Salgado's Genesis

A while ago I was on the Magnum Professional Practice Seminar at Newport University and on the final day of the seminar Magnum photographer Ian Berry came to discuss his work.

 Berry very kindly gave us students some advice relating to what genres we wanted to specialise in. I told him that my favourite photography genre was landscape and that my favourite photographer is Ansel Adams. In response to this he suggested to me two things that I will try to briefly summarise here: 

1. Make sure you have an idea for your photography. In contemporary landscape photography the genre is used to discuss a certain topic or idea (what one would call a rhetoric). This is what separates practitioners from amateurs who create cliché landscape images. 

 2. Visit the Sebastião Salgado exhibition for inspiration. 

 So a few weeks ago I headed up to London to the Natural History Museum to see Salgado’s Genesis exhibition. 

 The idea behind Genesis as a body of work is that the images represent parts of the Earth that haven’t been affected by man (kind of the antithesis of my “man’s effect on the landscape” idea) while leaving room for images featuring groups of people representing “primitive” man, the people who use nature in their day to day lives. 

 As someone who hasn’t really been following Salgado’s work, this was really stunning stuff. Genesis could be put into the same category as a David Attenborough documentary while still being original and interesting to photographers. The fact that this work is in the Natural History Museum and not in a photography gallery means that it can reach a mainstream audience to communicate its message of nature conservation. 

 I came away from the exhibition feeling glad that there was someone who was making big, beautiful photographs to convey the important message of preserving and looking after our planet.