“When I was just starting out, I met Cartier-Bresson. He wasn’t young in age but, in his mind, he was the youngest person I’d ever met. He told me it was necessary to trust my instincts, be inside my work, and set aside my ego. In the end, my photography turned out very different to his, but I believe we were coming from the same place.” – Sebastião Salgado
Sebastião Salgado — economist turned photographer
Sebastião Salgado earned a master’s degree in economics from São Paulo University and his doctorate from the University of Paris. He went to work for the International Coffee Organization base in London. His work required many trips to Africa where he wanted to document what he had seen and experienced. This work led him to photography and he was working as a photojournalist for the Sygma agency on a freelance basis in 1974. He moved agencies to Gamma (1975-1979) then joined Magnum, the agency founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and David Seymour (Chim).
Salgado puts it this way, “I looked through a lens and ended up abandoning everything else.”
Jonathan Jones, writing for Guardian in May 2015 said of him, “Salgado is a photojournalist who seeks out the most moving, unsettling, perspective-shifting images of life on Earth. From his mind-swarming images of the Serra Pelada gold mine to his most recent epic labour Genesis, which documents the last pockets of undamaged nature and unmodernised peoples on Earth, Salgado shows secrets from remote places: Things you thought were lost, crimes you never imagined.”
“The last great photographer”
Jones goes on to say that “in the classic, humane tradition, working in black and white, telling profound truths” that Sebastião Salgado is likely “the last great photographer.”
The opening line in the article “Sebastião Salgado: my adventures at the ends of the Earth” states, “He has spent his life taking epic, mind-swarming photographs of gold mines, oil fields and genocide. But now Sabastião Salgado it turning his lens on the planet’s last undamaged places.”
Sebastião Salgado’s portraits of Third World peoples
Salgado photographs preserve the dignity of his subjects. He portrays them in a series creating a visual context in his storytelling. He does not create heroes or evokes pity for his subjects. His understanding of the economics of an impoverished society informs his work and makes his books and exhibitions very powerful experiences for their viewers.
“I work with very fast film. I always close my diaphragm to give a huge depth of field. Volumes for me are very important. Reality,” says Salgado, “is full of depth of field.”
Salgado’s first take on digital photography
Sebastião Salgado is skeptical of digital photography at best. He says, “Your father and mother, when you were a child, they took precious photographs of you. They went to the shop on the corner to get them developed. That is a memory. That is photography.” He is concerned that digital photographs cannot have that treasured sense of embodied memory because a digital photo “is not something material today – it’s inside a computer. You lose your phone, you’ve lost your photographs.”
He considers photography using film to be reality, not something that has been changes in Photoshop or filter-ized as so often seen on Instagram.
Sebastião Salgado: TED talk
Salgado on digital photography today
Sebastião Salgado is a Canon Explorer of Light. He sat down for an interview with Canon Europe and discusses the quality of digital versus that of medium format film.
“It’s not the photographer who makes the picture, but the person being photographed.” – Sebastião Salgado
Information on Sebastião Salgado for this article came from Lisa Hostetler at the International Center of Photography and Jonathan Jones of The Guardian.
Find inspiration from inspirations photographers of the past and present day in On Photography.