On episode 3 of my new podcast, I mentioned that Chris, one of my college lecturers introduced me to Sebastiao Selgados work, which really had an impact on me, so today I thought I’d tell you why.
Chris loved her books and had an extensive collection of photography books but I seem to remember her mostly sharing documentary photography with me. For one of our units, we had a lesson each week on image analysis which I LOATHED! I used to hate it when people picked apart an image and said things like “I think the photographer took the image like this because…” and then came with a convoluted, arty-farty explanation. I never bought into all that pretentious rubbish!
But I did buy into something else... One day Chris brought in a few books by Sebastio Salgado. I’d never seen anything like these images before, truly deep blacks and contrasty whites. The detail and emotion in his images were just amazing. One of the images was of hundreds of men pouring in and out of this gold mine in Brazil, I just stared at it and had all these questions run through my head – Where is that, how is that, who is that, why is that…. and that is when I really started to understand the power of photography and how photographs can change the way we think about the world.
Salgado’s books are always in black and white, the deepest blacks I have ever seen printed. His images are truly powerful and I was mesmerised by them. His books were quite expensive for a student to buy so I purchased his cheapest one at the time and then went on to buy "Sahel". And I did hope to buy his whole collection one day but I've not managed it yet.
In 2013 Salgado’s Genesis exhibition premiered in London at the Natural History Museum, until this day it remains the most moving exhibition I have ever seen. The exhibition consisted of 200 beautifully printed and framed black and white images that took 8 years to collate. A truly stunning and jaw-dropping collection of images from all over the world of natural unspoilt places and the last few remaining indigenous people of our planet.
Of course, I bought that book! It remains the most popular book on our bookshelf and many friends who visit always want to look at that one!
If you have a chance to see Selgado’s film "The Salt of The Earth" it's a fantastic story of how he became disheartened with what he saw in humanity but found peace and joy again in nature. It shows how they produced the book Genesis and the effort he and his son went through to get some of the shots.
My favourite thing about this book is how it shows what the world is really like. We see so many things on documentaries and on the news, but this book really does show that there are people living very happy and satisfying lives in truly remote areas where they don't have technology, but they don't need technology! I think it shows that some of these indigenous tribes are happier than people in the modern world, which I think is a truly wonderful thing to be shown in images!
We can learn so much from people who are truly connected to the planet, that know how to use the resources in a way that doesn't harm the planet but actually benefits them and the wildlife around them. This book shows that it is possible! People have been living that way for hundreds, and hundreds of years and people are still living that way now.
It's such a contrast from some of Salgado's other books that can leave you feeling quite sad and a little bit depressed - This book is truly inspirational and very uplifting! And it really makes me want to go and visit some of these places, but I understand they are best left unspoilt.
If you enjoy looking at black and white photography, I highly recommend this book. It’s got everything natural in it, portraits of people without modern technology, unbelievable landscapes, and prehistoric-looking animals. It’s raw, pure and it's a stunning photographic book! Salgado isn't known for his wildlife photography but in this book, he proves that he is not just a master of portraits. His wildlife photography is also truly exceptional.
The book took 8 years to compile so it has been thought out really well. On nearly every page there is a photograph, there are even pull out pages revealing more images which even though small, can still be clearly seen. The detail in the images is truly amazing and really gives you a sense of what's going on, whether it's a big old landscape or a nice portrait of an individual from a tribe.
It comes with an index so you can look up where the photographs were taken, and you can learn a bit about the animal, place or tribe. You will not get any technical specs for the images, which I think is a good thing. I feel this book is more about absorbing your own thoughts and imagination. It lets you imagine being there yourself and in this instance, I think the less explained and the less said, the better!
Salgado's book "Genesis" remains my favourite book! I hope this article has inspired you to check out his work if you haven't already done so.