The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Alaska, USA, 2009
© Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images
A mushroom island of Baobab trees perched atop the Bay of Moramba. A leopard’s gaze as it drinks from a water pool in the blackness of night. A group of nomadic Nenets surrounded by the hostile Siberian tundra. This is but a glimpse of Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis, an environmental art exhibit that explores our relationship with the natural world.
The internationally renowned Brazilian photojournalist’s current exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto features 245 black-and-white photographs taken in 32 countries between 2004 and 2011. Sometimes hovering in balloons to capture his aerial shots, Salgado’s stunning photographs depict pristine landscapes, majestic wildlife and human communities that remain beyond the reach of globalization. The exhibition is divided into five themes or geo-climatic zones: Amazonia and Pantanal, Planet South, Sanctuaries, Africa and Northern Spaces .
Salgado’s photographs feel as though they are plucked from his imagination. They illustrate an unspoiled utopia in which nature, animals and people live in harmony. Even though each photograph exists within a frame, the landscapes Salgado showcases extend far beyond these confines and connect the audience with this limitlessness. Like Ansel Adams, Salgado’s scope is both precise and grand. He’s able to capture all of his varied subject matter – whether stampeding zebras in Botswana or an iceberg on the Weddell Sea – with compassion and understanding.
Unlike some environmental art exhibitions, Genesis doesn’t set out to horrify its viewers. Instead it depicts a natural world that is to be cherished, honoured and revered. The exhibit does not attempt to condemn humankind for what we’ve done wrong, but instead offers the revelation that all is not lost. With his photographic testimony, Salgado aims to inspire discovery, connection and attentiveness to the natural world. His goal is environmental reform, and he reminds us through his photography and his words “that our planet is fragile and we need to protect it.”
Trained as an economist, 70-year-old Salgado began his photographic career in Paris in 1973. He formed the press agency Amazonas images in 1994 with his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, to represent his work. The Salgados are also devoted to the continued restoration of the Brazilian rainforest because of its influence on their love of the natural world. Together they also founded a Brazilian nature reserve and Instituto Terra, a non-governmental organization dedicated to conservation. Lélia Wanick Salgado is the curator of Genesis.
Genesis, Sebastião Salgado. Royal Ontario Museum, until September 2, 2013.
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