A Book of Beginnings: Nature in Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis Series

08th February 2022
Sebastião Salgado, 'African Elephant, Kafue National Park, Zambia, 2010'

Words Eleanor Lerman

08th February 2022

Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis series developed after watching unsustainable farming destroy the Brazilian rainforest he had loved and known as a child. Spurred to action, Salgado and his wife Lélia set up an environmental organisation, Instituto Terra in the 1990s. The organisation works on restoring parts of the Atlantic Forest, establishing nature reserves, and has planted close to 2 million trees and representing 300 species. Eager to experience more of the earth’s natural beauty, Salgado set out to capture the planet as it once was, in its unspoiled and pristine condition. Thus, Genesis was born, comprising over 200 prints shot in 32 countries over an eight year period.

Composed entirely in his distinctive monochromatic style, Genesis celebrates what is left in our world, what once was, and perhaps what could be once again. Of the series, Salgado is clear that he wants people ‘to feel closer to our planet’, to learn more about the natural setting which sustains us. Further, Salgado claims to have made the incredible discovery that almost half of our planet is still much as it was described in the Book of Genesis. A book of beginnings, creation, and purity, Genesis introduces to us and lays the foundations of a world we are destined to protect.

    Building up his oeuvre, Salgado focussed on the gruelling effects of manual labour in Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age, and later the displacement and dislocation of people in Migrations. Turning his camera to the natural world, the photographer discovered animals that were as rational as humans, and landscapes that emitted both ‘personality and dignity’. Within the series, no other animal appears more rational and dignified as the elephant.

    African Elephant, Kafue National Park, Zambia (2010) presents the mammal gracefully cantering through its natural habitat. The animal appears regal, poised amongst the surrounding trees and brush. Dappled in an ethereal light, the elephant appears to fade in and out of the scene, a mythical presence within the national park. Creating this elusive light is something Salgado excels in, explaining that many of his pictures are taken against the light, creating ‘much more volume, [and] much more contour’. In African Elephant, and the wider Genesis series, Salgado presents our planet as immaculate and untouched, haloed in a magical luminescence. He approaches the natural world with curiosity, seeking out its beauty in as many locations as possible. For the artist, Genesis became a ‘respectful poem’, an ode to the earth’s sustenance and protection.

    FeaturedSebastião Salgado

    The ArtistUndertaking projects of vast temporal and geographic scope, Sebastião Salgado is one of the most celebrated photojournalists working today. Whilst inescapably memorable for their beauty, Salgado’s photographs are laden with political purpose exposing the social and environmental problems facing our planet.

    Artist Page


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