Capturing the majesty of regions not yet touched by the impact of globalization, Sebastião Salgado’s extraordinary photographs depict unspoiled landscapes, boundless wildlife, and human communities still following traditional ways of living. Genesis brings together 245 black-and-white photographs taken over the course of eight years of travel, from 2004 through 2011. The result is a sweeping view of 32 locations, which reflects the expansive range of Salgado’s journey in search of near-pristine places that most of us will never see. The exhibition is organized into five themes representing different geo-climatic zones: Planet South, Sanctuaries, Africa, Northern Spaces, and Amazonia and Pantanal. Through Salgado’s lens, the planet is documented in such a way as to celebrate its splendour and encourage reflection upon what is at stake in our relentless pursuit of “progress.”
Working between a documentary and fine-art approach, Salgado’s method is one of aesthetic contemplation. He aims to capture important historical moments that reflect our changing times on a grand scale, and to offer opportunities for humanity to rediscover forgotten aspects of itself. Genesis is Salgado’s third large-scale photographic project that shares this approach, following the commitment to global issues enacted through Workers (1986 – 92), which documented manual labour in late capitalism, and Migrations (1993 – 2000), a study of people displaced by war and economic change. Salgado’s work raises crucial questions about the aestheticization of environmental and human struggle as well as photography’s ability to inspire social change. Following this North American premiere of Genesis, which is presented in the context of world culture and natural history at the ROM, the exhibition will tour internationally for several years.
Born in 1944 in Brazil and originally trained as an economist, Salgado began working as a professional photographer in Paris in 1973. With Lélia Wanick Salgado, his wife, he formed Amazonas images in 1994, an agency devoted exclusively to his work. They are partners in the artist’s practice and share an environmental vision. Together, the couple works in a philanthropic and humanitarian capacity on restoration of the Brazilian rainforest, which was a formative influence on the artist’s dedication to the natural world. They founded a nature reserve in Brazil on land once owned by Salgado’s father, as well as an NGO dedicated to conservation, Instituto Terra. Wanick Salgado is also her husband’s greatest interpreter; she is the curator of Genesis, his most masterful body of work to date. Here, she introduces the exhibition:
“Genesis is a quest for the world as it was, as it was formed, as it evolved, as it existed for millennia before modern life accelerated and began distancing us from the very essence of our being. It is a journey to the landscapes, seascapes, animals, and peoples that have so far escaped the long reach of today’s world. And it is testimony that our planet still harbours vast and remote regions where nature reigns in silent and pristine majesty.
Such wonders are to be found in polar circles and tropical rainforests, in wide savannahs and scorching deserts, on glacier-covered mountains and solitary islands. Some regions are too cold or arid for all but the hardiest forms of life, others are home to animals and human communities whose survival depends on their isolation. Together, they form a stunning mosaic of nature in all its unspoiled grandeur.
Through these photographs, Genesis aspires to show and to share this beauty. It is a visual tribute to a fragile planet that we all have a duty to protect.”
Organized by Amazonas images. Co-presented with the ROM: Contemporary Culture. Curated by Lélia Wanick Salgado.
To read an interview with Sebastião Salgado by ROM senior curator Deepali Dewan, from ROM, the magazine of the Royal Ontario Museum, Spring 2013, visit www.rom.on.ca and search Salgado.