Amazônia at the Science & Industry Museum: A "breathtaking portrayal of existence as we could in no way picture it."

In the basement of the Science and Industry Museum, Amazônia weaves you through forgotten rainforests and the inconceivable lifestyles of its indigenous people.

By Emma Davidson | June 21st '22

Sebastião Salgado isn’t a photographer I was familiar with before taking a deep dive into his newest exhibition, currently making its debut at the Science & Industry Museum.

The award-winning Brazilian photographer has socially documented the extremities of life for over 40 years, and his newest exhibition ‘Amazônia’ is another breathtaking portrayal of existence as we could in no way picture it. 

The first thing that struck me about Amazônia, was that the entire exhibition is shot in black and white. For many, when picturing the Amazon and its breathtaking rainforests and tropical birds, saturated colours may spring to mind, but with Salgado’s decision to go with his traditional monochrome style, it shows the bleakness of what Northwestern Brazil is currently facing

Across seven years, Salgado worked and lived in its rainforests, interacting with 12 different indigenous communities, whilst also being exposed to the climate crisis they currently face.

Amazônia represents a crucial talking point in terms of human life on earth, it looks at the deforestation by Western societies, but doesn’t shy away from the magic of its people – as Salgado has managed to capture the family-centric communities in a truly intimate way.

It’s difficult to grasp the scale of the Amazon, even as you’re standing in front of one of Salgado’s pieces, as his depictions show a never ending space, but one that’s vast and full of life despite the peril that faces its future. 

The exhibition explores over 200 breathtaking panoramic shots, dramatic waterfalls and the intense weather conditions associated with life in the Amazon. Salgado’s vision was simple, and through his compositional skills and documentary-style rawness he has managed to capture an honest depiction of the indigenous people.  

Alongside the photography, Salgado also conducted interviews with some of the tribes he made contact with during the project. The interviews offer visitors a glimpse into the life of these spiritual beings, their habitats and the work needed to protect their ancestral lands. 

For example, one group Salgado explores in Amazônia is the Yanomami tribe. They are the largest low-contact indigenous ethnic group in the world with a current population of around 40,000 people across Brazil and Venezuela.

Shamanism is central to Yanomami culture, with their main leader being shaman Davi Kopenawa – a pioneer in the campaign to establish the Yanomami Territory that started in the late 70s. Through striking portraits, which Salgado set up using a well travelled white sheet that he draped over surrounding trees, you get a glimpse into the often private world of these untouched territories

Adding an extra layer to the exhibition is French composer Jean Michael Jarre’s accompanying soundtrack, which brings the gushing rivers and echoing forests of the Amazon to life. 

It creates an intensity to Amazônia, one that encompasses every viewer, especially when paired with the exhibition’s layout that leads you to weave around the photography as if you were wading through the rainforest itself. 

Sebastiao Salgado’s life work has been focused on marginalised communities and majestic landscapes, and Amazônia is a career-defining ode to that

The exhibition is currently available to visit at the Science and Industry Museum until Sunday 14th August. Book your free ticket now via the link below. 

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