Portfolio: Sebastião Salgado

From the project "The Other Americas" - Photo by Sebastião Salgado

From the project "The Other Americas" - Photo by Sebastião Salgado

 Winner Of W. Eugene Smith Award 1982

The Other Americas

he overwhelming impression left by Salgado’s photographs in Other Americas is that all is sadness, misery, and death. Hand-in-hand with this focus on the tragic is a dominant tone of enigma. All is enveloped in an incomprehensible and inexplicable mystery which makes enigmatic the hunger, poverty, misery, and death which appear in this book. Evidently, these social cancers are not the result of the area’s tremendous class differences, because there are no photographs of these injustices. Neither are they the product of living in overpopulated and dirty megacities which lack minimal services, for these ever-expanding slums do not appear either. The urban workers and their families that live and labor in the metropoli — and which today constitute the majority of the population — held no interest for Salgado’s Other Americas. Rather, by aiming his camera at rural cultures, he asserted that these problems are simply part of the landscape. What is the meaning of this focus?

The most immediate and important connotation is that these problems are natural to Latin Americans, enrooted in their most traditional forms of being. Now, Salgado may truly have thought, when he was producing Other Americas, that misery in this region is the product of nature rather than historical forces such as dependent capitalism, imperialism, and neo-liberalism. However, I am tempted to believe that Salgado fell into a trap common among Latin Americans who feel they must represent their homeland in the picturesque/grotesque terms that is often the accepted discourse in the developed countries for talking about the Third World; a tendency, for example, which is evident in the work of contemporary Mexican photographers such as Graciela Iturbide and Flor Garduño. In Other Americas, Salgado gave his First World consumers what they expect and want, just as did the first really successful vendors of this vision: the film director, Emilio “El Indio” Fernández, and his cinematographer, Gabriel Figueroa, in their exotic movies about little Indians in white pajamas, Mexican cowboys (charros) with wide sombreros, and campesinas wrapped in rebozos, which played to foreign film audiences some forty years ago.

Sebastião Salgado

Sebastião Salgado was born on February 8th, 1944 in Aimorés, in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. He lives in Paris. Having studied economics, Salgado began his career as a professional photographer in 1973 in Paris, working with the photo agencies Sygma, Gamma, and Magnum Photos until 1994, when he and Lélia Wanick Salgado formed Amazonas images, an agency created exclusively for his work.
He has traveled in over 100 countries for his photographic projects. Most of these, besides appearing in numerous press publications, have also been presented in books such as Other Americas (1986), Sahel: l’homme en détresse (1986), Sahel: el fin del camino (1988), Workers (1993), Terra (1997), Migrations and Portraits (2000), and Africa (2007). Touring exhibitions of this work have been, and continue to be, presented throughout the world.

Sebastião Salgado has been awarded numerous major photographic prizes in recognition of his accomplishments. He is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and an honorary member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences in the United States.

He spent seven years documenting the lives of villagers in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico and Guatemala and published the work in a book titled: “The Other Americas.” Other books include: “Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age,” and his most recent, “Migrations: Humanity in Transition.”

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