This October 2014 I visited fantastic exhibition in Beetles+Huxley Gallery, London. There were presented amazing and breathe taking Sebastiao Salgado’s photographs from every part of his forty years long career, celebrating his extraordinary contribution to the medium. Brazilan photojournalist is one of today’s most important photographers. There were exhibit works from his famous series Workers, Terra, Migrations, Sahel: The End of the Road, and Genesis, the exhibition positions Salgado as the world’s preeminent photographer of humanity and its struggle to survive against a raw and powerful mother nature.
Salgado was born on February 8, 1944, in Brazil, where he grew up and finished college where he studied economy. He met there Leila, which married after college. As a student he fights against dictatorship in Brazil. The situation became very complicated that he had to leave his country and went to France, where continued study in economics at the University of Paris. Then he moved to London to work as an economist for the International Coffee Organization and doing missions to Africa. He brought Leila’s camera with him, which she bought to take pictures of architecture, because she was study architecture in Paris. And then he started his photography. The photography gave him 10 times more pleasure than economics reports that he was written in projects. In 1973 he took decision to abandoned carrier of economics and became a photographer and go back to Paris.
He started to work in news for agency Gamma, which was a real school of photography for him. He never studied photography before, he learnt everything by himself. But study economy gave him basis of analysis of situation and good understanding of reality that he lived in. He worked also for Sygma and Magnum Photos until ‘94, travelling the world to document news events. His work appeared in newspapers and magazines in numerous countries. In 1994 he founded his own agency Amazonas Images. Salgado’s photography has often focused on the effects of hardship, poverty and oppression on people of various cultures, and with the effects of industrialization on the natural landscape. Inspired by the photojournalism of Lewis Hine, W. Eugene Smith and Walker Evans, Salgado has tackled subjects like famine, poverty and social inequality in black-and-white photos that are unsparing yet often beautiful.
In 1977-1985, Salgado began to photograph the rural peasants of Latin America; this series was published in 1986 as his first book, Other Americas in US, France and Spain. Sebastião Salgado made several trips to Latin America, travelling to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Guatemala and Mexico, through the indescribable mysticism of the Brazilian sertão, with its leather-clad men and their ferocious fight for survival in the lands so arid, so poor, and so much the spiritual refuge of a whole country.
The seven years spent making these images were like a trip seven centuries back in time to observe, at a slow, utterly sluggish pace – which marks the passage of time in these regions – the flow of different cultures, so similar in their beliefs, losses and sufferings.
In 1984 Sebastião Salgado began what would be a fifteen-month project of photographing the drought-stricken Sahel region of Africa in the countries of Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, and Sudan, where approximately one million people died from extreme malnutrition and related causes. Working with the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, Salgado documented the enormous suffering and the great dignity of the refugees. This early work became a template for his future photographic projects about other afflicted people around the world. Since then, Salgado has again and again sought to give visual voice to those millions of human beings who, because of military conflict, poverty, famine, overpopulation, pestilence, environmental degradation, and other forms of catastrophe, teeter on the edge of survival. . He published two books of these photographs, titled Sahel: Man in Distress and Sahel: The End of the Road, and donated proceeds from the sales to Doctors Without Borders.
From 1986 to ’92, Salgado traveled to 23 countries to visit manual labourers 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.
He shared about his projects Workers and Migrations and how his understanding and connection to each subject came with time and through his life experiences. Workers had its roots in Salgado’s background in economics, his understanding of economic models and his deep respect for the working class. Salgado and his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, immigrated to France in 1969 because they were forbidden to return to their home country of Brazil because of Salgado’s involvement fighting against the military dictatorship. This experience of exile was the seed for his Migrations project. “These are the stories that are a big slice of my life, of my beliefs, of my ideology, of my ethics,” he said.
His seriesMigrations, begun in 1993 and published as a book in 2000, focused on large groups of people who have immigrated or relocated under duress, especially from rural areas to cities.By 1999, Salgado was also completing Migrations, a six-year photographic chronicle of the human flood tides set loose around the world by wars, famines or just people searching for work. The project took him to refugee camps and war zones and left him wrung out physically and emotionally. “I had seen so much brutality. I didn’t trust anymore in anything,” he says. “I didn’t trust in the survival of our species.”
The Genesis project grew out of two dilemmas in Salgado’s personal life. In the late 1990s, his father gave him and his wife Lélia the Brazilian cattle ranch where Salgado, spent his childhood. He remembers the place in those days as “a complete paradise, more than 50% of it covered with rain forest,” he told Time on the phone from his home in Paris. “We had incredible birds, jaguars, crocodiles.” But after decades of deforestation, the property had become an ecological disaster: “Not only my farm, the entire region. Erosion, no water—it was a dead land.”
So as a kind of dual restoration project—for himself and his Brazilian paradise lost—Salgado and his wife began reforesting his family property. There are now more than 2 million new trees there. Birds and other wildlife have returned in such numbers that the land has become a designated nature reserve. As his personal world regenerated, Salgado got an idea: For his next project, why not travel to unspoiled locales—places that double as environmental memory banks, holding recollections of earth’s primordial glories? His purpose, Salgado decided, “would not be to photograph what is destroyed but what is still pristine, to show what we must hold and protect.” He likes to quote a hopeful statistic: “45% of our planet is still what it was at the beginning.”
As part of the Genesis project, Salgado has made 32 trips since 2004, visiting the Kalahari Desert, the jungles of Indonesia and biodiversity hot spots such as the Galápagos Islands and Madagascar. He hovered in balloons over herds of water buffalo in Africa (“If you come in planes or helicopters you scatter them”). He travelled across Siberia with the nomadic Nenets, people who move their reindeer hundreds of miles each year to seasonal pasture. “I learned from them the concept of the essential,” he says. “If you give them something they can’t carry, they won’t accept it.”
Travelling to the Antarctic and nearby regions, Salgado found vast flocks of giant albatrosses off the Falkland Islands and “the paradise of the penguins” on the South Sandwich Islands. “Islands at the end of the world,” Salgado calls them. “Or as we say in Brazil, ‘where the wind goes to come back.’” And where Salgado went too and came back with glimpses of paradise in peril—but not lost, not yet.
Salgado has travelled in over 100 countries for his photographic projects. Most of these, besides appearing in numerous press publications, have also been presented in books such as Other Americas (1986),Sahel: l’homme en détresse (1986), Sahel: el fin del camino (1988), Workers (1993), Terra (1997), Migrations and Portraits (2000), and Africa (2007). Touring exhibitions of this work have been, and continue to be, presented throughout the world.
Sebastião Salgado has been awarded numerous major photographic prizes in recognition of his accomplishments. He is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and an honorary member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences in the United States.
Salgado through his photography tell us stories by using language which everyone knows, a language of photography. He have done large projects like Workers, Migrants or Genesis because he saw how the world is changing, something was disappearing and new replaced it. He wanted capture that moment. He loved nature and wanted to be close to it, discover this fascinating world.
Before he start project, he prepare himself by using tools like anthropology, sociology, economics, politics because he situated himself inside the society that he live in, to become a real language of society.
Epic, awe-inspiring, moving and important: Sebastião Salgado’s photographs are revered by public and critics the world over.