In a time, when most photographers tend to just reflect the misery in the developing world, as a spectacle, one man stands out of this crowd. Sebastião Salgado, born in Brazil and a trained Economic, thrives to take a different way. As Christian Caujolle wrote: "his images took another formal approach, imposing respect and dignity […] and rejecting simple pity."
He did not plan to be a photographer at first. Growing up as one of eight children, he studied Economics in Sao Paulo and later received his PhD in Paris. As he turned 27, he and his wife Lélia moved to London where he started working for the International Coffee Organization. One day Lélia brought home a Pentax camera, and changed his life forever: "It was so fantastic to be able to freeze a moment and then to have it in my hands. From that moment photography became my life." He would then take the camera to his work assignments, which involved frequent visits to Africa.
He developed a distinct imagery, “Leica images, simply framed with just the right amount of space and no caricature simplification.”
He puts the people in the center of his viewfinder. You could go up-close and candid, though Salgado includes the surrounding and give us context. He treats the people with dignity.
Salgado is not your typical photojournalist. After he quit his job and moved to Paris with his wife, he started working for two french photo-agencies, Sygma and Gamma. Like everybody else, he began covering breaking news like the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, but quickly moved to more long-term projects. Now working for Magnum Photos, he went to places where nothing happened but a permanent situation. Like a storyteller bearing witness of all the pain and misery in the world, his first project was published in 1986: “Sahel, l’homme en détresse”, showing the devastating effects of the draught in the Sahel region of Africa.
In the same year, he began the series of reportages on the theme of manual labor, portraying workers all over the world. Lélia Wanick Salgado, his wife writes about this series: “The images offer a visual archaeology of a time that history knows as the Industrial Revolution, a time when men and women work with their hands provided the central axis of the world." After a selection of the series was published 1993 in the book: "Workers”, Sebastião left Magnum Photos and set up his press agency Amazonas Images, run by his wife Lélia Wanick.
Carrying on with his long-term projects, he starts Migrations, or Exodus as he prefers to call it. During the next seven years, he begins a portrait of migrants from Africa, Asia and South America. These people did not choose to run, from poverty, religious or ethnic cleansing or genocidal regimes. Lélia, again writes: “The photographs in Exodus capture tragic, dramatic and heroic moments in individual lives. Yet, seen together, they also tell a story of our times." The images of this body of work were condensed in two books, Migrations and The Children, published in 2000.
Following health problems after his trips through Africa and seeing all the misery, death and what mankind can do to each other, he went home - frustrated and empty. (Now would be a good time to watch the video, if you haven’t already)
Only one year later though, he started his most ambitious projects to date. The now 60 year old photographer wanted to go back in time, to capture those parts of the planet least touched by mankind. The “Genesis” project had its roots in that period of despair, Salgado said. But his faith in humanity is bigger than his doubts, and he orchestrated a volume in biblical scope It is something he has was working towards his whole life, from Worker over Migrations to the beauty of our Blue Planet, or what remains of it today. It is, as if he is saying: We need to save what is left, before it is too late.
“Genesis is an attempt to portray the beauty and the majesty of regions that are still in a pristine condition, areas where landscapes and wildlife are still unspoiled, places where human communities continue to live according to their ancient culture and traditions.”
During this years Film Festival in Cannes, Wim Wenders showed his newest film: “The Salt of the Earth”, a documentary portrait of Sebastião’s life, which he produces with his son, Juliano. It will come out later this year and the critics are phenomenal.