20 December 2016

A Fistful of Shrimps

20 December 2016 - Written by Laurence Cornet

Elisabetta Zavoli explores the fishing communities along the coastal valley of Sawah Luhur, Indonesia as they try to rescue dying mangrove forests.

© Elisabetta Zavoli, from the series The Tree of Life. A lonely mangrove tree is standing up in the barren coastal valley in front of Sawah Luhur village in West Java Island, during a night of Blood Moon.

There are three places on Earth where one can find mangroves: East Asia, West Africa and Ecuador. “They can store more carbon than any other ecosystem in the world because the majority of it is retained under the surface, in the roots”, Elisabetta Zavoli explains.

Under the pressure of mass cheap consumerism though, mangroves are at risk of disappearing. The swamps where they grow are a prime location for shrimps and the recent selling of seafood for a few cents threatens their natural environment.

In such a context, it is no wonder why Zavoli gave her project a title that alludes to that of a famous Western movie, A Fistful of Shrimps. It’s obviously for the lack of mercy that we show towards other beings, be them flora, and to introduce fiction – a language she used in some of her images, though closer to a sci-fi style.

© Elisabetta Zavoli, from the series The Tree of Life. A pair of working pants lays on a sluice as to block water from flowing freely. They stand as a sign of the impact man has on the coastal ecosystem in Sawah Luhur.

With the low light spreading over the region, a red veil seems to cover some landscapes. “I wanted to relate this to something that is not natural anymore, something that is artificial, which for me represents the distance we have put between us and nature”, she explains.

She conveys this sense of alienation too with packshot-like photographs of the pieces (or proves) of nature that she found while wandering around – fish, snake and other bone prints. “Nature around this bare land usually is a ‘broken’ one – a dead animal, a desert landscape, etc. These pictures help me convey the message that we as mankind have arrived at a very low point in our relationship to nature”, she continues.

© Elisabetta Zavoli, from the series The Tree of Life. Pak Supiro, 32 years old, plants young mangroves in his fishery pond. He is one of the youngest fishermen in Sawaha Luhur who joined the project of restoring the mangroves ecosystem.

Since 2012, when she started the project, reality has changed though. While fishermen then were just starting to replant mangroves – and this, mainly because they were receiving money from a local NGO in exchange - they have now developed a sense of respect and awareness, and pass on their knowledge to the younger generation.

A picture of a tree (above), only one, at night, features a surrealistic reddish sky in the middle of which shines an unidentified laser like line. “When I saw the pic, I thought, “God sent us aliens to help us solve the problem”, she jokes. More than humour though, her photos are imbued with poetry. “The tree of life is dying under a Blood Moon: the network that inextricably links the life of every being on Earth has been torn apart. We all have lost”, she writes about this photograph.


Elisabetta Zavoli is an Italian photographer working primarily on environmental issues connected with climate change, and on social issues connected with gender inequality. Follow her on PHmuseum, Twitter, and Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.


Getting Closer presents photographic works, mainly in a documentary vein, that speak about the causes and consequences of environmental degradation.

Written by

Laurence Cornet

Reading time

4 minutes

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