Sebastião Salgado


photograph of Sebastiao Selgado by Kevin Scanion for the New York Times

For my photojournalism class, we have to do a ‘book report’ on a famous contemporary photographer. I am researching Sebastião Salgado, a Brazilian photographer. I wasn’t expecting the research to be that interesting, but as it turns out Salgado is one fascinating guy. He originally studied economics (he had a Masters in it and was working towards his PhD) before deciding to become a photographer. He quickly rose to prominence joining such photography agencies as Gamma and Magnum (these are big-time agencies for those of you who don’t know much about photography).

His photography is often referred to as “social justice” or “humanist” photography. While he was still on track to become an economist, he worked for the International Coffee Organization and traveled extensively in Africa where he saw the effects of poverty. Also, being from Brazil, he already knew a bit about what life is like in a lesser developed country. He is the sole member of Amazonas Images, an agency he created with his wife in 1992. Some of his most famous photographs documented the plight of Brazilian gold mine workers (see above). He has also taken numerous photographs of displaced and poverty-stricken peoples. However Salgado once said,

“I have no claim to be a social photographer. People stuck that label on me, but I do a lot of commercial work like everyone else. I am not a political militant, I’m a photographer and that’s all. I am from a poor country and I have spent a lot of time working in poor countries. I don’t photograph them to make the rich feel guilty. I photograph them because it’s my life, it’s what I like doing.”

He mostly works on long-term self assignments, though occasionally he will shoot commercial images. This brings me to my next point (and the reason I am writing about a photographer on a blog focused on green chemistry and sustainability).

His current project, called Genesis, is a massive eight-year photographic journey to the parts of the world Selgado calls “pristine.” Selgado began the project in 2004 with the intention of photographing areas of the world still untouched by man. He is also photographing hidden cultures, such as the Zo’e in Brazil (a fascinating set of videos about his time with the Zo’e is available on his site). So far he has traveled to places like the Galapagos Islands, Patagonia, and the Okavango Delta in Botswana. According to this article from the New York Times, “he spent two months in Ethiopia, hiking some 500 miles (with 18 pack donkeys and their owners) from Lalibela into Simien National Park to shoot the mountains, indigenous tribes and rare species like a very hairy baboon known as the Gelada.”

By the end of his project, he hopes to create 32 visual essays. They should be available by 2012. He hopes to show them not only in museums, but in public parks as well. Genesis is a fascinating, ambitious project, and I am really looking forward to seeing what Salgado comes up with. Hopefully, I will be able to make it to an exhibit. Some of his photographs from the project are on his website, and they look stunning (see the gallery above).

It is clear that Salgado is dedicated to raising awareness about the environment, but he as he once said,

“I’m 100 percent sure that alone my photographs would not do anything. But as part of a larger movement, I hope to make a difference. It isn’t true that the planet is lost. We must work hard to preserve it.”

And work hard he does. Not only with the Genesis project, but with other ventures as well. In addition to being a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Salgado operates an environmental institute called the Instituto Terra which is dedicated to environmental education, reforestation, and conservation. The Instituto was founded when Salgado and his wife bought back the land he grew up on in Brazil (which had been severely deforested to make way for sugarcane). To date, the Instituto Terra has planted over one million trees.

So, if you ever have time, or are bored and want to look at some incredible pictures with important social and environmental messages, I highly suggest you Google Sebastião Salgado. You won’t be disappointed.


One response to “Sebastião Salgado

  1. Thanks for this article. I was introduced to Sebastião by the book “On Being a Photographer” by David Hurn (also with Magnum) and Bill Jay. David referenced Sebastião many times, I decided to start looking for his images. Glad I came across your article. Best of luck in your career.

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