Human suffering, the resplendence of nature increasingly under threat, beauty and devastation – Sebastião Salgado captures it all in breathtaking pictures. He sat down with Arts.21 for an interview.
Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado doesn’t shy away from controversial topics. Whether depicting human suffering or ecological destruction, he’s garnered a reputation as a social commentator who uses penetrating and political pictures instead of words. Salgado grew up in Brazil near the Amazon River. In 1969, he fled his home country’s military dictatorship for Europe, and it was there that he began his work as a photographer, documenting wars and famines. For an exposé on Serra Pelada, Brazil’s largest gold mine, Salgado lived for weeks with the miners high in the mountains. The resulting 1986 photo series exposed the abysmal working conditions the miners endured to find gold and earned him international renown. After that, he took astonishing pictures as the deserts of Kuwait burnt during the 1991 Gulf War. Since then, he has photographed refugees from all over the world for a photo series called "Exodus,” and for his pictures in Africa he employed his famous juxtaposition of beauty and despair. When that became too much, he turned to photographing nature. For his "Genesis Project,” he travelled far and wide to find the last paradise on Earth. Is he trying to make suffering aesthetically appealing, as critics claim? Or can his stunning pictures really inspire people? Salgado himself sees his works as nothing less than snapshots of reality. Sebastião Salgado is revered, feted, and still rather controversial. Now 76 years old, he’s showing no signs of slowing down and is currently working to preserve Brazil's rainforest. Arts.21 sat down with the acclaimed photographer for a fascinating discussion on the state of the world.