Since Paris re-opened last May, I have been lucky enough to experience many incredible museum exhibitions. That being said, without exception, I expected them to be incredible. I mean, how could an exhibition on Italian Renaissance sculpture curated by the Louvre ever disappoint? But every once in a while, an exhibition comes along that truly blows me away. This was the case when I visited Salgado Amazônia at the Philharmonie de Paris. I thought I would be in and out in under an hour, but instead, I spent nearly four hours fully taking in this extraordinary exhibition. To say that it was incredible would be the understatement of the year.
What’s amazing about all of this is that Salgado Amazônia wasn’t even on my radar of must-see exhibitions when Paris re-opened. In fact, it wasn’t on my radar at all. But a friend recommended it to me, so I decided to check it out. I knew it was a photography exhibition, which is why I thought my visit would be quick. Don’t get me wrong. I love photography as an art form. I just never seem to need as much time taking in photos as I do other mediums. Salgado Amazônia turned all of that on its head.
The exhibition features the work of Sebastião Salgado, a Brazilian photographer and photojournalist. Salgado spent seven years in the Amazon rainforest, documenting not just the landscape, but the indigenous peoples who live there. All of the photos are black and white, and they are all stunningly beautiful. In addition to the photos, the exhibition also explains the nature of the landscape and weather patterns, and how they affect life in the Amazon. In particular, many of the photos focused on the dramatic cloud patterns that usually fill the sky. Understanding these patterns can often mean the difference between life and death in the Amazon.
And yet, as much as the landscape photos were amazing, it was the photos of the indigenous peoples that truly left me spellbound. The photos were all beautiful, but also respectful, and not in any way exploitative. It was clear that there was a trust between photographer and subject. And because of this, these photos were an extraordinary window into a world and cultures that are completely foreign to me. I spent hours reading about the histories, traditions, and social structures of the different indigenous tribes, and I could have easily read for hours more.
However, what truly blew me away was how much I could relate to them. The people in these photos live a life that is so different from mine it’s almost comical. And yet there was so much that was the same. There were photos of grandparents lovingly cradling their grandchildren in their laps. There were photos of friends hanging out and laughing together. Group gatherings and family meals. It was extraordinary to me how Salgado managed to capture on film a completely different world, while at the same time illuminating the universal human experience.
Salgado Amazônia is running until October 31st at the Philharmonie de Paris in the Parc de la Villette. If you find yourself in Paris between now and then, I can’t recommend this exhibition enough. When I finally emerged, a full three hours later than I had intended, I was on a museum high so strong it carried me through the rest of the week. I don’t know if your reaction will be quite as strong as mine, but it will still be an experience you won’t soon forget.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.