By Arianna Lim
Five years ago, 60-year-old photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado was fighting his way toward the Arctic Circle. Traveling with north Siberia’s nomadic Nenets and their relentless pack of reindeer, he was enduring unforgiving winds and fierce temperatures as low as -35 degrees Celsius. It was the tail end of an eight-year adventure that had already taken him from the Kalahari Desert of Africa to the prairies of Patagonia and numerous places besides. His aim, which he has since called his “love letter to the planet,” was to capture the parts and peoples of Earth that have managed to elude the insistent and often invasive presence of the modern world.
The exhibit, entitled The World We Live In: Through the Lens of Contemporary Photography, is a showcase of some of the career-defining work of five iconic photographers: Salgado, Annie Leibovitz, Steve McCurry, Robert Polidori, and Edward Burtynsky. Presented in collaboration with New York’s Sundaram Tagore Gallery and Collective 88, the exhibition launched in February and will run until March 27.
Similar to Salgado in a journalistic sense is Magnum photographer Steve McCurry, whose vivid color images have investigated vanishing cultures, conflicts, and ancient traditions across six continents. His storied career was first propelled by what may now be contemporary photography’s most recognizable portrait: “Afghan Girl.” The striking image is the result of McCurry being smuggled from Pakistan to Afghanistan by the latter’s refugees in 1984, as well as a snapshot from the photoset that became the West’s first look at the Afghan conflict.
Annie Leibovitz, on the other hand, has made her name capturing evocative, complex images of many of today’s most celebrated and powerful personalities. Throughout a prolific four-decade career, she has produced some of the most significant magazine covers, among them Demi Moore, naked and pregnant, and more recently, the reveal of Caitlyn Jenner.
In sharp contrast Edward Burtynsky explores “manufactured landscapes”—an eloquent phrase for the massive scale of environmental degradation that man has undertaken. From the dams of China to the oil fields of California, his works are as fascinating and beautiful as they are horrifying—offering an important appraisal of what we call progress.
Robert Polidori follows a similar train of thought in a different style. Using color film, his body of work is built on poignant images of building exteriors and interiors to examine the physiological implications of human habitat. His most notable projects include the aftermath of Chernobyl and New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Their styles and subjects vary extensively, but in their attempt to craft visual narratives of contemporary culture, these five highly acclaimed photographers share a truly global perspective.