Genesis, a photographic homage to our planet in its natural state. Sebastião Salgado is one of the most influential photographers in our time and his broad range of photographic projects, have been a foundation in realism photography and photojournalism. In 1970, at the age of twenty six, Salgado placed his eyes over the viewfinder of a camera for the first time and would never see the world the same again. “I looked through a lens and ended up abandoning everything else.” As a young economist, Salgado was infatuated by the natural world and the destructive nature of human beings in their own socio-economic conditions. This highly influenced his future career as a photographer and inspired his first two major photographic projects; ‘Workers’ and ‘Migrations’. Salgado became physically sick due to him photographing too much death and destruction. So much so, that his doctor told him if he didn’t stop, he would die. “He says ‘You are not sick. What happened was you saw much death, you are dying. You must stop. Stop!’” In the early 90’s, Salgado returned to his home in Brazil and decided to try and heal the world by undoing some of the damage. By 2003, his charity single handedly restored almost 50% of the rainforest in Brazil. In 2004 Salgado picked up his camera for the first time in almost a decade and began to photograph the world as though it had been untouched by economic growth. This project became Genesis.
One of the most beautiful photographs of the whole series was taken in 2009 at The Arctic National Wildlife Range in Alaska, USA. The photograph depicts a mountain range landscape and a river vein at the bottom of a Valley. The photograph is composed beautifully using the rule of thirds. The jagged horizontal lines of the mountains clash with the vertical lines of the river. The foreground is made up of part of the river sneaking out of the corner of the frame as a smaller convex mountainside blends into the other corner with subtle natural light skimming the details, highlighting them so they are just noticeable, leaving dark shadows in the gaps between the rocks. The light becomes more prominent in the middle ground, illuminating the detail on the mountains and the grassy area beneath them. The light becomes more gradient as your eyes wander up the river in the middle of the frame, bright and revealing on the right side of the frame, but darker on the left. Suggesting the photograph was taken in the early morning or late afternoon. The detail becomes sharper aesthetically and literally in the background as the shape of the mountains become more protruding. The background is also lit up by the sun bouncing of a raincloud that meets the ground on the left hand side of the frame, lighting the whole scene. The black and white brings out the highlights and shadows exquisitely, bringing out the smallest details and creating a breath-taking contrast. The frame is also taken in portrait rather than landscape, which is unusual for landscape photography. However it works with the composition as it brings the landscape in, making it tighter, allowing the viewers eyes to follow the river.
This particular photograph isn’t what inspires me or creates impact on my work. Granted, this is my favourite photograph of the project, due to its powerful aesthetics in visual composition and lighting. However, the whole project inspires me, not because of the aesthetics of the photographs, but because of the politics behind them and the ethics that Salgado works by. This project has opened my eyes creatively in a way that forces me to appreciate the beauty of what is in front of the lens, and what is behind it. Everything that happens between is what allows me to take that appreciation and pass it on to others. Genesis taught me that beauty can really come from anywhere and all it takes is a different perspective. A perspective that is easily found when looking through the viewfinder of a camera. Salgado has made a huge influence on my work, creatively and morally. He somehow managed to prove that one person can really make a difference and a change of perspective can kick-start that. Genesis, a photographic homage to our planet in its natural state.