October 27, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Photographer Sebastião Salgado travelled the world for 8 years capturing precious moments ...


A natural splendour ascends from the shimmering glacial sea. Streams of sunlight cast a royal glow upon its majestic form, accentuating the impressive structure of its towers and arches. An iceberg shaped like a castle provides the perfect accompaniment to the phrase: “nature reigns in silent and pristine majesty.”

After eight years of travelling the globe, the award winning Brazilian photographer, Sebastião Salgado, unveils his homage to the planet in his latest photographic exhibition at the Natural History Museum. It is a remarkable collection comprised of more than 200 stunning black and white prints. Salgado’s monochromatic representation of the world captures nature in all her grandeur.

The extraordinary showcase has a powerful immersive effect, taking the viewer on a journey of exploration and discovery, venturing to the untouched corners of the planet. It is a quest divided into five chapters: ‘Planet South’, ‘Sanctuaries’, ‘Africa’,  ‘Northern Spaces’ and ‘Amazonia and Pantanal’.

I was enthralled. Hours passed by as I crossed continents beginning with the icy regions of the polar circles; to the scorching African deserts and savannahs; sledging with reindeer herders across Siberia, then soaring over rocky mountains, grand canyons and plateaus of the Colorado  before finally exploring the tropical rainforests. I experienced nature from afar and in awe as I gazed upon images of great landscapes and seascapes, as well as encountering wildlife at close range – an irritated baby African elephant charged directly towards me, flapping its ears, as a sand cloud raises from its midst; on an iceberg in the Antarctic peninsula, penguins lined up in an orderly queue awaiting their turn to dive deep into the waters below.

The succession of stimulating images is arranged to enhance the visual impact. Each photograph is mounted with white card, enclosed within a dark wooden frame. It is this simplicity of the display that creates an effective exposition of Salgado’s artworks. To hang the photographs on various coloured backgrounds (one colour representative of each theme) creates an atmosphere complementary to the viewer’s experience of the content and guides them through the narrative. It divides up their quest while maintaining constant forward flow. The detail, depth and lighting epitomises the wonders of our world. It is a visionary sensation and showcases the most pristine parts of nature; purposefully selected and displayed to share the beauty of nature in regions that have so far escaped the destructive hand of man.

Furthermore, his portrayal of the livelihoods of indigenous communities provides an intimate insight into different cultures through a range of touching and endearing images. One unforgettable picture was of children belonging to the Nenet reindeer herders in Siberia embracing the freezing, hostile weather to play with their dogs on their parents’ sledges. The happiness and fun captured in that moment couldn’t fail to put a smile on a viewer’s face and bring warmth to the heart. The Indonesian Korowai family groups climb 25m above ground to gather together in incredible tree houses, where children watch intently as their elders busy themselves cooking and sorting through the day’s ‘foragings’.  Meanwhile, captivating shots of Mursi and Surma tribes show the extreme lengths women take to beautify themselves by inserting lip and ear plates, which can reach 16 inches in diameter.

The exhibition is not just ‘art for art’s sake’. The artwork is also conveys a political message. Salgado entitled the exhibition Genesis as he wishes to show those regions where nature still reigns, unspoiled by today’s world. The deliberate biblical reference shows his intention that we go back to the beginning, the origin, of the world. He seeks to influence the viewer and to encourage reflection about the effects of modern living. But even though the viewer is made aware of this campaign to save the planet, the exhibition is primarily aesthetic, leaving the artwork to ‘speak for itself’.

This testimony is a visual tribute that shows off the greatest assets of our beautiful planet. Humanity has distanced itself from its natural roots and lost touch with the essence of life on Earth. Salgado’s intentions are heroic. Through his photography he attempts to re-establish a harmonious relationship with nature. His project is a call to arms reminding the public of their moral duty to protect the natural sanctuaries of ancient people and animals, and to preserve unspoiled lands.

Sebastião Salgado: Genesis is on at the Natural History Museum until 8 September 2013


IMAGE: Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas Images / nbpictures