A glacier lording over the ocean, its icy parapets melding with the clouds; an island so small that it can hold no more than a few dozen trees; an elephant framed by sunlight in the brush; a penguin leaping into the ocean from an icy ledge.

These are just a few of hundreds of images of life as it might have existed thousands of years ago, images that were captured through the lens of Sebastião Salgado, the Brazilian photojournalist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. The images are on display in a video of the work that is being released to mark next month’s Climate Change Summit as well as in an exhibit.

“I believe that climate change is the most important issue facing mankind today,” said Salgado, who spent eight years tracking down and shooting the images.

Climate change is the most important issue facing mankind – renowned photographer Salgado #climate2014


In addition to the video, 245 of his black-and-white photographs are to be exhibited a few blocks away from the world body from 19 September to 11 January at the International Center of Photography, in Midtown.

Though Salgado is aware that many of the images may soon exist only in photographs, he is optimistic that public action will not let that happen. “If you do a cross-section today, and one cross-section of 20 years ago, we see that our concern with environment is much bigger now,” the 70-year-old photographer said last month in an interview with the center, which distilled the exhibit and his thoughts into the 3-minute video.

Both the exhibit and a book containing the pictures are called Genesis. “It’s a powerful name that really means the beginning” and refers to the fact that nearly half of the planet remains “exactly as the day of the beginning,” Salgado said.

To get the shots, he trekked to 33 locations – many of them in remote regions — from 2005 until last year. The stops included Antarctica, Patagonia, the South Sandwich Islands, South Georgia, the Brazilian and Venezuelan Amazon, Siberia, Canada, Alaska.

“The pictures of the exhibition Genesis, the book Genesis, is a sample of what is pristine on the planet,” he said.

“This is a call to arms to protect,” said Pauline Vermare, the International Center of Photography’s assistant curator, special projects and international outreach about the exhibit, Salgado’s sixth at the center. “He’s one of the most important photographers living today, one of the greatest of the century,” she said.

The Salgados’ supporters include UNESCO’s World Heritage Center, Taschen Books, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, the Anne Fontaine Foundation and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.