craft narratives that sparkle new thoughts. In the pursuit of clarity around an issue that creates some inner-friction, I find myself at crossroads, where the boundaries blur and imagination takes flight. It is through an amalgamation of skills and perspectives that I strive to unravel hidden narratives and evoke emotions in the minds and hearts of my audience.
The key, thus, is not only to address one’s question with a satisfactory landscape of data, expert opinions and first witness accounts, but rather to be able to transport a new banquet of meanings and serve it in such a way that not only tackles the main issue portrayed, but also gives people the inner pleasure of putting together a whole new perception regarding a specific subject. Just like an artist can’t reach their wholeness without moving an audience, an investigative craftsman must understand that their role is less to convince people, but rather to make them more aware, more sensible, and better equipped for their own reasoning. In short, it’s about communication, a craft that humanity has been rehearsing since its dawn.
To provoke introspection and to engage the senses in a profound exploration of the human experience, a few milestones should be thoroughly attempted:
a) To Have an Investigative Mindset
b) To Choose the Right Investigative Story, and
c) To Nurture the Ability of Communicating an Investigative Narrative.
This path is not to be taken as a dogmatic set of instructions in order to accomplish a brilliant final piece. In many ways, it is not how the submitted work stands all criticism or even about its bullet-proof arguments. Many iconic works of art were ignored across different generations and cultures, only to reveal their outmost meaning at the right moment in time. Similarly, an investigative piece should aim to add new symbols to the palette of global knowledge, one more step in the ladder of the world’s understanding. Science is haunted by old ghost theories that are no longer meaningful, and the atelier of any artist is piled with senseless drafts with no particular use. The creative factory of an investigative researcher should be no different.
Act 2 – There's more than one Graal
An investigative mindset is all about perception. The world is tangled with information, what one chooses to pay attention to constitutes one’s idea of the world. Be brave to understand your own limitations, be bold to pick the matters that you have a better understanding of, be humble to connect with the tools that can improve your craft. Additionally, cultivate curiosity, build a network of sources, and maintain ethical standards.
Every investigation begins with a captivating story waiting to be told. Choosing the right investigative story involves a delicate balance of impact, relevance, and originality. Identify potential investigative topics, conduct preliminary research, and assess the feasibility and impact of your chosen story. Pay special attention to the significance of investigative angles and the importance of finding a unique perspective.
Finally, explore techniques to structure your story (be it an article, a video or else), balance description with action, and blend your viewpoint with hard-hitting facts. Incorporate compelling anecdotes to bring the investigation to life. Don’t overwhelm the viewer or the reader with unnecessary details, use links and references to build with austerity. The art of storytelling is about engaging and retaining an audience. Transforming raw facts into an enthralling tale requires the same approach of an actor on stage. Be sure to captivate without losing the focus of the message or the integrity of your story.
Act 3 – Make space for the Hero to appear
As I explore each new piece, I find solace in embracing uncertainty, where pathways are undefined. The video that accompanies this article illustrates three different situations in which all the homework I have done was useful, mainly to prepare me to perceive what reality had to offer.
I was performing nothing new when I decided to detail the social and environmental impacts of a huge hydroelectric dam in the Amazon, many others had already written extensively about this same issue. Nonetheless, I sensed that all stories written so far ended in a very general note, whereas my goal was to find a particular example that could show how a single family could make the audience relate at a deeper level. The field work offered me the chance to meet the last speaker of an indigenous language living a few miles away from the dam. As a consequence, she became the central character of the story and the conflict of the dam took a whole new proportion, a chiaroscuro technique, placing David next to Goliath.
In the second piece of the video, I started by questioning the regional illiteracy in the Amazon when it came to understanding nature-based carbon offsets, meaning the use of nature and natural ecosystems to mitigate carbon emissions and adapt to climate change. The backdrop was that the Amazon Rainforest has an immense potential for the development of nature-based carbon projects, and the so-called carbon-cowboys, or individuals with little ethics, were striking dubious businesses with the locals. Instead of focusing on the wrong-doings and greenwashing accusations surrounding individuals or companies in the region, I went to look for the opposite: “Who is trying to do it in the right way, even if they are not aware of their inherent carbon-offsetting good practises?”
After some research, I chose the native-cocoa producers in the Amazon as subjects, and visited a Chocolate Festival that was then taking place. Once there, I met with a chocolatier who had a peculiar approach towards sustainability. Weeks later I went to visit him in his farm, 800 km away. While we talked about agroforestry, he told me about a rising movement regarding regenerative practises in the region. A few days later, and approximately 100 km away, I was surrounded by the youth of a traditional riverine community, and being shown their regenerative agriculture cocoa project. Carbon-wise, they knew next to nothing, but the 101 of their agricultural project could easily make the guidelines of any international offsetting manual. And there, I found the angle I was looking for in this particular story.
Now take a moment to think about this very article you’re reading. Before I even thought about the wording and content of this article, I realized that I needed something that could add to the experience of the video that accompanies it. The question to me was “What would an audience look for in this piece?” So, the first thing I did was to address my idea in one sentence, capturing its essence and purpose. After answering that, I then moved on to the shape (the form of) the article. And finally, to its content. It hardly ever is about what you say, but how you say it. Emotionally charged, personally involved, and the right flavour of words is what turns a story into an experience.
This essay is meant to explore the possibilities that arise when two disciplines intertwine, highlighting the power of investigation and the artistic lens in revealing new insights.
The investigative process allows us to uncover hidden narratives, and to expose underlying structures and systems. It serves as a means to dismantle assumptions and to reveal the complexities of our world. Just like art does!
This dynamic synergy turns the investigator into a creator. So, at the end of the play, be sure to receive the greetings of your public, and be ready for the next big story that awaits you, on a renewed white canvas.
About the author
Miguel Pinheiro is a Portuguese awarded creative with a science background. Living in the heart of the Amazon, he leads a startup that combines media and web3 technology to unlock untapped markets for forest-derived products while fostering positive social and environmental change.
Cover photo is a still from the video by Miguel Pinheiro
First published on July 19, 2023