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Life, earth and photography. With Salgado’s eyes
“Photography is an even stronger form of writing because it can be read anywhere in the world without translation.”
Generally, any form of excess can be traced back to the seed of human desire. Thus, before photography was transformed into excessive “aesthetic consumerism” and long before the narcissistic era of selfies, there was an almost miraculous means that responded to a simple yet fundamental human need: the desire to be observed, and in be observed, understood. And that’s exactly what Sebastião Salgado’s photograph conveys. Looking at a picture of him does not only mean meeting the other, but also meeting oneself. It means experiencing human dignity, understanding what it means to be a woman, a man, a child. Sebastião probably has a deep love for the people he photographs. And observing his shots, one wonders how to measure a person’s value. Because, by exploring these works, we understand that the value of a man is directly proportional to the ability to use what he has to reach the heart of his fellows. This is perhaps why he’s currently considered, by many, to be the world’s top photojournalist. As for the French journalist Isabelle Francq, who with disarming elegance and simplicity, has collected the testimonies and life of the Brazilian photographer in a book, From My Land to the Planet, exposing her beliefs and sharing her emotions. We discover Salgado’s talent as a narrator and the authenticity of a man who knows how to combine activism and professionalism, talent and generosity.
“In the end, Earth gave us a magnificent lesson in humanity. By discovering my planet, I discovered myself and understood that we are part of the same whole – the Earth system.”
A book that traces the journey of his most famous reportages, but also the stories behind some of the photos that have become the emblem and distinctive feature of his technique. A witness of the modern era, with its black and white of powerful portraits that tells of daily life and last lives of the Earth, workers or refugees, deserts and forests, distant countries and territories of immense beauty but also profound injustices.
“I have contemplated our land from the highest peaks to the deepest abysses: I have been everywhere. I discovered the mineral, vegetable and animal parts and then, I was able to see us human beings as we were at the beginning of humanity. A very comforting contemplation, because the humanity of the origins is very strong, particularly rich in something that we then lost by becoming urban: our instinct.”
Salgado was born in 1944 in Aimorés, Brazil. In the late 1960s, he moved first to Paris and then to London, where he worked as an economist for the International Coffee Organization. In 1973 he returned to Paris with his wife to pursue a career as a photographer. From that moment he will travel to over 100 countries for his photographic projects. He will deal first with the Indians and peasants of Latin America, then with the famine in Africa in the mid-1980s. He will publish hugely successful books. Until 2003 when he started working on the Genesis project, which will engage him for the next eight years in order to describe a planet to be safeguarded: a photographic journey made of over two hundred images of worlds where nature, animals and living beings, still live in balance with the environment: from the tropical forests of the Amazon, Congo and Indonesia to the glaciers of Antarctica, from the Alaskan taiga to the deserts of America and Africa up to the mountains of Chile and Siberia. But his particular sensitivity for issues related to the protection of the planet began many years earlier, in 1990, when, he tells with emotion, together with his wife and life partner Léila, he realized a great dream that later would become an example for governments and associations: the birth of Instituto Terra, an environmental project to restore the forest of the Brazilian Atlantic belt.
Finally, he teaches us, in an almost poetic way, to acquire an alternative vision of the world with respect to what we have as “normal”. Looking at the world from another perspective allows each one of us to reach another level of perception: of life, of society and of reality in general.
In this book it is possible to feel (and see) life in the eyes of men, in their hands, in the shell of a turtle, in the wood of a tree. It makes us feel that life comes from there: from nature. And that we are all together here: on Earth. We should remember this more often.
“My photography is not a form of militancy, it is not a profession. It’s my life. I love photography, I love photographing, playing with shots and with light. I love living with people, observing communities and now also animals, trees, stones. For me, photography is all of this and I cannot say that rational decisions are what bring me around to see the world. It is a need that comes from the depths of myself. It is the desire to photograph that keeps me going again and again. To go see elsewhere. To always create new images.”