Politically correct as it may be to espouse eco-causes, few artists walk the walk like the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Having been internationally recognised for his virtuoso portraits, his forty-year career in photojournalism has also led him to capture a variety of groups directly impacted by industrialisation and environmental changes. With projects like ‘Trabalhadores e Êxodos’ (Workers and Exodus), he has won prestigious awards and fame; and more importantly, a platform for raising awareness and bringing attention to global problems.
‘Genesis’, the most recent work of the Minas Gerais-based economist-turned-photographer, resulted in a book, a documentary by the German director Wim Wenders, and a show featuring 245 images opening this month at SESC Belenzinho.
With his trademark aesthetic of luxurious black-and-white scenes revealing contrasts and textures so perfect they almost look airbrushed, Salgado’s latest work shifts his focus to more untouched aspects of life on Earth: pristine landscapes, exotic animals and isolated villages. This time around, the environmental focus is on the pure and preserved areas of Earth. And within them, humans are still in the frame, but as an integral part of nature.
|Salgado’s unforgettable shot of a southern right whale lobtailing|
Over the course of eight years, Salgado traveled to remote places such as the Galapagos Islands, Ethiopia, New Guinea and Sumatra to complete his work. In Argentina’s Patagonia, he captured a southern right whale lifting its tail from the water, in a close-up so sharply focused that the ribbed texture of the mammal’s flesh is visible. In Siberia, he faced the -45C cold to snap shots of the nomadic Nenets people. In the Amazon, he lived amongst the Zo’e tribe, which only fifteen years earlier had never had any contact with the outside world. After Salgado and the tribe established a trusting bond, he recorded their everyday activities, such as body painting with annatto and making arrows.
Unveiling the project, Salgado claimed that he ‘wanted to show a fully balanced world’, and hoped that viewers of the exhibition would ‘rediscover that a landscape – just like a human being – has dignity’.
Salgado does his part to preserve the planet via the Earth Institute, an initiative that raises funds for restoring devastated green areas and promotes education.
But it’s Salgado’s art that remains the most persuasive tool for furthering his cause. At SESC Belenzinho, his images are first revealed outside of the exhibition itself – and without signs – obscuring the vast size of the show, which is divided into five sections by the ecosystems each represents.
One striking shot of a herd of buffalo Salgado photographed from inside a balloon, stands out due to its immense 13-by-10-metre size. The silvery light captured in the magnificent image invites viewers to dive into this unrivalled collection of a fantastic and unspoiled world.