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Salgado’s Genesis: Photos of the Unexplored World

by Tammy Burns

Once you’ve seen a Sebastião Salgado photograph, there’s no erasing the image from your mind. The 69-year-old Brazilian photographer, famed for his arresting, black-and-white images, has dedicated much of his life to capturing humanity on camera—and has gained status as one of the most revered photojournalists on the planet because of it. He is perhaps best known for his photographs of labourers working the Serra Pelada gold mine in Brazil (a haunting series that shows both the heart-wrenching effort and admirable determination of the country’s miners), as well as various works documenting social struggles around the globe.

But after decades of photographing social justice issues, Salgado says he needed a switch in focus. In the 90s, Salgado and his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, began a rainforest restoration project that included the planting of more than two million trees in the Brazilian rainforest, and the conversion of his own land into a nature reserve.

And his latest project, Genesis, is a reflection of his renewed focus on environmental awareness and preservation.

“I grew up in a paradise, ” he says of his childhood spent on farmland in Brazil. On the opening night of his Genesis exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, he told a crowded room how his and Lélia’s conservation efforts inspired him to photograph the other paradises of the world, the places that remain pristine, as they were at the beginning of time.

Salgado spent eight years travelling to some of the world’s most remote, untouched destinations, such as the shores of Antarctica and the forests of the Amazon. He lived with tribes that have had minimal contact with the modern world, observing their traditions, their beliefs and their habits—and capturing it all with his camera lens.

“Human experience hasn’t changed in 50, 000 years, ” he says. “What’s important hasn’t changed—love, community, solidarity.”

According to Salgado, approximately 45 percent of the planet is exactly as it was at the beginning of time—at genesis, if you will, although he adds that his use of the term is not meant to be in the biblical sense. His goal with this project was to show the world what exists beyond the concrete jungles and to show us how we can get back to nature and our collective roots.

“You’re in Toronto or Montreal, not Canada, ” he told the audience at the ROM. He urged the crowd to get outside their cities and see what raw power and untamed wilderness lives even just within our own country—let alone what can be found in the wilds of the rest of the globe.

Travel+Escape caught up with Salgado at the ROM to talk about living with some of the world’s most isolated peoples, and the exhibit that he refers to as a “love letter to the planet.”

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The Genesis exhibit will be travelling the globe until 2015. For a full list of museums showing the exhibit, click here.