Sebastião Salgado: ‘I have turned into an ecologist’ | Photography

aOver 50 years, Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado He has traveled to more than 120 countries, creating lasting images of events such as the oil fires in Kuwait and the genocide in Rwanda, as well as capturing the humanity of workers, migrants and indigenous communities around the world. However, this man, who appears to have been born to take pictures, almost left his career at the height of his power – after his first-hand experiences with the Rwandan genocide, Salgado became so frustrated with what he witnessed that he felt he could not follow.

Salgado told the Guardian: “During the Rwandan genocide, I was doing a book on mass migration. What I saw was so violent that I got sick. I was depressed, and my health wasn’t doing well. I went to see a medical friend, he told me ‘You’re dying, I have to.'” You stop what you’re doing.” So I stopped, I went to Brazil, and I made the decision to give up photography and become a farmer and work the land.”

From that creative crisis, the Terra Institute of Salgado sprang up, an environmental center founded on a ruined former farm in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Since 1998, Salgado and his wife, Lilia DeLuise and Annick Salgado, have overseen the reforestation of the area, planting millions of trees, and developing initiatives and technology to rebuild lands destroyed by deforestation. Instituto Terra is the beneficiary of a new lavish exhibition of Salgado portraits, Sebastião Salgado: Magnum Opus, organized and hosted by Sotheby’s at its York Avenue headquarters.

Sebastiao Salgado
Sebastiao Salgado Photo: Lucas Landau/Reuters

“Our institution must continue to function,” Salgado said. [my wife Lélia and I] Decide to file the moratorium. Sothebys gave us a great gift, and 100% of this money goes to the institute’s endowment. Our hope is to get to the opening with all the photos sold, which could be worth about $2.6 million.”

Magnum Opus is Sotheby’s largest curated solo photographic exhibition ever, collecting work from 40 years of Salgado’s career. It is a chance to see many of Salgado’s greatest successes, among them a stunning shot of a mud-covered worker bending over in exhaustion while pulling a heavy load from the Serra Pelada gold mine; two members of the indigenous Mixe community in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, arms outstretched as they stare into the clouds as if they are about to fly; Refugees from the 1983-85 Ethiopian famine gather around a gigantic tree trunk as god-like sunlight penetrates around them.

The show emerged from excitement about Salgado’s latest project, Amazônia, in which he spent six years trekking through the Amazon rainforest and living among 12 different tribes while filming community members. “When I first went to Amazonia, I was a little scared,” Salgado said. “How to work with these communities where I didn’t understand the language? They were probably 2,000 or 3,000 years away from me, completely isolated in this forest. It was awesome. I got there, in less than two hours I felt at home, because I was going inside my own community.” Homo sapiens society.

Sebastião Salgado - Indigenous Rio Gregorio, Acre State Brazil, 2016
Sebastião Salgado – Rio Gregorio Indigenous Territory, Acre State Brazil, 2016 Photo: Sebastiao Salgado/Sebastiao Salgado, Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Performances from the series in Magnum Opus include an intense portrait of Bella Yawanawa from Motom Village, who wears an oversized headdress that encloses her face and chest while squiggly streaks of face paint emanate from her piercing eyes. It also includes an intimate family photo of the Bina Corobo clan, shot after Salgado spent three years developing his relationship with them. “To portray you need time, you have to come to the communities, you have to discuss things with them, you have to integrate. You live with the people and you become part of the community,” Salgado said.

Whether it’s a narrow close-up of a young Indigenous woman staring hard at the camera, or a naturalistic portrait of a man painting the back of a woman hanging her hair in a flower ornament, Salgado’s insistence that there is more. What unites us more than what separates us is true episodes throughout the Amazon.

“When I photographed the animals, it was difficult, because I was trying to understand their logic,” Salgado said. “But working with humans was easier, because there was no difference between us.”

Magnum Opus also features a rich assortment of the eight-year Genesis World Series from Salgado, in which the photographer has moved away from the world of human drudgery and conflict that defined his career, and instead looked into the pristine expanses of nature. In this series, viewers can see stunning and awe-inspiring views of vast expanses of land, as Salgado masterfully harnesses clouds, fog, tones, and lighting to give these images an epic feel.

Sebastião Salgado - Antarctic Peninsula (2005)
Sebastião Salgado – Antarctic Peninsula (2005) Photo: Sebastiao Salgado/Sebastiao Salgado, Courtesy of Sotheby’s

“For Genesis, I went to see what’s native to this planet,” Salgado said. “I had previously photographed only one animal, humans, and now I have gone out to photograph all kinds of animals. Through this work I have transformed into an environmental activist.”

The laurels of Genesis include an unmissable photo of the remote Brooks mountain range in northern Alaska, as well as a photo of the gravity-defying Antarctic ice towers that are a tour de force of intricate lighting and precision technology. The fauna in Genesis includes the enchanting image of a series of penguins waiting their turn to flounder in the ocean from an iceberg in the depths of the South Atlantic, the dark, inky black image of a tiger staring at its reflection as it bends over a pond of water to drink, and a very close-up of an iguana’s hand, looking Like a human hand wrapped in armor.

When you go [to the Galapagos Islands]You see all your brothers! I say “brothers” because when I made that picture of the iguana’s hand, I realized it was exactly the hand of a medieval warrior. It’s exactly the same! And at that moment, looking through my lens, I realized that the iguanas were my relatives.”

Sebastião Salgado - Zingo Indigenous Territory, Mato Grosso State, Brazil, 2005
Sebastião Salgado – Xingo Indigenous Territory, Mato Grosso State, Brazil, 2005 Photo: Sebastiao Salgado/Sebastiao Salgado, Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Designed to mimic the feel of a museum-style gallery, with immersive music selected by Sebastião and Lilla Salgado, Magnum Opus is a highly ambitious show that transports its audience away from the dense urban environment around it. “I’ve been at Sotheby’s in the photography division since 2007, and I’ve never seen a project of this magnitude and importance,” said Emily Berman, Senior Vice President, Global Head of Images at Sotheby’s. “He is looking beyond what we do on a daily basis to planning a showroom for sale. This is a very different project.”

Of the many reasons one should take time to visit the Magnum Opus, perhaps the most relevant is that these images inspire feelings we never get enough of. Looking at Salgado’s work, one feels a sense of connection with the people and animals that inhabit the world around us, as well as thanks to the magnificence found throughout the land.

“The feelings I felt most deeply while looking at Salgado’s work were gratitude and questioning,” Berman said. “There is a whole world he has devoted his life to, and through his pictures you can travel. I have a sense of awe, amazement and gratitude for his work.”

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