Saturday, 3 August 2013

I Went for an Inspiring Visit to Sebastiao Salgado's 'Genesis' Exhibition in the Natural History Museum

So I was starting the next chapter in my photography journey; basically black-and-white digital photography. I wasn't overly-versed in the photographic form of black-and-white digital photography. However, I was aware that there was currently an exhibition running: 'Genesis' by Sabastiao Salgado, which featured (conveniently for me) black-and-white photographs in the accessible setting of the Natural History Museum. I decided, fairly easily, that this exhibition was worth going to because it offered the perfect opportunity to get an idea of the nature of black-and-white photography as demonstrated by Sebastiao Salgado.

   In short, it was worth it! There wasn't one 'weak' photograph that I could remember from the visit and I had numerous 'favourites'. The main impression I got though was that through scale and composition most photographs left me very impressed and stunned even at their quality.

   I first heard about the exhibition in the British Journal of Photography (March 2013). It was beneficial to see the photos in print in that magazine but of course it was much more impactful seeing them at the size intended by S. Salgado in the actual exhibition. While at the exhibition I liked the choices of printing size of the black-and-white prints. The photographs I really wanted to see big, because of their dynamism, were usually printed big. The smaller prints at the same time didn't suffer from the smaller size because their impact was more subtle in my opinion.

   I had been most interested in landscape photography when initially starting photography, with the other branches growing on me as I had been progressing in the course. It was very useful then that there was a wide variety of photographs on display in the 'Genesis' exhibition. While the exhibition remained predominantly landscapes, there were also many wildlife, portraits and group people shots. This meant I could gather an informed idea of how the black-and-white medium affected different genres.

   I recorded my initial impressions while at the exhibition. This was so I could come back to them afterwards with some insightful observations other than simply wow! The list below was the impressions I had at the time at the exhibition:


  • Contrast is key, obviously between the extreme whites and blacks, with the mid tones providing detail and information
  • Minimalism is especially strong in black-and-whites
  • So is rhythm and pattern
  • Light catching only certain parts is effective
  • Low contrast (with much mid tone detail) can also be effective too

   And in retrospect, my thoughts were:

  • The framing was so impressive because it effectively allowed the viewer to immerse themselves in each image - the large print sizes didn't hurt though!
  • The photographs were so technically good that any humour/semantic messages in certain photographs were embellished
  • My favourite images were largely minimalist for landscapes and the opposite in the portraits/group shots. This I put down to impact being greater with both minimalist landscapes and then detailed portraits/group shots
  • The use of solely black-and-white was largely effective for me; I didn't 'miss' the lack of colour in many of the photographs. Before going I had envisaged that this might be the case with a few of the photographs but afterwards I felt I was so consistently impressed with the light and framing of so many of the photographs that this wasn't a factor much at all