Migrations and Other Departures

Refugee camp at Benako, Tanzania, 1994. © Sebastião Salgado

I have picked Sebastiao Salgado as the artist for my main report and presentation in Art History. The class covers 1900 onwards (I’m aiming to do History and Literature all from the same period for the degree) and we can pick any type of artist. I chose a photographer because photography is the medium that makes me feel the most. It was hard to choose one photographer, as I have quite a few favorites, but I settled on Salgado, not only for his skill but also for his altruism and the compassion he has for humanity that shows through in his work. He is a photo-journalist of enormous talent, with an equally enormous heart, whose portrayal of the human condition is profound and provocative.

Salgado was originally an economist who worked for the Brazilian government. He was exiled from Brazil around 1970 for challenging the dictatorship, and moved to Paris where he continued his PHD and worked for the International Coffee Organization. In 1971 during a trip to Rwanda he began to take many photographs and discovered upon his return that it gave him more satisfaction thatn his work on economic reporting. Salgado decided to take up the photography seriously and his aim with his photography was always to provoke discussion and debate over issues relating to globalization and to draw attention to poverty and health problems in developing nations.

Salgado spent 15 years putting together his series of photos for Workers and Migrations two of his most famous shows. UC Berkely still has a webcast available of Salgado’s Avenali lecture and question time with him, that took place in April 2002 when the Migrations show was at the Art Museum there. The lecture is about an hour and 20 mins long but it is fascinating to hear him speak about the intentions behind his photography and I recommend anyone to watch it. Salgado has also assembled several other series, such as The End of Polio , and The Children and, and he has produced many books of these shows too. The most recent of his publications is Africa a retrospective of Salgado’s African work and a personal narrative of the artist. It is reviewed here by Hans Durrer for soundscapes.

According to articles I have read from reputable newspapers in England, Salgado has been working on the “last of his great photographic projects” over the last few years. Genesis, that was shown at Hacklebury Fine Art in London this past January was described by Sebastiao Slagado himself as a project “designed to reconnect us to how the world was before humanity altered it almost beyond recognition”. The photographs are a record of the untouched corners of the world that Salgado visited and the photographs are stunning in their composition and sheer beauty.

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