Sebastião Salgado’s “Genesis” Explores Untouched Places and Peoples

To this day, photography is not simply Salgado’s vocation but his lifeblood. “I live totally inside photography,” he explained, “doing long-term projects.” Among these projects is “Genesis,” an eight-year global trek—begun in 2004—to seek out and capture in searing, stunning, black-and-white photographs those places and peoples still untouched by modernization and, more ominously, environmental degradation. A selection of these photographs—of land and sea animals; arctic, desert, and tropical landscapes; and people living closely with nature—is currently on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery. These works were originally presented in tandem with a sweeping exhibition of the series, at New York’s International Center of Photography (ICP), which closed earlier this month.
“I had an idea to go and have a look at the planet and try to understand through this process—through pictures—the landscapes and how alive they are,” Salgado has explained about his inspiration for “Genesis.” His intention was, “to understand the vegetation of the planet, the trees; to understand the other animals, and to photograph us from the beginning, when we lived in equilibrium with nature.” Since gaining such an understanding requires coming into contact with these wonders—among them, a line of penguins slipping into a frigid sea and a group of Dinka farmers with their exquisite long-horned cattle—and since unspoiled nature and those who live in harmony with it are increasingly rare, the project took him to some of the most remote places on earth.
While the images Salgado brought back from his travels are gorgeous to behold, they are also tinged with a sense of fragility and loss. Against our current societal backdrop of rampant development and rabid environmental destruction, they read like documentation of endangered species. Through these photographs, Salgado asks us to bear witness, if not necessarily to history, then to what will be—unless we learn to value the earth and its inhabitants driven by the rhythms set not by commerce, industry, and technology, but by nature itself.
Karen Kedmey
Genesis” is on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York, Dec. 11, 2014–Jan. 24, 2015.