Salgado: Snapshots from the Desert in Flames

"It was like facing the end of the world, a world permeated by black and death". That’s how Sebastião Salgado described the most shocking environmental catastrophe of the last years of the XX Century. It was 1991 when Iraqi soldiers set 600 oil wells ablaze to impede the advance of the coalition forces guided by the U.S.A. in Kuwait. Incredulous and dismayed, Salgado was the first to grasp the proportions of the disaster and capture the apocalyptic scene on film. Among toxic fumes and heat that melted objects, the Brazilian photographer rendered a powerful and objective reportage. In his unmistakable black and white photos, enormous columns of smoke and fire rise to the heavens. The dark tide of petrol swallowed the desert, covering landscapes, humans and animals. Firefighters worked desperately to limit the damage, taking on the danger and dizziness it provoked. Published in The New York Times Magazine, the series won the Oskar Barnack Award for best photography on the relationship between humanity and nature. 25 years later, Salgado has returned to the work, enriching it with unpublished photos. Because "such an enormous unnatural disaster" serves as a warning for the present and the future.
Francesca Grego - © 2017 for Bulgari Hotel Milano