Sebastião Salgado, born on a cattle farm in Aimorés, Brazil (1944), is one of the most celebrated Photojournalists of our time. Interestingly, however, Photography barely featured in his life for quite a while! Having graduated in Economics, Salgado eventually moved to Paris to pursue a Post Graduate in the subject. Economics was going to be his life and it was well on course to become so. Until, that is, his wife Lélia gifted him a camera in 1970.
By 1973, Photography, in his words, made “a total invasion” of his life which prompted him to give up his career in Economics and pursue Photography.
Within just 6 years, Salgado worked for some of the biggest agencies of photojournalism like Sygma, Gamma and, in 1979, when he joined Magnum; eventually making a name for himself by covering the attempted assassination of the former American President, Ronald Reagan.
Despite his stellar career as a Photojournalist working for Magnum, Salgado is best known for his hard hitting commentary on social, cultural and geographical narratives from all around the world in the form of Photography Projects.
A project undertaken during the Gold Rush of Serra Pelada, a village in Brazil, in the 70’s. This is one of his most popular projects from his early photography days.
This Photo Essay primarily revolved around the horrific conditions of the workers doing the actual gold digging. Swarms of people covered from head to toe in dirt, crawling up a massive pit seems like a photographic depiction of enslaved masses from the middle ages and yet, the fact that this was actually a hard truth from the modern day, made this entire series a powerful commentary on humanity and materialism.
This was one of his more recent projects, one that he worked on for over 7 years. (2004- 2012)
‘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.’
This project took Salgado all over the world and what he brought to our doorstep was a collection of truly incredible, often dramatic photographs of Nature. The idea behind this massive project was to put on a vibrant display of the Natural beauty that still remains untouched so we may be inspired, to preserve it.
The tonality in all of his images is one of the most striking features of his work. Pay attention to the contrast in his photographs. The play of light and shadow is very resemblant of the Chiaroscuro style, a prominent technique, first used in paintings. They tend to evoke a lot of emotions and, rather successfully, layers the scene with drama.
Interpreting Salgado’s work can largely be down to the viewer, especially with his ‘fine art’ approach to Photojournalism. But there are certain elements Salgado puts in place in every photograph to essentially guide us to his intended meaning.
Placement of subjects in the frame, the angle of view, the direction of light, even the timing of the shot (Decisive Moment) largely directs the narrative of an image. This is the power of composition!
There is also a sense of timelessness to a lot of his work. From glorious landscapes to the way the stories of people are represented in a photograph, they seem to float outside of time. Like a dramatic collision of the past, present and future… all in one frame.
As Photographers, it is very important that we study other photographers and their work. This opens up our vision to several other things that may inspire us in some form or the other. That is why, “Photographer Study, a series by LLA Online” will be a series where, on occasion, we look at different photographers and study their work, their approach and so on.