Sebastiao Salgado: Genesis

Maddy Harland
Monday, 8th July 2013

Maddy Harland reviews a new exhibition of photographs by Sebastiao Salgado at the Natural History Museum, London and discovers a passionate and intimate portrayal of the wild world, a 'love letter to the planet'.

Sebastiao Salgado's exhibition of photographs, Genesis, explores 32 countries and is a culmination of eight years of work exploring 32 countries. He visits the wildest places on the planet - from Patagonia to Alaska, from Siberia to Ethiopia - and photographs pristine environments and their inhabitants, both human indigenes and wild creatures. He called it "my love letter to the planet".

We all yearn for wilderness. Salgado is intent on discovering ancient landscapes, seascapes, animals and people who are still untouched by 'civilisation'. The curator of the exhibition, his wife Lélia Wanick Salgado, says, "Genesis is a quest for the world as it was, as it was formed, as it evolved, as it existed for millenia before modern life accelerated and began distancing us from the very essence of our being." This is both a celebration and a tribute to our beautiful, extraordinary and fragile planet.

Salgado unfolds the natural world before our eyes in all its incredible grandeur and curious diversity. He is to photography what Gay Griffiths, the author of Wild, is to literature. This is a passionate portrayal of disappearing habitats, species and disappearing indigenous people.

In the Upper Xingu region of Brazil’s Mato Grosso state, a group of waura fish in the Piulaga Lake near their village. Brazil, 2005. ©Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images/nbpictures

Salgado has that capacity to move people. He moved me. I wandered slowly through this exhibition spellbound. I will probably never travel to these places, the polar circles, tropical rainforests and arrid deserts, but I can enjoy their majesty and the dignity of the animals and humans who live there. The black and white photography is dramatic, full of contrast and yet intimate all at the same time. I do not feel the photographer's presence is intrusive or voyeuristic. He has the ability to quietly capture rare moments of transition in landscapes, shy wild creatures and the dignity of tribal people, all with a deep sense of respect and celebration.

Later that evening I met up with Polly Higgins, the founder of the Ecocide campaign to introduce a 5th crime of humanity akin to genocide, that will make the deliberate destruction of ecosystems an international crime. She told me that it was on seeing Salgado's photograph of salt mines whilst at university that changed her worldview. It put her on the pathway to becoming an environmental lawyer and campaigner.

So, as you may have gathered, this is a big recommend.

This temporary exhibition at the Waterhouse Gallery at London' Natural History Museum is from 11 April 2013 - 8 September 2013. Tickets £10 adults, £5 child and concession, £27 family. You can book tickets online.

Further Resources

Watch Salgado's inspiring TED talk in which he describes his life, why he took up photography, how he reafforested his family's Brazilian farm, and shows some beauitful images from the exhibition.