Sebastião Salgado Master of silent drama

  • Born February 8, 1944 in Aimorés, Brazil.
  • Grew up on a farm with his parents and 7 sisters.
  • Married Lélia Wanick Salgado, an architect and urban planner, in 1967.
  • Studied economics at São Paulo University in Brazil, earning him a master’s degree in 1968.
  • While working for the Ministry of Finance he joined the movement against Brazil’s military government, which gained him the reputation of a political radical. He was exiled in 1969 and he and Lélia fled to France.

“We were migrants and we settled in a world of migrants. We worked a lot at that time with Brazilians who arrived in France after having been tortured. Today we don’t talk very much about this period, but it was brutal."

  • In 1971, while on a work trip to Rwanda for the International Coffee Org., he discovered photography and in 1973 he officially became a freelance photojournalist.
  • Joined Sygma agency in 1974.
  • Joined Gamma agency from 1975-79.
  • In 1979 he joined Magnum Photos, which he stayed with until 1994 when he and Lélia formed Amazonas Images, an agency created exclusively for his work.
  • Co-founded Instituto Terra with Lélia in 1998, an environmental center in Brazil dedicated to teaching about and re-seeding the Amazon Forest; their efforts have replanted more than 2 million trees.

Awards & Accolades

  • W. Eugene Smith Award in 1982 for his essay and series on the Ethiopian Famine.
  • Oskar Barnack Award in 1985, which recognizes photography expressing the relationship between man and the environment
  • Named Photographic journalist of the Year by the International Center of Photography in 1986.
  • Hasselblad Award in 1989, which is to recognize a photographer who has achieved major achievements.
  • Awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 1993.
  • Appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2001.
  • Named an honorary member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences in the United States.

Question #1:

Does allowing a camera crew to follow him around while shooting make his intentions any less genuine?

La Courneuve, France, 1978

Salgado's first personal photo-reportage was a project on a massive housing project in La Courneuve, a poor suburb and Communist Party stronghold on the northern outskirts of Paris.

John Hinckley Jr. attempting to assassinate President Ronald Reagan outside of a Washington DC hotel in 1981.

Other Americas, 1977-86

This was Salgado's first book, which represented the people of Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Guatemala. It includes weddings, funerals and scenes of everyday life.

The Saraguro, an indigenous people of southern Ecuador, lived ‘in another rhythm of time: everything was so slow, another way of thinking, another speed’, who were ‘very religious’ but also ‘great drinkers’.

Question #2:

Does Salgado risk creating a bias, singular view of other parts of the world with his images? Similar to the concept of Orientalism.

Sahel: Man in Distress and Sahel: The End of the Road 1984-85

In 1984 and 1985 this part of Africa underwent a drought of catastrophic magnitude, never known before. War was on in several regions, in Chad, in Ethiopia, and, because of the drought or using this natural phenomenon, war amplified the exodus and pushed the populations out of the villages in which they could have hoped to survive. Salgado worked on these two projects with the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders to document the effects of famine in Africa. The proceeds from the two books were donated to DWB.

Workers, 1986-92

From 1986 to '92, Salgado traveled to 23 countries to visit manual laborers in large-scale industrial and agricultural sites, including oil fields and commercial fisheries. This led to his 1993 book Workers, which revealed the humanity of these individuals even as they toiled under harsh conditions.

Kuwait oil fields

Sicilian fisherman

The Serra Pelada mine

Exodus (Migrations), 1993-00

Salgado spent six years with migrant peoples, visiting more than 35 countries to document displacement on the road, in camps, and in overcrowded city slums where new arrivals often end up. The faces he meets present dignity and compassion in the most bitter of circumstances, but also the many ravaged marks of violence, hatred, and greed.

In 1995, Salgado fell ill due to the crushing despair he felt after years of photographing famine, war and genocide in Africa and Europe and witnessing atrocious scenes in Rwanda and the Congo that left him shaken to the core.

"I did not believe in anything. I did not believe in the salvation of the human race. I had seen so much brutality. I didn’t trust any more in anything. I just felt that we humans are terrible animals."

Innocence on the Run

In this series, Salgado presents 90 portraits of the youngest exiles, migrants, and refugees. His subjects are from different countries, victims to different crises, but they are all on the move, and all under the age of 15. Through his extensive refugee project, what struck Salgado about these boys and girls was not only the implicit innocence in their suffering but also their radiant reserves of energy and enthusiasm, even in the most miserable of circumstances.

Genesis, 2004-13

Genesis is about the planet, nature and its beauty, and what remains of it today despite the manifold destruction caused by human activity.

"So many times I've photographed stories that show the degradation of the planet. I had one idea to go and photograph the factories that were polluting, and to see all the deposits of garbage. But, in the end, I thought the only way to give us an incentive, to bring hope, is to show the pictures of the pristine planet - to see the innocence."

Question #3:

Do you think Salgado's humble upbringing on a farm in Brazil has any affect on his project choices?

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