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Fordlandia

 

Fordism In the Jungle

This series comprises 10 photographs of Henry Ford's abandoned new town in the Amazon, set in the context of documentary photographs from the 1930's. The project reflects on Henry Ford's megalomania at the time of the last great depression, and the precedent it established for industrialised consumption.

In 1927, seeking to sidestep the British rubber monopoly, Ford bought 2.5 million acres of rainforest on the Rio Tapajos deep in the Amazon basin to establish a private source of 'black gold'. His workers cleared 7,000 acres of forest, while the head office in Michigan shipped in houses, a hospital, a school, a sawmill and machine shop, and other facilities. The surrounding rainforest was burnt and cleared, and 2 million young rubber trees were planted six inches apart. An 'American Villa' was built overlooking the town for the Michigan-bred managers, complete with a tree-lined street, white cottages, private club and pool. It was as if a Midwestern town had sprouted suddenly in the middle of Amazonia. Hubris however led to failure. Ford refused to listen to his own botanists' when they told him that rubber trees could not resist leaf blight if planted close together. He also ignored that the Amazonian worker was not the model Detroit employee, was not interested in higher wages at the cost of losing their culture of seasonal self-sufficiency. They did not aspire to buy Model T's. Riots and the absolute failure of the plantation followed.

The supremo of tunnel-vision manufacturing did not doubt that he could bend people and nature to his will, or question whether the Amazon's resources should be consumed. We now know a little more about the Amazon's great importance to carbon capture, to global climate systems. But the precedents that Fordlandia helped establish has lead to an onslaught on the rainforest: the colossal scale clearance of rainforest for hard woods, soya crops, grass for beef cows and pollution caused by oil and gold mining. The multinationals that followed in Ford's footsteps are at one end of a trail that leads from international business to lawlessness and murder, to communities tainted by greed and fear.

The rainforest is a home to indigenous communities who were there long before outsiders arrived to take advantage of this place. It has an important role in the global ecosystem. It has immense biodiversity that we understand only a part of. The potential to learn from this place - for climate, for medicines, for understanding plant and animal life - is huge but only if the Amazon is not viewed, as Ford did, as a resource for consumption.

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