​Sebastião Salgado is a Brazilian photojournalist who has made an indelible mark in the world of documentary photography. Over the course of his career, Salgado has captured the struggles of people and communities across the globe with an unparalleled sense of empathy and humanity. His work has been featured in major publications and exhibitions worldwide, earning him numerous accolades and awards. He has become a collector of unofficial titles: an “icon of social conscience,” “a solo branch of the United Nations,” and “one of the most important photojournalists living today.”

The Journey of Becoming a Successful Photojournalist

Born in Brazil in 1944, he initially pursued a career as an economist. However, after a brief stint as an economist, he realized that his true passion lay in photography. He began his career as a photographer in the late 1970s, working for various news agencies. In 1981, he became a member of the prestigious Magnum Photos agency, which helped to further solidify his reputation as a photojournalist.

Throughout his career, Salgado has been known for his unwavering commitment to social justice and human rights issues. He has documented the lives of people in war-torn countries, photographed the effects of environmental degradation, and explored the lives of marginalized communities across the globe. His work has been published in major publications such as The New York Times, Time, and National Geographic.

The Art of Documentary Photography

Documentary photography is an art form that seeks to capture the essence of a moment or a story. It is a form of visual storytelling that aims to inform, educate, and inspire its viewers. Documentary photographers and [hotojournalists like Salgado use their cameras to shed light on important social, political, and cultural issues. They often work in challenging environments, capturing images of people and communities that are often overlooked or forgotten.

Salgado’s work is a testament to the power of documentary photography. Through his lens, he captures the humanity of his subjects, revealing their struggles, their triumphs, and their resilience. His work has been described as both beautiful and haunting, a reflection of the complex and often tragic realities of life.

The Themes and Subjects in Sebastião Salgado’s Work

Salgado’s work covers a wide range of themes and subjects. He has explored the lives of indigenous communities in Brazil, documented the effects of war and conflict in countries such as Rwanda and Bosnia, and photographed the lives of workers in mines and factories around the world. His work often focuses on issues of social justice and human rights, highlighting the struggles of people who are often marginalized and ignored.

One of the recurring themes in Salgado’s work is the relationship between humans and the environment. He has photographed the effects of deforestation, desertification, and other forms of environmental degradation. His images are a powerful reminder of the impact that humans have on the natural world, and the urgent need for us to take action to protect it.

Sebastião Salgado’s Unique Approach to Documentary Photography

Salgado often spends months or even years immersing himself in the communities and cultures he is photographing, building relationships with his subjects and gaining a deep understanding of their lives. This approach allows him to capture images that are both intimate and authentic, revealing the humanity of his subjects in a way that is rarely seen in documentary photography.

Another key aspect of Salgado’s approach is his use of black and white photography. He believes that black and white images are more powerful than color images because they allow the viewer to focus on the emotions and the message of the photograph. His use of light and shadow creates images that are both dramatic and evocative, capturing the essence of the moment in a way that is both beautiful and haunting.

Salgado’s creative process is both meticulous and intuitive. He spends hours researching his subjects and locations, studying the history and culture of the people he is photographing. He approaches his photography with a deep sense of empathy and compassion, striving to capture the essence of his subjects in a way that is both respectful and authentic.

One of his most iconic images is “The Gold Mine,” which depicts the harsh conditions endured by workers in a Brazilian gold mine. This image was the result of months of research and planning, as Salgado gained access to the mine and spent time getting to know the workers. The image itself was taken after several days of waiting for the perfect moment, as Salgado waited for the light to be just right before capturing the image.

In addition to his technical skills, Salgado is also a master of storytelling. He uses his images to tell powerful stories, capturing the essence of a moment or a community in a way that is both authentic and compelling.

In this film, he discusses his notable works. One of which is Workers: Archaeology of the Industrial Age, that captures the medieval conditions of the Serra Pelada gold mine and the harsh realities of manual labour in the late 20th century. He discusses another body of work, Genesis, dedicated to showing the beauty of our planet, reversing the damage done to it, and preserving it for the future.

Salgado speaks with passion and thoughtfulness about his career, his favourite projects and the personal meaning behind his work. Photography resources were much harder to come by when Sebastião first started to learn photography. Online courses and masterclasses were certainly out of the question! We hope our free photography videos and resources help you to learn more about the the world of photography. If you’d like to learn more about storytelling in photography or photojournalism, check out the Steve McCurry masterclass or the Nick Danziger masterclass.


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