© Sebastião Salgado
Via the blog “Apple Tee” by Jim Korpi, comes a referral to an interview published recently in LA Weekly with master photographer Sebastião Salgado (interview page 1, page 2). This is a man that fascinates me. Photography is his voice to communicate his connection with the planet, his connection with humanity. Most of all, he is a humanist in search of social justice, and photography is his way to speak.
I have a way to photograph. You work with space, you have a camera, you have a frame, and then a fraction of a second. It’s very instinctive. What you do is a fraction of a second, it’s there and it’s not there. But in this fraction of a second [he snaps his fingers] comes your past, comes your future, comes your relation with people, comes your ideology, comes your hate, comes your love — all together in this fraction of a second, it materializes there. -Sebastião Salgado
His latest project, Genesis, is an 8 year journey well into his 4th year of work, is a call to save the planet. He is seeking out locations that are as pristine as they were in primeval times, places that provide hope for the future (interview published at The Guardian).
This is the point for me, that there is a hope. 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. And then we can understand what we must preserve.
I had a show of Migrations in Berkeley, and afterward I spoke with the students there about exactly this: the loss of hope in the possibility of survival for our species. Because I was coming from such a hard moment, seeing so much degradation. I lived for about seven years in real desperation — something very difficult, very difficult. And from all that I had seen, I was sure it would be very difficult to go on in another direction. But many things changed after that. For me now, it looks much more hopeful, much more interesting than 10 years before.
But. There is something happening now. We went so deep in these last 30 years, as far as human relations are concerned, as far as concentration of wealth on this planet, as far as environmental destruction, that finally reactions have started to appear, no? We have a big concern today about many things that we didn’t have 10 years before. I see some hope. We know that we are in danger, but we’ve started to react, and many people have started to get together — really get together. There is a wake-up, and this is very important. Now, I am not so sure that we will be destroyed. -Sebastião Salgado
Prints from Sebastião Salgado are exhibited until September 8th 2007 at the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California.
I hope that the person who visits my exhibitions, and the person who comes out, are not quite the same,” says Mr. Salgado. “I believe that the average person can help a lot, not by giving material goods but by participating, by being part of the discussion, by being truly concerned about what is going on in the world. -Sebastião Salgado
The following are links to some of his images online: Genesis, Migrations, Other Americas, Workers. There is also a nice gallery at PDN 20 most Influential Photographers and Kodak-PDN online. Mr. Salgado lives in Paris, France, with his family. His wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, directs their company, Amazonas Images, and has designed his major books and exhibitions
and a short video with his own voice describing his work with UNICEF documenting the eradication of polio.
Sebastião Salgado asking a question at Dropping Knowledge
From LA weekly
Sebastião Salgado’s Search for the Pristine
The shift from human degradation to unexploited nature
By HOLLY MYERS AND TOM CHRISTIE
Wednesday, June 13, 2007 – 6:00 am
A documentary photographer with a Ph.D. in economics, Sebastião Salgado has spent much of the last 30 years in the underbelly of globalization, bearing witness to some of the bleakest chapters of recent history. He’s photographed the victims of famine in Ethiopia, genocide in Rwanda, land mines in Angola, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and war in Afghanistan. His last two major projects, “Workers” (1986–1992) and “Migrations” (1993–1999), are epic studies of postindustrial economic development, as reflected in the faces of those whom it least serves, from Brazilian gold miners to Vietnamese fishermen, displaced Ecuadorian farmers to Sudanese refugees.
His recent work, however, has taken a more optimistic turn, and he’s seeking out a different sort of company: not farmers and coal miners but penguins, whales, tortoises and gorillas. Four years into an eight-year project he calls “Genesis,” he’s circling the globe to document everything development hasn’t soured: wilderness areas that remain as they were, more or less, “on the day of Genesis.” He’s been to Antarctica, the Galápagos, the Kamchatka peninsula of eastern Russia, and the Namib Desert of Southern Africa, among other places, and will soon be on his way to Botswana. A selection from the ongoing series, as well as highlights from previous bodies of work, is up at Peter Fetterman Gallery through the summer.
Salgado was in town recently to raise money for another of his projects: Instituto Terra, a nonprofit organization he founded with his wife, Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado, to promote reforestation and environmental education in Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest. (It is located on 1,600 acres that Salgado’s own family once farmed.) In person, Salgado is thoughtful and impressively unassuming, with a kind face and engaging blue eyes. His voice, cloaked in a Brazilian accent, is gentle but emphatic, and it is easy to see how he wins the trust of his subjects, whatever their species.
L.A. WEEKLY: With the Genesis project, you’re shifting from a sociological perspective to an ecological one. You’ve spoken before about coming away from Migrations with a sense of despair about humanity. Does that have something to do with your turn to nature?
SEBASTIÃO SALGADO: I had a show of Migrations in Berkeley, and afterward I spoke with the students there about exactly this: the loss of hope in the possibility of survival for our species. Because I was coming from such a hard moment, seeing so much degradation. I lived for about seven years in real desperation — something very difficult, very difficult. And from all that I had seen, I was sure it would be very difficult to go on in another direction. But many things changed after that. For me now, it looks much more hopeful, much more interesting than 10 years before.
It’s not that things themselves are better today. A lot of disasters are happening — like Iraq. Iraq is a grand disaster. Not a disaster only for these young American people who go there to be killed, but also for the number of Iraqi people killed every day, no? Thousands every month, tens of thousands every year. A country that was a structured country — I worked a lot in Iraq before — with social security, with retirement for old people. It was a structured country. We put the country into total chaos, no? Big disaster.
But. There is something happening now. We went so deep in these last 30 years, as far as human relations are concerned, as far as concentration of wealth on this planet, as far as environmental destruction, that finally reactions have started to appear, no? We have a big concern today about many things that we didn’t have 10 years before. I see some hope. We know that we are in danger, but we’ve started to react, and many people have started to get together — really get together. There is a wake-up, and this is very important. Now, I am not so sure that we will be destroyed.
What is the difference between the impulse to take your photographs and the impulse to plant your trees?
Oh, there is no difference, there is no difference. This is a way of life. Why did I do this photography, showing the degradation of this group of people? Because for me it is necessary to have social justice. I believe that everyone deserves to have school for their kids, have a nice house to live in, have social security, have protection, have a retirement, live in dignity. And to have the camera in my hand, to have this frame, this space, my eyesight — to organize this space — is a pleasure. This is the place where I come from, it’s my work.
And to do what we are doing in Brazil, planting trees — it is where I was born that we are planting trees. I knew this land covered in forest. We started with an area that was killed for what is so-called economic development, and we are rehabilitating. It is possible to rehabilitate this land. In seven years, we plant more than 1 million trees. We have an incredible number of birds that come back, insects, ants. We have fish that come back that had no water. And we are not just planting trees, we are working in education, working to bring another kind of production into the area, working in handicrafts. We create a cinema, we create a theater, we are bringing a little bit of culture together. It’s a completely sustainable project that we are working in this region. It is possible to do — we can do.
I believe that these very political issues are all tied together. When I go to make these Genesis pictures — it’s not that I wanted to become photographer of exotic animals, not that I wanted to do landscape. I worked a lot when I was considering this project with Conservation International, and from them I get [the figure] that 46 percent of the planet is there like the day of Genesis. It is for this that I’m looking. It’s fabulous, to show to the people that live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, anywhere, who imagine that all the planet is destroyed. There is good news, very hopeful news: 46 percent is there yet, not including the oceans. Of course, that is not the majority, the majority we exploit. But most lands that are over 10,000 feet high — and there are a lot — we haven’t exploited yet, because it is difficult to do. A lot of forest in Siberia, in Alaska, in Canada, Argentina, Chile — we aren’t there yet, it’s too cold. A lot of deserts, because it’s so hot. I’m taking a kind of sample around the world, about 30 places that together give an idea of the planet, and I am trying to put it in order to see if we can include also the nature in the discussion. After this, I will probably go back to the photography that I did always. With Genesis I am completing the circle.
Where does your interest in social justice intersect with your photographic interests and instincts? You’ve made very beautiful photographs of human degradation.
We have incredible imagination to think that beauty is only in Yosemite Park. You know? It’s very beautiful, it’s fabulous. But the gold mines were very beautiful. The refugee camps in Ethiopia — the light. There’s incredible light in Ethiopia. The people, the face of this lady [he gestures to a photograph hanging nearby of an Ethiopian refugee holding a baby to her wizened breast], she’s so beautiful. Women, the relation between father, mother, people, families — very beautiful relations. And this must come out. I don’t pose anyone, they were there. This light that they have — I don’t bring this light with me, the light was there, no?
A person who creates something, he has a way to do it, he has not two ways to do it. As a writer when he writes — he has his style, he write in a way, he don’t write in two ways: one ugly for the ugly people and beautiful for the beautiful people. Photography is the same, no? It’s not that I went to the poor places of the planet and tried to make them beautiful. I have a way to photograph. You work with space, you have a camera, you have a frame, and then a fraction of a second. It’s very instinctive. What you do is a fraction of a second, it’s there and it’s not there. But in this fraction of a second [he snaps his fingers] comes your past, comes your future, comes your relation with people, comes your ideology, comes your hate, comes your love — all together in this fraction of a second, it materializes there. I speak like this, I don’t speak in another way. No? You can put the question why I went there, but if I am there and I make the picture, I can make only this kind of picture, I cannot do two different kind of pictures.
In traveling around the world for the four years you’ve been working on this project, have there been any surprises? Anything that you didn’t expect?
It’s very difficult to say if I have a surprise, because these take a long time, these things. With the gold mine, I had a surprise, yes, the first moment that I came to the edge of this hole, when I saw 50,000 men working together with not one mechanical instrument, only hand instruments, working, digging the land. It’s something very impressive. But after this moment, after I went inside, there was no more surprise. Then it became a movement. It took me close to one month there, living with people, speaking with people, the morning to the evening — that became also my life. My instrument was a camera, and I was looking for things that were happening around me, trying to capture what was for me the most striking thing, the most compelling thing, the best composition. Some moments I had anger, some moments I had happiness, some moments were very dramatic because I saw some people die. And all this was together. It becomes a movement, you are inside of it.
So much of your previous work has been connected to people. Do you feel isolated now, going to these very isolated places?
No, no, not at all. I work now, in Genesis, with an assistant, because I go sometimes to difficult places and I must have one person who knows how to deal with this. Like walking on glaciers — you have a lot of breaks covered by snow, you can be killed there. With all these other pictures, I was alone, I came alone, but in reality we are never alone. No. It is one fabulous thing with our species. Yesterday night if you came alone to this gallery, you have a big chance to go out with someone. Because you come in, we discuss, you relate, you smile and — it’s the same if you go to a gold mine, to go to a refugee camp, to go to a factory, it’s exactly the same. You go there, you relate, you eat with people, at night you sleep in the same place, at the end of the day there are some that you like more and some that you like less. You are related. In reality we are very gregarious animals. Very few of us can really live alone. If we live alone, we don’t live too much.
No, I never feel isolated. It’s the same with nature. You are so in common with these things. It feels so good, when you are there. The other animals, if you pay attention to their movement, you discover that they are paying attention to you. And if you find a way to relate with them, they relate with you, absolutely. They are very curious to you like you are curious to them. And in that way, you are never alone.
From The Guardian
In the beginning
Sebastião Salgado is embarking on the last of his great photographic projects, which will appear regularly in Weekend over the next eight years. He is seeking out places that are still as pristine as they were in primeval times, places that provide hope. First stop, the Galápagos Islands.
Saturday September 11, 2004
Sebastião Salgado is talking about the marine iguanas with which he spent three months, and he can barely contain himself. They are giant lizards, or tiny dinosaurs, with claws like diamanté gloves. “Oh boy!” he says. “They were so incredible, and they’re completely different from one island to another, and some places there are thousands of them, and when you see these guys, it probably took them hundreds of thousands, millions, of years to be what they are: at first they were land iguanas, then they learned how to swim and how to dive and drink salt water, and they developed glands to eliminate salt water – incredibly sophisticated.” He finally takes a breath. “Soooo sweet! There is a picture of one iguana embracing another.”
Salgado has just spent three months in the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin visited 169 years ago and refined his theories of evolution. For Salgado, this is the first stop on an eight-year project called Genesis, all of which will appear in Guardian Weekend. He says it is the last project he will undertake on such a scale.
The great Brazilian photographer, now 60, has given his life to long-term projects – workers, landless peasants, children, migrants. He took his camera where few photographers bothered or dared to go. His most famous photographs are of the garimpeiros, the mud-soaked prospectors who climbed up and down open-cast Brazilian gold mines, hoping against hope to find a nugget of gold in their buckets of dirt. These pictures, taken in 1986, look like stills from a Cecil B DeMille movie of Dante’s Inferno – an epic vision of hell with 50,000 extras and no stars.
His last major project was Migrations, or Exodus, as he prefers to call it. Over seven years, he took photographs of migrants from Africa, Asia and South America, many of whom had fled ethnic and religious conflict and genocidal regimes. Often his subjects, particularly the children, stare at the camera – strong, confrontational, giddy, laughing, heroic, even in their despair. Sometimes they are too ill or frightened to do so. Arthur Miller called Salgado’s photographs an act of deep devotion.
But Exodus left him questioning his faith in humanity. He had seen so much man-made suffering. The idealist began to have his doubts about our essential goodness. “I was injured in my heart and my spirit. For me, it was terrible what I saw. I came away from this with incredible despair.” He was desperate to find something that would restore faith.
Hence Genesis. Yes, we may already have destroyed 50% of the planet, but Salgado wants to show us what we have left, and what we stand to lose if we don’t take care. “In the end, the only heritage we have is our planet, and I have decided to go to the most pristine places on the planet and photograph them in the most honest way I know, with my point of view, and of course it is in black and white, because it is the only thing I know how to do. I want to see if I can put a kind of virginity in these pictures, if you can say that, and to show 100% respect to nature and the animals.”
Salgado was given permission by the National Park of the Galápagos and the Darwin Foundation to go anywhere on the islands. Although tourism is allowed and fishing permitted in the surrounding waters, both are heavily regulated. He hired a boat and spent most of the time with only the birds and animals for company. After a lifetime photographing humans, it was a radical departure. In these pictures, you can almost hear the silence, and feel the heat rising from the lava.
His work has always been about identity and belonging (or not belonging). Salgado is a half-Jewish Portuguese Lithuanian Brazilian, and himself a migrant. He was born in a rural community in Brazil, the sixth child of a cattle rancher, moved to São Paulo, where he studied to become an economist, and finally fled to Paris in 1969 to escape Brazil’s military dictatorship. He did a PhD in economics, then worked as an economist for the International Coffee Organisation. After decades away, he is now back in Brazil.
He was almost 30 when he took up photography. He started playing around with his wife’s camera on a trip to Africa in 1973. That was that – he decided to change careers. He was invited to join Magnum in 1979. Now he has his own agency, Amazonas Images.
His work is fearlessly political – life is political, so of course photography will be, too. He has never shied away from bullets or death. Some of Salgado’s most haunting photographs document a demonstration by landless peasants in 1996 that resulted in the police killing 19 protesters. Other pictures belonging to the same series show 12,000 marchers breaking open the paddock to a vast estate and reclaiming the land from an absentee landlord.
Genesis is also about land and belonging – this time, to the planet. It seems ironic that he has begun Genesis on the Galápagos. After all, it is on this archipelago off the coast of Ecuador that Darwin’s work pretty much did for creationism. I ask him if he has belatedly found religion. “No,” he says. “I’m not a religious person. The language of photography is symbolic.” As is the title.
His own spiritual regeneration has been aided by another long-term project, the Instituto Terra. Back home in Brazil, Salgado has spent 13 years rebuilding a rainforest where his father’s cattle used to graze. “All the birds are coming back, the river is flowing again, the environment is working, and all this has made such a difference to my relationship with nature. My life has completely changed,” he says. Sometimes friends visit him and are shocked by what they see – the snakes and scorpions and crocodiles. “We have become so far away from our planet. We see nature as something that has to be tamed or eradicated. We think we are superior beings, completely rational. And, my God, the next generation, what kind of planet are we leaving them?”
His work has often been called cinematic, and perhaps following Exodus with Genesis can be seen as another modern-day movie convention – the prequel. This is the world before we conquered it. Some of the pictures of the iguanas and the tortoises look as if they could have been conjured up by the props department for an Ed Wood B-movie. The creatures look so prehistoric, so Jurassic Park, comically unreal. But Salgado’s point is that they are real and they have survived where we haven’t meddled.
His three months in the Galápagos were wonderful, he says. “I was in front of one giant tortoise I am 100% sure was there when Darwin came 170 years ago. And as I photographed this giant tortoise, it looked at me with the experience and authority of 200 years. Oh boy! What a privilege. It gave me so much pleasure to be alone with these animals, just looking at them. They – the cormorants and iguanas and sea lions – allowed me to participate in their space, and that is something fantastic.”
He talks with awe of the resilience of the green sea turtles, the albatrosses that show such kindness to their life companions, and the sea lions so curious and affectionate that they lie down next to you, their body touching yours. He has already visited gorillas in Africa for the second stage of his project, and is about to spend time with whales in Argentina. I tell him that there seems to be so much hope in this project and he is pleased. “This is the point for me, that there is a hope. 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. And then we can understand what we must preserve.”
UNICEF Special Representative Sebastião Salgado
Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado is one of the most respected photojournalists working today. Appointed a UNICEF Special Representative on 3 April 2001, he has dedicated himself to chronicling the lives of the world’s dispossessed, a work that has filled ten books and many exhibitions and for which he has won numerous awards in Europe and in the Americas.
“I hope that the person who visits my exhibitions, and the person who comes out, are not quite the same,” says Mr. Salgado. “I believe that the average person can help a lot, not by giving material goods but by participating, by being part of the discussion, by being truly concerned about what is going on in the world.”
Educated as an economist, Mr. Salgado, 57, began his photography career in 1973. His first book, Other Americas, about the poor in Latin America, was published in 1986. This was followed by Sahel: Man in Distress (also published in 1986), the result of a 15 month long collaboration with Medecins San Frontières covering the drought in northern Africa. From 1986 to 1992 he documented manual labour world-wide, resulting in a book and exhibition called Workers, a monumental undertaking that confirmed his reputation as a photo documentarian of the first order. From 1993 to 1999, he turned his attention to the global phenomenon of mass displacement of people, resulting in the internationally acclaimed books Migrations and The Children published in 2000.
In the introduction to Migrations, he wrote, “More than ever, I feel that the human race is one. There are differences of colour, language, culture and opportunities, but people’s feelings and reactions are alike. People flee wars to escape death, they migrate to improve their fortunes, they build new lives in foreign lands, they adapt to extreme hardship….”
Working entirely in a black-and-white format, Mr. Salgado’s respect for his subjects and his determination to draw out the larger meaning of what is happening to them, has created an imagery that testifies to the fundamental dignity of all humanity while simultaneously protesting its violation by war, poverty and other injustices.
Over the years Mr. Salgado has collaborated generously with international humanitarian organizations including UNICEF, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO), Medecins Sans Frontières and Amnesty International. With his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, he is presently supporting a reforestation and community revitalization project in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.
In September 2000, supported by the United Nations and UNICEF, Mr. Salgado exhibited 90 portraits of displaced children taken from his book The Children exhibited at UN Headquarters in New York. These stunning photographs bear solemn witness to the 30 million people throughout the world, mostly children and women, who are without a permanent home. In other collaborations with UNICEF, Mr. Salgado has donated reproduction rights to several of his photographs to support the Global Movement for Children and to illustrate a book by Mozambique’s Graça Machel, updating her 1996 report as United Nations Special Representative on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. Presently, in a joint project with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, he is documenting the global campaign to eradicate this disease.
Mr. Salgado lives in Paris, France, with his family. His wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, directs their company, Amazonas Images, and has designed his major books and exhibitions.