To the brink and back

To the brink and back
Renowned Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado took 12 years to complete Genesis, a showcase of 245 images. The exhibition is on at the National Museum of Singapore.

At the turn of the millennium, famed Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado made up his mind to go back in time. The 70-year-old, well-known for his marathon photo projects on gritty social issues such as migrant communities and manual labourers, had set his sights on a new mission - to document a world and a way of life as it was in the beginning, where man lived in and with nature as one.

His quest to capture the pristine beauty of the world became an epic 12-year project titled Genesis.

He spent four years on intense research, planning and fund-raising to meet the project's budget of €8 million (S$13.8 million).

In the following eight years, he made perilous expeditions to 32 remote countries and regions where he faced extreme climates and diets, and a few close shaves with death.

It was anything but a walk in paradise, but the hardbitten photographer never gave up.

He tells Life! ahead of the Asian premiere of Genesis at the National Museum of Singapore on Saturday: "I had a big motivation to do this story and I was willing to accept anything."

The source of his quenchless drive: a visceral experience of the marvellous resurrection of 810ha of forest land that his family owns in Brazil.

Salgado, who was largely based in Europe, returned to his childhood home in Brazil in 1998 after completing a gruelling photo project, Exodus, on people fleeing genocides. The brutality he witnessed on the job had sickened him thoroughly and he sought respite in the familiar.

The verdant rainforest that gave him great pleasure as a child, however, was no longer - industrial activity had turned it into barren land. So with his wife, Lelia Deluiz Wanick, 66, they set about planting trees to reforest the land, determined to return it to its former lushness. The transformation came quickly.

He says, his voice rising with excitement: "We saw the coming back of nature, the water, the birds, the mammals, the crocodiles, everything came back. And that gave me a wish to photograph again, but to photograph nature, what was pristine in the planet."

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