miércoles, 11 de noviembre de 2015


                                  © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

The worldwide exhibition Genesis featuring 250 selected black and white images is the culmination of a photographic project made by Sebastiao Salgado throughout eight years — 2004-2012 — researching, exploring and feeling nature´s unspoiled legacy — still around 46% of the total —, a visual homage to the Earth which has already become a landmark event in the History of Photography, having achieved a worldwide tremendous success since its very premiere at the London´s Natural History Museum on April 11, 2013, not only in terms of massive attendance of visitors, but particularly regarding the enhancement of social awareness as to the necessity of preserving the planet natural shrines and indigenous communities he has photographed in 32 different countries, drawing attention to both fragile landscapes and endangered people that must be saved, as well as inspiring action for their safekeeping.

Fishing in the Piyulaga Lake, High Xingú, Mato Grosso (Brazil).         © Sebastiao Salgado / Amazonas Images


                                          © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Seals beside a penguin colony in the South Shetland Islands.            © Sebastiao Salgado / Amazonas Images 

The conceptual core of the Genesis Project has been a new approach in which the animal and plant world along with the indigenous people became the epicenter of the photographic activity, unlike Salgado´s well-known previous long-term projects Sahel (1986), Workers (1993), Terra (1997), Migrations (2000) and The Children (2000), whose main characters were human beings, a steady exploration of displaced populations and the relentless working conditions endured by men and women around the world, depicting the influence of walloping dire situations on the individual lives of refugees, nomads, exiles, all kind of workers, etc, as a humanist in search of social justice and using photography as a way to speak.

But in Genesis, the photographic recreation of life cycle in an exceedingly comprehensive assortment of animal, vegetal and mineral creatures becomes the raison d´être, which has resulted in a fabulous exhibition having enthralled millions of spectators all over the world through the capturing of the breathtaking beauty of nature in places of the planet that haven´t been touched by man yet, something attained by dint of constant huge endeavours made between 2004 and 2012 in a number of different areas of the world belonging to the five continents, a powerful quest for the world as it was and a plea to heal the planet from the increasing gap between man and nature brought about by modern life.

                                          © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

                                             © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

This way, both the attendees to this stunning exhibition curated by Lélia Wanick and the readers of its catalogue book published by Taschen Verlag can watch top-notch black and white pictures showing amazing landscapes of pristine places continuing to flourish and divided into five chapters: a) Planet South showing the Galápagos Islands with species of animals like iguanas, giant turtles, sea lions, cormorans and penguins in the same areas visited by Darwin during his trip with the Beagle ship in XIX century, as well as the whales in the Antarctic and the South Atlantic, the icebergs between  Paulet Island and South Shetland Islands in Weddell Sea in Antarctic Peninsula, etc; b) Sanctuaries depicting isolated areas with a rich diversity of species, such as Sumatra, Madagascar and West Papua, photographing the Korowai tribe as well as the inhabitants of the Mentawai Islands; c) Africa, showing lions, leopards, elephants and mountain gorillas of Rwanda, the Algeria sand dunes, the Okavango river in Botswana, the Dinka nomads in Sudan, the Mursi and Surma women of the Jinka area in Ethiopia (the last ones wearing lip plates); d) Northern Spaces with herds of reindeers in the Arctic Circle, the Colorado Plateau, the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East, the Nenets in Siberia, the Brooks Range in Alaska and the people living on the ice with their sledges, dogs and tents in the northern areas of Canada; and e) Amazonia, presenting alligators and jaguars, the Amazon, Negro and Juruá rivers, the Zo´é and Yanomami people in the jungles of Brazil, etc.

                                              © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

                                          © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Genesis has been making its way around the museums all over the world, displaying the sublime black and white king size prints on baryta paper for three years hitherto: at the London´s Natural History Museum, United Kingdom (April 11, 2013 - September 8, 2013), at the Royal Ontario Museum of Canada (4 May – 2 Sep 2013), at the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica, United States (29 Jun – 30 Nov 2013), at the Galerie Huit in Arles, France (1 Jul – 26 Jul 2013), at the Musee d L´ Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland (20 Sep 2013 – 5 Jan 2014), at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, France (25 Sep 2013 – 5 Jan 2014), at  the CaixaForum Madrid, Spain ( January 17- May 4, 2014), at the Palazzo della Ragioni in Milan, Italy (27 Jun – 2 Nov 2014), at the Fotografiska Museum Stadsg in Stockholm, Sweden; at the Polka Gallery in Paris, France (8 Nov - 20 Dec 2014), at the Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York, United States (11 Dec 2014 – 24 Jan 2015), at the International Center of Photography in New York, United States (September 19, 2014 - January 11, 2015), at the CaixaForum Barcelona, Spain (October 23, 2014 - February 8, 2015), at the C/O Berlin Foundation, Germany (April 18, 2015 - August 16, 2015), and it will also be held at the Versicherungskammer Kulturstiftung in Munich, Germany Oct 9, 2015 – January 24, 2016).

                                           © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Iceberg between Paulet Island and South Shetland Islands in the Weddell Sea, Antarctic Peninsula. © Sebastiao Salgado / Amazonas Images

From scratch, the whole monumental project Genesis has been presided by a key factor: the search for the best feasible black and white negatives from which getting superb large size prints on baryta paper for exhibitions.

As a matter of fact, this has been a constant feature throughout Sebastiao Salgado´s career, with the photographer having always had a great penchant for the use of the mythical Kodak Tri-X 400 b & w 35 mm film as his emulsion of choice — he also used Kodak T-Max 3200, though in a much lesser percentage — in synergy with some Leica R6.2 cameras (coupled to 35 mm f/2, 60 mm f/2.8 Macro and 70-180 mm f/2.8 zoom) and Leica M6 cameras (attached to 28 mm f/2.8, 35 mm f/2 and 50 mm f1.4) with which he got outstanding results in all his aforementioned long term projects made between around 1986 and 2004, with a unique and distinctive aesthetic appearance in his images, drawing the utmost from the remarkable potential of Kodak Tri-X 400 film in terms of acutance and formidable rendering of the full gray scale tonal ranges, fairly visible in the prints of his travelling exhibitions which have enraptured audiences for more than thirty years.

Even, he was able to greatly improve the already excellent Kodak D-76 developer, modifying its chemical elements and composition, getting a bit more grey Kodak Tri-X 400 negatives featuring far better detail, specially in the shadow areas, years before Stéphane Cormier, magician of Kodak D-76, managed to get optimum results with Kodak Tri-X 400 in low key areas and mid tones prolonging the development time to create exceedingly rich negatives.

But when thinking about the great possibilities of the Genesis Project with respect to future exhibitions once it was completed, Sebastiao Salgado did want the best possible prints, since he concedes paramount significance to the technical area, because it is what will enable him to restitute all the emotions and feeelings experienced during the photographic act through the quest for the creation of a perfect negative delivering the densities and complete tonal values he does pine for, along with lavish detail in low key areas.

And because of its format dimensions of 24 x 36 mm surface, the 35 mm negatives have got limitations in big sizes of prints intended for exhibitions.
That´s why during the first stage of the Genesis Project, between 2004 and 2008, Salgado chose an analog Pentax 645 medium format camera, whose 6 x 4,5 cm negative is 270% larger than a 35 mm one, so the rendering of full grayscale range, sharpness and possibilities of making very big prints with an accurate translation of what the photographer really experienced and saw during the unique and magic moment in which he pressed the shutter realease button of his camera and got the picture, are far superior.

Consequently, the medium format black and white 6 x 4.5 cm exposed negatives were digitized with an Imacon scanner and top-notch results were attained through a lot of toil, effort and tests, because it was not possible to use medium format Kodak Tri-X 400 film (only available in 120 rolls with capacity for 16 shots) and the Amazonas Agency team was forced to use Kodak Tri-X 320 film in 220 rolls, enabling 32 shots but whose sensitometric traits are less suitable to reportage than the classic Kodak Tri-X 400, so it is more difficult to work with it in contrejour photographs and when pushing.

But the X-rays controls at the airports all over the world brought about a lot of risks and even some damaged medium format 220 rolls, because they lack the metallic cans featured by the 35 mm films.

At the same time, the maelstrom of digital photography had taken the Genesis Project in its intermediate stage and in 2008 it was apparent that the stocks of analog medium format films and photographic papers would quickly start being scarce.
This way, Sebastiao Salgado, Lélia Wanick and the Amazonas Agency team decided to implement the transition from analog to digital photography, and from then on, a 21 megapixel digital full frame Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III was used to get the rest of the pictures of the Genesis Project until 2012, because of the great image quality it delivered, even at very high sensitivities, a pretty wide slew of professional lenses available, a stunning versatility and a further key advantage: it used digital cards able to hold a much higher quantity of shots (many hundreds) than an analog 220 medium format roll (thirty-two 6 x 4.5 cm shots) with a much lower weight, and the airports X-ray checks didn´t harm them.

But Sebastiao Salgado has got an exceedingly high standard of quality with epicenter in the final prints and whose production stages he has always personally checked in a very painstaking way, controlling everything from beginning to end, and with photography on paper as a fundamental keynote, so he doesn´t want to see the pictures on a computer screen, preferring to keep on with his traditional and very reliable system of creating thousands of 13 x 18 cm baryta paper reading copies chosen from contact sheets.

The RAW digital archives achieved with the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III are excellent regarding sharpness and contrast, but Salgado wants to get with digital photography analog results comparable to the very special image aesthetics, grain and superb tonal range and level of detail and microcontrast in shadows that he has achieved with the Kodak Tri-X 400 b & w film for thirty years.

                                            © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

                                            © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

And this becomes a conundrum, since Kodak Tri-X 400 is along with Kodachrome film virtually impossible to emulate with digital archives and only the firm DXO Film Pack has approached something to it until now.

It is a turning point in the Genesis Project that as has been thoroughly explained by Philippe Bachelier (great French photographer who has published his works in such prestigious magazines as Le Monde, Los Angeles Times, L´Equip Magazine and others, a highly experienced professional in black and white and photographic technique, both in the argentic and digital domains, great maker of selenium toned baryta paper prints and a pundit in darkroom, who developed most of Sebastiao Salgado´s medium format films of the Project Genesis between 2004 and 2008) is going to be solved by the synergy between the permanent supervision by Sebastiao Salgado and the work of a formidable group of French experts in analog image, digital image, classic darkroom and two first class photographic laboratories in Paris chosen by him.

This great team is made up by Valérie Hue (she worked as a Magnum Agency printer in Paris throughout 24 years between 1983 and 2007, in collaboration with a number of foremost photographers, as well as being an authority in treatment of digital images), Olivier Jamin, Adrien Bouillon (a highly experienced professional printer, maker of the 13 x 18 cm reading copies for Salgado and featuring a deep knowledge of both analog printing and Mac computer visualization of images), Marcia Navarro Mariano (an outstanding picture editor featuring great prowess in the supervision of the different stages from the downloading of RAW archives into computers to the handling of Lightroom, encoding of images and their printing in contact sheets), Dominique Granier (one of the best printers in the world, who made the final king size prints on baryta paper from the 4 x 5 " negatives for the Genesis exhibitions as well as the reference and collection ones), Imaginoir laboratory in Paris and Dupon laboratory (also in the French capital).

And the symbiosis between Sebastiao Salgado, Lélia Wanick     ( a driving force in herself as a curator and organizer of the Genesis exhibition as well as being the producer of the book edited by Taschen ) and this amazing group of French experts in digital and analog photography alike has enabled to attain an impressive feat: to reproduce the exact grain of the chemical Kodak Tri-X 400 film — the black and white emulsion with which Salgado has worked all of his life — in the digital image, generating a very similar working way to the one he had implemented throughout his previous thirty years as an analog photographer, now recording everything on digital cards instead of film rolls, but having contact sheets and prints on paper made for him and creating large format 4 x 5 (10 x 12 cm) b & w negatives from the selected pictures originally generated as digital RAW archives.

                                           © Jose Manuel Serrano Esparza

Therefore, Salgado doesn´t need to watch a computer screen, the digital camera back, levels, histograms, curves, MTF charts of lenses, etc, and will go on doing things according to his experience and superb photographic eye and sight, working with contact sheets and reading copies, editing with a loupe, and with the strength and impact of the pictures on paper as a cornerstone of his way to understand photography, steadily pining for a perfect copy on baryta paper made with a state-of-the-art enlarger for worldwide exhibitions as a fundamental goal and a printing philosophy deeply rooted in the keynotes set forth in early fifties by the legendary print master Georges Fèvre and Pierre Gassman in Paris Picto Labs and enhanced from eighties by Jean-Yves Bregand — a master printer featuring a tremendous knowledge, able to balance the preservation of local transitions while simultaneously pushing contrast and densities in a gorgeous way — in Paris Imaginoir Labs.

Though starting with digital RAW archives, it is a method related to the almost 100% artisan working way embodied by the cream of the crop of the historical top-notch yielders of prints using analog classic darkroom, printers and black and white films through a tremendous knowledge and experience along with painstaking and toilsome effort and many hours or even days work in laboratory until getting the perfect copy with each picture: Pierre Gassman, Georges Fèvre, Ansel Adams, Eugene Smith, Bruce Barnaum, Pablo Inirio, Teresa Engle Moreno, Igor Bakht, Voja Mitrovic, Georges Fevre, Giulietta Verdon-Roe, David Vestal, Nathalie Lopparelli, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto, Dominique Granier and others, because the Amazonia team has attained to increasingly improve a kind of hybrid system which uses digital RAW archives to begin with, but subsequently has the concept of haptic photograph and film like quality as a mainstay, with the immense possibilities of control and thoroughness provided by digital photography in spite of the amazing fact that most of the working stages are analog and conceptually linked to current great photographers still using Kodak Tri-X 400 black and white film and developing it in classic chemical laboratory like Kosuke Okahara, who creates contact sheets and steadily makes and verifies a lot of test prints, subsequently having his gorgeous darkroom prints acanned to creat first-rate big digital archives enabling the manufacturing of very large copies for exhibitions in which it is very apparent the remarkable significance of the acutance effect brought about by a chemical emulsion like Kodak Tri-X (and the really praiseworthy digital emulation of it achieved by the Genesis Team) featuring a visible grain but aesthetically gorgeous and designed to give well defined edges to the subject outlines and detail, to such an extent that it is possible to get better defined images than with very low sensitivity and ASA 25 or 50 b & w films delivering great resolution and barely imperceptible grain. 

                                            © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Genesis is probably the most colossal photographic project ever made along with Eugene Smith´s Pittsburgh, whose tremendous level of exactness and virtually unattainable standards of quality and accuracy in the restitution of the photographic act to express his ideas about the world go on being one of the most significant benchmarks in the scope of documentary photography ever, in the same way as Ansel Adams keeps on being a yardstick in the landscape sphere with the extraordinary prints he got using 4 x 5 large format cameras, Kodak Tri-X 400 LF film and Kodak HC-110 developer.

Albeit taking advantage of different technical paths, cameras and materials, both Salgado´s Genesis Project and Ansel Adams´s legendary pictures shared a common fundamental aim fostered by their meticulous eye: the creation of the best feasible prints in large sizes, oozing exceptional tonal nuances and level of detail in shadows from 4 x 5 negatives as a form of visual communication and developing printing techniques to match their respective visions, personally supervising and utterly controlling every stage to assure that their images convey the intended meaning.

                                           © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Throughout a significant percentage of his career, Salgado has photographed a myriad of contexts of both human and environmental degradation and destruction: migrations of people suffering appalling life conditions, polluting factories, huge deposits of garbage, genocides like the one happened in Rwanda in 1994 with 2,000.000 people assassinated, lethal epidemies like cholera in the Rwandan refugee camp of Goma (Zaire) killing thousands of people daily, the pain, misery, frequent violence exerted on them by military police and very hard toil of Garimpeiros of Sierra Pelada (Brazil) manually extracting gold with very similar techniques to the ones used by the slaves of the XVIII Century mines and constantly taking very large and heavy bags full of sand on their backs while going up rather steep and dangerous ladders, the victims of famine in Ethiopia with massive presence of children with Kwashiorkor, the war in Afghanistan, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the Sudanese refugees fleeing from war, the displaced Ecuadorian farmers, the severe draught in Niger in 1973, and many others.

Too much suffering, too much havoc, too many persons living in dreadful conditions photographed and experienced live by Sebastiao Salgado during more than thirty years, which had a climax of desperation during his coverage of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, when he watched a lot of horrible things and thousands of people die, to such an extent that he became innerly despondent and only the constant support and strength of his wife and love of his life Lélia Wanick could prevent him from abandoning. 

That´s why when Sebastiao Salgado began tackling the Genesis Project in 2004 it meant a very significant turning point in his photographic career and existence and the possibility of seeing light at the end of the tunnel which had been the fullfilment of Exodus with all the ordeals and horror it meant and the much manmade sufferings he beheld.

The gorgeous Genesis Collector´s edition numbered and signed by Sebastiao Salgado. Conceived, edited and designed by Lélia Wanick Salgado, it is made up by two large size 46.8 x 70 cm volumes bound in quarter-leather and cloth. Along with the Amazonas Agency team made up by Sebastiao Salgado, Lélia Wanick Salgado and the aformentioned group of French experts on both darkroom and digital image, it has been important the help of sincere Salgado´s longtime friends like Miguel González Navarro, director of Contacto Photographic Agency and deep connoisseur of his work, who has made a praiseworthy strenuous effort to foster the Genesis exhibition in different cities.

Now it was about the concept of landscape as an alive being that had to be known to properly photograph it, to depict it in all of its splendor through the symbolic language of photography, to take part in its space with the aim of appealing to civilization to preserve the planet as much as possible in its original and fascinating diversity of sceneries, fauna, flora and indigene peoples.

He needed something to restore his faith in humanity and the Genesis Project turned into a kind of lifeline for him, to get empathy and a deep engagement with his subjects.to remain in the middle of natural locations for hours, blending with the landscapes, observing, framing and working the light to the utmost to reveal structures, textures, nuances, etc.

This way, the landscapes all over the world and in different seasons of the year became a bountiful source of chances to work with natural light, particularly when getting against the light pictures — his traditional hallmark making up vast majority of the photographs he makes — to greatly enhance contours and volumes, a side in which Salgado is a master, as well as drawing the fascinating potential of the black and white abstraction to convey symbols and meaning.

Text and Indicated Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza