Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Kuwait: A Desert on Fire, by Sebastião Salgado

Hundreds of oil wells (between 605 and 732 were reported) had been sabotaged and set alight by the Iraqi army near the end of its occupation of Kuwait between early August 1990 and late February 1991. "It felt as if the end were nigh. With the sun obliterated by dark smoke, a Dantean landscape stretched as far as the eye could see. The horizon itself was marked by torches of fire where burning oil leapt from the lifeless desert. And all around, thick pillars of crude oil spewed into the sky before falling back to earth to form treacly black lakes that, without warning, could become gigantic infernos", writes Sebastião Salgado in his introduction. He also mentions what can't be seen or imagined when we allow these forceful photographs to sink in, "the noise, a deafening roar that only grew louder as I came closer to the source of this cataclysm", the sabotaged and now burning oil wells.
Photograph: Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas/Taschen

One day, near the Greater Burgan oil field in the Ahmadi district, Salgado came across what had once been a royal menagerie where he found one large bird covered in oil and where he also saw this once powerful stallion reduced to a sad skeletal figure in search of grass to eat.
Photograph: Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas/Taschen

The workers's task was not only hard and difficult but also very risky – "the metal tools they were using on iron wellheads could produce a spark that would relight the fires." Moreover, there were the toxic fumes. the slippery ground, the smoke and the oil lakes built to receive spilled oil that could easily ignite; one also had to be wary of land mines and unexploded cluster bombs.
Photograph: Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas/Taschen

Photographs are essentially documents that show us how things once looked. So why is this book published twenty-five years after the drama it portrays? When Salgado studied his archives, he realised that many of these photos had never been published. "But, more important, I felt the images had a timeless quality; they were taken in 1991, but they could be taken today or tomorrow if a similar disaster occurred."

Salgado dedicated this book "to the few hundred fearless men from a handful of nations who brought courage and talent and risked their lives and limbs to halt one of the worst environmental catastrophes in recent memory. for me, they were the true heroes of the First Gulf War."

Sebastião Salgado
A Desert on Fire / Eine Wüste in Flammen / Un Désert en Feu
Taschen, Cologne 2016

No comments: