Image Source photographer Jesper Mattias headed down to the Natural History Museum, London to take a look at the latest offering by one of photography’s greatest living masters, Sebastião Salgado.
Images taken from the exhibition’s accompanying book, Genesis, available for purchase here.
Sebastião Salgado was born in Brazil in 1944. Initially training and then working as an Economist, it wasn’t until 1973 that he decided to change direction and pursue a career as a photographer. He worked on news assignments before eventually concentrating on documentary photography, specifically social documentary of the dispossessed in third world countries.
“Genesis” – a project encapsulating Salgado’s work taken over a period of around seven years. It covers a vast swathe of the globe; from Africa to South Georgia, the Amazon and up into northern Canada and Alaska. It is currently being premiered at the Natural History Museum, London, and runs until the 8th September 2013.
Viewing the exhibition and trying to choose a stand alone image was a tough task. The strength of photos on show was staggering, and consequently many stood out as poignant images.
For me, the standalone image was a landscape photograph of the Grand Canyon viewed from the national forest in Arizona. The big mesa visible on the far side of the canyon is in Navajo territory, and it was taken during a localised snowstorm in 2010.
Looking at the image from a photographer’s perspective, what stands out for me is the huge range of tone in the print itself. It would be easy to print this flat (without much contrast), but every effort has been made to bring out the mood in the image by working on the clouds and rock face of the canyon to give a real sense of emotion, movement and depth. It’s a symbolic portrayal of the plight of the Navajo Indians. The Native American Indians have long been marginalised and persecuted since the Americas were colonised by Westerners, subsequently the storm could well be representative of their struggle both in the past and indeed ongoing. Simply put it is just a great landscape shot.
In my opinion, Salgado approaches his work with a passion and determination that really makes him stand out in comparison with other photographers. He spends years documenting each individual project, eventually building up a vast collection that creates such power around each publication or exhibition.
Genesis was very much like that. Every photograph is striking; from portraits of far flung tribes in Indonesia, shots of wildlife such as the albatross or southern right whale, to landscapes – stunning in their natural beauty. Another favourite image of mine was the aerial shot of reindeer being herded across the Ob river into the Arctic Circle by the Nenets of the Siberian Arctic. Each image is unique in its own way, but they also convey an important meaning – that of our impact on the world as a whole and it’s natural resources depleted so heavily by industrialisation and the advancement of the modern world.
Which Image, Which Room?
If money were no object and I had to choose only one photograph, it would be the reindeer herd movement. As demonstrated so frequently in Salgado’s images, scale plays a significant role. You need to study them to reveal indicators of the size of scene. The image above, if viewed from a great distance, could appear in numerous forms and it is only when up close the viewer realises the detail of the reindeer in amongst the vast wilderness.
I would put this above my fireplace, and I’d be very content staring at it daily. It puts 21st century living into perspective in terms of our over dependance on material wealth and just how simply we can live as a species with the bare minimum.
One question for the image maker?
Having spent four decades photographing social and humanitarian issues around the world, what’s left that you feel you have yet to document?
“Genesis” is currently exhibiting at the Natural History Museum, London until 8th September 2013. More information can be found here.