LANGELLE PHOTOGRAPHY

Using the power of photojournalism to expose social and ecological injustice

Posts from the ‘Global Justice Ecology Project’ category

Wally Menne with Ana Filippini of World Rainforest Movement in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, 2007. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC/photolangelle.org

Cross-posted from Global Justice Ecology Project

Wally Menne: A Lion Among Men

The Loss of a Giant

Wally Menne in Kuna Yala 2010. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC/photolangelle.org

My partner Orin Langelle and I were shocked and saddened this morning to learn of the death of friend and colleague Wally Menne who passed away on Thursday 26 October.

We had known Wally for many years and his loss was like a dagger. I had met Wally when he organized the founding meeting of the Durban Group for Climate Justice in his hometown in 2004.

Orin met him a couple of years later at a gathering of the Global Forest Coalition.

The loss of this important South African activist was sudden and surprising. Wally was a powerhouse, a giant. His force was impossible to ignore. He was dedicated and uncompromising with a seemingly endless supply of energy despite his years at the grindstone. Even now, it is difficult to imagine a movement without him.

I heard from Wally only a few days ago with information on a possible volunteer for GJEP—someone whose writings he had come across who impressed him with her no-nonsense critique on the problem of industrial tree plantations—his personal crusade.

The Durban Group for Climate Justice. Wally with arms folded, far left.

Anyone who knew Wally knew this about him. He was passionate about ridding the Earth of the scourge of timber plantations and was one of the most knowledgeable on their extensive social and ecological impacts. He had no qualms about laying the blame for this devastating problem squarely at the feet of those responsible–not merely the corporations whose plantations they were, but the agencies and organizations who laid their groundwork and made up excuses to enable their expansion. In particular he targeted the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

The FAO won Wally’s wrath through their insistence on promoting a definition of “forests” that included industrial timber plantations. This despite the obvious fact that forests support communities, biodiversity, clean water and climate stabilization; and plantations destroy forests, communities, biodiversity, clean water and the climate. 2 + 2 will never equal 5 no matter how many reports the FAO puts out claiming it does.

Wally Menne, in center with hands above head, during a protest against a SAPPI pulp mill in South Africa. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC/photolangelle.org

The FSC was dogged by Wally’s incessant criticism due to their support and legitimation of the timber plantation model. The FSC became a multi-billion-dollar brand by giving corporations sustainability certification for their timber monocultures, enabling them to sell their plantation-derived products as “green,” despite the real, on-the-ground consequences of that model.

On October 22nd, Wally wrote the piece below, promoting a new blog on the problem of plantations. I think it is a wonderful example of the anger and passion that Wally wielded with such skill, and of his ability to address not just the problem of plantations, but all of the issues connected to them. In this case, wood-based bioenergy. A timely post, given the upcoming UNFCCC Climate Convention early next month.


“The debate around the negative impacts of burning tree biomass to generate energy or to manufacture liquid biofuels has been escalating over the past ten years, with ample evidence having been presented of the harmful effects of government and UN policies that promote this false solution to climate change.

“However, the extremely greedy and powerful land-grabbing industry has managed to capture most of the international institutions that are supposed to act as the protectors of our planet, its people and its biodiversity. The prime example of this is the FAO. The FOOD and AGRICULTURE organisation of the United Nations, which has been co-opted by big bad business through tireless propaganda campaigns to undermine and to weaken the outcomes of political processes and to promote false promises under the guise of projects and programmes such as the Green Economy, REDD+, renewable energy targets and even targets to reduce biodiversity loss and deforestation.

“It is becoming increasingly obvious that these efforts are highly unlikely to bring about their intended results, and that instead they are only creating a false sense of there being no urgency for governments and individuals to take the initiative and to act decisively on their own in implementing the changes that are needed. In other words, all the hot air being pumped out at meetings of the CBD, UNFCCC, FAO, UNFF and the rest, is only serving to delay the implementation of real solutions, so that the owners of the industrial corporations that benefit from these long drawn-out processes can continue to profit at the expense of the majority of the people on our planet.”

—Wally Menne, Timberwatch, South Africa


We will miss Wally and the huge hole left by his absence. We hold his wife Rose and son Adam in our hearts at this terrible time.

Rest in peace Wally. You’ve earned it.

We miss you.

Anne Petermann (Orin Langelle and the staff and Board of Global Justice Ecology Project)

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This Sunday, 31 January, Orin Langelle will be in Toronto for a  Learning Activism launch party with the book’s author, close friend and colleague, Aziz Choudry at ‘Another Story Bookshop.’ The book was published by the University of Toronto Press.  Langelle will give a slideshow of his photographs that illustrate the book, including the cover, as well as photos exhibited at Buffalo, NY’s ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery, which he directs. Langelle will explain history behind the photographs and the struggles they represent. Following the discussion by Choudry and Langelle, there will be a question and answer period.

Aziz Choudry is Associate Professor in the Department of Integral Studies in Education at McGill and Visiting Professor in the Center for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg. He has been on the Board of Directors of Global Justice Ecology Project since its its founding in 2003 by Langelle and Anne Petermann.

The launch party is free and open to the public.  RSVP for the event on the bookstore Facebook page.

Below the poster is UTP’s description for the book followed by a paragraph about Langelle written by Choudry that appears in the book.

**Choudry at Another Story Poster

Described by the University of Toronto Press:

What do activists know? Learning Activism is designed to encourage a deeper engagement with the intellectual life of activists who organize for social, political, and ecological justice. Combining experiential knowledge from his own activism and a variety of social movements, Choudry suggests that such organizations are best understood if we engage with the learning, knowledge, debates, and theorizing that goes on within them. Drawing on Marxist, feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial perspectives on knowledge and power, the book highlights how activists and organizers learn through doing, and fills the gap between social movement practice as it occurs on the ground, critical adult education scholarship, and social movement theorizing. Examples include anti-colonial currents within global justice organizing in the Asia-Pacific, activist research and education in social movements and people?s organizations in the Philippines, Migrant and immigrant worker struggles in Canada, and the Quebec student strike. The result is a book that carves out a new space for intellectual life in activist practice.

Choudry from Learning Activism on Orin Langelle:

The photographs that illustrate this book are another important example of preserving movement histories. These photos by US activist and photojournalist Orin Langelle transcend the sometime clichéd “protest” images that we often see. Integrating photography into organizing/education initiatives, especially around climate justice, anti-globalization, food sovereignty, and Indigenous resistance struggles, his work is a historically informed look at social movements, struggle and everyday life. In Langelle’s words, his photographic work aims to ‘counter the societal amnesia from which we collectively suffer—especially with regard to the history of social and ecological struggles. This is not merely a chronicling of history, but a call out to inspire new generations to participate in the making of a new history.’ Langelle writes that he strives ‘not just to document and expose the harsh reality of injustice—much of which is linked with the struggle for the land—but to inspire viewers to participate in changing the world, while helping empower those striving for justice because they know that photographs of their struggle are revealed to a larger audience.’ As Langelle says, in contemporary struggles for change,we cannot afford societal amnesia.

Special Note:

Seven photographs from Orin Langelle’s last exhibit, The End of the Game – The Last Word from Paradise, Revisited are included in a show at the Gordon Parks Foundation in Pleasantville, NY. Langelle’s photos document Peter Beard’s first one-person show at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan in 1977.

The exhibit at the Parks Foundation, Gordon Parks: Collages by Peter Beard, features artwork made by Beard over the course of the long friendship between him and Parks. The exhibit is open through April 23.

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