Earlier this week, I spent two hours in mid-town Manhattan, wandering Sebastio Salgado’s moving and inspiring, GENESIS EXHIBITION at the ICP. Salgado, if you don’t know him, is a renowned documentary photographer who left the hallowed roster at Magnum Photos in 1994 to hang his own shingle, alongside his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, at Amazonas Images in France. GENESIS is the third in a series of major, multi year projects Salgado has produced, starting with WORKERS in 1993. Prior to now, Salgado’s work has largely focused on the lives and working conditions of people in 3rd world countries.
GENESIS, is, as far as I know, a departure in that it divides its focus on “traditional” landscapes as well as remote and largely intact tribal cultures. The overall effort was to document at the onset of the 20th Century, the last wild places, creatures and people of the planet. The ICP introduces the work as:
“…the third long-term series on global issues by world-renowned photographer Sebastião Salgado (born Brazil, 1944), following Workers (1993) and Migrations (2000). The result of an eight-year worldwide survey, the exhibition draws together more than 200 spectacular black-and-white photographs of wildlife, landscapes, seascapes, and indigenous peoples—raising public awareness about the pressing issues of environment and climate change.
It is, by far, the biggest, most ambitious photographic work directed at climate change and disappearing spaces and cultures I’ve ever seen, all through the lens of one of the spiritual masters of social and environmental photography. The work is not hard-hitting, in the sense that is doesn’t document suffering, unlike nearly all of Salgado’s other projects. It is almost entirely dedicated to beautiful, at times epic, at other times deeply exotic and mystifying, imagery.
But the impact- due in no small part to Salgado’s now-signature handling of the black and white print (for the first time start to finish digital)- is a straight up gut-punch. The exhibition is both an emotional tribute to last untouched people and places of the planet and an urgent call to action. In the Taschen book of this monumental body of work, it quotes Salgado:
“Some 46% of the planet is still as it was in the time of genesis,” Salgado reminds us. “We must preserve what exists.”
Inspired by his own effort to restore a deforested ranch in his homeland Brazil, Salgado set out to document, and thereby make a bid for preserving what’s left of the natural world. It is, in my opinion, a profoundly affecting, and effective attempt. It is also a master class in black and white printing and photojournalism, by one of the most passionate story-tellers alive. The show is on view at ICP until January11, and the book, “SEBASTIO SALGADO: GENESIS” is available from Taschen.