Emanuele Scorcelletti

The Spirit of the Tree

© Marc de Giovanni

Plant a tree and you sow hope. To check whether the old saying holds true, Indian guru Sadhguru embraced the seemingly insane challenge of working with his Green Hands association to plant 25 million trees in the heart of Tamil Nadu by the end of 2018, transforming a third of the South Indian state into woodland. Little comfort, when you consider that forests accounted for 70% of the region’s total surface area in the early 20th century. Passing through the arid, scraggy landscapes now, it is nearly impossible to imagine that Tamil Nadu was once a haven of luscious greenery. Yet time, modern living and recent freak weather conditions have gradually eroded the once fertile plains, draining them of any nutrients they once had. Forests were razed to source wood for fuel and construction, farmland was saturated with fertilisers to artificially pump up lifeless soil, and the earth was left unprotected. The rays of the sun were the final blow, leaving the soil parched.

In 2004, a tsunami battered the shores of Tamil Nadu, the nail in the coffin that spurred Sadhguru to action: I understood that if we continued down this path, there would be a little less Tamil Nadu, a little less India, a little less Earth. We needed to reconcile humankind and nature, as human beings had divorced themselves from their own land. Behind his greying beard a smiling face inspires trust. This charismatic sage sounded the alarm, urging people to fight for their countryside and calling on thousands of volunteers to join him.

The Fondation Yves Rocher signed up as a Green Hands partner for the replantation project, and commissioned Emanuele Scorcelletti for this photography project in India. Why Emanuele? Because of his deeply human touch, the gentleness that allows him to take powerfully intimate and authentic portraits that shake viewers to their core, snapshots of rural life, moments suspended in time. And because of his complete mastery of the art of black and white photography. This 54-year-old photographer has a tender, forgiving eye all too often overlooked in favour of his reputation as a “photographer to the stars”, thanks to his work immortalising the biggest international celebrities. But this artist likes to keep people on their toes. In the autumn of 2017, this reporter-at-heart and La Gacilly festival regular set off to meet the men and women working to revive their land. Assimilating into the local communities, Emanuele Scorcelletti photographed these volunteers busy growing saplings in their nurseries, followed the children who have become ambassadors of a new green economy, and revealed the existence of a rural world in which mixed farming is the order of the day, and trees the new gods. In the name of ancestral spirituality. For a flicker of light amidst the gloom of the world. 

Supported by the Fondation Yves Rocher.

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