The world we live in is a funny little paradox. Its space is so limited, yet we haven’t truly explored all of its secrets and inner spaces. Whether its untouched natural landscapes, or the daily lives and faces of people far away… especially their struggles and adversities… ; artists like Sebastião Salgado have used their photography as a way to portray life as we never knew it.
Sebastião Salgado, ‘AFRICAN BUFFALO HERD IN THE OKAVANGO DELTA, BOTSWANA,’ 2007, Beetles + Huxley [source: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]
Sebastião Salgado, ‘CHINSTRAP PENGUINS ON AN ICEBERG BETWEEN ZAVODOVSKI AND VISOKOI ISLANDS, SOUTH SANDWICH ISLANDS,’ 2009, Beetles + Huxley [source: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]
Sebastião Salgado, Galeria Tempo [source: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]
Salgado composes each photo in such a way that there is no question that a point is being made. His eagle eyed perspectives of Botswana and the South Sandwich Islands (love that name) allows the viewer to see the community of animals that live and thrive in these parts of the world. He observes them almost as if they were a crowd of people on a busy Manhattan street rather than a shot of animals on a landscape. Through his framing techniques and contrasting choices, the animals are of equal importance to the beautiful earth around them. There is an atmosphere of purpose in these gatherings, as if they know they belong.
Sebastião Salgado, ‘A ship is launched. Shipyards of Gdansk. Poland.,’ 1990, Sundaram Tagore Gallery [source: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]
Sebastião Salgado, ‘Shipbreakers, Chittagong, Bangledesh.,’ 1989, Sundaram Tagore Gallery [source: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]
His pieces on shipping docs and ship-breaker yards in Poland and Bangladesh are dynamic in the sense that the massive structures almost appear alive. The energy produced by capturing the movement of the ship into the water, or towering over the photographer’s eye level, evokes the importance and power that these industries hold over the people in these parts of the world. Any viewer might perceive that these foreboding structures have a darker side to their existence; that which is as hard to remove from these places as a ship marooned on a beach. There is no need for human forms in these images, because the ships are a strong enough statement of this on their own.
Sebastião Salgado, ‘Workers install a new wellhead to enable the injection of a chemical mud to “kill the old well.” Greater Burhan, Kuwait.,’ 1991, Sundaram Tagore Gallery [source: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]
Sebastião Salgado, ‘Worker resting, Covered in oil, Oil wells, Kuwait,’ 1991, Sundaram Tagore Gallery [source: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]
Salgado’s exposition on the topographical and social effects of oil drilling in Kuwait takes the viewer straight into the face of people who live day and night in that world, so alien to the average gallery wanderer. While not pleasant images, the loving care with which he tones and composes each print highlight the importance of the subject matter. The oil on the man’s face, seeping into every fiber of his t-shirt, effecting every aspect of his present and future. Someone walking by his photo in an exhibition may not have recognized the subject, but the elegant gradient and textures of the image draws you in, allowing you to see it, ponder its implications, and perhaps understand the gravity of every day choices, like pumping gas into your car. Sebastião Salgado, ‘Coffee Curing Works, Karnataka State, India,’ 2003, Sundaram Tagore Gallery [source: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]
Sebastião Salgado, ‘Workers at Allana Coffee Curing Works. Karnataka State, India,’ 2003, Sundaram Tagore Gallery [source: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com]
What I appreciate most about Salgado’s work is his ability to portray the true nature of the world in which we live without forgetting the human faces that make it up. I love his photos of the Allana Coffee Curing workers in India. These ladies are lined up like soldiers, each working incredibly hard day after day. As a viewer, the image is almost wearisome to behold. Then you see his print of one woman, one worker, her dark hair braided down her back, and blossoms nestled at its top. These compositions, viewed side by side, can strike a chord; reminding us of lives that make up the world we live in; those outside of our normal span of vision.
Salgado’s body of work holds an incredible lesson for us as artists. The subjects we capture are alive, so to get the most out of any piece we choose to make, we must keep that in mind.