If photographer Sebastiao Salgado had his way, you’d be outside right now.
"Canada is incredible, the nature here is so powerful," Salgado, a world-renowned photographer who has won countless awards, told CBC News. "I believe that Canadians must go back to Canada."
To Salgado, that means getting out of the country’s big cities and exploring Canada’s oceans, mountains and forests. It means paying attention to trees, stones and the insects living underneath. Once people respect the planet, Salgado says, they’ll protect it.
"One thing, I’m sure, is that my pictures alone will transform nothing," Salgado said.
The Brazilian photographer is in Toronto this week presenting his "love letter to the planet" – an exhibit called Genesis, comprising hundreds of stunning black and white images of pristine landscapes, wild animals and indigenous people relatively untouched by the modern world.
The show opens Friday at the Royal Ontario Museum and is also set to go on display in Montreal, Rome, Rio de Janeiro and London. Genesis took 70-year-old Salgado eight years to create and many in the photography world consider it his masterpiece. To create the exhibition, he trekked far north into arctic climes, deep into rain forests and across countless mountain ranges – including several in the Canadian North.
"I went to do this not as a scientist or journalist. I went here to see my planet … with these pictures I try to give people the impression that this was heaven on my planet," Salgado said.
"This is a very personal point of view."
The images are stunning. Salgado’s style – high contrast black and white images with a seemingly endless depth of field at times – has resulted in tremendous pictures of human labour, joy and suffering for years. Genesis marks his first major effort applying his lens to animals (whales, leopards, penguins and many more) and landscapes, to tremendous result.
Art lovers will likely see a connection to American photographer Ansel Adams‘s iconic images of Yosemite National Park. Some may spot bits of Mexican painter Diego Rivera in Salgado’s pictures of the Zo’e women, an isolated indigenous people who live in the northern Amazon region. But the biggest cultural touchstone is likely the BBC’s landmark television documentary Planet Earth, which shot in some of the same locations.
For Salgado, however, it’s not the same.
"There is a big difference between video and photography" he said. "Photography is another language…I have this collection of pictures that can give to you any kind of impression."
It’s true: you can look at Salgado’s pictures of Alaskan mountain ranges and feel optimistic about the raw power of nature. Or, you might read his image of penguins sliding off a massive iceberg as a warning that many parts of Antarctica will be lost to climate change.
"I want people to understand that this is the only world we have," Salgado said.
"I believe, in function of all that I saw in the eight years on the planet, we’ve arrived at the break-even point. From here we cannot cross. We’ve already destroyed too much."