The peri­patetic eye Pho­tog­ra­phy of Se­bastião Sal­gado at Schein­baum & Russek


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Se­bastião Sal­gado, the Brazil­ian pho­tog­ra­pher known for his un­for­get­table doc­u­men­ta­tion of epic-scale mis­eries, has ar­rived at a new, gen­tler place. An ex­hi­bi­tion open­ing on Satur­day, June 27, at Schein­baum & Russek Ltd. fea­tures grand photos of wildlife, land­scapes, and thriv­ing hu­man be­ings from far-flung lo­cales. These sub­jects from the new se­ries Ge­n­e­sis show along­side photos from his gritty port­fo­lios Work­ers (1993) and Mi­gra­tions (2000). Although the newer ma­te­rial is inar­guably milder than what he de­picted in his ear­lier se­ries, Sal­gado be­lieves it is no less cru­cial, this time as a cel­e­bra­tion of un­spoiled Earth. An im­por­tant stim­u­lus for Ge­n­e­sis was the suc­cess of a large-scale re­for­esta­tion plan ini­ti­ated by his wife, Lélia Wan­ick Sal­gado, on his fam­ily’s land in Brazil.

“The Salgados owned a tree plan­ta­tion in Brazil and ba­si­cally, not know­ing bet­ter back then, they sold ev­ery­thing, and all the nat­u­ral life dis­ap­peared, and the place be­came bar­ren,” Janet Russek said. In 1998, Lélia Sal­gado came up with the idea of re­plant­ing the for­est, and the cou­ple es­tab­lished In­sti­tuto Terra, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion to help re­verse en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion in Brazil. “They started with more than a mil­lion seedlings, and now it’s a rain for­est again,” said David Schein­baum, who used to take stu­dents to In­sti­tuto Terra when he was a pro­fes­sor at the Col­lege of Santa Fe (now Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign). “It’s un­be­liev­able how the land has come back. It’s now a model for Brazil.”

Russek said the re­growth of that bit of rain for­est is all about hope, some­thing Sal­gado lost af­ter re­peat­edly wit­ness­ing death up close in the Sa­hel, Congo, and Rwanda. “This has given Se­bastião such peace and ful­fill­ment. This is what took him out of his de­pres­sion.” “I hope to make a dif­fer­ence,” the pho­tog­ra­pher told

The New York Times in May 2009. “It isn’t true that the planet is lost. We must work hard to pre­serve it.”

Ge­n­e­sis, the re­sult of an eight-year pro­gram of travel and pho­tog­ra­phy, is sim­i­lar in scope — and in the in­ten­sity with which Sal­gado delved into the pro­ject — to Work­ers, which was a seven-year pro­ject, and Mi­gra­tions, which took six years to com­plete. Like those ear­lier photo es­says, Ge­n­e­sis demon­strates the pho­tog­ra­pher’s em­pa­thy for his sub­jects and his belief in im­mer­sion. “Other pho­to­jour­nal­ists go in and out for a day,” Peter Fet­ter­man, his gal­lerist in Santa Mon­ica, told the Times. “Se­bastião goes and lives with his sub­jects for weeks be­fore he even takes a pic­ture.”

Sal­gado, the son of a cat­tle rancher, was born on a farm in Ai­morés, Brazil. He moved at age five with his fam­ily to a small town, at age fif­teen to the larger town of Vitória, and then af­ter col­lege to São Paolo, one of the world’s largest cities. In the BBC film Se­bastião Sal­gado: Look­ing Back at You, he talks about wit­ness­ing the daily traf­fic of sailors and boats com­ing and go­ing from São Paulo to Europe and Ja­pan. The ex­pe­ri­ence “gave me a fan­tas­tic no­tion of the world, of hu­man­ity, of links. ... And that gave me the urge to travel to get an idea of a world so vast, but in the end, so united.”

He has a Ph.D. in eco­nom­ics from the Univer­sity of Paris. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he worked for two years as an economist for the In­ter­na­tional Cof­fee Or­ga­ni­za­tion. In 1973, he shifted his em­pha­sis to pho­tog­ra­phy. Sal­gado roamed the vil­lages of Latin Amer­ica for his book and ex­hi­bi­tion Other Amer­i­cas (1986), and pho­tographed Work­ers, Terra: Strug­gle of the Land­less (1997), and Mi­gra­tions, as well as work­ing with Doc­tors With­out Borders for the heart­break­ing Sa­hel: The End of the Road (2004).

Some of the best-known im­ages from Work­ers were taken at Brazil’s Serra Pe­lada gold mine — a vast ex­ca­va­tion that was once a moun­tain. In The Salt of the Earth, a 2014 film about Sal­gado (di­rected by his old­est son and Wim Wen­ders), he re­lates that when he first ap­proached the gar­gan­tuan hole in the ground and saw the thou­sands of men toil­ing there, “It made ev­ery hair on my body stand on end.” It was one of the in­tense re­ac­tions he would ex­pe­ri­ence again and again as he trav­eled the world, us­ing his cam­era to try to awaken in oth­ers the em­pa­thy he felt.

For Mi­gra­tions, he vis­ited 40 coun­tries and pho­tographed hun­dreds of va­ri­eties of hu­man suf­fer­ing — and of dig­nity and re­siliency. Sal­gado shot vic­tims of war, re­pres­sion, and forced mi­gra­tions. With a mind at­tuned to the web of eco­nom­ics, he saw the wide­spread search for em­ploy­ment as “a change of his­toric sig­nif­i­cance.” In this and sub­se­quent pho­to­graphic es­says, he cap­tures vast scenes fea­tur­ing ragged peo­ple in the dust — scenes that seem to be lifted from an epic Bi­ble film.

He worked with the photo agen­cies Sygma, Gamma, and Mag­num Photos, and founded his own press agency, Ama­zonas Im­ages, in 1994. He is a two-time win­ner of Leica’s Oskar Bar­nack Award. His other ac­co­lades in­clude the W. Eu­gene Smith Me­mo­rial Grant in Hu­man­is­tic Pho­tog­ra­phy, the Grand Prix Na­tional de Min­istère de la Cul­ture, and the Al­fred Eisen­staedt Life Leg­end Award. In 2001, pho­tog­ra­phy dealer Schein­baum, who has car­ried Sal­gado’s work since the mid-1980s, staged an ex­hi­bi­tion of 300 framed prints si­mul­ta­ne­ously at three venues: the New Mexico Mu­seum of Art, the Mar­ion Cen­ter at the Col­lege of Santa Fe, and the Santa Fe Chil­dren’s Mu­seum.

I hope to make a dif­fer­ence. It isn’t true that the planet is lost. We must work hard to pre­serve it. — Se­bastião Sal­gado

Sal­gado’s ca­reer was cer­tainly suc­cess­ful, but his pas­sion for search­ing out sit­u­a­tions in­volv­ing hu­man pain was tak­ing a toll on him. In Africa, he saw so much death, in­clud­ing of chil­dren, that he was ready to put away his cam­era for­ever. But when he re­turned to his child­hood farm and en­gaged in his wife’s vi­sion of re­plant­ing the rain for­est, it re­stored his soul. Now he has re­sumed his peri­patetic lifestyle, for­ay­ing into the worlds of wal­ruses and ele­phants and whales, and cre­at­ing re­al­is­tic but pos­i­tive and beau­ti­ful es­says on the Nenet rein­deer herders of Siberia, the Dinka in Su­dan, and the Zo’é peo­ple of the Ama­zon. “Some 46 per­cent of the planet is still as it was in the time of ge­n­e­sis,” said Sal­gado, who is now seventy-one. “We must pre­serve what ex­ists.”

His glo­ri­ous black-and-white prints re­call the pris­tine doc­u­ments Ansel Adams cre­ated at Yosemite in Cal­i­for­nia. “In the be­gin­ning when he was work­ing in the Sa­hel, and it was about famine and dis­as­ter and starv­ing chil­dren, he was crit­i­cized for how beau­ti­ful his work was,” Schein­baum said. “We spoke about that with him. It hurt him a lot. He was very aware that the sub­jects are so hard, and he was try­ing to give voice to these sit­u­a­tions, but it’s the beauty that’s go­ing to get peo­ple to look. It does bring peo­ple in, just like good qual­ity in any art form.”

In the new show at Schein­baum & Russek (now cel­e­brat­ing its 35th an­niver­sary), the viewer sees great con­trast, for ex­am­ple, be­tween a 1986 im­age show­ing le­gions of bur­dened Brazil­ian gold min­ers bent to the task of climb­ing end­less cruel lad­ders and a 2011 photo of a soli­tary, cloth­tur­baned man pray­ing on a sea of sand in Al­ge­ria. “As you see in The

Salt of the Earth, Se­bastião reached al­most a break­down point be­cause he be­came so dis­cour­aged about man’s in­hu­man­ity to man and the hor­rors and he ac­tu­ally thought he would stop pho­tog­ra­phy,” Schein­baum said. “I think Lélia, who also de­signs all his books and his shows, was part of the push for him to pho­to­graph the beauty that still ex­ists in the world. The Ge­n­e­sis pro­ject is about hope and beauty.”

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