Sebastiao Salgado

Sebastiao Salgado

Sebastiao Salgado was born in Brazil in 1944. He studied economics at Sao Paulo University but moved to France after the military coup in Brazil in 1964. After completing an economics PhD at the Sorbonne he began working for an international coffee consortium.

Salgado purchased his first camera in 1970. His first picture was of his wife, Lelia Wanick. He then started taking photographs in Africa while visiting coffee plantations.

After leaving the international coffee consortium Salgado worked as a freelance photographer for the World Council of Churches, aid agencies and various magazines. A Marxist, Salgado claims he is a reporter rather than an artist. In one interview he commented: "It's not my intention to give people guilty consciences, just to make them think."

Books by Salgado include Other Americas (1989), Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age (1993), Terra (1997), The Children: Refugees and Migrants (2000) and Migrations: Humanity in Transition (2000).


Genesis, Sebastiao Salgado at the Natural History Museum

It is quite a coup for the Natural History Museum to have secured the world premier of Sebastiao Salgado’s Genesis. Ten years or more in the making, Genesis is an enormous collection of black and white images celebrating the landscape, wildlife and people of the wild places of the world. These wild places are predominantly the Antartic and the Southern Oceans, Amazonia, Africa, the open spaces of the Western US and Canada, and Siberia. No attempt to record such places can ever be comprehensive and Salgado makes no claims that his is. It is simply a series of beautiful places which have caught his imagination.

Sebastiao Salgado is a Brazilian photojournalist who made his name with some remarkable studies of workers in the third world. You may recall his iconic pictures of workers in an open cast gold mine using rickety ladders to ascend from and descend into what looked like hell on earth.

We live in an age of course, where he have become saturated with images of every part of the world, however remote, and familiar with extraordinarily beautiful and creative wildlife series like Planet Earth. So the bar is being raised ever higher to create images that stand out and grab the imagination.

At his best, Salgado succeeds wonderfully in creating unique images which capture the essence of place in ways that might never be bettered. Personally I was particularly struck be his images from the Southern Oceans, such as the picture of albatrosses on Jason Island shown above. These were well worth the visit to the exhibition in their own right.

But the sheer quantity of pictures in the exhibition, and the mix of landscape, wildlife and portrait photography felt to me a little overwhelming, as if Salgado wanted to show me everything. I felt that some more judicial editing would have resulted in an exhibition with greater visual impact. As you would expect from a photographer of his quality, there are of course no ‘poor pictures’ to be removed. Each of them would stand alone as great images. But our ability to absorb and internalise images has capacity and by showing us more there is a risk of us remembering less.

Taschen have produced a door-stopper of a book to go with the exhibition. It too is of a very high quality, and with a price to match. But it may be that to absorb all of the images in the exhibition the ability to browse the book at leisure over a period of days or weeks will be more effective than the exhibition. But the exhibition will cost you a lot less!


‘The Salt of the Earth’ – Sebastião Salgado Tells The Stories Behind His Most Haunting Images

For more than forty years, Sabastião Salgado has been one of the premier social documentary photographers in the world. He&rsquos worked for newspapers and magazines, photo agencies and photographers&rsquo cooperatives, and has even been a UNiCef Goodwill Ambassador. Now, Sebastião&rsquos son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, has teamed up with narrative and documentary filmmaker Wim Wenders (Buena Vista Social Club, Pina) to make a movie called The Salt of the Earth about his father&rsquos life, work, and most importantly, his photographs.

The Salt of the Earth is kind of an oral history of Sebastião Salgado, with the man himself doing all of the telling. He&rsquos prompted a bit by Juliano and Wenders, but Sebastião tells his own story, starting from his leaving of his successful job as an economist to become a photographer, going through his travels to places like Ethiopia and Kuwait to take photos of the people and landscapes, and finally ending with his restoration of a section of Brazilian rainforest and his creation of the Instituto Terra, a reforestation and conservation organization. It seems as if Sebastião has done it all, and he shares all of it with the audience in The Salt of the Earth.

At the center of the film is, of course, Sebastião Salgado&rsquos photographs. The images that he has captured over the years range from haunting to uplifting, but all are stirringly beautiful. The pictures themselves are worth a thousand words, but Sebastião adds to that total by telling the stories behind the photos, remembering minute details about each one as if he just took it yesterday. He explains not only the setting and situation behind each photograph, but relays the emotional impact that it had on him – and the toll that it took on him.

And his work did take its toll on Sebastião. After years of covering famines, wars, and disasters, he was done with it. After lamenting mankind&rsquos treatment of itself and its planet, Sebastião claimed that &ldquoeveryone should see these images to see how horrible our species is,&rdquo before retiring to his little patch of Brazilian rain forest and tirelessly working on replanting it. Unfortunately, this is the part of the story where The Salt of the Earth loses some steam. The stories behind the pictures are fascinating, and Sebastião&rsquos disembodied face ever-so-slightly superimposed over each photograph that he is discussing makes up the most interesting parts of the movie. Once he leaves his art behind, the movie just becomes all about a guy planting a forest. Luckily, there are plenty of stories and photos up to that point, but the film still leaves viewers wanting to hear more about Sebastião&rsquos experiences.

The Salt of the Earth is a gripping tribute to a father from his son, but it&rsquos also an fantastic expose of a photographer&rsquos life&rsquos work. Sebastião&rsquos energy about photography is infectious, even after he semi-gives it up, and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders have done a great job at relaying that excitement. The Salt of the Earth will make everyone want to grab a camera&hellipor at least, a coffee table book full of Sebasião Salgado&rsquos photography.


Back to Nature, in Pictures and Action

SEBASTIÃO SALGADO sounds as if he’s slightly allergic to Los Angeles. It’s not just that this celebrated Brazilian photojournalist has been sniffling since he arrived in the city, explaining: “I was born in a tropical ecosystem. I’m not used to these plants.” It’s also that he peppers his description of the city with words like strange and crazy, noting that he was mesmerized by the sight of the endless stream of automobile traffic as his plane made its descent.

The urban sprawl of Los Angeles is, in any case, a far cry from the remote, sparsely populated jungle and desert locations where he has been traveling for his epic, ecological work in progress “Genesis.” Famous for putting a human face on economic and political oppression in developing countries, Mr. Salgado is photographing the most pristine vestiges of nature he can find: pockets of the planet unspoiled by modern development. He has visited the seminomadic Zo’e tribe in the heart of the Brazilian rain forest and weathered desolate stretches of the Sahara. Next up: two months in the Brooks mountain range of Alaska on the trail of caribous and Dall sheep.

But this brand of environmentalism is costly enough to send him back to major cities for support. That’s what brought him here for a three-day whirlwind of talks, meetings and parties. One night he gave a slide show featuring new work from “Genesis” to a sold-out crowd at the Hammer Museum. The next evening he was a guest of honor at a fund-raiser at the Peter Fetterman gallery in Santa Monica, where some of his new work appears in his show “Africa,” through Sept. 30. After that it was off to San Francisco for a benefit dinner given by Marsha Williams before returning to Paris, which he considers home along with Vitória, Brazil.

It might sound like a punishing schedule, but the 65-year-old photographer says he doesn’t mind and doesn’t lose focus on work even when flocked by art collectors and celebrity backers. Sitting down at the Peter Fetterman gallery, with his image of zebras in Namibia hanging overhead, Mr. Salgado compared his time away from nature to the potentially disruptive moment when he has to change the film in his camera, when he likes to close his eyes and sing so as not to lose concentration.

“I came here for special things, but my head is there, my body is there,” he said with an intent expression and a gentle Portuguese accent. “I might be sleeping in a hotel room in Los Angeles, but in my mind I am always editing pictures.”

For “Genesis,” an eight-year project now more than half completed, he is piecing together a visual story about the effects of modern development on the environment. Yet rather than document the effects of, say, pollution or global warming directly, he is photographing natural subjects that he believes have somehow “escaped or recovered from” such changes: landscapes, seascapes, animals and indigenous tribes that represent an earlier, purer — “pristine” is a favorite word — state of nature.

In this way “Genesis” is a grand, romantic back-to-nature project, combining elements of both the literary pastoral and the sublime. Mr. Salgado also describes it as a return to childhood, as he was raised on a farm in the Rio Doce Valley of southeastern Brazil — then about 60 percent rain forest — that suffered from terrible erosion and deforestation. Years later, in 1998, he and his wife, Lélia, founded the Instituto Terra on 1,500 acres of this land to undertake an ambitious reforestation project. His wife, who also designs his books and exhibitions, is the institute’s president he is vice president and the institute’s most famous spokesman. Or, as Ian Parker wrote in The New Yorker, Mr. Salgado is more than a photojournalist, “much the way Bono is something more than a pop star.”

In short, while the Instituto Terra is the locally rooted arm of his environmental activism, “Genesis” is its globally minded, photo-driven counterpart. Since undertaking the series in 2004, he has visited some 20 different sites across 5 continents.

He began with a shoot in the Galápagos Islands that paid homage to Darwin’s studies there. (Mr. Salgado says his title, “Genesis,” is not meant to be religious.) “Darwin spent 37 to 40 days there,” he said. “I got to spend about three months there, which was fabulous.” He was thrilled to see for himself evidence of natural selection in species like the cormorant, a bird that lost its ability to fly after a history of foraging for food underwater, not by air.

Last fall 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. “I was traveling in this area in the same way people did 3,000 to 5,000 years ago,” he said.

Well, almost the same way. He did carry a satellite phone, which made him the point person for receiving news of the United States election in November. “When we found out that Obama won, everyone driving these donkeys, everyone was jumping up and down,” he said. He called Mr. Obama’s election “a victory for the planet.”

He is cautiously optimistic about his own environmental work. “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,” he said. “It isn’t true that the planet is lost. We must work hard to preserve it.”

His earlier projects were also driven by a sense of urgency. Before becoming a photographer he did doctoral work in agricultural economics at the University of Paris and served as an economist for the International Coffee Organization in London. You can see this training in the scope and complexity of his photography.

“Workers,” a seven-year project completed in 1992, featured images of laborers from 26 countries, including his acclaimed pictures of the Serra Pelada miners in Brazil. “Migrations,” a six-year project spanning some 40 countries that was completed in 1999, focused on migrants, refuges and other displaced populations that are financially and often physically vulnerable. (Both series became coffee-table books.)

A Getty Museum curator, Brett Abbott, who is including “Migrations” in his 2010 exhibition survey of narrative photojournalism, called this “epic approach” one of the Mr. Salgado’s hallmarks: “Of all the photographers I’m looking at, he’s probably taken on the biggest conceptual frameworks. He’s always looking at global problems.”

In this way “Genesis” represents less of a departure than it might at first seem. Even though he recently switched to a digital camera for large-format printing, his pictures have a consistent sensibility. He still generates contact sheets. He still likes to backlight his subjects, emphasizing — or romanticizing, his critics say — their forms. He still works in black and white. And his work still culminates in photo essays that, through a network of smaller stories, reveal something about an entire species. His fundamental subject is social systems, and now ecosystems.

His longtime gallerist, Peter Fetterman, also sees a strong through line in his career. While initially surprised by the turn to lush landscapes (“When I first saw the contact sheets, I thought maybe I was in the wrong studio, or the Ansel Adams archive”), he called Mr. Salgado’s empathy for subjects an overarching trait. “Other photojournalists go in and out for a day,” Mr. Fetterman said. “Sebastião goes and lives with his subjects for weeks before he even takes a picture.”

Mr. Salgado also emphasizes the continuities between his various projects. “There is no difference photographing a pelican or an albatross and photographing a human being,” he said. “You must pay attention to them, spend time with them, respect their territory.” Even landscapes, he said, have their own personality and reward a certain amount of patience.

His goal for “Genesis” is to produce a total of 32 visual essays, which he hopes to display in major public parks as well as at various museums starting in 2012. “It’s my dream to show the work in Central Park, not in some building but outside among the trees,” he said.

So far financial support from the project has come from gallery sales and reproduction deals with magazines like Paris Match in France and Visão in Portugal. Two Bay Area foundations — Susie Tompkins Buell’s and the Christensen Fund — have lent support. Eventually, to raise money for printing, he plans to issue a limited edition of 20 platinum photographs, a first for Mr. Salgado, who is known for rather democratically printing as many pictures as there are orders.

That’s just one of the elements that makes “Genesis” seem like a legacy project: a veteran photojournalist’s carefully planned and well-meaning contribution to his children, grandchildren and the world at large. But he said he did not think it would not be his last. While admitting that he might not attempt another 500-mile hike over the Simien Mountains, he said he had no plans to retire any time soon.

“I don’t know any photographer who stopped working because he turned 70,” he said, adding that as a breed they tend to live a long time. He mentioned Henri Cartier-Bresson, who died at the age of 95, and Manuel Álvarez Bravo, who lived until 100.

“I was in Mexico City for Álvarez Bravo’s 100th-birthday celebration,” Mr. Salgado said. “He was sick, with his feet inside a tub of hot water, but he still had his camera. So he was photographing his feet.”


Sebastião Salgado Has Seen the Forest, Now He’s Seeing the Trees

The spot Sebastião Salgado wants me to see is a few minutes up a fire road, on a ridge he used to reach on horseback. We go there by SUV. The road is red dirt and the forest is young, but already its trees tower above us, and they cast a blessed shade. The legendary photographer, now 71, gestures out the window at the broccoli-top canopy of a pau-brasil, or brazilwood, the species after which his country is named. We grind uphill past a few peroba, a valuable hardwood that had been left uncut by his father, who bought this land in the 1940s. Salgado takes note of a patch of invasive brachiaria grass that has flared up in a sunny spot. The road jogs left, and suddenly we park.

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A fence line traces the long ridge. Salgado holds open the barbed wire so I can slip under, then follows, in the process cutting his index finger, which he sticks in his mouth as we traverse the slope. We stop and take in the sweep of the land. The contrast is stark, almost too obvious. On one side of the fence, his neighbor’s ranch is a latticework of cow paths, its ankle-high grass yellowing in the sun, its steep slopes ripped by landslides because the trees are gone. The land’s condition isn’t helped by the fact that Brazil is in the throes of a megadrought, its worst in nearly a century. But on the other side, the side we came from, there is only green: replanted forest stretching as far as the eye can see.

Salgado and his wife, Lélia, call their side of the fence Instituto Terra. They don’t own the property anymore. Today it’s a federally recognized nature preserve and a nonprofit organization that raises millions of tree seedlings in its nursery, trains young ecologists and welcomes visitors to see a forest reborn. But it’s also where Salgado grew up, a 1,750-acre former farm in the state of Minas Gerais 70 miles inland from Brazil’s Atlantic coast, in the Maine-size valley of the Rio Doce, the Freshwater River. It was once remote. In the 1950s, its road to the outside world was a dirt track along the river that was muddy and impassable six months out of the year. Coffee came down from the hills via mule train. Ranchers drove cows and pigs to the slaughterhouse on horseback—a five-day ride. The Atlantic Forest, second in biodiversity only to the Amazon, with nearly as many tree species in a single acre as are found on the entire East Coast of the United States, covered half the farm and half the Rio Doce Valley.

Salgado had no camera then—he didn’t take up the craft that would make him famous until his late 20s—but he believes this landscape first taught him photography. In the afternoons in the rainy season, thunderheads piled on top of each other and sunbeams pierced dramatically through. “It is here where I learned to see the light,” he told me.

Gradually, Salgado’s father, a stern man who was by turns a pharmacist, a mule-train driver, a baker and a farmer, cut down the forest. Like farmers across Brazil, he sold the wood, burned the slash and planted African grasses to feed cattle. Over time crept a desert of cracked dirt that could barely support a single cowherd. The Atlantic Forest as a whole shrank to less than 10 percent of its original size in the Rio Doce Valley, it shrank to 4 percent. In the 1980s, the year-to-year destruction of Brazil’s forests was so severe that the whole world—newly empowered with satellite imagery—watched in horror, and the country became shorthand for a new era of global environmental decay.

Today the landscape has taken on another meaning. In the 1990s, Salgado’s parents gave the land to Sebastião and Lélia, and they began to replant it. Instituto Terra is the Salgados’ argument that ecological degradation need not be absolute. To visit the fence line at the top of the ridge—or to see aerial photos of the land taken a decade apart, one “before” and one “after”—is to understand that a kind of miracle has taken place.

(Guilbert Gates)

Salgado left the farm in 1959, when he was 15 years old, and got on a train. His destination was a boarding school in Vitória, a coastal city of about 85,000 at the end of the line. There he rented a house with a half-dozen schoolmates and took turns managing its meals and finances. He learned he was good with numbers. He met a girl, a sophisticated Vitória native named Lélia Wanick, who found the boy from the interior intriguing in part because he always wore the same clothes—a pair of khaki pants and a blue linen shirt—yet somehow kept them perfectly clean. (It turned out that Salgado’s father, ever practical, had bought two big rolls of cloth, and Salgado arrived in the city with 15 identical pairs of pants and 24 identical shirts.)

Brazil was industrializing at a breakneck pace. Factories sprang up in Vitória and in the suburbs rising around it. Ships filled the port. Sebastião and Lélia watched as rural migrants flooded the city, becoming the bottom of the new economic pyramid—the new urban poor. Together with many of their friends the couple became leftists. In the wake of Brazil’s 1964 coup, which began two decades of military dictatorship, they joined a Marxist-leaning political movement called Popular Action. They married and moved to São Paulo, where Salgado earned a master’s degree in macroeconomics, an emerging field that he hoped would help solve his country’s social ills. As the government’s repression deepened, their friends and comrades were arrested. Some were tortured. Some disappeared.

“We knew it was getting dangerous,” Lélia says. “We could feel it.”

They fled Brazil in 1969 and settled in Paris, where Salgado began a PhD program in economics. Lélia, who had watched her Vitória transformed, studied architecture and urban planning. Salgado’s dissertation was about the economics of coffee, which led to a job with the International Coffee Organization in London, setting up agricultural development projects in Central and East Africa. This led to a series of trips to the continent, including months on plantations in Rwanda, a hilly, jungle-clad country he grew to profoundly love.

It was Lélia who first bought a camera, a Pentax Spotmatic II with a 50-millimeter lens. She planned to take pictures of buildings for her architecture studies, but within days Salgado was toying with it. His first photograph was of a young Lélia sitting in a windowsill. Soon he had set up a darkroom, and the Pentax went on his every trip to Africa. One Sunday in 1973, in a rowboat with Lélia on an artificial lake in London’s Hyde Park, Salgado decided to abandon economics to try to make a living as a photographer. He had just been offered a prestigious new job with the World Bank. His father thought he was crazy. But already Salgado’s images conveyed so much more than the dull reports he was asked to write. “I realized the photos I was taking made me much happier,” he explains in From My Land to the Planet, a 2013 autobiography. He and Lélia would have to give up his salary, their beloved Triumph sports car and a nice London apartment. But she wholeheartedly agreed. This would be another adventure to embark on together. “It’s very hard to know where she ends and I begin,” he says today.

Back in Paris, they moved into a 150-square-foot apartment with no shower. Salgado went to a local magazine and knocked on the door. “‘Hello, I’m a young photographer,’” he recalls saying. “‘I want to make pictures. What do you need?’” The editors laughed, but they showed him a list of planned stories. He went into the city’s slums and documented the lives of new arrivals from Portugal and North Africa. He drove to the north of France and photographed Polish immigrants laboring in the coal mines. After three days, he returned to the magazine. An editor flipped through the photos and stopped on one of a miner. “Not bad,” he said. “We’ll publish it.”

Salgado’s work always had a social documentary cast, and soon he was crisscrossing the globe—Niger, Mozambique, Australia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Kuwait—on assignments for magazines. He traveled by jeep or on foot. He slept in huts and tent camps. To communicate with his family—his sons Juliano and Rodrigo were born in 1974 and 1979, respectively—he posted airmail and sent telegrams. With Lélia he conceived and produced long-term projects that captured the human face of a world in transition: workers, migrants, victims of war and genocide and famine on five continents.

Sebastião and Lélia, seen in the early 1970s, left Brazil for Paris in 1969 after their political activism made them targets of the military dictatorship. (Salgado family archives)

A Salgado photograph is instantly recognizable. Black-and-white. Biblical in scope. Human. Severe. Art critics often focus on what is in the foreground: a grimace, a twisted body made beautiful, suffering as art. But it’s his attention to the background that matters most. Salgado is a systems thinker, keenly aware of the larger forces that create the moments he captures. In his 1991 photos of a burning, post-invasion Kuwait, firefighters are framed by flaming oil wells set ablaze by departing Iraqi troops, symbols of an industry and region torn from its foundation. “You have to understand people, societies, economics,” he told me. “Some photographers are very good at framing pictures—they are amazing at it!—but they don’t see the whole view.”

In time Salgado would win nearly every major award in photojournalism, publish more than a half-dozen books, and have his work exhibited in the great capitals of the world. He has counted among his friends Prince Albert of Monaco, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the late actor Robin Williams and his ex-wife Marsha, who raised the money for Instituto Terra’s theater. The Salt of the Earth, a 2014 film about his life by his son Juliano and the director Wim Wenders, was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary and won a jury prize in Cannes. In Salgado’s view, his success is simply a product of his time and place on earth. His great subjects—migration, dislocation, urbanization, globalization—have been his experiences, too. “People say Salgado is a social photographer, a political photographer,” he told me. “But my work is just me, from my own life.”

After the fall of Brazil’s dictatorship, when he and Lélia could safely return home, Salgado spent years photographing the Landless Workers Movement—peasants who wanted to reclaim corporate-owned farmland as the country’s economy changed. More recently, he went deep into the Amazon to capture the encroached lives of tribes like the Awá and Yanomami, whose traditional lands are being invaded by loggers and miners as Brazil continues to modernize. His latest book of photography, The Scent of a Dream, out this fall, is about coffee—its workers, its economy, its ecology. “Coffee has always been a part of my life,” he explains.

In the mid-1990s, Salgado was in Rwanda and the Balkans, documenting genocide, surrounded by death. A dear friend in Rwanda—a colleague from his economist days—was murdered along with his wife and children. Salgado himself was almost killed by a machete-wielding mob. At the border with Tanzania, he watched dozens of corpses float down the Akagera River. In a cholera-stricken refugee camp, he watched aid workers build a mountain of bodies with a bulldozer. When he returned to Paris, he was physically and psychologically sick. What he had seen was “so shocking that at a certain point my mind and body started to give way,” he wrote. “I had never imagined that man could be part of a species capable of such cruelty to its own members and I couldn’t accept it.” He had lost his faith in humanity, he told Lélia, and he had lost all desire to shoot photos.

It wasn’t long before this that Salgado’s parents had offered Sebastião and Lélia the old farm. When they were first able to visit, they were shocked by its condition, the once fertile property, Salgado has written, a “bare crust.” Replanting it was Lélia’s idea. She denies that her proposal to heal the land was actually an effort to heal her husband. “There was no hidden agenda,” she told me. “It was so natural, instinctive. The land was so degraded, so horrible. What a bad gift! Why not plant?” But it’s difficult not to see an emotional dimension in their efforts to bring back the forest.

In September 1998, the Salgados gave a tour of the farm to a forestry engineer named Renato de Jesus, who for two decades had run a replanting program for Vale, one of the world’s biggest mining companies, a $29 billion multinational corporation named after the valley of the Rio Doce. Vale’s environmental record, which includes building a dam on the Rio Doce close to Instituto Terra that displaced hundreds of members of the indigenous Krenak tribe, is controversial. But under Brazilian law and the company’s own corporate policy it must rehabilitate its many mines, and the degradation at strip mines is so severe that Vale’s skill at reforestation is unmatched. Salgado’s reaching out to Vale was purely pragmatic. “We are not radicals,” Salgado says. “We’re not in an ivory tower. We need everybody: companies, governments, mayors. Everybody.”


The Hellish Gold Mines of Serra Pelada

In the early 1980s, Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado travelled to the mines of Serra Pelada, some 430 kilometers south of the mouth of the Amazon River, where a notorious gold rush was in progress. A few years earlier, a child had found a 6-grams nugget of gold in the banks of a local river, triggering one of the biggest race for gold in modern history. Motivated by the dream of getting rich quickly, tens of thousands of miners descended into the site swarming like ants in the vast open-air pit they had carved into the landscape. Salgado took some of the most haunting pictures of the workers there, highlighting the hazardous conditions in which they worked and the sheer madness and chaos of the operation.

Photo credit: Sebastião Salgado

One of the most vertigo-inducing photograph of the series showed hundreds of workers swarming up tall ladders, scaling the cliff-like sides of a hellish hole. Later, when talking about the captivating images, Sebastião Salgado had said: “Every hair on my body stood on edge. The Pyramids, the history of mankind unfolded. I had travelled to the dawn of time.”

During its peak, the Serra Pelada mine employed some 100,000 diggers or garimpeiros in appalling conditions, where violence, death and prostitution was rampant. The diggers scratched through the soil at the bottom of the open pit, filled it into sacks each weighing between 30 to 60 kilograms, and then carried the heavy sacks up some 400 meters of wood and rope ladders to the top of the mine, where it is sifted for gold. On average, workers were paid 20 cents for digging and carrying each sack, with a bonus if gold was discovered. Thousands of underage girls sold their bodies for a few gold flakes while around 60󈞼 unsolved murders occurred in the nearby town, where the workers lived, every month.

Three months after the gold’s discovery, the Brazilian military took over operations to prevent exploitation of the workers and conflict between miners and owners. The government agreed to buy all the gold the garimpeiros found for 75 percent of the London Metal Exchange price. Officially just under 45 tons of gold was identified, but it is estimated that as much as 90 percent of all the gold found at Serra Pelada was smuggled away.

Mining had to be abandoned when the pit became flooded preventing further exploration. Geological surveys estimate that there could still be 20 to 50 tons of gold buried under the muddy lake, which the pit has now become.

In 2012, after remaining largely untouched for the last 20 years, a Brazilian cooperative company was granted an exploration license for the property in a bid to develop Serra Pelada.


Sebastiao Salgado was born in the Year of the Monkey. People with Chinese zodiac Monkey according to Chinese zodiac have are smart, clever and intelligent, especially in their career and wealth. They are lively, flexible, quick-witted and versatile. Their strengths are being enthusiastic, self-assured, sociable, and innovative. But they can also be jealous, suspicious, cunning, selfish, and arrogant. Their lucky numbers are 1, 7, 8 and lucky colors are white, gold, blue.

Sebastiao Salgado was born in the middle of Baby Boomers Generation.


GENESIS Project

GENESIS, a new opus is the result of an epic eight-year expedition to rediscover the mountains, deserts and oceans, the animals and peoples that have so far escaped the imprint of modern society – the land and life of a still pristine planet. The GENESIS project, along with the Salgados’ Instituto Terra, are dedicated to showing the beauty of our planet, reversing the damage done to it, and preserving it for the future.

‘This has been one of my longest photographic adventures: eight years researching, exploring and celebrating nature’s unspoiled legacy. I have journeyed through 32 countries to rediscover the mountains, deserts and oceans, the animals and peoples that have so far escaped the imprint of modern society. It is a pictorial depiction of the lands and lives of a still pristine planet. I feel Genesis also speaks urgently to our own age by portraying the breathtaking beauty of a lost world that somehow survives. It proclaims: this is what is in peril, this is what we must save.' - adds Salgado on the Genesis collection.

Like other work of Sebastião Salgado, the Genesis reportages have been, and continue to be, published in, among others, France’s Paris Match, the USA’s Rolling Stone, Spain’s La Vanguardia, Portugal’s Visão, the United Kingdom’s The Guardian and in Italy’s La Repubblica.

From an recently published interview within Canon, Sebastião Salgado explains that his epic Genesis project, he used an EOS-1Ds Mark III, and his advice young documentary photographers is, predictably, not technical: “You should have a good knowledge of history, of geopolitics, of sociology and anthropology to understand the society that we’re part of and to understand yourself and where you’re from in order to make choices. A lack of this knowledge will be much more limiting than any technical ability.


Stark images of Amazon show incredible peaks and Indigenous peoples

THESE stark black and white images of the Amazon and its culture capture nature’s power and hint at the area’s precarious future. The shots are by documentary photographer Sebastião Salgado and come from his latest collection, Amazônia, which highlights the lush Amazon rainforest and the complex worlds of its Indigenous communities.

Over six years, Salgado visited a dozen different groups scattered throughout the Amazon, documenting their daily lives, ceremonies and culture.

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The image below shows the Maiá river in Pico da Neblina National Park in north-western Brazil. The park overlaps with the territory of the Yanomami, whose population of some 38,000 across an area twice the size of Switzerland makes them one of the largest groups of Indigenous people in the Amazon. Above is the mountain range near the Marauiá river, another landmark in the Yanomami Indigenous Territory.

The image below shows Miró, who is a member of another Indigenous Amazonian community called the Yawanawá. He is shown making feather adornments, an art that is a quintessential part of Yawanawán culture, as well as that of some other Indigenous communities.

Salgado dedicates Amazônia to the Indigenous peoples he met and photographed in the hope that deforestation and other destructive projects in the region won’t make the book “a record of a lost world”.


The language of photography: Q&A with Sebastião Salgado


I’ll never forget the first images of Sebastião Salgado’s that I ever saw. At the time, I was just getting into photography, and his images of the mines of Serra Pelada struck me as otherworldly, possessing a power that I had never seen in a photo before (or, if I’m honest, since). Sebastião Salgado: The silent drama of photography In the twenty years that I’ve been photographing, his work has remained the benchmark of excellence. So it was with great trepidation that I sat down with him at TED2013, where he gave the talk “The silent drama of photography,” for a short interview. After all, what does one ask of the master?

I have so many questions — I’m a great admirer of your work. But let me begin with: why photography?

Photography came into my life when I was 29 — very late. When I finally began to take photographs, I discovered that photography is an incredible language. It was possible to move with my camera and capture with my camera, and to communicate with images. It was a language that didn’t need any translation because photography can be read in many languages. I can write in photography — and you can read it in China, in Canada, in Brazil, anywhere.

Photography allowed me to see anything that I wished to see on this planet. Anything that hurts my heart, I want to see it and to photograph it. Anything that makes me happy, I want to see it and to photograph it. Anything that I think is beautiful enough to show, I show it. Photography became my life.

You started as a social activist before you were a photographer. Is that how you think of yourself still — as an activist?

No, I don’t believe that I’m an activist photographer. I was, when I was young, an activist — a leftist. I was a Marxist, very concerned for everything, and politics — activism — for me was very important. But when I started photography, it was quite a different thing. I did not make pictures just because I was an activist or because it was necessary to denounce something, I made pictures because it was my life, in the sense that it was how I expressed what was in my mind — my ideology, my ethics — through the language of photography. For me, it is much more than activism. It’s my way of life, photography.

You do these very large, long-term projects. Can we talk a bit about your process at the beginning of a project? How do you conceive of it? How do you build it in your mind before you start?

You know, before you do this kind of project, you must have a huge identification with the subject, because the project is going to be a very big part of your life. If you don’t have this identification, you won’t stay with it.

When I did workers, I did workers because for me, for many years, workers were the reason that I was active politically. I did studies of Marxism, and the base of Marxism is the working class. I saw that we were arriving at the end of the first big industrial revolution, where the role of the worker inside that model was changed. And I saw in this moment that many things would be changed in the worker’s world. And I made a decision to pay homage to the working class. And the name of my body of work was Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age. Because they were becoming like archaeology it was photographs of something that was disappearing, and that for me was very motivating. So that was my identification, and it was a pleasure to do this work. But I was conscious that the majority of the things that were photographed were also ending.

When I did another body of work, Migrations, I saw that a reorganization of all production systems was going on around the planet. We have my country, Brazil, that’s gone from an agricultural country to a huge industrial country — really huge. A few years ago, the most important export products were coffee and sugar. Today, they are cars and planes. When I was photographing the workers, I was looking at how this process of industrialization was modifying all the organizations of the human family.

Now we have incredible migrations. In Brazil, in 40 years, we have gone from a 92% rural population to, today, more than 93% urban population. In India today, more than 50% of the population is an urban population. That was close to 5%, 30 years ago. China, Japan … For many years of my life, I was a migrant. Then after that, I became a refugee. This is a story that was my story. I had a huge identification with it and I wanted for many years to do it.

My last project is Genesis. I started an environmental project in Brazil with my wife. We become so close to nature, we had such a huge pleasure in seeing trees growing there — to see birds coming, insects coming, mammals coming, life coming all around me. And I discovered one of the most fascinating things of our planet — nature.

I had an idea to do this for what I think will be my last project. I’ve become old — I’m 69 years old, close to 70. I had an idea to go and have a look at the planet and try to understand through this process — through pictures — the landscapes and how alive they are. To understand the vegetation of the planet, the trees to understand the other animals, and to photograph us from the beginning, when we lived in equilibrium with nature. I organized a project, an eight-year project, to photograph Genesis. I talked about how you have to have identification for a project — you cannot hold on for eight years if you are not in love with the things that you are doing. That’s my life in photography.

When you do these large projects, how do you know when it is finished?

Well, I organize these projects like a guideline for a film — I write a project. For the start of Genesis, I did two years of research. When this project started to come into my mind, I started to look around more and more and, in a month, I knew 80% of the places that I’d be going and the way that we’d be organizing it. We needed to have organization for this kind of thing, so I organized a kind of unified structure. I organized a big group of magazines, foundations, companies, that all put money in this project. And that’s because it’s an expensive project — I was spending more than $1.5 million per year to photograph these things, to organize expeditions and many different things. And then I started the project. I changed a few things in between, but the base of the project was there.

Given the changes in digital media, if you were to start a new project now, do you think you’d still go through photography? Or would you try something different?

I would go to photography. One thing that is important is that you don’t just go to photography because you like photography. If you believe that you are a photographer, you must have some tools — without them it would be very complicated — and those tools are anthropology, sociology, economics, politics. These things you must learn a little bit and situate yourself inside the society that you live in, in order for your photography to become a real language of your society. This is the story that you are living. This is the most important thing.

In my moment, I live my moment. I’m older now, but young photographers must live their moment — this moment here — and stand in this society and look deeply at the striking points of this society. These pictures will become important because it’s not just pictures that are important — it’s important that you are in the moment of your society that your pictures show. If you understand this, there is no limit for you. I believe that is the point. As easy as this, and as complicated as this.


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