Photographer Sebastião Salgado and the environment

This video is called Sebastião Salgado, GENESIS.

By Michal Boncza in England:

Sebastiao Salgado: Genesis

Natural History Museum, London SW7

Saturday 27 April 2013

Images of pristine nature in Sebastiao Salgado‘s Genesis are a reminder of what we could lose, says Michal Boncza

It is not perhaps surprising that the photographer Sebastiao Salgado should have refocused his camera away from the human misery inflicted worldwide by unforgiving capitalism towards the environment which has, in the past, been something of an appendage in his images.

As a native of Brazil he has witnessed some of the most appalling and ruthless decimation of nature for profit, often imposed by the murder of those who opposed it, in his homeland.

“Genesis is about beginnings. It is about the unspoiled planet, the most pristine parts and a way of life that is traditional and in harmony with nature,” he says of this exhibition.

Salgado makes clear that he wants people to see our planet in another way, to feel moved and be brought closer to it. “I want them to become more conscious of the environment, to feel respect for nature because this is something that is relevant to everyone,” he stresses.

Spanning 32 countries, Genesis is a project which took eight years to complete. The 200 images on show range from the spectacular to the rather non-descript and at times that dilutes the “wow factor” which can highlight important issues.

Salgado has always eschewed the distraction of the full colour permeating contemporary visual communication in favour of black and white. This has the effect of forcing the viewer into an intimate response to the image in order to discern its meaning.

Time is also a factor in Salgado’s work. By arresting our attention and holding it for longer than the rush of modern life would otherwise permit, mere passing curiosity evolves into an act of discovery.

The large-scale photographs are engrossing and their impact mesmerising. The tail of a whale off the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina floats over half the image area and some of nature’s evolutionary constructs like the scales of the marine iguana of the Galapagos are simply incomprehensible in their ultimate, glittering and metallic perfection.

This is primordial Earth – rock, ice, water and vegetation populated by animals and the occasional humans. The latter’s activities are shown to be entirely symbiotic with nature and its serene beauty is free from the devastation of pernicious human encroachment everywhere else.

Most of Salgado’s arresting style is here in abundance. He grasps confidently that elusive fraction of a second that makes the image that would defeat most of us time and time again. His compositional panache and exceptionally rich tonality, with endlessly tactile textures and intriguing patterns, is evident in The Confluence Of The Colorado And The Little Colorado Seen From The Navajo Territory. It transforms mere documentation into a magnificent tableaux reminiscent of Pieter Brueghel the Elder in his Tower Of Babel painting.

Elsewhere the stern-faced albatrosses of Steeple Jason Island look like they might draw similarly forbidding faces in Latin America as Salgado, perhaps not wishing to offend his hosts, forsakes the entire continent’s preferred name of the Malvinas archipelago for the Falklands.

There is of course more to Salgado than these remarkable images. Since the 1990s he has worked with his wife Lelia Wanick Salgado on the restoration of a part of the Atlantic forest in his native Minas Gerais province in Brazil.

They succeeded in turning the area into a nature reserve in 1998 and have planted 1.7 million trees to date. They’ve also created the Earth Institute, an environmental NGO dedicated to a mission of reforestation, conservation and education, and 10 per cent of the ticket sales from this exhibition will go to the institute.

Salgado is rightly disappointed by the widespread indifference to the plight of the environment but applies a questionable logic when castigating such attitudes.

“We can’t just criticise the companies that pollute and destroy nature because we are the ones consuming their products and justifying their activities and through the stock market we are, in the last instance, the ‘owners’ of these same companies,” he states, as if the entire global population were all stakeholders in the neoliberal enterprise.

Yet it is these companies that have hooked us like Pavlov’s dogs on insatiable consumption, increasing the dosage exponentially until – should we fail to detox – the Salgado-immortalised world will sooner rather than later pass away and with it our own species.

Runs until September 8. Box office: (020) 7942-5725.

To coincide with the exhibition Taschen have published Salgado’s Genesis in two formats. Visit for details.

7 thoughts on “Photographer Sebastião Salgado and the environment

  1. Pingback: John Berger and Sebastião Salgado on migration | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Photographer Sebastião Salgado, filmed by Wim Wenders | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Bolsonaro condemning Indigenous Brazilians to COVID-19 death? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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