Copyright Sebastiao Salgado 2006 courtesy Thames & Hudson
Sebastiao Salgado has been frequently labeled a humanist photographer with the documentary story telling capability of W. Eugene Smith. This Thames and Hudson book Sebastiao Salgado helps to support these attributes. It is a nice compact book that covers a sampling of Salgado’s photographs made during his tenure with Magnum photographic agency, spanning from 1980 to 1991. It includes many of his better known images from this period.
To understand Salgado’s photographic style is to understand his intent, which is to tell a difficult story about people and have that story circulated in the largest mass media possible, which is usually the newspaper, not a magazine. To obtain the widest newspaper distribution also means photographing in a black & white medium. Additionally, a black & white photograph allows the reader to become more introspection and contemplative of the events featured.
Salgado also believes in spending more time developing a story, thus running into odds with Photo Editors who are looking for the quick “photo bite” to a rapidly developing “News” story. Thus his stories are more about the difficulties of making a meaningful living in the face of daunting hardships, and survival.
The introduction is delightful and informative written by Christain Caujolle, who states;
Reports…were only possible because the images were eager to bear witness; they refused to remain complacent and exceeded the bounds of photojournalism in its strictest form. They had a different tone; their lyricism imposed respect and rejected simple pity. Like much of Salgado’s subsequent work, these images traveled the world, were printed and exhibited and turned into symbols. These symbols in turn made their creator into a symbol of a particular attitude to photojournalism.
There is a very modern look to Salgado’s images, creating interesting form, structural dynamics, and deft tonalities to pull the readers attention into the image and follow through to make his point. In the India photograph below, there is an interesting balance between the lone woman on the left, gracefully holding out what appears as a wide cloth, but looking away from the ensuing activity to her right. The other workers create a flow that seem to move your attention into what you think is normal a rail car, until you notice that it is just suspended above the ground, sans wheels.
In his goldmine project, the open pits in Brazil has a huge amount of human activity, which takes on the appearance of a flow of ants, until you fully realize that this is a flow of very hard working men. Salgado being ever the Economist (PhD in Paris), reflects that when this intense manual labor is replaced by machines, what does happen to all of the people who depended on this job for a living? Where do they go, what do they do then? These are the difficult questions that Salgado strives for us to consider.
This is a wonderful book that does not purport to tell the entire story of Salgado’s photographic career, but illustrates his stories that includes the goldmines of Brazil, the boat wreckers of Bangladesh, steelworkers of Ukraine, refugees of Ethiopia & Sudan, landmine victims of Cambodia and oil fires in Kuwait after the Gulf War.
To Thames and Hudson credit, this compact and handsome book is printed in duotone that benefits the printing of Salgado’s images. It has a stiff cover, but does not lay flat, thus the photographs that span the entire spread sometimes lose a little content in the gutter. The book is creatively laid out, but does require some twisting and turning to see all the images, but not a bad compromise to maximize the image within the available space. This book about Salgado is in PHOTOFILE series from Thames and Hudson that includes the photographers Henri Carter-Bresson, Man Ray and Helmut Newton.
by Douglas Stockdale