When Nature Reigned: Salgado’s ‘Genesis’ Recalls Earth as It Was

Sebastião Salgado's new series of photos, opening in New York in September, attempts to show what the world looked like before humans transformed it.

. Sebastião Salgado has never shied away from ambitious photo assignments. His previous long-term projects, "Workers," which explored the often brutal conditions endured by laborers, and "Migrations," which examined displaced population, were enormous undertakings that required years of travelling in unhospitable environments. Man's cruelty to his fellow man was a theme that dominated the work and though the images often depicted terrible suffering, they were always exquisitely composed.

His latest exploration has an even broader scope and human exploitation is noticeably absent. "Genesis" attempts to show us what the world looked like before humans transformed it. Begun in 2004, its main subjects are sweeping landscapes, wildlife and frequently indigenous people living in harmony with the earth.

“Genesis is a quest for the world as it was, as it was formed, as it evolved, as it existed for millennia before modern life accelerated and began distancing us from the very essence of our being,” according to Lélia Wanick Salgado, the photographer's wife and curator of the exhibit.

Though in many ways more palatable than the harsh subjects of his previous work, Salgado is no less determined to incite action with this work. "Through these photographs, Salgado pays homage to a fragile planet he believes we must all protect," says the exhibition's press release.

The International Center of Photography (ICP) is the first U.S. venue to present "Genesis." On view from Sept. 19, 2014, through January 11, 2015, the exhibition draws together more than 200 black-and-white photographs.

Above: Chinstrap penguins dive off icebergs located between Zavodovski and Visokoi islands in the South Sandwich Islands, 2009.

Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas

. An Elephant raoms in Kafue National Park, Zambia, 2010.

Since elephants are hunted by poachers in Zambia, they are scared of humans and vehicles. Alarmed when they see an approaching car, they usually run quickly into the bush.

Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas

. The fin of a southern right whale lifts out of the water in Argentina's Valdés Peninsula in 2004.

Because of the shelter provided by its two gulfs, the Golfo San José and the Golfo Nuevo, southern right whales often navigate with their tails upright in the water. When a tail stands immobile for tens of minutes, it is probable that the whale is completely vertical in the water in a kind of resting position; it has also been claimed that the whales use their tails as a sail, allowing the wind to do the work. After close observation, it is possible to predict when a whale will jump: a sudden and swift movement of the tail provides the burst of energy that enables the whale to project its massive body out of the water.

Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas

. Brazil, 2005

In the Upper Xingu region of Brazil’s Mato Grosso state, a group of Waura Indians fish in the Puilanga Lake near their village. The Upper Xingu Basin is home to an ethnically-diverse population, with the 2,500 inhabitants of 13 villages speaking languages with distinct Carib, Tupi and Arawak roots. While they occupy different territories and preserve their own cultural identities, they co-exist in peace.

Salgado began his professional life as an economist, but after travelling extensively in his work switched careers and became a professional photographer. Before devoting himself to long term projects, he worked as a news photographer. His pictures of the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981 were published around the world.

Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas