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Sebastião Salgado: Documenting the unnoticed beauty of humanity

One of the most significant works in the photographer's career
Miners in Serra Pelada, Brazil

This is one more post that has as objective bring to light a little of information about the life of a internationally famous photographer whose work is seen as a truly humanitarian realization. Not only for the general respect Sebastião has for his photographic projects produced along decades while travelling in more than 100 countries, I comprehend also a necessity for me to share my sincere admiration in seeing someone from my country devote many years of life in order to give visibility to such noble cases. In my personal opinion, among the photographers still living, he is the most impressive one we have. Of course many may disagree as naturally the public cares for a huge diversity of styles, principles and tastes while judging the quality of a photographer's work. Nevertheless, yet I let you know that as admirer, his work is one that inspires me best since I put my eyes on his images for the first time. The life story of Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado starts in Aimoré, a city in the state of Espírito Santo, southeast Brazil. Born in a family of cattle ranchers, Sebastião started his life quite apart from any intention to become a photographer. His father wanted him to become a lawyer and he instead went to study economics in São Paulo. In 1969, after the military coup that established the dictatorial regime in the government, Sebastião was forced to exile in Paris, where he continued the studies and finished his doctorate in economics. Few years later Sebastião moved to London where he worked as economist for the International Coffee Organization, job that led him to several trips in the african continent. He used photography to register and document his journeys and it was then that his interest to work as a photographer was born. After this, as he returned to London from one of the trips, he decided to quit his career as an economist and dedicate his life to a more meaningful purpose. He and his wife, Lelia Deluiz, returned to Paris and in 1973 Sebastião started his job as a freelance photographer.

Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado

The first works produced by Sebastião were results of projects in Portugal and in some african countries. Of these shorter projects one in special gains a special attention. He was working at the time for Gamma Agency and documented the famine in Niger. The subjects in the photos of this project display in incredible detail unbelievable evidence of the sad reality in which that population resided. The way he mastered to capture the extremity of that misery and suffering is present in big part of his works. In 1977 he began a long journey across Latin America, photographing Indians and peasants in many countries of the continent. Part of the archive generated during this project, which was finished only seven years later, composed the book Other Americas, also quite remarkable in his career. In 1979 Sebastião joined the Magnum Photo Agency, founded in 1947 by Robert Capa, Cartier-Bresson and other influential photographers of that period. He stayed in the agency for fifteen years. In 1984, Sebastião joined the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders and worked till 1986 on a project in Africa, once more dealing with the famine that devastated the continent. This project gave life to another book, called Sahel: Man in Distress. From then to the beginning of the 1990s, Sebastião travelled to more 23 countries photographing and documenting, the way he knew, the situation of industrial manual labour all over the globe. In this period he revisited Brazil and photographed the conditions of the mud-covered workers inside the Serra Pelada gold mine. These images are some of the stamps of the talent and humanity of this artist. This project was reproduced in the book Workers, published in 1993. It has been exhibited already in more than 60 museums around the world. After the impact of Workers, he began a new long project, containing this time a list of 43 destination countries documenting how peoples come from rural origins were facing their lives after moving to chaotic urban centers. The project was presented in the books Migration and Portraits of Children of the Migration, again rocketing in number of sold copies and exhibitions. More recently, Sebastião released the book Genesis, as output of several expeditions to reserves of wild life in Africa, Latin America, Antarctica, Alaska and others. The proposal of this project is to create public awareness about the importance on braking the effects of the global warmth in our planet. The project has also been shown in several museums all over the world. The most recent appearance of Sebastião in official use of his work was in the documentary film, Salt of the Earth, produced in partnership with Wim Wender.

Fire in the desert, for the book <<Workers>>

What else to add about Sebastião? He left Magnum in 1994 and opened his own photo agency named Amazonas Images, which contains only him as photographer. Together with his wife he also created the Instituto Terra, which does a reforestation work in Brazil and has planted so far more than 1,000,000 trees and engages many people with their educational program on Environmental Protection. Sebastião is far from being well rated only as photographer. His care to show with nobility the poverty, misery and hard reality of populations across the globe at the expense of decades of his life gives traces of his far reaching view when it comes to goals and realizations. It takes a big dose of braveness, empathy and desire to keep for so long on such a self chosen duty. As he said recently in interview while in the exhibition of his works in Lyon, he mentioned of the importance for man to reconnect with the Earth. He speaks of the need for us to go back spiritually to the core of communication between us and our world. And that demands respect.


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