Sebastião Salgado: Genesis

Sebastiao Salgado one of the most well known photo journalists of our time. Over the past 36 years the Brazilian born photographer has been photographing developing countries and their respective communities showing us what these remote locations, their peoples, and their everyday lives entail. Salgado works in the humanitarian and social documentary vein, seeking out indigenous cultures as well as impoverished ones, with previous projects including migrant workers, displaced peoples, famine and war torn lands, and political issues. He uses photography as a means to the end, utilizing its immediate visual story telling capabilities as a tool to further urgent political and social issue based discussion.

©  Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

© Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

Salgado began his career as a professional photographer in Paris, in 1973, and worked with the photo agencies Sygma, Gamma, and Magnum Photos up till 1994, when he and Lélia Wanick Salgado created Amazonas images, an agency that exclusively handles his work. Together, Lélia and Sebastião have worked since the 1990’s on the restoration of a small part of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. In 1998 they succeeded in making this land a nature preserve and created Instituto Terra, whose mission is reforestation, conservation and environmental education.

©  Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

© Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

Salgado’s latest and probably the largest project to date is titled Genesis (which he says was not meant to invoke religious connotation), an environmental documentary project on a grandiose scale. While previously photographing the plight of various lands and its peoples, Salgado, an environmentalist, thought he needed to photograph the areas that have not been touched by humans, war, famine, pestilence, etc. To show the amazing and precious places that still exist on this planet is to bring to light how important and urgent their survival and preservation is. He hopes to make a difference in the larger environmental movement through his images of “pristine” places around the globe, taking him from 3 months in the Galapagos, to 500 miles trekking across the Ethiopian mountains. He has turned to focus from social systems to eco systems.

©  Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

© Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

The images are dark and moody, in a grainy black and white. And while I’ve learned that Salgado has recently switched to digital cameras, the images still appear consistent with his style and look for over the past 30 years. They are not to be confused with traditional journalistic imagery, as he subjects here aren’t seen from a voyeurs point of view. Instead Salgado engages with his subjects, be it African tribesmen, Russian bears, or Venezuelan forests. They are slightly romanticized, but not overly so. I think the aim for this project is to romanticize these places specifically for the purpose of showing viewers eco systems that yet remained untouched, but only for so much longer. They have to be shown in an elevated light in order to truly cause emotion and not just give information.

Salgado’s work is all about context. Nothing is static or still, even in an image that may appear still. The narrative present has a past and a future, we’re only glimpsing a moment in passing. There is a real sense of fluidity in his images, but a calculated fluidity as well. Technically, they are perfect. Composition, light, POV, angles, all come together in the frame. But, that is the means to an end as well. There is always a story behind each Salgado photograph, and his techniques are merely the language with which he tells these stories. The style or genre is not quite documentary, not quite fine art, but somewhere again, in flux, moving between the two never landing in one place or the other, just like his images.

Salgado says of this body of work, “I have named this project GENESIS because my aim is to return to the beginnings of our planet: to the air, water and the fire that gave birth to life, to the animal species that have resisted domestication, to the remote tribes whose ‘primitive’ way of life is still untouched, to the existing examples of the earliest forms of human settlement and organisation. A potential path towards humanity’s rediscovery of itself. So many times I’ve photographed stories that show the degradation of the planet, I thought the only way to give us an incentive, to bring hope, is to show the pictures of the pristine planet – to see the innocence. And then we can understand what we must preserve.” -Sebastião Salgado via Jori Finkel for the NY Times.

To see more of Salgado’s striking images on what looks to be a 12 years project, currently 4 already under his belt, please visit the Peter Fetterman gallery where he is represented by clicking here.

Further links to the NY Times article here and to the Guardian’s regular posts on Genesis as it progresses here.

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4 Responses to “Sebastião Salgado: Genesis”

  1. NU Says:

    Sebastiao Salgado is a great photographer! I didn’t know about Genesis. Thank you!

  2. Jenny Lynn Walker Says:

    Please could we have an update on Sebastiao Salgado’s Genesis project?

  3. famontoya Says:

    wow his work is amazing his genesis project really got my eye

  4. malcolm Says:

    True master love this genesis work must buy the book now.

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