Sebastião Salgado's photos inaugurate the David Brower Center gallery.

Ironic levity may have been our default mode until fairly recently, but respectful gratitude is what we owe the great environmentalist David Brower of the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, League of Conservation Voters, and Earth Island Institute, and now the namesake of an impressive new 50,000-square-foot eco-themed building in downtown Berkeley. Housing both office and event space, with an organic restaurant on the way, the Brower Center is a showcase for state-of-the-art green technology that includes photovoltaic panels, radiant heating/cooling, a bamboo-walled theater, and real-time online energy monitoring. That's already impressive, but in addition, artwork on environmental themes ranging from biological/cultural diversity to environmental justice — Art of Advocacy — will be exhibited at the center's ground-floor Hazel Wolf Gallery. Brower was an ardent believer in visual communication, so it's fitting that the gallery's inaugural show features the renowned Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado. Then and Now, curated and designed by Lélia Wanick Salgado, features some two dozen of his dignified, sympathetic portrayals of various indigenous peoples taken from previous book projects — Other Americas (1984); Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age (1993); Migrations (2000); Sahel, the End of the Road (2004); and Africa (2007) — as well as from a current project, Genesis, which depicts the natural world before industrialization with, for example, an Antarctic iceberg, dunes in Namibia's Sand Sea, Sudanese Dinka cattle herders, São Paulo toddlers, a southern right whale off Patagonia, and a Galapagos marine iguana.

More typical of Salgado's vast oeuvre are the photographs depicting human life in the arduous Third World: Mexican farmers, Ethiopian refugees, Sudanese boys, Sicilian fishermen, Brazilian gold miners, Bolivian pewter miners, Ethiopian refugees, Brazilian Marubo Indians, Rwandan refugees, Mexican wood delivery men, Brazilian Kamayura shamans, Canadian oil-fire workers, a Guatemalan mother and daughter, a Papuan mud man, and an Indian canal worker. It's a vast catalog of humanity that is often extremely somber in tone, reflecting the subjects' hard lives, though the images are never shallow or exploitative. Salgado: "I very much like to work on long-term projects. ... There is time for the photographer and the people in front of the camera to understand each other. ... It's not the photographer who makes the picture, but the person being photographed. ... If you take a picture of a human that does not make him noble, there is no reason to take this picture." In sum, "photography ... is the collective memory of the world." Through January 31, 2010, at Brower Center (2150 Allston Way, Berkeley). BrowerCenter.org or 510-809-0900.


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