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Sebastião Salgado's Expansive Genesis Exhibition

The Brazilian photographer's earth-spanning collection of landscapes, animals and indigenous people hits the US for the first time

by Hans Aschim
on 19 September 2014

Eight years ago, Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado set out to document the remaining unspoiled parts of our planet, wanting to draw attention to the ever-pressing issue of climate change and environmental degradation. No stranger to long-form projects focused on global issues—"Workers" (1993) and "Migrations" (2000) both examine labor inequity and population movements—Salgado's "Genesis" is a vast body of work and tackles subjects that are equally grand. Composed of over 200 stunning large-scale black and white photographs, the exhibition makes its first US appearance—opening today, 19 September—at New York's International Center of Photography.

It is testimony that our planet still harbors vast and remote regions where nature reigns in silent and pristine majesty.

While the body of work has been available in book form since 2013, the exhibition allows the photos to speak to their true potential, under carefully considered light and in large format. Experiencing the exhibition is at once informative, emotional, humbling and gives the viewer a jarringly majestic view of nature as pure art. "'Genesis' is a quest for the world as it was, as it was formed, as it evolved, as it existed for millennia before modern life accelerated and began distancing us from the very essence of our being," writes Lélia Wanick Salgado, designer and curator of "Genesis" (and also Sebastião's Salgado wife), in a statement. "It is testimony that our planet still harbors vast and remote regions where nature reigns in silent and pristine majesty."


After eight years of shooting around the world—from Madagascar to Zambia to Colorado and Antarctica—the Salgados divided the body of landscapes, wildlife shots, seascapes and people into five geographical regions: Sanctuaries, Planet South, Africa, Amazonia and Pantanal, and Northern Spaces. The walls of the gallery for each section have been painted a corresponding color that embodies the tone and feel of each region—effectively adding to the drama of the already enchanting photos and giving each section an identity of its own. For example, the Africa portion of the exhibition is given a deep red, as a reference to the rich color of African soil and sanguine sunsets.


"Each year the President of the United States has the State of the Union address for us; this is the State of the Union for the planet," says Sebastião Salgado, an impassioned conservationist after seeing the rainforest in his native Brazil (literally his backyard as child) disappear over the years. "It's the part of [the planet] that we together must protect if we want to survive as a species," the artist adds. Through dramatic images that illustrate his mastery of light and composition, he portrays the earth in many shades: grand, powerful and bold but also vulnerable, precious and idiosyncratic. It's an undeniably beautiful reminder of what's permanently at stake.

Sebastião Salgado's "Genesis" opens today, 19 September, for the first time in the US at New York's International Center of Photography. The two-floor exhibition runs through 11 January 2015. The show has openings slated throughout the world through 2016.

Images courtesy of Sebastião Salgado and International Center of Photography

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