As he describes it himself, Sebastião Salgado’s work at Genesis is a pictorial depiction of the lands as still pristine. He intends to create awareness to help to save these remaining lands. But Sishy analyses the images, including for other material, as beautification of tragedy, saying that he is “too busy with the compositional aspects of his pictures, with finding the ‘grace’ and ‘beauty’ in the twisted forms of his anguished subjects. And this beautification of tragedy results in pictures that ultimately reinforce our passivity towards the experience they reveal.” (Sischy, 1991, p.92).
David Levi Strauss points out that all photographs transform the world, but mentions that Sischy’s comments were actually about the boundary between aesthetics and politics. I think that Salgado creates a romantic and nostalgic view of the planet. It is the world as it should have been, but it doesn’t translate to me as if I need to do anything to help to save the world. It transforms the places or animals as “objects” for admiration.
Sebastião Salgado (2009), from Genesis.
On the other hand, I think Nick Brandt plays a more successful role for a change, placing the images of animals in places where they used to reside in the past. The tension is created because these images are all well composed and aesthetic, but the message is of destruction and isolation, nearly apocalyptic. They are showing what is left from what used to be the former lands where this elephant, as an example, existed.
I feel sad and impacted by these images more than by Salgado’s ones. They are more informative, and they connect with the viewer. It makes us think more about our lifestyles and Western culture.
Nick Brandt (2015) Inherit the Dust
Now, when talking about shock and advertisement, these two images were discussed.
The image above is quite graphic and shocking to me. I keep going back for details and it makes me uncomfortable as a viewer. I consider the image below more effective, as it evokes emotion, as the polar bears are disappearing into the environment, and it has a huge sense of melancholy on it. The aesthetics do influence on our response and going too far with the shocking element can have the opposite reaction, instead of bringing you in and getting you interested in the issue, it ends up pushing the public away.
When talking about my practice, I need to be carefull not to romanticise the images, as sometimes I tend to do with landscape. The element of shock when used as well needs to be in control, and not be “too much”.