14 October 2014

Salgado's Genesis

“Photography is just my way of life.”— Sebastião Salgado

Recently I attended a media preview of the International Center of Photography's final exhibit before they move downtown next year and their choice has them leaving on a high note.

“Genesis” is the culmination of eight years of work by the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Starting in 2004, Salgado set out to document “the 46% of the planet that is still pristine.” Spending eight months of the year outside, he took 32 journeys to the far-flung corners of the globe. At first the project was a curiosity for Salgado; he wanted to see if he could create the photos. It soon turned into a mission for the photographer who hopes that his images will make people realize that “This last half [of the world], we must protect it.”


The stunning results are divided into five sections in the exhibit: Sanctuaries, Planet South, Africa, Amazonia and Pantanal, and Northern Spaces. More than 200 black and white images of animals, land and seascapes, and indigenous people fill both floors of the museum, giving viewers a glimpse of parts of the world that are at times majestic and at other times seem as if from a fairy tale.

There’s the line of chinstrap penguins waiting to dive off an iceberg in the South Sandwich Islands (a personal favourite), a close up of the foot of a marine iguana on Rábida Island that is incredibly human-like, the sand dune in southern Algeria that resembles a modernist painting, a river running through the Brooks Range in Alaska that appears to be a line of fire cutting across the land, a group shot of some young Yali women hanging out in West Papua, Indonesia who could be Western save for their lack of clothing, and an iceberg that looks like a castle. All of these show not only the beauty that exists in nature but serve as a reminder of how fragile the world is and how these things could so easily be lost forever, including the homes and way of life for many indigenous people.

Curated by Salgado’s wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, the exhibit represents the couple’s commitment to protecting the environment. When in the 1990s Salgado inherited the farm that he had grown up on in Brazil, he discovered that the large swath of rain forest that had once covered the majority of the land was gone. Intent on bringing it back, the Salgados planted more than 2 million trees and have since witnessed the return of wildlife. This led to the establishment of their foundation, Instituto Terra, which is dedicated to the sustainable development of the Valley of the River Doce.

"The eastern part of the Brooks Range, which rises to over 3,000 meters (9,800 ft.), 
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA" Sebastião Salgado (2009)

At the preview, Salgado was on hand to walk us through the exhibit. A few days later he discussed his work in front of a much larger crowd at Cooper Union. It’s always a treat to hear directly from a photographer about his or her work, and Salgado did not disappoint. Speaking about being a photographer, he said that if you get pleasure from the work then time doesn’t matter—you can spend all day shooting. He also quickly dismissed the idea that he’s an artist stating, “An artist?” That’s peanuts. Being a photographer is more than just an artist.”

For this project, he shot the first half on film and went digital for the second half after all the new airport security (x-ray machines) started wrecking his film. He mentioned that he can’t stand editing on a computer so his small team makes contact sheets for him to look at. As for the prints in the exhibit? They were all made in his studio in Paris. As Salgado said, “With your photography, you must control everything.”

"Genesis" is truly an exhibit not to be missed. It is at the ICP through January 11, 2015. For more info, visit here.

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