Exercise : Mraz on Salgado

‘Sebastiao Salgado : Ways of seeing Latin America’ (2002) John Mraz

Read Mraz’s essay in full.

Research the work by Salgado to which Mraz refers.

Sebastiao Salgado b1944 Brazil

Prior to becoming a full-time photographer Salgado was a Paris educated economist who moved to London to work for the International Coffee Organisation . His work required him to make frequent trips to Africa and as he became more involved with photography he made the decision to move back to Paris to work as a freelance photographer covering news events. However “ during an extended stay in an Ethiopian refugee camp Salgado lost faith with news reporting as he witnessed , first hand , the way the numerous camera crews came and went in a matter of hours” (Dickie , 2009 , pg. 54). Making the decision to commit “to self-initiated in-depth documentary projects” (Dickie , 2009 , pg. 54) he joined photo agencies Sygma , Gamma , and finally the Magnum agency in 1979 . Leaving Magnum in 1994 he formed his own charitable agency Amazonas Images.

Working exclusively in black and white “Salgado rejects the use of colour film , calling it a distraction” . He “has been chastised for neglecting to record local struggles” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 426) however “his intention has always to disclose the sufferings of the dispossessed or those without resources” (Jeffrey , 1997 , pg. 397) . His work has featured in magazines , books and exhibitions and despite the sombre scenes his photographs are “elegant poems of composition and luminosity” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 426) .

Other Americas
Other Americas took seven years to complete between 1977-1984 . Salgado travelled across Brazil , Chile , Bolivia , Peru , Ecuador , Mexico , Guatemala , people united by culture not nationality . The inhabitants in their rural settings seem insular and isolated and Mraz notes that “all is sadness , misery and doom” additionally “the urban workers and their families that live and labour in the metropolises -and which today constitute the majority of the population – are absent” (Mraz , 2002 , pg.2 ) . Mraz finds the images mysterious and difficult to understand without any additional contextual information accompanying them, “the most immediate and important connotation is that these problems are natural to Latin Americans , rooted in their most traditional forms of being” (Mraz , 2002 , p.g 17) . Salgado understands the psyche of his fellow Latin Americans , their mystical beliefs , something I feel is evident in the images. However I find the images ambiguous and am unsure how to fully interpret them so can understand Mraz’s viewpoint but that does not prevent me from finding them poignant and strangely beautiful.

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Terra: Struggle of the Landless
Previously published images along with newer shots taken all between 1980-1996 form a narrative about the plight of the Brazilian poor.The photographs are presented with an introduction by writer Jose Saramango and accompanied by poems written by Brazilian composer Chico Buarque de Hollanda. Along with the “extensive captions published at the end of the book” (Mraz , 2002 , pg. 10) this body of work is not equivocal and Salgado’s intent is made perfectly clear. Salgado’s images “ revealed to the world this inferno of the twentieth century , the hopelessness, brutality and poverty in which people were forced to work to survive” (Stepan , 2005 , p.g 186). The images showing the workers at the Serra Pelada Goldmine reduce the men to hundreds of tiny figures toiling in columns , an almost unrecognisable mass of humanity “like souls trying to climb out of purgatory” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 426). Using religious iconography another image “calls up a memory of the Crucifixion” (Jeffrey,1997 pg. 397).

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A colossal project Salgado spent seven years photographing the mass migration of over 35 countries. During the past century huge numbers of people have become displaced due to war , massive population growth , environmental issues , and an ever increasing gap between the wealthy and poor. Salgado recognises their plight as they strive to find a better life and recognises “their dignity that nevertheless remains intact through all misfortune” (Stepan , 2005 , p.g 186). His photography gives the displaced a ‘voice’ with which to reach the outside world.

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References /Bibliography

Dickie Chris , (2009) . Photography The 50 most influential photographers in the world, A & C Black , London , UK

Jeffrey Ian , (1997 ) .The Photo Book , Phaidon Press , London , UK

‘Sebastiao Salgado : Ways of seeing Latin America’ (2002) John Mraz .Third Text, Vol. 16, Issue 1, 2002, 15-30

Stepan Peter (ed) , (2005). Icons of Photography The 20th Century , Prestel , London , UK

Warner Marien Mary . (2010 ) Photography:A Cultual History Third edition, Laurence King , London, UK

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