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ASU photojournalist's work exhibits the beauty of Amazonian communities

Donovan Johnson merges photography and environmental activism in a project for ASU study abroad

The Echo-Amazon-sustainability-photo-exhibition

Photographer Donovan Johnson sets up his photo exhibition, "Amazon Sustainability" in Phoenix on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

Donovan Johnson, a journalism and mass communication major, embarked on a transformative journey that shaped his artistic perspective and fueled his commitment to a cause close to his heart — preserving the Amazon rainforest.

Johnson's immersive study abroad trip to the Amazon rainforest was more than just an educational trip; it was a profound exploration of the challenges faced by this vital ecosystem and a quest for sustainable solutions. 

Alongside his peers, Johnson delved into the knowledge of the Kichwa and Waorani communities, immersing himself in their cultures, traditions and the delicate balance they maintain with nature.

The culmination of his experience was the exhibition titled "Nature Likes to Play." This collection, showcased on Jan. 20 at The Greater Good Phoenix, captures the essence of Johnson's experiences along the Río Nushiño and Rio Curaray.

Inspired by the practices of the Waorani Indigenous community, the exhibition serves as a visual testament to the beauty of the Amazon rainforest. It highlights the urgent need for its preservation.

Johnson said the vision behind the exhibition goes beyond the aesthetics of his photographs. It's a call to action, an invitation to appreciate and preserve the Amazon rainforest. 

"Through intertwining art and awareness of the environment, we can positively impact the world around us," Johnson said.

The proceeds from the auctioned photo prints benefitted the Iyarina Center for Learning—an organization dedicated to the long-term sustainability and conservation of the Amazon rainforest.

Elizabeth Swanson, an activist and artist from the Iyarina Center for Learning, appreciates Johnson's work. 

"It's nice to hear his story of how he took the photographs; it's very similar to how I grew up photographing in my community," she said.

Recognizing the power of students in conveying their perceptions, David Manuel-Navarette, an associate professor at the School of Sustainability, reflects on the initiative Johnson took through the study abroad program. 

"I think (Johnson's) role was to convey his message to other students who can do something and get involved," he said.

According to Johnson, the collection encompasses environmental issues, spiritual connection and empathy.

"When I think of 'nature likes to play' as a tagline, it's not only about interacting with nature but also with the people around you," Johnson said. 

As Johnson reflects on his journey through the Amazon rainforest, he recognizes the immense value the experience brought to his life. This realization sparked a deep desire to give back to his community and extend the bridge to other communities in Ecuador.

Johnson said that the trip motivated him to bridge his own community with those of the Ecuadorian Amazon. 

Johnson wants people to walk away from his exhibition knowing "we're all human, we are not separate from our world and we are the same with everything around us."

As Johnson prepares to graduate in May 2024, his journey through the Amazon Rainforest is a testament to the transformative power of art, awareness and a deep connection with nature. 

Through his lens, he captured moments and impacted the communities he encountered, reinforcing that we are not separate from our world – we are one with everything around us.

Edited by Sophia Braccio, Alysa Horton and Grace Copperthite.

Editor’s Note: Donovan Johnson was a photographer for the State Press in 2021.

Reach the reporter at and follow @asvargo on X.

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