When the Iraqi Army retreated across the Kuwaiti desert in early 1991, after being repelled by U.S.-led coalition forces in Operation Desert Storm, Saddam Hussein and his soldiers took the military strategy of “scorched earth,” and set aflame about 700 oil wells, igniting persistent fires across Kuwait, and creating one of the worst environmental disasters in recent history.
When Sebastião Salgado traveled to the Middle East to document the grueling fire-fight, he quickly realized just how dangerous and brutal the world was that he had stepped into – a quagmire of health hazards, the air choked with soot, searing heat from the flames and desert sun, and cluster bombs littering the sand. The heat was so vicious that his smallest lens warped. A journalist and another photographer were killed when a slick ignited as they crossed it.
Sticking close to the firefighters, Salgado braved the intense danger, stench, pollution, and scorching temperatures to capture the ravaged landscape; the air choking on charred sand and soot; the blistered remains of camels; the sand littered with cluster bombs; the flames and smoke soaring to the skies, blocking out the sunlight, dwarfing the oil-soaked firefighters.
The pictures first appeared in The New York Times Magazine in June 1991 and were subsequently hailed as one of the photographer’s most captivating bodies of work.
Robert Klein Gallery
38 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116 USA
September 05, 2017 to November 29, 2017