The Brazilian-born photographer Sebastião Salgado has gained both popular and critical acclaim in the Western world for his hauntingly beautiful black-and-white prints that document people living and working on the edge in less developed nations. I remember being deeply affected as a teenager when I first saw his famous series of images of the Serra Pelada gold mine, in which 50,000 of his compatriots struggled in conditions that – up until then – I had no idea still existed.
Steeple Jason Island is home to more than 500,000 couples of black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophris), the largest colony of albatrosses in the world. Falkland Islands, 2009. © Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas Images / nbpictures
His new photographic series, ‘Genesis’, premiered at London’s Natural History Museum
last week. An eight-year endeavour, it attends to the splendour of the natural world – in particular places that remain pristine – and how indigenous communities and wildlife continue to live in harmony with their environments. There are over 200 images on view – making for a substantial show for the viewer to sink their eyes into – and the thesis of the exhibition is ecological, aiming to inspire respect for biodiversity by showing, in the artist’s words, ‘the planet in total equilibrium’.
In the Upper Xingu region of Brazil’s Mato Grosso state, a group of waura fish in the Piulaga Lake near their village. The Upper Xingu Basin is home to an ethnically diverse population. Brazil, 2005. © Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas Images / nbpictures.
Some of the muscular landscape photography, from the Grand Canyon and the rugged mountains ranges in Alaska to the Brazilian Anavilhanas archipelago, reminds one in its sumptuous high-detail style of Ansel Adams, who is the subject of a show at the National Maritime Museum
until the end of the month. But Salgado comes into his own when he captures human activity in these environments, such as that of the Nenets people of northern Siberia, inside the Arctic circle, who survive and stay happy with the barest of material possessions in difficult circumstances. The photographer aims to connect the viewer with the lives of animals as well as people for the first time, including the whales of Atlantic Patagoina, whose breeching bodies echo the shape of the coastline, and a rare species of gorilla which subsists in the forests of Rwanda.
is at the Natural History Museum until 8 September 2013.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine