Brazil is a ground coffee mill of myriad cultures. Europe meeting Africa, Asia and of course indigenous, First Nation traditions. Born and raised by the pastoral motions of farmland, a rustic kernel that sustained Salgado even whilst training as an economist, become evident in the body of his work… sheer starkness of his lens paths a swathe through the distracting corn of modern media glamour and bias to display the bare bones of gritty humanity that underscores our comforts.
Sebastiao Salgado, born in 1944 in Brazil, stepped into photography as a side-effect of his career as an economist for the International Coffee Organisation during trips to Africa on behalf of the World Bank.
The shutter fell on Salgado’s economics career in 1973, when the side line focused on imagery. His forte has been on social based photography, born no doubt of his initial foray into capturing stills for news agencies. Dabbling in agencies like Paris’s Gamma and Magnum Photos aside, it is bulk of his socially conscious pictures that was framed in La Sal de la Tierra.
A collaboration in 2014 by German filmmaker Wim Wenders and Salgado’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and exhibited at Cannes in 2014, documents the life and work of Salgado.
It demonstrates the depth of Salgado’s use of light, his complex vistas of the human machine galvanised into one engine for a sole purpose. In the photographer’s own words: “in a split second I saw unfolding before me, the history of mankind. The building of the Pyramids, the Tower of Babel, the Mines of King Solomon.” It is the harmony of combined manpower that courses as the pulse through the documentary. A pulse of adrenaline, fight or flight, that is equally creative and destructive.
In a split second I saw unfolding before me, the history of mankind. The building of the Pyramids, the Tower of Babel, the Mines of King Solomon.
“A photographer is someone literally drawing with light. A man writing and rewriting the world with light and shadows,” Wenders’ soft bass meanders with rumination as he narrates. Our eyes are vessels for light and photography serves as a memory for the capricious and frenetic pace of a glimpse. Yet it acts as a tapestry to stitch together a moment and compel thought within those fleeting stares gracing the canvas. It also illuminates the toils and hardships of those far away and otherwise removed from our minds, which is the true artistry of Salgado.
To quote Salgado: “We are a ferocious animal. We humans are terrible animals. Our history is a history of wars. It’s an endless story, a tale of madness.” A statement that underpins his entire ethos surrounding the lens, the light, the focus and the subject of his photography.
A human story, often clandestine, more commonly loud, global and diverse. The Salt of the Earth is apt and it is a double-edged sword. Salt adds flavour. It brings to life taste and preserves a vast panoply, yet it also destroys. It can devastate the ground beneath it, should be sewn on otherwise fertile soil. From king to peasant, art to war, it is a measure of our reach and humanity is as much the victim as the victor. Salgado’s odyssey to capture the human experience in a still glance attests to our condition… La Sal de la Tierra.
Article by Brad Yellop