In 2002, the idea of Genesis was born. It was therefore necessary to plan, in concrete terms, the thirty-two reportages I was to carry out in the untouched areas of the planet, from the hottest to the coldest, the driest to the most lush. As far as my personal preparation was concerned, with the passing of the years and all my experience, I was well run-in. I have four large crates that contain everything I need to live at -30ºC, at altitude, in places that are humid or those as hot as an oven. With time, I have acquired my own view about what is essential. In the first place, all my photographic equipment: my cameras and, for a long time, the little suitcase in which my films were neatly packed, safe and sound.
When I started Genesis, I had no assistants. As for all my other photographic expeditions, it was therefore necessary to be able to carry everything. When I set off, on the 4th of January 2004, to carry out my first reportage in the Galápagos, I found a guide there, although I had left Paris alone. In Antarctica, in 2005, while I was travelling on the schooner Tara with Gil Kebaïli, a reporter for the Ushuaïa programme on the French TV channel TF1, he convinced me to stop travelling on my own because this kind of reportage calls for many rules on safety. I noticed, in fact, that while walking on glaciers, it takes nothing to fall into a deep crevasse. He persuaded me to hire an assistant. On my return, I met Jacques Barthélemy, a mountain guide; he taught me how to walk, climb and to use ropes and harnesses. He subsequently accompanied me on most of my reportages.
Lélia and I had meticulously planned the eight years I was going to be spending travelling the world on foot, in small aircrafts, boats, canoes and even a hot air balloon—one of my most wonderful memories. After having devoted so many years to depicting men, women and children and their daily life, now I was going to be photographing volcanoes, dunes, glaciers, forests, rivers, canyons, whales, reindeer, lions, pelicans, the world of the jungle, the desert and the ice fields.
It was also a great pleasure to return to Africa on several occasions, no longer to witness tragedies, but this time to capture its extraordinary beauty. I also walked in the Sahara. I visited some of the planet’s natural sanctuaries, especially islands. I have already mentioned the Galápagos, but I also went to Madagascar, Sumatra, the Mentawai islands, where the natural environment has been remarkably preserved, to New Guinea and West Papua. I did not work in Europe, because untouched territories almost no longer exist there, and evidence of human intervention and pollution is everywhere. On the other hand, I travelled all over Asia, through the Himalayas, and went three times to the Asiatic parts of Russia. I even travelled a lot in South and North America. Thanks to its national parks, the United States has maintained a strong bond with its natural environment, successfully preserving it. I reached Canada, then I faced the cold of Alaska and the vast frozen spaces of the north of the planet. I made a great journey through Amazonia, and also went to Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, to the Diego Ramírez Islands, a Chilean archipelago between Cape Horn and Antarctica. Then I travelled to the Falkland Islands, to South Georgia and to the South Sandwich Islands, which have an active volcano and host the largest existing penguin colony. For me, these are the islands at the end of the world and, as they say in Brazil, they are so far away that the wind turns round there and comes back again. I saw an unbelievable diversity in landscapes, and each journey remains unique.
Those years were fantastic, and brought me great joy. After having witnessed so much horror, I was now seeing so much beauty. Thanks to the team at Amazonas, as I realized these reportages, many of them were published in the international press. In April 2013, two books on Genesis were published. Even before I had completed all the reportages, the exhibition of these photos was already planned in many of the great museums all over the world, from London to New York, but also Brazil, Toronto, Rome, Singapore and, of course, Paris. Lélia and I had wanted to pay homage to the planet, and, we hoped, make people reflect on the need to respect it and protect it while there is still time. During my various trips, Lélia has often come to join me. Many times, our breath has been taken away by the majesty of nature, and by all the forms of life that reign there, through the millions of species that inhabit it. In the end, the Earth offered us a magnificent lesson in humanity. Discovering my planet, I have discovered myself and I have understood that we are all part of the same whole system-Earth.
For example, during my very first reportage, in the Galápagos, one day I was watching an iguana, a reptile that, a priori, appears to have little in common with our own species. But, looking closely at one of its front feet, suddenly I saw the hand of a Medieval knight. Its scales had made me think of a suit of chain mail, under which I saw fingers similar to my own! I said to myself, this iguana is my cousin. I had before my eyes the proof that we all come from the same cell, each species having then evolved in the course of time in its own way and in conformity with its own ecosystem. The photo of this iguana foot circulates and often appears in the press; if it is able to transmit this idea, I will be happy. In short, with Genesis I wanted to recount the dignity and the beauty of life in all its forms and show how we all share the same origins. The encounter with the iguana merely confirmed for me the title we had already chosen for this work: Genesis. For me, it has nothing to do with religion, but indicates that harmony in the beginning that enabled the diversification of the species: this miracle of which we are all part.
Part of the profits from the sales of GENESIS will go to the Instituto Terra, a reforestation program in Minas Gerais, Brazil, founded by Lélia and Sebastião Salgado.
EACH AND EVERY TASCHEN BOOK PLANTS A SEED! TASCHEN is a carbon neutral publisher. Each year, they offset their annual carbon emissions with carbon credits at the Instituto Terra. If you would like to support the Instituto Terra or make a donation, please visit www.institutoterra.org/donations for further information.
(1) Tara is a schooner, captained by Etienne Bourgois, whose mission is the exploration and defence of the environment. From September 2006 to February 2008, to mark International Polar Year, it sailed the Arctic Ocean to observe phenomena associated with climate change.
by Sebastião Salgado and Lélia Wanick Salgado
Hardcover with 17 fold-outs, 520 pages, 243x355 mm
From my land to the planet
by Sebastião Salgado
Hardcover, 175 pages, 165x230 mm