Sebastião Salgado. Amazônia

Sebastião Salgado shares an edited excerpt from his new book on the Brazilian Amazon, published by Taschen with editing, concept and design by Lélia Wanick Salgado

The Maiá River in Pico da Neblina National Park, in the São Gabriel da Cachoeira area. Yanomami Indigenous Territory. State of Amazonas, 2018.

This book is dedicated to the indigenous peoples of Brazil’s Amazon region. It is a celebration of the survival of their cultures, customs, and languages. 

It is also a tribute to their role as the guardians of the beauty, natural resources, and biodiversity of the planet’s largest rainforest in the face of unrelenting assault by the outside world. 

We are eternally grateful to them for allowing us to share their lives. 

Sebastião Salgado and Lélia Wanick Salgado 

Marauiá mountain range. Yanomami Indigenous Territory. Municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, state of Amazonas, 2018.

When I first visited an Amazon tribe in the mid-1980s, I remember feeling anxious about meeting people whose lives were so radically distinct from my own. There, men and women, families whose ancestors had inhabited these forests for millennia, were still treated as “primitives.” 

How would they receive me? How would I react to them? How would I behave before such different human beings? 

That early experience of living alongside the Yanomami, one of Brazil’s largest ethnic groups, was so powerful that it shaped my relationship with the natives of the Amazon region ever since. Finding myself cut off from the world in a remote village in the northern state of Roraima, I soon understood that the Yanomami were not in fact that different from me. After just a few hours in their company, I began to relax, to feel accepted. The emotions we shared—to love, to laugh, to cry, to feel happy or angry—served as our common language. I felt at home in my own tribe, that of all humans, where myriad systems of logic and reason are interwoven with my own, with those of Homo sapiens. 

Since then, and particularly over the past decade, I have spent long periods in the Amazon, navigating its rivers, flying over dense jungle and peripheral mountain ranges and, above all, living among its people in tiny communities scattered across the world’s largest tropical rainforest. And I can say without hesitation, even after a career full of extraordinary experiences, nothing has given me greater joy than working with the dozen of indigenous tribes portrayed in this book. Through them, thanks to them, I reconnected with my own pre- history. I rediscovered the lives we led thousands of years ago. 

Left to right: Pinu Vakwë Korubo with a bird, a red-throated piping- guan (Aburria cujubi, Korubo name: kuxu) hanging from his shoulder— contact in 2014; Xuxu Korubo with a quiver for arrows (Korubo term: vitinte) on his shoulder—contact in 2015. In front of them, two brown woolly monkeys (Lagothrix lagothricha, Korubo term: kolokit) brought down by poisoned arrows from Xuxu’s quiver, shot from blowguns. Hunting encampment. Valley of Javari Indigenous Territory, state of Amazonas, 2017.

The natives of the Americas are descendants of the migrants who crossed the Bering Strait from Asia during the last Ice Age some 20,000 years ago. With the arrival of European conquistadors and colonisers in the 16th century, their numbers were decimated by diseases brought by these foreigners and by wars waged against them. Then, through a gradual process of miscegenation, the identity of a majority of them became mestizo. 

Indigenous women were at the heart of the formation of the Brazilian people. After the first Portuguese landed in Brazil in 1500, they were soon followed by hundreds of thousands of men. It was not until 55 years later that the first five Portuguese women landed. The Jesuit missionaries who accompanied them were quick to notice hundreds of thousands of mestizo children, prompting accusations that the Portuguese men had been living in promiscuity. 

The Raposa–Serra do Sol Indigenous Territory occupies two ecologically distinct areas: fields in the south and densely forested mountains in the north. Its main landmark is Mount Roraima, seen in the background, whose name is associated with the mythological hero Makunaima. This hero inspired Brazilian author Mario de Andrade’s classic novel Macunaíma. There are an estimated 140 Macuxi villages. Cotingo River Falls. State of Roraima, 2018.

Although the number of natives living in the Amazon rainforest fell drastically, their experience was different. Thanks to the impenetrability of the jungle, for centuries they were able to preserve their traditional tribal way of life. 

Now they too are threatened: one aim of this photographic project is to record what survives before any more of it disappears. 

The Amazon region embraces nine South American countries, with 60 percent of the rainforest lying in Brazil. The population of this area is thought to have numbered around five million in 1500. Today, in a territory more than eight times the size of France, there are just 370,000 indigenous people belonging to 188 tribes and speaking 150 different languages. A further 114 tribes have been identified, but they have not been contacted. 

Towns and cities sprang up along the Amazon and its major tributaries as far back as the 17th century. But in the middle of the 20th century a dangerous new chapter in the indigenous peoples’ struggle to survive began with the opening up of Brazil’s vast undeveloped and sparsely populated interior. Migration from southern Brazil led to the deforestation of the Amazon to make room for cattle farming and soybean cultivation. New roads and navigable rivers facilitated migration and made it easier for logging firms to harvest valuable hardwood and for freelance prospectors to seek gold. With these outsiders, who included religious groups bent on evangelising remote tribes, came influenza, measles, malaria … and death for thousands of natives. 

An igapó, a type of forest frequently flooded by river water, with palms and other emerging trees. In the center of the photo, a tree whose trunk is covered with water: an aldina (Aldina latifolia). At right, a jauari palm tree (Astrocaryum jauari). Anavilhanas archipelago, Anavilhanas National Park, Lower Rio Negro. State of Amazonas, 2019.

Intentionally set forest fires in the Amazon are not new, but they have multiplied so drastically that they now grab attention far beyond Brazil because of their undisputed impact on climate change. Often described as the world’s lung, the rainforest has been steadily losing its ability to absorb vast quantities of carbon dioxide. Instead, it has been adding to global CO2 concentrations, creating an enormous “carbon bomb.” 

The Amazon rainforest is the only place on Earth where humidity in the air does not depend on evaporation of seawater. Thanks to its size and an intense concentration of humidity, this forest generates its own process of evaporation in which each tree acts like a geyser or aerator, releasing hundreds of litres of water into the atmosphere daily. As a result, thanks to its hundreds of billions of trees, this blanket of vegetation creates an extraordinary airborne river, or river of vapour, which carries more water than the Amazon River pours into the Atlantic Ocean each day. The impact of this on global climate conditions is immense. 

With 20 percent of the Amazon’s biomass already lost, any further disruption of its ecological equilibrium will have drastic repercussions far beyond Latin America’s frontiers. Yet too many Brazilians still fail to recognise that protecting the Amazon is also in their interest. Surely they, no less than Argentinians, can understand that their immense agricultural wealth depends directly on the rain that falls over the Amazon. 

What drew me back to the Amazon? Certainly not its dark side—not the fires or deforestation or the poisoning of rivers by gold miners or the drug trafficking and arms smuggling that flourish in the region. Rather, it was to savour afresh the unparalleled beauty of this vast region. For me, it is the last frontier, a mysterious universe of its own, where the immense power of nature can be felt as nowhere else on earth. Here is a forest stretching to infinity that contains one-tenth of all living plant and animal species, the world’s largest single natural laboratory…

– Sebastião Salgado Paris, 2021

Photography by Sebastião Salgado

Sebastião Salgado. Amazônia, Sebastião Salgado, Lélia Wanick Salgado, TASCHEN, £100

Men of Zo’é ethnicity, residents of the village of Towari Ypy, wearing traditional headdresses. Standing, left to right: Biri Zo’é, Xú Zo’é, Sinera’ýt Zo’é, Kurú Zo’é, and Boaté Zo’é. Seated: Kitá Zo’é, Dirik Zo’é, Tuwáj Zo’é, and Toduá Zo’é. In their language, “Zo’é” means “I am me.” They probably used the expression during the period of initial contact, as if to say “We are people.” Zo’é Indigenous Territory. State of Pará, 2009.

Mario Testino on Newton and Nudity

The prolific photographer reveals an intimate side to his work in a bold exhibition of photographs at the Helmut Newton Foundation

The human body is an inexhaustible subject in photography. By blurring boundaries between fashion, eroticism and art, Mario Testino has unravelled the politics and symbolism of the body throughout his work. In an exhibition conceived for the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin and its catalogue by the same name, Undressed, the photographer explores nakedness through 50 images from his archive. 

Testino, much like Newton before him, offers an empowering perspective on the body, and where Newton established a confident image of femininity, Testino challenges masculine paradigms. The playful, unfettered atmosphere of his studio is captured through effervescent portraits of anonymous, androgynous men as well as supermodels such as Kate Moss and Amber Valletta, which even at their most daring, never slip into the vulgar. Including previously unseen photographs, Undressed reveals a more intimate side to the photographer’s work and in the process, he too lays himself bare.

What kind of impact did Helmut Newton have on you as a young photographer? 

He had pretty kinky ideas that could well have been seen as vulgar or too pornographic, but because they were presented so stylishly in Vogue it was considered elevated work. Seeing this taught me that, whatever you do, if you do it well and elegantly it can live on its own.

In Ways of Seeing, John Berger makes a clear distinction between nudity and nakedness. As a photographer, how do you negotiate that tension?

To me nudity is the way people are made and nakedness entails a certain provocation. I think both are valid in their own way. Why not provoke when you can?

Does nudity still have the power to shock? If so, where does that fit in with your photographs?

I think that it is definitely less shocking today, although it is still provocative. I find it interesting that male nudity seems to shock more than female nudity. Is it because we are more used to seeing women naked than men? Or perhaps it comes from men being more shy with their bodies? I don’t know.

What was the catalyst for Undressed and how did you approach the selection process?

The show marks a significant point in time for me. The majority of the works in Undressed come from the ’90s, which was a transformative moment in my career. It was a point where I was identifying the new people coming into the industry and photographing them naked. I think in some odd way the nudes I did then undressed me too, of my limits and preconceived ideas about image-making. They influenced and informed the way I did my fashion photographs.

Has hindsight changed the way you feel about any of these photographs? Did anything surprise you? 

It is great to come back to these images after a long period. I realise I have changed a lot since the ’90s, when most of these works were shot. I think back then I was very precise and today I am a lot more open. But I needed that precision to discover the Mario Testino of today.

Ultimately, what would you like people to take away from both the exhibition and the book?

I feel these photographs show a strength in these people, despite being naked. Not everyone feels like that and I would love to feel that people took away some of that essence in themselves. They should be proud of how they are made and gain strength from nakedness, instead of insecurity.

Mario Testino: Undressed is on show at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin until 19 November. The accompanying catalogue, published by Taschen, is out now