Sebastião Salgado has dedicated seven years to photographing the great green lung of the planet. A paradise without disease, “only malaria, which the Italian Salesians brought from Africa and which has been the greatest religious contribution to the area”, ironically the Brazilian photographer, and without repression: “It has incredible spaces to live, to walk, to circular, there are no conflicts. And religions are relative, there are groups that believe in leaders and others do not have them, there is freedom, tranquility. Once, photographing a group in which there were children who were jumping, I asked a girl who worked with me, a linguist, who knew the language of that town of 400 people, to ask the children's mother if she could calm them down, and He answered me: 'Sebastião, they have no repression, she doesn't know how to say no to her children, everyone does what they want around here.' And it's fantastic." A paradise threatened by the years of Jair Bolsonaro – there were days, he says, with 90,000 fire points in the jungle – in which Lula is now trying to restore order.
A world that Salgado (Aimorés, Minas Gerais, 1944) has portrayed even at the cost of a sharp fall on the Pico de la Neblina, the highest in Brazil – three thousand meters high and which is within the Amazon region –, where he suffered an accident that led to two operations. And the result of so many years of work is the great exhibition Amazônia, which seeks to convey the enormous beauty of the region and the importance of preserving both the forest and the lives of its inhabitants. With more than 200 photographs, most of them large format, plus seven films and sound settings by Jean-Michel Jarre based on Amazonian sounds from the Ethnographic Museum of Geneva. An exhibition that has already toured Paris, London and São Paulo, with more than 1.5 million visits, and which, after Madrid – until January 14 – will be seen next year at the Maritime Museum of Barcelona.
Salgado, despite everything, is optimistic: “Bolsonaro has been very bad and very good for the Amazon. Very bad because he destroyed the institutions of protection of the Amazon. On the one hand, the National Indigenous Foundation (Funai), which controls indigenous territories. Brazil is the only country on the planet that has protected its forests and indigenous communities by the Constitution. You cannot enter indigenous territory without authorization from Funai and the indigenous people themselves. Normally it was directed by a great anthropologist, a great sociologist, who knew the issue; "He has brought in a police delegate and has dismantled the checkpoints at the junctions of the rivers so that they could enter."
The other institution, says Salgado, that he has destroyed, is the Brazilian Institute of the Environment, "which had satellites, planes with radars, and identified a fire in the forest. Bolsonaro withdrew all that and, thus, the farms burned the areas they They devastated to grow. But the space is immense, possibly in his stage he has destroyed 0.3%, we have gone from 17.2% of destroyed jungle to 17.5%. Lula has reestablished the institutions, but it will take time to go back. “There were 22,000 gold exploiters in Yanomami space alone.”
But, Salgado concludes, “the positive side of Bolsonaro's presidency is that until he came to power, no Brazilian from the south had any concern for the Amazon and indigenous communities. With him, they have seen that their destruction is a possibility.”