Sebastiao Salgado

Sebastiao Ribeiro Salgado is a Brazilian documentary photographer and one of the greatest photojournalists in the world. For 40 years, he visited more than 100 countries, Salgado's lens caught the poor workers of South America, starving Africa, victims of wars and natural disasters around the world. Eventually tired of human suffering, the photographer became interested in ecology: now he is restoring forests in Brazil and mainly shoots nature. Sebastiao Salgado can be called one of the most recognizable photojournalists of our time, who was awarded many honorary awards, including the WorldPressPhoto Award in 1994 and the Prince of Asturias Art Prize in 1998.

Salgado was born on February 8, 1944 in the Brazilian municipality of Aimorés. He received a master's degree in economics from the University of Sao Paulo and met his future wife Lélia Wanick here. In the early 70s, Sebastiao with his wife moved to Europe and got a job as an economist in a large international company "International Coffee Organization".

Everything changed in 1970. When he was already 26 years old when he picked up a camera for the first time and realized that this was his vocation. His job took him to Africa, where he began to take photos. At first, Sebastiao took amateur photos and mastered the basics of photography, but in 1973 he ended his economic career and became a photojournalist. And it turns out, it was in reportage and documentary photography that Sebastiao Salgado found his destiny: in 1979 he was invited to work for the famous photo agency MAGNUM PHOTOS. And in 1994, he and his wife created their own agency - Amazonas Images.

Sebastiao has been working on political reviews and news reports for the first few years, but soon turns to the main topic of his professional activity - social problems. In 1986 he published his first book "Other Americas" (1986). It includes forty-nine black-and-white photos taken between 1977 and 1984 in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico. The photos show spiritual and religious practices of the local population, altered rural landscapes and family life. Alan Riding, co-author of the book, wrote: "Salgado was looking for lost corners of North and South America, it's easy to get an idea of the whole continent from his photos. The philosophy caught in the eye; the whole way of life frozen at the moment..."
In 1984, Sebastiao Salgado began working with the organization "Doctors Without Borders" and for fifteen months documented the inhuman suffering of refugees in the Sahel desert region in Africa in the countries of Chad, Ethiopia, Mali and Sudan, where approximately one million people died from malnutrition and diseases. As a result - two photo projects: "Sahel: Man in Distress" 1986 and "Sahel: el fin del camino" 1988. These two projects brought Sebastiao Salgado international fame and recognition of colleagues.
Then there were other projects: about the plight of workers in, about the problems of international migration. In 1986-1992 Sebastiao Salgado visited twenty-three countries to create a series of works about grueling manual labor. They were published in 1993 in the book "Workers". This work has sold 100,000 copies worldwide, and an exhibition of photos has been held in more than 60 museums. Here in the lens of the photographer were people of hard physical labor. The album includes 350 black-and-white photos telling about the hard fate of fishermen, builders, miners, steelworkers, weavers and handymen. The heroes of his bright and piercing photos perform hard physical work with their own hands, despite the presence of machines and automated robots in the modern world.
As a continuation of the "Workers", Salgado begins the next series of photos called "Migrations". This project took him to 43 countries. He traveled across all continents to show the fate of people forced to leave the countryside to move to the cities. In the late 1990s, Sebastiao Salgado completed the project "Exodus", dedicated to the people who escaped the genocide. Having seen enough of cruelty, he became disillusioned with humanity and retired to his hometown of Aimorés.
"In six years of work I have seen enough of cruelty. And most importantly, I almost lost faith in the possibility of the survival of the human race. I lost faith in people," Salgado confessed to reporters.
Aimorés is a corner of Brazil, where his parents' country house was located, where he spent his childhood. By that time, the forest around the house had almost completely disappeared, and the land was covered with erosion and deserted. His parents gave him ownership of the house, and together with his wife Lélia, his companion in life and work, Sebastiao Salgado decided to revive at least part of the local unique Atlantic forest on his own.

Thus the project "Terra" was born, during which more than 2 million trees were planted. And Salgado found new energy and a taste for life, he was able to take the camera again - he had the idea of a new project called "Genesis".

The aim of the project was to make a kind of creative "inventory" of what is still left on our planet in its pristine, original state. This project took two years of preparatory work, eight years of traveling with a camera - from Antarctica to the Arctic, from the Galapagos Islands to the Amazon basin. He visited the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, the jungles of Indonesia, Madagascar, rode through Siberia with Nenets sleds, etc. And it took another two years to publish the collected material.
The photographer's son Juliano Salgado and the famous director Wilhelm Wenders made a sensual documentary film "The Salt Of The Earth", which captured the Brazilian photographer at work on the cycle "Genesis".

Together with Sebastiao Salgado, the film crew went to the most distant and mysterious places on Earth. Most of the screen time is occupied by photos that Sebastiao has been taking for several decades, black-and-white frames that make up a portrait of the 20th century. Also in the film there are Salgado's reflections on what it means to be a documentary photographer, how, having lost faith in humanity, to find it again in the bosom of nature.
Below is an excerpt of an interview Salgado gave in 2016 at the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow.

"Brazil, where my wife and I come from, was ruled by a dictatorship, and we were protesting against it. In 1969, when I was 25 and Lélia was 22, we had to leave the country. We moved to France. I didn't like economics anymore. We were going to move to the Soviet Union, we dreamt of studying at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia, I wanted to change my speciality and become an engineer — I was good at Math, and studied in Paris Graduate School of Economics and Statistics. We studied Marxism and the works of Lenin. We received a fantastic education. We went to Prague in 1970 to meet one Czech communist, so that he would advice us how to move to the USSR and enter the university. And he said: "Guys, you are young and idealistic, you believe in communism, but you should know there are no ideals in the Soviet Union anymore. They are not building communism, the power does not belong to the people, the apparatchiks have taken it, and if you want to fight for happiness of the common people, you should stay here and work with the immigrants."

Russia was especially important to us people from the Third World. We had high expectations for Russia.
So I am thinking, what would happen if I did become an engineer? Just half an hour ago at the door of our hotel I met a person from Senegal and asked him: "How did you end up here, in Russia?". He replied that he came here to study and stayed for good. Just think: if I came to study here, I would become an engineer and never be who I am, a photographer now. I'd be a simple Russian old man.

After that conversation with the Czech communist we went back to Paris. Some time later Lélia needed to buy a camera to photograph architecture. At that moment I had the opportunity to snap a picture for the first time in my life. It was a small Pentax camera, and when I looked in the viewfinder, I realized it could change my life completely.
And although I started doing photography at a rather mature age, thanks to this knowledge I had, I had many more possibilities than a photographer who had no such education.
I always tell to my students: "Now you have to do something for yourself, you have to set photography aside, go back to university and study sociology, anthropology, history, economics, geography, geopolitics. To learn, to understand the historical moment you are living in. To have meaning in your photographs, to give them reason to come to life. You need to understand our society to take good pictures." I worked with the largest photo agencies in the world for a long time, such as Sigma and Magnum. I met wonderful professionals at those agencies who took great photos, but not all of them understood the historical moment and the society they live in.

I have never thought I was better or worse than other photographers. All of us were equally professional. Some of my colleagues took exceptional photographs, but I had the potential that the others did not. And I was lucky to receive a great education, have substantial university knowledge and life experience."
Text Anna Laza
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