In January and February 1991, as the United States–led coalition drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein’s troops retaliated with an inferno. As the desperate efforts to contain and extinguish the conflagration progressed, Sebastião Salgado traveled to Kuwait to witness the crisis firsthand.
At some 700 oil wells and an unspecified number of oil-filled low-lying areas, they ignited vast, raging fires, creating one of the worst environmental disasters in living memory.
The conditions were excruciating. The heat was so vicious that Salgado’s 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 danger, stench, pollution, and temperatures to capture the ravaged landscape – the remains of camels, the sand littered with cluster bombs, the flames and smoke blocking out the sunlight and dwarfing the oil-soaked firefighters.
The monochrome pictures first appeared in The New York Times Magazine in June 1991 and were subsequently hailed as one of the photographer’s most captivating – and courageous – bodies of work.
The series was awarded the Oskar Barnack Award, recognising outstanding photography on the relationship between man and the environment.
In a grand-scale reproduction, Taschen has published a new photobook with more than 80 images.
The result is at once a remarkable encounter with one of Salgado’s landmark series and a major document of global geo-political history and environmental awareness.
It serves to remind us, in the photographer’s own words, “that in the brutality of battle another such apocalypse is always just around the corner”.
Collector’s Edition of 1,000 numbered copies, signed by Sebastião Salgado. Also available in a smaller-format, regular hardback edition; and an Art Edition of 100 numbered copies, each with a signed silver gelatin print.