Kuwait: A Desert on Fire

Sebastião Salgado


In April 1991, following the end of the First Gulf War, internationally renowned documentary photogra- pher Sebastião Salgado travelled to Kuwait on assignment for the New York Times Magazine. Over 600 oil wells had been set ablaze by Iraqi forces after their occupation of Kuwait was thwarted by a U.S.-led coalition. The region was in the midst of one of the worst man-made environmental catastrophes in recent history. Fire ghters from around the globe, including the Safety Boss team from Calgary, Alberta, had been sent to cap the wells and put out the massive fires. Arriving in the Ahmadi Oil Fields, 30 kilometres southwest of Kuwait City, Salgado came across a desert engulfed in flames, covered in oil, and smothered in a thick black smoke. For one month, he documented this apocalyptic landscape and the firefighters who worked relentlessly. Salgado’s images are surreal reminders of the devastation suffered in Kuwait as a result of war, and pay homage to the men who worked to contain the disaster.

In 2016, Salgado’s project was revisited to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the First Gulf War with the book Sebastião Salgado — Kuwait: A Desert on Fire, published by TASCHEN.