I recently visited the ROM for my second viewing of GENESIS: Sebastiao Salgado’s ten-year project to capture parts of the planet earth where humans are either in equilibrium with their environments, or absent. GENESIS is the beauty of the planet earth as god made it. Philosophically, it’s a bit of a shaky theory since humans, like all animals, kill and destroy other species to improve the status of our own. There is no such thing as equilibrium when you are a member of an evolving species on a cooling planet. Despite this rather black and white view of life (nature vs. civilization) Salgado has captured some of the most heart-stopping frames I have ever seen. He frames portraits of humanity in epic landscapes and shows the truly shocking diversity of life on earth.
Salgado’s work has been compared to another of my favourite photographers, Edward Burtynsky, who travels the world photographing manufactured landscapes. Burtynsky and Salgado both photograph landscapes but with an interesting ethic: both hold specific environmental convictions and beliefs, but they keep them separate from their photographic work. The pictures are meant to speak for themselves. They approach photography as documentarians. Everyone will take something different away from it.
What I took away from the exhibition was a strong feeling of kinship with the people of every continent as the only species that we know can begin to appreciate the planet we’ve got. I also feel a deep regret at the time I’ve spent at home not exploring every corner of it. I want to walk and meet the people in the pictures, learn how they live, share their experiences, and them move along. Salgado’s images come close to capturing the depth and beauty of an epic landscape, perhaps closer than any photographer I’ve seen. Close but no cigar. The ROM took me as near to Patagonia, Antarctica, Africa, and Alaska as I could get without leaving Toronto, but what I really want to do is pack my bags and go. Genesis is inspirational in the simplest sense.
Click here to see a TIME LightBox piece with many of the exhibition images.
Click here to see Edward Burtynsky’s website. Take a tour through some of his works. He captures the scale of man-made landscapes that most of us don’t get to see in our day-to-day lives.