I love photography. I love photography for its power to contain what we feel in the stillness of a single moment. I particularly like black and white photography. I like it because by removing colour the photographer forces the viewer to focus on the details, on what is happening in the scene, on the content of the photograph. And no one does this better than one of my favourite photographers, Sebastian Salgado.
Salgado began as a social documentary photographer focusing on the people and societies, particularly that of the poor across the globe. But according to the following video he had seen too much violence, too much bloodshed, that so affected him that he literally became sick, mentally and physically.
At the advice of his doctor he had to stop putting himself through such torture. As a viewer we can close the books and stop viewing the photographs that he captures. We only have the moments of silence that he shows us, ones which we control as viewers. But for Salgado the tragedy is a streaming memory that does not stop with the shutter. It was for this reason that he gave up photography and returned to his hometown, to his family in Brazil.
The back story is that he grew up on a farm with his seven sisters that once was covered by 50 percent of rainforest. There they had abundant food needing only to go once a year on a 60-day round-trip journey to sell their cattle. But when he returned after his long absence as a globe trotting photographer what he had found was that almost all the rainforest had been destroyed, that the land had been left bare. This caused the rainwater to run off the land much quicker than is needed leading to desertification of the land (his analogy was that of his bald head which dries in seconds). And it was with this discovery back home that he began to work to reforest his land he had now inherited.
Salgado after this period in his life he had taken up his camera again and shifted his lens towards nature and animals. His message hasn’t change because he is still concerned about how we can arrive as a species. Only now he is doing this from the point of view of how we need to live in harmony with land and nature.
I’d like to begin this three-section mini-essay with the concept of nature. If we think about it nature, by our misconceived conception, really is a space where things interact without the human intervention or existence. Thus the definition is one of absence of the human. It is also one of binary and opposition. In this sense, then, to be human is to be unnatural. But at exactly what point does the nature end and the human begin? To be more precise this is not a question of where but one of when.
Some time in history, or rather existence, we became aware of ourselves and began to define the self as apart from nature. Thus definition of nature and man came into being simultaneously. What once was one entity is now two by the act of defining, and no more.
It would not have been easy for Charles Darwin to have decided to publish Origin of Species. He would have had the entire history of The Christian West to contend with. Even his family particularly his wife harboured doubts even though she was supportive. This proposal would not and could not have been taken lightly. The suggestion that humans are related to chimps and apes when until then we are said to have been the creation of the Creator, a discourse which unequivocally left little room for alternative possibilities. Such was Darwin’s time.
In essence Man (and it was mostly the male of the species who controlled the discourse) was the force behind the artificial rhetoric. This still-very-lost-gender of this species spends most of its time coming up with new versions of the story, the new paradigms. And this continues even today. For stories are necessary. The space must be filled, so to speak, with something other than a void.
The story of Nature, then, is one in which we are still separate from. But if we are indeed the continuation of the long march of evolution (note: another story) then we must be the part of The Story of Nature. Thus the destruction we reek upon the place we call home, the place we share and interact with the other life forms is as natural as it is possible. The story must mean we are like a cancer (more: another story) killing off what is weak only to make the system a stronger more resilient one for the future, whatever it may be.
… is that it ultimately gives one a better perspective of the world.
Last night I posted on my Facebook Wall about the beauty of the stars in a clear sky. And this morning I continued the story with an update about how clear the morning night sky was again. This prompted a friend of mine to comment how she wished she had the luxury of looking at the stars like me.
But what she and probably everyone else don’t realize was that I wasn’t actually delibrately going outside to look at the night sky but rather I was doing the mundane task of putting in the laundry into the washing machine in our creaky old country outhouse. I do it every night before I sleep at nine (put on a six-hour-later timer so that we use the off peak electricity, of course), collect and hang it up just after five in the morning. So all I had done was look up at the night sky as I made the trip there and back.
It isn’t the romantic country lifestyle as everyone seems to think. That is what is so great about darkness. They are like “alcohol goggles” (that is, being drunk): you can forget about reality and enjoy the sheer beauty of the dark clear night sky. But it all comes crashing back to earth when you enter your artificially lit home and see yourself in your run down PJs in the mirror.
As I said it isn’t a romantic lifestyle but it is an ideal one, one that makes me happy and feel closer to nature. And I wouldn’t give it up for the world. At least that is what I feel at the moment. Because if it wasn’t for this lack of convenience of not having space for a washine machine in our house I wouldn’t have seen that beautiful sky, or notice the natural rhythm – night after night – of the world that is beyond the psychological and physical walls which surround me.
In the past people have marvelled at the intricacy of nature and at times have attributed it to some kind of divine power. ‘How could something so perfect and complex,’ they would ask, ‘be created by chance?’
Now a team of scientists in Russia have shown how electroplating if left unchecked can create structures remarkably similar to structures of leaves, trees, buds and corals, suggesting that the patterns in nature may be following some kind of geometric formula.