Friday, 1 November 2013

Sebastião Salgado: Genesis NHM 2013

::::Jumps up and down in excitement:::: I am getting last I am getting there.. I have been putting this one on the backburner as I don't know where to start and what to say first. How can you love and hate an exhibition at the same time?

To paraphrase Shakespeare, Sebastião, Sebastião, where for art thou Sebastião?

He was there and yet again he wasn't.

Sighs, lets start at the beginning and work my way through my thoughts as best I can. I have read several reviews online and most vary from sycophantic dribbling which failed to recognise some of the obvious flaws of this body of work to others which are highly critical and don't seem to recognise any of its beauty or worth, quibbling over the use of words such as "unspoilt". I missed the OCA study visit and it would have been great to walk around with others to bounce my ideas off but never mind. It's odd that even months later I am still having difficulties in putting down what I want to.

Genesis is the culmination of 8 years work, journeying through 32 countries, capturing mountains, deserts and oceans, animals and people. The majority of photographers will throw their hat into the ring of one genre or another, Salgado does not. He captures landscape, wildlife, portraiture and mixes it altogether in the guise of the documentary.

Over 200 of Sebastião Salgado’s black-and-white documentary photographs were on show and although it was brilliant to go to an exhibition that had so much work from one artist I think this is the first failing I shall mention. There were too many of the same kind of shot, how many marching penguins can you look at when one just one or two stunning shots would have sufficed?

Sebastião Salgado Genesis - Penguins

The second issue which I'd bring up before I get onto discussing the photography itself is the sponsorship by an apparently dubious company, Vale Mining. I am sure there are others who can be more eloquent about the politics and the rights and wrongs of them putting up the funds so will not go there. Although I agree it may taint your opinion of the photographer's morals and in some instances it maybe that in some circumstances there might be political gerrymandering behind such funding I don't think this was the case here and should not impact on a critical review of the images on display.

And there's the rub, to critically review the images...composition, drama, content, tonality, contrasts. While I loved some of that list OMG!! Sebastião , why didn't someone tell you to put down the dodge and burn and step away? With some of the images it was like walking through an HDR nightmare. What were you thinking? Who removed the word subtle from your lexicon? What had that poor sea-lion done to you? Are your assistants too enamoured of you to take you to one side and whisper "erm boss don't you think you've overcooked it a tad?"

Sebastião Salgado Genesis - Sea-lion

 Sebastião Salgado Genesis - Albatrosses 

Salgado wanted to show an untouched world, shame he didn't give his prints the same consideration! I'd love to see what the "real" images look like. Go on Seb, you know you want to, put down the contrast slider and show us what they're really made of.

All of which made me feel really sad, it was unnecessary and spoilt some truly remarkable photography. This leads onto another criticism aimed at his work, that he makes the world look beautiful, he romanticises it, makes it too aesthetically pleasing, something thrown at Burtynsky too but so what? There are enough people out there doing gritty realism it's a relief to just step back and look at some of the wonders of this planet. You don't hear many people yelling "stop making it all look lovely" at David Attenborough, do you? I have secret crushes on all 3 lol.

It is hard to strip away the overproduction and look just at the composition, depth of field and the detail in these images but when you do you can't help but realise this is a master at work even if you don't like the finished article. Not all are so contrasty, there is quality to the work on show and despite the obvious "ick" bits (can't you tell I am fed up with proper photography critique vocabulary) I really enjoyed most of this exhibition. which was a master class in the use of light, shapes and form.

 Sebastião Salgado Genesis - Elephant
 Sebastião Salgado Genesis - Zebras

 Sebastião Salgado Genesis - AYali man in the Jayawij
What did I take away from this exhibition? That I still like Salgado despite the wrong turn he may have taken with his digital manipulation, that while digital manipulation is acceptable to get the best out of your RAW image don't, just don't over do it! Some may say that he hasn't moved on, that his work is too old fashioned, I don't care. Some photographers try out new things and I prefer their older stuff. They can't win whatever they do. Am hoping that someone buys me his book for my birthday!

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