Hidden Wonder

Hidden Wonder

Photographer Sebastião Salgado’s focus is on the rainforest’s beauty not destruction, reminding us we need to protect what’s left
Photographer Sebastião Salgado’s focus is on the rainforest’s beauty not destruction, reminding us we need to protect what’s left
A portrait of the artist. Photo: © Sebastião Salgado

S ebastião Salgado has been documenting the world, its beauty and its brutality in equal measure, for almost 50 years. His images reflect his deep care for the environment, the danger of ecological loss and the importance of action, a passion that extends to Instituto Terra, the nature reserve he founded with his wife and creative partner, Lélia, in 1998. What's more, whether it’s his photos of Serra Pelada, Brazil’s most dangerous gold mine, or his images of a decaying iceberg in the Antarctic, Salgado consistently offers an in-depth look into hard-to-reach worlds.

His latest body of work, Amazônia, is no different: Salgado provides a comprehensive look at one of the most mysterious and majestic places on earth.

© Sebastião SALGADO

The exhibition – on display simultaneously at Maxxi in Rome and London’s Science Museum, having shown earlier this year at Philharmonie in Paris – is curated by Lélia. For seven years Salgado travelled the Amazon becoming intimately acquainted with it and its people. In one striking photo, he captures an indigenous woman, Bela Yawanawá, adorned with a feathered headdress that sits like a halo around her upper body. Her eyes are encompassed by an intricately painted black mask of triangular design, and her gaze pierces through the image.

Sebastião Salgado: career highlights
1986 Salgado’s heart-wrenching images of the Serra Pelada gold mine ripple around the world, bringing attention to Brazil’s critical economic disparities

1998 Salgado’s family implement a massive restoration project in the Atlantic Forest, Brazil, to create the 17,000-acre nature reserve Instituto Terra

2001 Salgado named as one of Unicef’s Goodwill Ambassadors

2007 The Brazilian Embassy displays Salgado’s series on coffee workers in India, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Brazil, opening the world’s eyes to the value of sustainable development for coffee
farms

2014 A film about Salgado’s work, The Salt of the Earth, wins numerous awards, including at Cannes and Abu Dhabi film festivals

“The first time that I went to see these communities I was a little bit afraid to see people considered isolated, primitive or distant... [but] my big discovery was they are ourselves, no different than us,” Salgado says. “There is no difference in the way that they love, their solidarity, their community principles.”

Mont Roraima, État de Roraima, Brésil, 2018. Photos: © Sebastião Salgado

Salgado deliberately counterbalances the harsh reality of the Amazon’s deforestation under conservative president Jair Bolsonaro by highlighting how magnificent the Amazon continues to be. “In this project I have no photographs of deforestation, I have no photographs of the fires,” he says. “I have only photographs of the alive Amazonia, the real Amazonia.”

Salgado says that while deforestation in the Amazon has so far mainly affected the peripheral Amazon states, tribes in the centre are severely impacted by new weather patterns. “Climate change has changed the system of rain. The droughts are longer. It is much hotter. The system of agriculture they’ve had is completely transformed.”

Bringing together more than 200 photographs, Amazonia is not just an artistic record but also a historical one. Once again Salgado proves himself to be not only a photographer but a humanitarian, too.

Amazônia is on view at MAXXI in Rome through 13 February 2022 and London’s Science Museum through March 2022

Cover image: Archipel fluvial de Mariuá, Rio Negro, État d’Amazonas, Brésil, 2019. Photo: © Sebastião Salgado

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