One of my most prized photographic possessions is (in an unusual departure from the often vintage material objects spread out on the Chromcoma nightstand) a brand new photographic book which I only recently obtained. It’s not a super rare book, its price is not dirt cheap but neither is it prohibitively expensive. Its pages contain photos that can often be found for free with a quick internet image search and yet to me, it’s a really, truly precious item.
In the world of true black and white photography masters, we might struggle to name a single all-time greatest. The ‘best of’ shortlist debate here could go on ad infinitum but in an attempt to cut to the chase might I humbly suggest a brief caveat of separating would be candidates into two simple, distinct and unarguable categories: Those still breathing and those that have left us to wash, dev and fix their frames of silver halide amidst the big darkroom in the sky. Assuming one can accept those terms, I would like to only discuss my pick for the former category in today’s post. For me, without question, the best black and white master photographer alive today simply has to be none other than the great Sebastiao Salgado.
I have had the chance to check out the work of many truly legendary photographers, I wouldn’t say my experiences are encompassing all of the true living greats but of those I admire the most, I have been lucky enough to attend their exhibitions and see first-hand what such work looks like up close and personal.
About three years ago, I had a trip to London and one of my absolute non-negotiable to do items was a visit to The Photographers Gallery in the West End to see Salgado’s breathtaking ‘Other Americas’. It was quite a life-changing experience to witness such work in the flesh. I have never seen any other such work which had quite that effect on me, one that remains until this day. When I think of the artist’s great body of work, I tend to think of this late seventies and early eighties film stuff before anything else. I still sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t have raided the piggyback to have tried to scrape together enough to have bought one of the cheaper (a relative term in this case) original prints on sale there that summer (started at around 4,500 British Pounds as I recall!).
I suspect other fans might disagree with me, perhaps they might think of his equally impressive later projects such as ‘Workers’ or ‘Migrations’ but for me it has always been about his Central and Southern American subject matter that came first. I see it as his magnum opus in many respects.
Yet the book I have here in my possession is actually nothing to do with any of the above, it is in fact an area of his work that I had looked at the least. I feel that I may have been more than annoying enough with the dangling participles now so let’s spell it out. The book in question is the project ‘Genesis’ and is the culmination of Sebastiao’s blood, sweat and tears throughout the noughties. The work is primarily concerned with nature, animals and indigenous people. Its geographic range is huge, featuring places quite literally all over the earth. As I am not a huge fan of animal photography and natural themes in general, it was never that high on my list of wants. That all changed a while back… I would even go as far as to say that outside of Ansel Adams, you haven’t seen what black and white photography of nature looks like until you’ve seen this. A bold statement, I know.
During Mr. Salgado’s recent trip and exhibition here in Bangkok, Thailand, I was truly honoured to be given a gift from the artist to me. A lovely black fabric bag containing a glorious mint copy of ‘Genesis’ which he was good enough to personally sign and dedicate with a message to me. I am still pinching myself every time I look at this work and think of it coming to me from my own favourite black and white photographer. It honestly gives me goose bumps. Such a kind and generous act from him towards me, a complete stranger, shows his personal self to be just as classy as his lens work.
I shall not attempt to review the book or its images here, a million words could never do it justice. Suffice to say that this is now one of my most prized photography related possessions and I shall both enjoy and treasure it dearly for the rest of my life.
Muito obrigado Sebastiao!