The art world is becoming increasingly diverse and provocative. Both audience and artist adopt an ‘anything goes’ attitude in which they willing accept the changing face of art. Often, the more obscure the artwork, the more determined we are to try and bring meaning to the piece.
Yet, Sebastião Salgado’s latest photo exhibition ‘Genesis’ in London speaks for itself. He is a Brazilian photojournalist, who is famed for his characteristic black and white photographs. The exhibition, recently held at London’s Natural History Museum, is unique. Usually Salgado focuses on the plight of people; however Genesis documents the simplicity and beauty of nature, hoping to remind the audience of the art that surrounds our planet.
Since his late arrival to the industry, acquiring his first camera at the ample age of 29[i], Salgado has used photography as a medium of expression. He deems it a “universal language”[ii] that can be accessed and understood internationally. His career has grown as a result, and he has made it his life’s mission to educate his audience through his artwork.
Thus, Genesis emerges, as a culmination of 8 years’ hard work. The museum room is divided into continents, marking Salgado’s travels – everywhere from Antarctica, Patagonia, Africa and Asia – purposefully avoiding cities and any hint of Western civilisation. The title and the subject matter suggest a return to the (literal) nature that preceded our consumerist societies and lifestyles; a throwback to the pre-civilisation that inhibits our current daily lives. In fact, I think that by holding the exhibition at the Natural History Museum, Salgado’s artwork is compared with other historical artefacts and collections, merely by association. This then evokes a cyclic quality as his photographs, through documentation, succeed in the preservation of nature.
However, ironically, his exhibition has been deemed utopian[iii]. Critics have commented that rather than focus on the destructive nature of humans, perhaps as before, Salgado has instead intended to portray the beauty and unquestionable value of nature. Perhaps his vision is less utopian; perhaps he captures the imagination and freedom within nature. In the Antarctic section for example, Salgado explains how an iceberg sculpture transformed itself to embody a Scottish castle[iv]! Salgado hopes to reconnect the mystery and overpowering strength of nature. Perhaps by disconnecting our fast-paced lifestyles with these photographs, Salgado succeeds in separating and comparing the commercial civilisation of our city lifestyles with our more primitive brothers and their (co-dependent) relations with nature.
Salgado’s exhibition is a welcome reminder to the co-dependent relationship we have with nature. His exhibition acts as a visual stimulant to encourage his audience to take responsibility for our planet. At the end of Genesis, there is a large piece of writing that describes Salgado’s ‘Terra Project’[v], whereby he personally accounted for the destruction of part of the Amazon forest, and undertook the role of replanting trees. This project, his exhibitions and others, such as his TED talk videos, allow Salgado to continue travelling, documenting and preserving beauty in the world.
In conclusion, Salgado’s work looks past our current state of destruction. Instead, he chooses to focus on nature, which constantly surrounds us. His photographs are a visual reminder to open our eyes and be aware of the cycle of life. He actively urges us to participate in the international debate concerning our responsibility to preserve nature, and his exhibition, if anything, reinstates the speed at which things change. So, I say that we listen to Salgado, feel inspired by his artwork and find a project – be it large or small – to get involved with and help preserve. Our future relies on our actions!