By Sebastião Salgado
Taschen, 2021, 528 pp.
Salgado, a famed Paris-based Brazilian documentary photographer, takes his camera deep into the Amazon rainforest. To tackle this vast territory, larger than the European Union and inhabited, Salgado estimates, by some 370,00 indigenous people (compared with an estimated five million prior to European conquest in the sixteenth century) belonging to nearly 200 tribes, Salgado, accompanied by anthropologists and linguists, spent weeks on end with each of a dozen remote communities. The hospitable tribes, scattered in tiny communities, subsist in bucolic harmony with an abundant, generous natural world yet are dwarfed by the natural immensity of the rainforest. The voluminous book’s brief texts add informative context, but Salgado mainly allows the captivating black-and-white photos to speak for themselves. The rainforest’s startling beauty and majesty are overwhelming; amazing aerial photography captures breathtaking cloud formations that offer an ever-changing visual spectacle. But the greatest contribution of Amazônia is its intimate, sensitive portraits of everyday life among the indigenous tribes: their warm family ties, their hunting and fishing skills, their dazzling facial and body paintings, and their ritual dances. Salgado neither patronizes nor sensationalizes. He honors his subjects by capturing both their communal and their individual selves: avoiding a flaw found in some documentary work depicting indigenous people, he accompanies every photograph of a person with the subject’s full name.