This last weekend I spent 24 hours down in the capital primarily to attend Eric Clapton’s last night at the Royal Albert Hall.
This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, featured a lage number of his portraits, and has generally been very well recieved. The exhibition featured over 150 vintage prints and some key works by Man Ray on loan from international museums and private collections. Born in Brazil in 1944 Salgado went on to study economics but became a professional photographer in 1973.
Much of Salgado’s work has documented the plight of the persecuted, exploited, suppressed and displaced peoples of the world, and through this work has grown several epic projects. Genesis is a kind of homage to the beauty of the planet and at the same time I remember the terror, the things I saw that were very difficult to see. Returning to the farm in Brazi,l left to him by his father, Salgado was shocked to find decades of deforestation had brought the region close to ecological disaster. Whilst this is undoubtedly an exhibition of ecological and environmental magnitude, first and foremost you are captivated by the pure beauty of his compositions. The photographs themselves are printed large, the smallest size being a healthy 16 x 20 inches (not including the mount) and these look fantastic. As a photographer, I’d love to have some technical information about the photographs, such as what camera and lens were used, the aperture and ISO settings, what filters were used if any, what the conditions were like. Annoying reflectionsWhilst I thorough enjoyed this exhibition there was once aspect I found quite annoying. I desperately wanted to see more of the Genesis collection so was keen to purchase the book to enjoy the images further. Despite the distracting reflections I thoroughly enjoyed the Sebastiao Salgado: Genesis exhibition. Disclaimer: Copyright for the images used within this article are probably owned by either the original artist, the person or body who commissioned the work, or the heirs thereof.
Not one for spending much time browsing London shops these days, to make good use of my free time I looked to see if there were any photography exhibitions of interest. It gained 4-star reviews by both Time Out and the London Evening Standard, so I went with high expectations. Comprising a vast array of often huge, black and white prints, beautifully mounted and framed, and presented within a large, roomy, sensibly partitioned and sectioned side hall within the magnificent Natural History Museum.
Notably his 1993 book Workers, where he presented a pictorial narrative of manual labour across the globe, particualy the vast array of mud-covered prospectors working in the Brazilian gold mines. Together with his wife, they undertook to retrun the farm to natural forest, which ultimately proved so successful that the wildlife returned in droves enabling the land to become a nature reserve. He also spent time living and traveling with many indigenous peoples, such as the Netets of Siberia, the Yali of Papua New Guinea, the Mentawai clan of Siberut Island, West Sumatra, and the Xingu tribe of his native Brazil.


Some say they appear a little contrived and too composed, but he is an artist after all and these are without doubt, impressive works of art. Some ethnic tribal shots may be choreographed, but they are indeed a images of great beauty and should be admired as such.
Many are larger still at around 20 x 30 inches which still look very impressive, but there are several really huge prints in excess of 40 x 60 inches. Some appear almost 3 dimensional, a few (such as Elephant Seal South Georgia, 2009) almost HDR like.
No matter where you stood to view any of these fantastic photographs, you could not avoid seeing reflections of white mounts of pictures hung on the opposite wall. Sadly this (published by Taschen) is priced at a whopping ?45 at the NHM shop (it’s under ?29 on Amazon).
I must have made almost three full circuits before my departure, revisiting some images several times. Yet it is perhaps his photography that has received the most notoriety, where he is best know for his often abstract, avant-guard, fashion and portrait photography. There were many portraits of famous figures, such as Ernest Hemmingway, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, as well as his lover Lee Miller, actress Catherine Deneuve and his famous muse Kiki de Montparnasse amongst many other. Similarly, the book Migrations (2000), which took six years to complete, depicted peoples fleeing their homes to escape the ravages of poverty, war and repression. This, proceeded by sections for Sanctuaries, Africa, Northern Spaces and Amazonia and Pantanal, with each following seamlessly on from the previous and housing a somewhat numerous 214 photographs in total.
So many took my eye that they are too numerous to mention, but one in particular stood out for me, Mentawai man weaving, Siberut Island, West Sumatra, 2008, which is magnificent and mesmerizing. However, here over-enlargement begins to tell and on some appears visibly detrimental, unless of course viewed from a substantial distance which wasn’t always possible. It is a somewhat hefty tome though, but unfortunately seemingly devoid of any proper index and contents pages, and provides little or no information or even titles to the photographs. I spent the best part of a couple of hours and was so engrossed by the splendid photography I totally forgot my hotel check-out time and had to depart in haste. I was well acquainted with the works of Man Ray, but to be truthful Sebastiao Salgado was not a photographer whose work I was that familiar with, although as soon as I entered the exhibition I realised that I have come across several of his images before.
This wasn’t entirely due to the photographs on offer but largely to how the exhibitions was presented at the NPG.
However, many of the prints presented are no bigger than a post card, and few exceed 10 x 8 inches.
The exhibition represents somewhat of a masterstroke for the Natural History Museum as this is the premier of the Sebastiao Salgado: Genesis exhibition. It goes with out saying that a significant proportion of his work has presented a pretty bleak take on life, so his latest project, Genesis, was part born from a desire to depart the bleakness and present something we can feel good about. Another I feel I should acknowledge is Macaroni Penguins, Zavodovski Island, Sandwich Islands, 2009; an epic lansdcape depicting a vast hords of penguins scattered around the slopes of the snow covered, smoking Mount Asphyxia volcano.


Most (but not all) are printed on Ilford Gallerie Prestige Gold Fibre Silk, a high quality, semi-gloss paper well suited to monochrome prints of this nature.
There is really no excuse for this. Since the collection is a sponsored, traveling exhibition, I presume the Natural History Museum were not responsible for framing these pictures behind glass, although I wold hazzard a guess the NHM were responsible for the layout and hanging.
Rather bizarrely, the book is in portrait format, with many awkward fold-out pages, yet most of the Genesis photographs appear in landscape format.
Much like the Clapton concert the exhibitions provided some extraordinary moments and some disappointments, but not necessarily due to the photography as I’ll reveal below.
It was housed in an small, rather chlosterphobic space, giving the feeling it was a last minute affair relegated to some backroom annex and thus an exhibition of minor consequence.
Genesis is the culmination of an epic, eight-year long project by Salgado, which includes photographs from over 30 countries. Salgado chooses to work exclusively in black and white; there is no colour here, but this suites the mood and theme.
The Nenets in hostile weather, Yamal Peninsular, Siberia, 2011, the exhibition cover image, is also awesome, as are The Brooks Range, Alaska, 2009, the Zo’e Indians, Amazonia, Para State, Brazil, 2009, and the striking dust and paint covered Singsing festival performer, Western Highloands of Papua New Guinea, 2008.
A select few however, are printed on matt and these look flat, dull, and painterly, and lack detail in comparison to the others so look oddly out of place. The golden rule is always place a black, blank, wall opposite pictures framed behind reflective glass. At a price of ?10 (?4 cheaper tha the Man Ray Portraits) this exhibition definitely gets a 5-star rating from me.
This was exacibated by the high number of people attending, renedering it nigh on impossible to step back and admire a picture at it’s optimal viewing distance. The Natural History Museum exhibition continues until September 2013 followed by further openings in Toronto, Rome and Rio de Janeiro, and many museum shows in the coming years. Another beautiful, captivating and striking image for me was young girl being painted in Amuricuma ceremony, Kamayura village.
Whether the layout was done to compromise on space (as there were 214 pictures after all) I’m not sure, but the reflections were pretty awful and a great shame to an otherwise stunning exhibition. It was also rather hot, seemingly unventilated, cramped and substantially overcrowded, although to be fair this was a bank holiday weekend and the day before the exhibition was due to close.
However, the NPG really should have limited the number of people viewing at any one time and instigated a rota system for such a small viewing area.



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