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Sebastião Salgado: Genesis

© Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas IMages / nbpictures
Sebastião Salgado, 'In the Upper Xingu region of Brazil', 2005

This exhibition’s introductory wall text should come with a booming, movie trailer-style voiceover: ‘A journey to the landscapes, animals, seascapes and peoples that have so far escaped the long reach of today’s world.’

Salgado has boldly gone where not many have before for this eight-year long project: indeed he’d be a real dinner-party bore with his tales of Patagonian ice fields, Madagascan islands and Congolese volcanoes. However, it’s the overblown title and nonsensical claims that he has captured untouched nature and original man that are far more irksome.

There’s no denying that the pictures themselves are magnificent and undoubtedly ‘epic’ as my earlier preview of the show described them (my word, quoted, now litters posters for the show). Rock formations, aerial jungle views and infinite ice floes bombard the viewer from panoramic, globetrotting black-and-white prints. Salgado, though, is an experienced photojournalist, not a naturalist, so these vistas are all carefully framed, edited, choreographed and even set up for effect, especially so in the case of a group of shamans in West Sumatra posing on a muted backdrop, or as in the close-up of five human-esque fingers of an iguana from the Galapágos Islands. Salgado’s background shooting in war zones amid scenes of human conflict and suffering makes these similarly solemn and portentous in tone.

‘Genesis’ does reach its self-proclaimed heights on occasion, depicting the clouds parting, God-like, above the Russian peaks of Kamchatka, but this pioneering photographic spirit has more than a whiff of the Victorian explorer mentality. The tribespeople Salgado shows in exotic or traditional dress only tell a part of their story, because they too are living in the twenty-first century, as much as Salgado might pretend otherwise. This primitive perspective is patronising in the extreme and is only partially dispelled by his sympathetic portraits of threatened Brazilian communities living in Pára around the Amazon basin. His home nation is his alma mater and where he’s done some of his best work, not least through the reforestation institute Salgado has created there, showing that he does have his sensitive side.

Ossian Ward

Event phone: 020 7942 5000
Event website: http://www.nhm.ac.uk

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KM

A really beautiful and inspiring photography exhibition. loved it and would go again!

RB

great raw photography from around the world, shows you things you will never see in your life. powerful.

Chris

Usual rubbish from the pretentious fools at Time Out. The reality is always the diametrical opposite to their reviews. Fabulous exhibition by a fine photographer.

Maria

The other commenters are being overly sensitive to any criticism of Salgado. Like it or not, it does smack of white privilege to take photos of tribespeople living in the 21st century and pretend they represent some bygone era of perfection and innocence. It's patronising in the extreme. Whining that Salgado is a "superlative" photographer doesn't negate these criticisms, it just makes clear your own lack of critical faculties. The reviewer also obviously has a lot of respect for Salgado's technical skills, and does review the photos themselves as "magnificent". So it's a poor riposte to call this a sensationalist review. If you can't handle criticism of your favourite artists, maybe you shouldn't read other people's reviews.

Ck

I really dunno why this article seems to be attacking the exhibition. The photos are brilliant, they show parts of the world you normally wouldn't see. Locations that you thought didn't exist anymore. Yes he has photographs of small tribes (which are excellent) but he's not claiming that's the entirety of South America. Brazil has one of the fastest growing economies in the world at the moment, are you attacking his exhibition because he's not showing that as well? It's not a guide to South America

Sg

I agree with the comment below. The timeout review reads like a sensationalist attempt to find fault with an excellent exhibition for the sake of being contrary. Given the high stars time out gives some dubious modern art exhibitions some consistency would be nice.

Geoff Maguire

Oh dear. This sounds like the barely thought out reactionary response of a spoiled child. To compare Salgado to a nineteenth century coloniser is pretty puerile and misguided, the suggestion being that tribespeople shouldn't be photographed by non-indigenous people. The wayward criticism of a great exhibition by a superlative photographer reflects very badly on the critical faculties of Time Out.