GENESIS | Tara, a schooner for the planet

GENESIS

© Sebastiao Salgado

2005

 ”While the Mountain of Silence team members were zipping up their bags, I decided to remain aboard Tara. Within a few hours I had heard there was room for me aboard and that there would be a great team for the trip to Antarctica. I realized this would be a great opportunity to learn new things.” wrote Catherine Chabaud on December 18, 2004.

With their big bags and personalized caps, Laurent Ballesta, marine biologist and Gil Kebaïli,  director, are heading for Tara. They’re checking out locations for a film for Ushuaia Nature. They followed Sebastião Salgado, the famous Brazilian photographer, who is working on the Antarctica chapter of his major project, Genesis. Each one with his own equipment and goals will come aboard Tara as an observer.

Sebastião Salgado was born in Brazil and trained as an economist. Until this project, his work focused on human adversities: famine, exodus and wars. His major reportages, the result of many years of documentation and travel, always had a social character. He has collaborated with the world’s major aid agencies (UNICEF, UNHCR, WHO).

After traveling the world reporting on human conditions, Salgado knows how closely man’s suffering is linked to the environment. Is human suffering the result of environmental degradation, or is it the cause? Everywhere he saw how nature too is suffering.

Horrified to see “the world, its people and natural resources at risk,” Sebastião and Lélia Wanick Salgado decided to do something for the environment. With their own resources, they directed a vast reforestation program in their native Brazil, planting more than 740,000 trees. Sebastião’s latest major photographic work is a homage to nature.  At 61, he changed his perspective, but emphasizes that his “projects are all interrelated, like the different chapters of one story.” With Genesis, he wants to put us back in touch with nature, bring us closer to our roots, and remind us that we are part of a whole, a unique planet where ecosystems are interdependent. “Our relationship with nature, and with ourselves, has been cut off. As the most evolved species, humanity has a particular relationship with nature – domination. But humanity is nonetheless part of the whole.”

Genesis is not a simple look at untouched parts of the globe. It’s a kind of anthropological journey back to our origins to explore the remains of the earliest human settlements, the so-called “primitive” tribes; the animals that have resisted domestication; the elements that created life. Sebastião Salgado has imagined four parts to this journey: There is no present without the past. The future evolves from the present. There is still time to intervene to save what can be saved. The last chapter, entitled “The world before man,” recounts the birth of life. Sebastião Salgado traveled to Antarctica with his equipment after extensive preliminary research. “I want anyone visiting one of my exhibitions to come out feeling differently. I am convinced that every individual can be a great help, not by donations of material goods but by participating and feeling really concerned,” he said.

Black and white photographs rather than video, on paper, or on the walls rather than on the web. Basically, the means don’t matter, because the goal is the same. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) supports Genesis, and it also supports Tara. The schooner became a mobile studio for a month, ready to transport the photographer and let him linger wherever he wanted. The crew freed him of all concerns so he could immerse himself totally in his work.

Cape Horn, Diego Ramirez Archipelago, Marguerite Bay, Weddell Sea, Deception Island… Sebastião Salgado, mesmerized, barely slept! Insatiable, tireless, fascinated – he spent almost all his time on deck, when not at the top of the mast, watching, absorbing, and finally sensing the right time to “shoot.” Sometimes he was so enveloped in bitter cold that he no longer felt the cameras around his neck.

“The trap here is the light, which is beautiful and long lasting,” he explains. “A sunset lasts for at least five or six hours. So you work all the time. I worked much more than usual. A month here is like two months anywhere else.” The crew was captivated by his enthusiasm. Fantin, Tara’s first mate, was astounded: “It’s amazing to see how someone can be inspired. On land, when we were helping him carry his gear, he always wanted to go further, walking and climbing on glaciers. He could remain for six hours near a penguin rookery, motionless behind his viewfinder. He never had cold feet, but I was freezing! He has very high expectations and enormous conviction; he is literally fascinating.”

“Over there I’ll definitely find what I came here for,” he explains, asking the captain to enter an unknown bay. He wants to melt into the eternal landscape and be overwhelmed by emotion. This attitude makes the difference between a “beautiful photo,” and those of Sebastião Salgado, which provoke reflection. To achieve this goal, he needed this happy mixture of freedom, time, and action. Tara helped create this alliance. “Thanks to the boat’s  agile movement around the ice-floes, her shallow draft that lets us get very close to the coast, and her cockpit with excellent visibility, we were able to comply with all of Sebastião’s requirements,” says a teammate.

Sebastião Salgado assures us that he’s never seen anything so beautiful, so magnificent: “The atmosphere is so translucent that you can’t imagine the distances. It takes a long trip to reach a glacier that we thought was just next door.”

On the return trip through Drake’s Passage, in heavy seas, when Catherine Chabaud interviewed Salgado, he didn’t hide his feelings. “I was disgusted by the number of tourist boats and the number of bases which look suspicious. When you talk with the officials you meet, you understand that their presence is hardly scientific, but nationalistic, and even military. I ask myself what will happen if oil or something else is found in the region? I think we should create an Antarctica environmental defense agency under the auspices of the United Nations and develop a global movement to minimize human and tourist presence.”

At his side, in the same way they learned to “listen better” in contact with deaf people, Tara’s crew learned to “observe better.”  “With such enthusiasm, Sebastião Salgado will make a difference in the world,” says Fantin. “In any case, he’s already had a very big influence on me. I decided to change my car for a more ecological one, to use it less, and ride my bicycle as much as possible.”  Yes, we can change things, if we can change people.

Written by Françoise Franco – excerpt from the book “Tara, un voilier pour la planète” Editions Guérin, 2005