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Saturday, November 1, 2008

African Connections

Sebastião Salgado is one of the true living legends of photography. His latest book, Africa, examines the continent in a way that only Salgado’s provocative imagery can.

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Outdoor Photographer: Do you think about going to digital?

Salgado: I prefer the black-and-white I get with film. For the moment, a digital camera that does what I want with black-and-white doesn’t exist. I’m digitizing negatives with an Imacon scanner so we can send images to magazines and the press. I have a traditional darkroom for exhibition and gallery prints.

Epupa Falls, Kunene River, the border of Angola and Namibia.
To cope with the extreme high temperature at times in the Namib Desert, the gemsbok will reduce its body temperature by way of behavioral means, like standing on a dune crest, Deadvlei area, Namib-Naukluft Park, Namibia.

Outdoor Photographer: What do you hope people will come away with when they look through your Africa book?

Salgado: Africa is an incredible continent, and I think we have to respect Africa and see it in other ways. There is a beautiful text in the book by Mia Couto, Mozambique’s most celebrated author who is also an ecologist. Mia describes how Africa reflects the effects of colonization as well as the consequences of economic, social and environmental problems. Hopefully, people will come away with a better comprehension of this continent—from the hard life to the beautiful landscape, beautiful animals and beautiful people. Africa is a marvelous continent.

Outdoor Photographer: You’ve also documented the horrors that have taken place there. Wasn’t your friend Joseph Munyankindi, who you first met while you were working as an economist for the International Coffee Organization, killed in the Rwandan genocide?

Female mountain gorilla with her infant on the flanks of the Karisimbi Volcano, Virunga National Park, Rwanda.
Salgado: His wife, his children and his whole family were killed along with a million other people in this genocide. He was a Hutu and his wife was a Tutsi. We must learn to have respect for others, as well as for nature and the planet. We’re still young in this urban society. We’ll disappear as a species if we don’t learn. But I have hope.

We have an environmental project, the Instituto Terra (www.institutoterra.us), which is involved with the reforestation of Brazil’s Atlantic rain forest. At first, the farmers in the area didn’t trust us. But with discussions, debate, education and real ideals of solidarity, the situation completely changed. We’ve already planted 1.1 million trees, and we now have a nursery capable of producing one million seedlings per year. If you don’t become radical, if you don’t close your position, almost anything is possible.

Outdoor Photographer: What photography project are you working on now?

Salgado: A project called Genesis. I’m only working with the Pentax 645 because we want to make very large prints when we’re finished in 2011.

I’m making photographs of landscapes, wildlife and human communities around the globe that represent nature in its original state. For example, I’m photographing the Bushmen in Africa that are living the way people lived in Paleolithic times. They’re real hunters and gatherers. They don’t have chiefs, they don’t have religion, they don’t have property, they don’t have agriculture, they don’t domesticate animals—they just collect and hunt.

I’m looking for the planet we had in the beginning. What’s fabulous is that 46 percent of our planet is still in a pristine state. We’ve destroyed 54 percent. But we can mend this. We don’t have to go back to the Stone Age; we just have to learn how to be more environmentally friendly.

You can see more of Sebastião Salgado’s photography by visiting www.amazonasimages.com and www.terra.com. The book, Africa, is published by Taschen and is available in bookstores.

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