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Maria Sturm is a Berlin-based photographer, mother and teacher who was born in Romania in 1985, trained in Germany and the USA, and has been shown and awarded internationally. Her work revolves around the theme of identity. Whether interpreted from the outside, imposed by others or practiced from within. Sturm finds a perspective that makes the many layers visible.


Maria Sturm was a Fulbright Scholar before receiving the Daylight Photo Award, the Grant of the Stiftung Kunstfonds and the Award of the Royal Photographic Society and winning the grant from the PH Museum for her work “You don't look Native to me”. She works for Berliner Zeitung, Deutsches Theater, The New York Times and Die Zeit.

As the daughter of a mechanical engineer and PhD in sustainability and a dumpster-diving mathematics professor, photographer Maria Sturm is dedicated to the big picture of our world: in March 2020, she and journalist Elisabeth Weydt traveled to the Intag Valley in northern Ecuador to document the developments of the 30-year resistance of the local mountain farmers.

Sturm and Weydt regard legal systems such as the Ecuadorian constitution as a last chance for all of us to get our act together. The South American country is the only nation in the world that has declared nature to be an independent legal entity in its constitution. The assumption that we are all part of a greater whole, in which humans have no more rights than nature, is based on the recognition that us humans are also part of nature.

Since the 1980s, the farmers in Ecuador's Intag Valley have been fighting a tough battle for their plentiful land and against large mining corporations. 

The diverse ecosystem is one of the last remaining unspoiled on our planet. However, a giant copper treasure found underneath the Intag Valley is also essential for the German energy transition. Mining companies such as Codelco and Enami aim to extract the copper found under the Intag Valley in order to sell it to electrical giants, who will use it to manufacture wind turbines, smartphones and computers, for example. The acidification of the soil and lasting destruction of the habitat associated with mining would be irreversible.  

By defending nature's rights in court, the farmers of the Intag Valley won the legal battle for their land, in 2023. To this day, only in Ecuador is it currently possible for a human to represent the rights of nature. And only in this way could the land and the biodiversity living there — including the people living there — be saved from destruction by mining.


Listen to the podcast (german language) “Aufstand im Kupferwald - Zerstört die grüne Wende das Paradies?” by Elisabeth Weydt on WDR here.

For FROM we have made a selection of images that focus on four aspects of the research work. The portrait of the horse Principe under a blossoming tree, the insight into the deep cloud forest of the Intag Valley, a living body of water and the study of a half-dying, half-blossoming ecosystem bring the tropical paradise in northern Ecuador very close.
Clear, uncluttered and very, very beautiful.