Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Sebastiao Salgado

Oh, the news, the news, the news. It's hard to watch and harder to understand what the hell is going on, no? It's all so — puny. Pathetic. Lame. It makes one yearn for a Jonathan Swift to pen a satire. My inclination is to condescend, and who will be helped by that?

I think instead I'll tell you about last night. Last night I went to Santa Monica and met my Oldest Friend Moye for an evening with philosopher Pico Iyer and photographer Sebastiao Salgado. They were in conversation, sitting slanted toward one another in two big, easy chairs. Salgado came out first and introduced a slideshow of photos from his project called Genesis. The word slideshow is actually not an apt descriptor of what we experienced on the huge screen in the theater. While glorious music swelled and faded and then swelled again, we gazed on, literally, the wonders of the planet. This planet. Animals, both beast and human, landscapes and water and clouds and birds oh the birds. After a few minutes, I felt as if my back was pinned to the seat behind me, sort of like the amusement park ride called drunken barrel, where the centrifugal force and power allows you to stay suspended, the floor drops your jaw drops and everything, everything is spinning but you're absolutely still in wonder. Yes. That's what it was like.

Afterward, Pico and Sebastiao chatted and chuckled in their easy chairs, and we listened, rapt. Pico is a slight man with a quiet voice — he was exactly like I imagined he would be. Gentle. Quiet stillness. Salgado's accent is very thick, and I strained at times to understand what he was saying. When you strain like that, you can't stop straining because if you do, you miss everything. Do you know what I mean? He speaks with passion and humor and seriousness about the planet, about our need to go back to the planet, about our relationship to all living things, about healing the planet. He speaks of the dignity of all men and women. He shows us this dignity. He and his wife have planted over 2 million trees on his land in Brazil that was decimated by deforestation. Once a paradise and then a scene of barren degradation, his family home is nearly fully restored, a paradise again. We can all do this, he says. We can do this.

I felt exhausted at the end and exhilarated.

How can we pay attention to these pathetic, lame and puny excuses for human beings that are clogging our consciousness when so much work and beauty is out there to do and behold? Let's not. Let's heed Salgado. Let's go back to the planet.


  1. What a beautiful experience, Elizabeth! Reading your words I too felt as if my back was pinned to the seat - let's go back to the planet, let's choose the right path!

  2. What a terrific message. I went to an exhibit of Salgado's Genesis project and we have the book here in the library, so I know exactly what you mean about its power.

  3. "When it all comes down, you've got to get back to Mother Earth"
    ~ Memphis Slim

  4. Every day. Every day going back to the planet is what saves ME. It works both ways, doesn't it?

  5. what a breathtaking account of your time with these men. we see them Friday night in San Francisco. We've been long time fans of his photojournalism, and admirers of his restoration of the family ranch.

  6. That sounds like such an enlightening and encouraging lecture, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing it with us. I wanted to go here in SF, but it is sold out. x0 N2



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