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Salutary Salgado

August 19th, 2013 No comments

Iceberg in the Antarctic PeninsulaAlthough you can see some of this striking exhibition – a worldwide preview – on the website, while there’s still the last chance, how much better to see the photographs at the Natural History Museum in the flesh  (of which there’s plenty, as nude bodies often feature in the virgin landscapes; the penis gourds of jungle tribesmen are flourished exuberantly by their wearers.)

Sebastião  Salgado’s previous acclaimed epic projects and books include Workers and Migrations, about human displacement.

Now, for Genesis, he sets out, in what may well be a last elegiac photographic project, to document the 40% remaining of untouched planet.

What prevents this from being National Geographic writ large is the tenderness. Where Nat Geo follows Ansel Adams in presenting pin sharp images – life at f.64 – Salgado has a softer depth of field and texture to his black-and-white prints: a cloud of Antarctic petrels rise up, the mountain massif behind them a misty backdrop;  or a Yali man collect insects from a giant fern in Papua New Guinea, his skin rippled with articulated tension like the sprung branches.

The Arctic National Wildlife RefugeThe project took him so long that he started shooting on a film camera and ended on a digital one, with a lot of retouching and “painting” in the lab.  Occasionally the black-and-white can frustrate (hard to see a picture of red and green macaws without wishing for colour), but it often works beautifully, like the large egrets in the Pantanal or Disappointment River winding its way through Canada.

For a man who is seventy next year, the sheer energy of his range and travelling is impressive – from sand dunes in Algeria to some lovely wondering albatross in the South Atlantic to a herd of buffalo seen from a balloon in North America.  As a reminder of the still undiscovered or seldom visited world, it is salutary.  And if you miss the exhibition, there is always the excellent book.