In the beginning…

In the beginning… 24 April 2013 Brazil-born photographer Sebastião Salgado speaks to Khaleej Times reporter 
Kelly Clarke about embarking on an epic eight year photographic expedition, which saw him travel from the depths of coldest Siberia to the soaring heat of the Algerian sand dunes “I WAS attacked by a desert elephant with huge tusks in Namibia when we were crossing into their area”. Born in Brazil in 1944, Sebastião Salgado is one of the world’s most famed photographers. In his latest book of work, Genesis , Salgado takes you on a journey of discovery to many of the world’s untouched places, illustrating how the planet was “at the beginning”. From wildlife to humans, and indigenous tribes to untouched landscapes, the heavy shadowed, black and white images are unmistakably Salgado. The lighting is characteristically spectacular, and gives every element equal footing in the story. The contrasts are fierce, whether casting your eyes over the large sand dunes in Tadrart, Algeria or studying the tribal body mutilation of the Mursi and the Surma women from Ethiopia, Salgado’s ferocious photographic style is operatic. A man who never does things by half, Salgado embarked on this eight year project in 2004, crossing 32 countries and battling some of the most dangerous climates. He reminisces on a close encounter with a desert elephant. “…these elephants had never seen humans before, so one of them attacked us…but we had this small dog with us…and when the elephant charged, the dog ran right at it…the elephant turned 360 degrees and ran back to its herd. It was a funny moment.” From the coldest depths of Siberia, to the soaring heat of the volcanic Galapagos Islands encircling the equator, this is photography on the grandest of scales, with the images in Genesis running into their hundreds. Salgado lead a nomadic childhood helping his father run their cattle farm in Brazil. Travelling up to 60 days on horseback to bring the cattle to the slaughterhouse, was this where the passion to photograph the world came from? “…It could be…I moved most of my life”. Working as an economist, Salgado switched to photography in the early 70s. “Photography came into my life in a very special way. I started my job as an economist, doing trips to Africa…I would bring the camera with me and when I would come back, I found the pictures gave me ten times more pleasure than (to write the) report…”. That’s when the passion took over. “In that moment, I made the decision to go…I was not 100 per cent sure it would work, but I resigned…and I started photography…I was so in love with it.” He started out producing news assignments, but soon switched to documentary-type photography. “When you do this kind of long-term work, you build this identification with the subject. It becomes the story of your life…”. A huge advocate of conservation, Salgado set up Instituto Terra — a restoration project protecting a small part of the Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil — with his wife in the early 90s. This is where the inspiration for Genesis stemmed from. “When I discovered how close animals were to minerals, rock…I got the idea to photograph Genesis …now, after 8 years, I discovered that photographing another animal is the exact same as a human being. You must have respect…respect their dignity…their personality”. Genesis takes viewers on an expedition to some of the farthest flung corners of the Earth. The photographic imagery encapsulates nature’s most pristine and untouched parts, but how does someone come to discover such places? “It’s a combination of many points…I’ve travelled all my life…I knew places I wanted to go…I also did research with experts and worked a lot with Unesco who got authorisation for me to go to inside many places”. With two years spent carefully planning the trip and six years spent on the road, Salgado travelled through treacherous weather conditions, often by foot, for eight months of the year, bargaining with local tribesmen to purchase animals for transport and food. He spent, on average, two months illustrating each story — with every shadow enticing you to look closer, and each element telling its own tale. After completing his voyage, Salgado says he realised one thing. “All my life I have photographed just one animal. Earth”. Salgado is a man dedicated to his work, and despite contracting a deadly form of malaria in Papua in Indonesia and nearly plummeting to his death from a mountain in Chile, the humble photographer refers to them as “small things” in regards to what he learnt and saw whilst on the Genesis journey. A passionate Salgado said Genesis was a big lesson to him and it showed him just “how alive” the planet is. But at 69 years old, with an incredible career spanning over 40 years, is this the final stop on his photographic journey? “Photographers never stop. This is my life. The day you stop, you are finished.” Genesis at ABU DHABI INTERNATIONAL Book Fair SEBASTIãO Salgado’s Genesis is being unveiled today at the Al Mutaqa Literary Salon at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Throughout his 40 year career, Salgado has produced two long-term projects, ‘Workers’ and ‘Migrations’ which looked at the economic struggle fought by humans, however he has taken the opposite approach with his third long-term project Genesis , by focusing on the parts of the world untouched by man. The book had its world premiere on April 9 at the Natural History Museum in London, UK where former president of Brazil and dear friend of Salgado, Lula Da Silva opened the show – which was produced by Salgado’s wife and partner Leila Wanick Salgado. The book then went on show in Monaco, before travelling to Abu Dhabi. For the Genesis project Salgado used medium format cameras but since 2008 he has been using Canon’s EOS-1Ds Mark III. Published by Taschen, the black and white pictures have been reproduced in a special 4 colour separation process with two blacks and 2 shades of grey. The printing and the binding of the book have been done in Italy at manufacturers specialised in this field with traditional craftsmanship. Taylor Scott International

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