By Ingrid Coifman
The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) was home to the North American premiere of ‘Genesis’, the latest remarkable photographic project by Brazilian Sebastião Salgado, considered one of the best photojournalists in the world. Salgado’s amazing 8-year journey through 32 different locations amounts to around 245 photos that capture a natural, pristine world not yet damaged by mankind. Through his skilful lenses, small pieces of a lost paradise on earth remind people of the beautiful home they have.
During this wonderful venture, he visited remote places such as Amazonia, Siberia, Sahara, Ethiopia, Papua, Patagonia and Galápagos, to name a few. His photographs transport his audiences in awe and admiration to a fantastic, untouched flora, fauna, and civilizations they never dream of – or thought still existed. Salgado takes a step further by conveying in images the sensation of a cold day in a Patagonian winter or what it means to walk under the sweltering heat of the Saharan summer.
By carefully trying not to interfere with the environment, he was able to seize the tranquility and motionlessness needed to convey what is happening in his surroundings in its more absolute form – in sneak peeks of an out-of- reach, not completely understood planet, at least to modern society.
In their natural habitats, the animals are as curious as Sebastiao (take the example of the giant tortoise staring back at his camera). “I go to photograph as a photographer. I’m not presenting information as a journalist. Nor am I an anthropologist or a sociologist. For Genesis, I am simply a person curious to explore our planet, to see its landscapes, its flora, its other animals”, said Salgado in an interview to ROM Senior Curator, Deepali Dewan.
“ The light of a photographer doesn’t come from a flash. It comes from inside himself, from his own life and experience”
In his interviews, Salgado reveals that he had the help of local guides and in some expeditions he traveled by boat, in balloons, in small planes, by car, and on foot. “In the north of Ethiopia, I walked 870 kilometres across mountains. During this trip, which lasted close to two months, I lived with different tribes,” he adds.
Tones of grey and impressive lighting mark this project in black and white, giving all the elements and scenarios the same importance. “In everything I see, light is important for me. I always work within natural light. I’ve never used any other kind of illumination. I’m a daylight photographer. I go to sleep very early and wake up very early in order to have my daylight in full.”
In trying to reveal a world that is in harmony with nature, Salgado let the images speak for themselves and is almost impossible not to reflect on themes such as planet conservation, rescue, and the role human beings play in that. Perhaps, unintentionally, this is his contribution, accomplished due to his unique style that crosses fine art and documentary photography.
The audience leaves the museum uplifted, inspired, and even more aware. They seem in wonder. Humans and nature became closer.