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Salgado Stories

Sebastião Salgado’s photography is a breath of fresh air in today’s world of commotion as he deftly captures the extraordinary amid the mundane – creating pieces that are epochal, intense and ever-lasting

In a world that has lost its conscience when it comes to deforestation and developing large acres of land for obsessive real estate urban ugliness, Sebastião Salgado stands apart as the photographer who seeks to balance people and places living in equilibrium, to affirm that in this millennium we can still offer a stunning visual antidote to selfish unending obsessions. In an interview to The Telegraph, UK, he states: "Photography is not objective. It is deeply subjective – my photography is consistent ideologically and ethically with the person I am."

Genesis

The Sundaram Tagore Gallery at Chelsea, New York, unveils an epic yet rarely seen set of landscapes from Salgado's noted Genesis series, as well as an image from his newest project in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, which is intended to raise awareness about threats to the region from logging, mining, dam building, cattle and soybean farming and Climate Change. Salgado however, does not focus on the erosive forces of development but on the regenerative potential of awe. Over the past few years, he crowned his project with the biblical title Genesis that mirrors the majesty of his subjects to offer these landscape studies as an articulated prayer for preservation and reverence.

Surreal landscapes

These spartan yet surreal landscapes traverse the ancient basalt columns of Mitsio Island, Madagascar, to the sun showers over the Kamchatka Central Valley in Russia, as landscapes are presented in their image of reality.

The grand volcanoes from Kamchatka, Russia are an abacus of drama as the clouds dramatically blur its peaks. The image offers dulcet elements of detailing. Lake Argentino, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentine, Patagonia, 2007 has sheer satin smooth planes that silently lull our senses into its untouched power in playing solitaire.

Sacred sanctuary

Of course, if you are a music lover you can just stand transfixed at the image of the Basaltic organ pipes on Mitsio Island, Madagascar, but what ensues is Salgado's ability to create the signature of a sacred sanctuary with these panoramic studies that are Wordsworthian in intensity and ideation of the truth to ideals of planet Earth.

There is also an auratic insignia in the manner in which we are given images that become the epoch of poetic intensity. Uncanny as an erotic entendre is the isolated image of Iceberg located between Bristol and Bellingshausen islands, South Sandwich Islands, 2009. The hollows and the cavities have a sumptuous seductive air when you look at the contours hollowed out like a cavernous womb holding within an abyss of the unknown.

Between dunes and icebergs

Whether he shoots sand dunes in Algeria or an iceberg in the Antarctic, his command over the frame and his intrinsic portrayal of the undiminished power of the black and white idiom is what becomes the most iconoclastic insignia of all. Iceberg moving on the Weddell Sea, Antarctic Peninsula, 2005, and Sand dunes in Ili Dama, Tadrar, South of Djanet, Algeria 2009, are two images that echo the ecological enigma of the beauty and brevity of the landscape at its best and also tells us why Salgado has become an impassioned conservationist.

Salgado captures vast and remote realities where nature endures as it existed thousands of years ago. With deeply compelling narratives, these works may be photojournalistic in nature, but technically and compositionally, they stand on their own as masterful works of art. Salgado has made it his life's work to document the impact of globalisation on humankind.

"Photography," he has said, "allowed me to see anything that I wished to see on this planet. Anything that hurts my heart, I want to see it and photograph it. Anything that makes me happy, I want to see it and photograph it. Anything that I think is beautiful enough to show. I show it. Photography became my life."

Light chemistry and paper

These images literally go back in time, when our planet and all its magnificent treasures existed undisturbed, growing forever and in peace. Even if there were humans, they lived in harmony with nature, nurturing and respecting each other, where wilderness becomes a home and it takes very little to lead a very happy life. In spite of technology and modern mankind taking over the present days, there is still 45 per cent of untouched life, still living in its pristine state, thousands of years before machines were any relevant. With this fact in mind, Salgado set out on a quest to rediscover forests, seas, deserts, oceans, mountains, animals and even people, so far away from civilisation, in all their pure, breathtaking beauty and therein lies the precious and prismatic value of time.

Each image speaks like silent sentinels. Each avoids cliché, and even the well-worn subject of dunes/evergreen forests excites the eye in Salgado's hands. Strength in compositional clarity, textural nuances and tonalities shimmer in subtle ways through abstraction's planar formalism. The graphic power of each flawless print on Ilford's Galerie Prestige Gold Fibre Silk paper plays enticingly, but Salgado's remarkable depth of field and focus always lay bare the subject matter like a sensual sheath.

Whether it's the indigenous peoples or the most incredible examples of flora and fauna, their spectacular innocence is immortalised in Salgado's black and white photographs, whose stellar precision and a remarkable technique stand right next to Ansel Adams's famed curated landscapes. Soaked in a perfect contrast and a spectrum of grey shades that exalt as much detail as they possibly can, these works represent the very highlight one can achieve by capturing the world using the most out of the photographic medium.

Uma Nair

Uma Nair

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