Sebastiao Salgado's Genesis project

Phil Coomes
Picture editor

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The name Sebastiao Salgado is one that is associated with long term documentary photography projects resulting in exquisite black and white photographs, lovingly crafted from the camera to the finished exhibition print.

For the past seven years he has been working on a series entitled Genesis, a collection of photographic essays that look at the landscape, wildlife and human communities that live with what he describes as their ancestral values.

A selection of pictures from the project, which is due to be completed by 2012, is now on show in the newly opened gallery in the east wing of Somerset House in Holborn. The space once inhabited by the tax office now forms a very pleasant environment and ideal gallery space for Salgado's work, glorious black and white photographs of forests bathed in that heavenly light that seems to follow Salgado on all his assignments. .

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image captionWaura Indians fishing in the Piulaga during the Kuarup, a rite to celebrate the dead.

Other pictures show some of the tribal communities he spent three months living with as they moved from camp to camp through the forest. He describes them as "living in a very pure way," and his pictures of their daily lives and ancient rituals provide a glimpse of the past that Salgado is attempting to protect.

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His photographs attempt to make us realise both what could be lost, and the fact that it has not yet all been destroyed. As he says, there is plenty to save.

"People destroy the forest not because they are bad, but because they are not informed," Salgado said. "Working closely with the people of the land is very important, to achieve equilibrium, we must fight to protect it."

As well as his photographic work for the past 20 years or so, together with his wife Lelia, he has worked to restore a small part of the rainforest in Brazil through the Instituto Terra, and he is also an ambassador for Unicef.

His epic project Workers, which was published in 1993, brought worldwide acclaim, and a few critics, yet there are few who work on such a global scale and are able to combine a photographic eye that is second to none, alongside such passion for the subject. So if you are in the area, pop along to Somerset House and see the pictures as they are meant to be seen, as prints.

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The current exhibition is a joint one with photographer Per-Anders Pettersson who travelled to Acre in north-west Brazil with the actress Gemma Arterton to highlight the work there by Sky Rainforest Rescue which is a three-year partnership between Sky and the WWF.