Sebastião Salgado

 

Ambarin Afsar leafs through Sebastião Salgado’s love letter to the planet and comes away amazed at the conviction and strength of his love.

Southern right whales, drawn to the Valdés Peninsula for the shelter provided by its two gulfs, often navigate with their tails upright in the water. After close observation, it is possible to predict when a whale will jump: a sudden and swift movement of the tail provides the burst of energy that enables the whale to project its massive body out of the water. Photograph/Sebastião Salgado

Southern right whales, drawn to the Valdés Peninsula for the shelter provided by its two gulfs, often navigate with their tails upright in the water. After close observation, it is possible to predict when a whale will jump: a sudden and swift movement of the tail provides the burst of energy that enables the whale to project its massive body out of the water. Photograph/Sebastião Salgado

“I discovered that I am part of all this, that I am part of the animals. That we are part of everything alive in the planet. We are part of this huge equilibrium.” — Photograph/Sebastião Salgado

“I discovered that I am part of all this, that I am part of the animals. That we are part of everything alive in the planet. We are part of this huge equilibrium.” — Sebastião Salgado

When I was a child, I’d spend all my time watching National Geographic, Discovery and Animal Planet on TV. These were less incriminating than cartoon shows, especially when I was supposed to be studying for my final exams. In the bargain, I’d spend my afternoons immersed in the windblown white vistas of Antarctica, the sultry swamps of Louisiana, or the deep rainforests of South America, depending on the channel’s programming. It was here that my love for nature and all its creatures took root.

When I opened Sebastiao Salgado’s Genesis, I was completely unprepared for the overwhelming wave of nostalgia and an intense love for the world we inhabit, which the book evoked in me.

32 Destinations and a Decade on the Road
Salgado spent nearly a decade on what is undoubtedly one of the most monumental projects of his life—Genesis. He travelled far and wide, in search of the untouched regions of the planet, places that have remained unchanged for thousands of years and tribes that have held on to their ancestral way of life for centuries. In an interview, Benedikt Taschen asked Salgado what it was like spending practically 8 months a year on an average on the road, and in some cases such as Ethiopia, where there were no roads, miles and miles walking. Salgado corrected him saying, “You say there were no roads. There were roads, only made by human feet for 3000, 5000 years. Walking in these places gave me immense energy from the past.”

 Like other ectothermal reptiles, the marine iguana must regulate its own body temperature: as soon as the sun rises, it lies flat, warming as much body area as possible until the temperature reaches 95.9° Fahrenheit; it then changes position to avoid overheating. The marine iguana needs a high body temperature in order to swim, to move about and to digest. Galápagos, Ecuador. Photograph/Sebastião Salgado

Like other ectothermal reptiles, the marine iguana must regulate its own body temperature: as soon as the sun rises, it lies flat, warming as much body area as possible until the temperature reaches 95.9° Fahrenheit; it then changes position to avoid overheating. The marine iguana needs a high body temperature in order to swim, to move about and to digest. Galápagos, Ecuador. Photograph/Sebastião Salgado

Almost Quitting Photography
Much, much before the seeds for Genesis were sown, Salgado was working on Migrations in Rwanda. It was here that he witnessed death in hundreds and thousands on a daily basis. He was so terribly affected by the brutality and violence around him that he started falling very ill. “I lost my faith in our species. I didn’t believe that it was possible for us to live any longer, and I started to be attacked by my own staphylococcus. I started to have infections everywhere.” He soon saw a doctor in Paris who told him, “Sebastião, you must stop. You’re heading directly towards death.”

The Momentous Event that Led to Genesis
He decided to stop. He was really upset with photography and with the world and decided to return to the place that he was born—Brazil. His parents bequeathed him and his wife Léila, the farm that he grew up on. But when he reached there, he was stunned. The land that was filled with streams, ponds, trees, brooks and animals by the hundreds, now lay practically barren. “The land was as dead as I was. In the name of development, we had ruined everything around us. This is when Léila had a crazy idea, she said, ‘Why don’t you put back the rainforest that was here before? You say that you were born in paradise. Let’s build the paradise again.’”

Chinstrap penguins on an iceberg located between the Zavodovski and Visokoi islands, South Sandwich Islands, November and December 2009. Photograph/Sebastião Salgado

Chinstrap penguins on an iceberg located between the Zavodovski and Visokoi islands, South Sandwich Islands, November and December 2009. Photograph/Sebastião Salgado

Together, they planted about 2.5 million trees of about 200 different species in order to rebuild the ecosystem. The farm has now become a private national park and Sebastião and Leila Salgado have created an instituion called Instituto Terra to look after it.

“We gave the land back to nature, and life started to come back in an incredible way, along with my desire for photography. This time, my wish was not to photograph the one animal I had photographed all my life—us. I wished to photograph other animals, landscapes… I wanted to photograph us, but us from the beginning, the time we lived in equilibrium with nature.”

 Typically, the women in the Zo’é village of Towari Ypy use the red fruit of the urucum to colour their bodies. It is a shrub originating from the tropical regions of the Americas and has long been used by American Indians as body paint, especially for the lips. Photograph/Sebastião Salgado

Typically, the women in the Zo’é village of Towari Ypy use the red fruit of the urucum to colour their bodies. It is a shrub originating from the tropical regions of the Americas and has long been used by American Indians as body paint, especially for the lips. Photograph/Sebastião Salgado

The places that Salgado visited are not entirely unfamiliar to me, but the manner in which he combines textures with lifeforms, the manner in which he sees microcosms and macrocosms, makes one aware of a higher presence. Each image is a living, breathing organism on its own, and combined, Genesis is an experience to be slowly savoured, a journey that takes us to the heart of our planet and beyond. It shows us our place in the scheme of things, and it is a position of power—the ability to make change, and to preserve what is left of us.

 Mursi and Surma women are the last women in the world to wear lip plates. No anthropologist has been able to explain with certainty the origin or the function of this practice. Some say that this mutilation, unaesthetic to the eyes of the slavers, was imposed by men to protect their women from slavers’ raids. Only women belonging to a high caste have the right to wear lip plates, which they display proudly when they walk around the village in the company of their husband and sons. Mursi village of Dargui in Mago National Park, near Jinka, Ethiopia.  Photograph/Sebastião Salgado

Mursi and Surma women are the last women in the world to wear lip plates. No anthropologist has been able to explain with certainty the origin or the function of this practice. Some say that this mutilation, unaesthetic to the eyes of the slavers, was imposed by men to protect their women from slavers’ raids. Only women belonging to a high caste have the right to wear lip plates, which they display proudly when they walk around the village in the company of their husband and sons. Mursi village of Dargui in Mago National Park, near Jinka, Ethiopia. Photograph/Sebastião Salgado

Images courtesy: Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas images

Tags: Ambarin Afsar, beauty, black and white, conservation, genesis, grace, Great Masters, Landscapes, Magnum, migrations, Nature, planet, portraits, sebastio salgado, tribes, Wildlife