For his first ever exhibition at Sundaram Tagore Gallery in New York, Sebastião Salgado presents some forty of his photographs. They span many periods of his career and include Genesis, Workers, and Migrations. Many are portraits of people in the land, while others present the majesty and scale of the planet Earth.
Born in Aimorés, in the state of Minas Gerais in 1944, Sebastião Salgado’s life drew an incredible trajectory. In 1963, when Salgado went to São
Paulo to train as an economist, he witnessed world trade from the back end, as raw materials went off for refining. And so he had a view of the world, a new-found awareness of the movement of goods, peoples, and materials, but it was only in the 1970s that the photographer in him emerged. Salgado’s consciousness and his sensitivity to the cultures and peoples of the world engaged in humble work, gave him an eye that could capture humans, animals, environments, with an honest and non-exploitative respect. What makes Salgado’s imagery so resonant? His art is about the journey more than imagery perse. The exchange between photographer and bioregional cultures is a humanistic one. He visits places all over the world as a traveller, finding common and universal links. These photographs are bridges of understanding. There is more in the story than
the framing of the subject. Whether it is the Workers (1986-1993) or Migrations (1993-1999) series, Salgado seeks to bring dignity to his subjects, and in so doing gives them a voice. Indeed many of the peoples and cultures he has immersed himself in are largely invisible or unrecorded.
The Workers (1986-1993) series include images of the Canadian firefighters in Kuwait’s oil fields. Exhausted, black with oil, they are as de-naturalized as the ant-like gold miners at Serra Pelada, Brazil he also captured. The Migrations (1993-1999) photos — seen in German director Wim Wenders all new Salt of the Earth film, a document on Salgado’s life and vision — are not easy to
take in. Children’s faces, women’s’ faces, the stares
of people displaced in thirty-five countries due to social, political, economic and environmental disparities reveal painful truths about life for many on our planet.
Genesis, a series begun in 2002, and eight years in the making, includes plants, animals, and the incredible diversity of life on our planet. Shot in the most unusual and remote locations, some of the landscapes are so pristine they look as if humankind had not yet arrived. Images of surreal
castle-like icebergs in Antarctica, the isolated Zo’é tribe in Brazil, elephant seal society in Antarctica or animals in Africa’s Kafue National Park, Zam-
bia, all heighten our awareness of beauty, and the world’s incredible diversity. For Salgado, Genesis was cathartic, after all the decades spent documenting tragedies of disturbance, dislocation and migration. It is Salgado’s homage to the planet we live on.
As Wenders’ Oscar-nominated film on Salgado makes clear, after all the journalism and travel, Salgado and his wife Lélia Wanick Salgado, have
turned their attention to hands-on eco-activism. Once neglected and virtually treeless, his father’s land became a tableau to paint with real life trees, animals, insects. This 676-hectare portion of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, and the non-profit Instituto Terra, an organization focused on its reforestation and environmental education has brought renewal of an entire forest eco-system. It is now a model for such future projects. Instituto Terra and the Salgados received the e-award in Education by Instituto-E in partnership with UNESCO Brazil and the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro as well as the Personalidade Ambiental Prize from the World Wildlife Fund, Brazil. That sums it up. Change can be positive. Art can be an instrument of change, just as Salgado’s photography is. Heightening awareness of what we all share in common — the planet Earth — it encourages respect and the sharing of resources. Salgado is remarkable!
Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York
April 2—May 16