Sebastião Salgados love letter to the planet.
“It was a language that didn’t need any translation because photography can be read in many languages. I can write in photography — and you can read it in China, in Canada, in Brazil, anywhere.” Sebastião Salgado.
The first photo by Sebastião Salgado I ever saw is one I will never forget. It was taken in Zambia at Kafue National Park in 2010. It portrays an elephant, amongst trees and bushes, walking into a stream of sunbeams. The play between shadow and light gives the photograph an otherworldly feel. The magnificent elephant is captured in movement right at the precise moment it is embraced by the sun.
The photograph of the elephant is part of Salgado’s latest project Genesis. He describes Genesis as his love letter to the planet*. When Salgado and his wife, Lélia Deluiz Wanick-Salgado, started their research for the Genesis project in 2002 they discovered that a considerable part of the earth was untouched. They learned that an estimated 46% of the planet was still preserved. A lot of places remain intact due to being hard to reach and therefore have escaped being destructed by man. These were places located in, for instance, colder climates as the Antarctic, places with hot climates like deserts or places at high altitudes that were not profitable to exploit. And some areas, they found, had just been left alone and the people who inhabited them still lived in harmony with nature. The couple went to work and outlined the thirty-two reportages that were to become Genesis – a project that came to take two years to plan and eight years in total to execute.
Some of the places Salgado traveled to for Genesis are the Galapagos islands, the Mentawi islands, Madagascar and Sumatra. In his own words, he describes these Islands as natural sanctuaries were the environment has been remarkably preserved**. Salgado continued on to photograph in West Papua, New Guinea, North and south America, Chile, Venezuela, Argentina to name some places but not all. He traveled from the Amazon to Canada and on to the South Sandwich Islands where he photographed the worlds largest penguin colony.
“I hope that the person who visits my exhibitions, and the person who comes out, are not quite the same…I believe that the average person can help a lot, not by giving material goods but by participating, by being part of the discussion, by being truly concerned about what is going on in the world.”
/ Sebastião Salgado***
Genesis can be described as a homage to earth, its wildlife, landscape, beauty and resilience. The Genesis project teaches us that we do not need everything that is sold to us. We do not need this massive consumption of things that clutter our lives. It is not a necessity for our happiness. It teaches us that what we need is to is to reflect on, and carry out our responsibility to protect the environment and all the living beings that share the planet with us. We need to respect and nurture the earth and we need to do this on a collective as well as individual level.
“..one day I was watching an iguana, a reptile that, a priori, appears to have little in common without own species. But, looking closely at one of its front feet, suddenly I saw the hand of a medieval knight. Its scales had made me think of a suit of chain mail, under which I saw fingers similar to my own! I said to myself, this iguana is my cousin.”
/Sebastião Salgado, in From my land to the planet.
Sebastião Salgado’s journeys for Genesis resulted in a photo exhibition that has been shown in museums all over the world, from New York to Brazil, Toronto, Rome, Singapore, Paris, London and many more. The project also resulted in two books on Genesis published in 2013. The photos from Genesis have been widely published in magazines, newspapers and other publications.
* Salgado described Genesis “as his love letter to the planet” in his TED talk in 2013.
** This description of the islands are written in Salgado’s book From my land to the planet.
*** Sebastião Salgado, the quote is taken from UNICEF special representative presentation.