Research on Salgado’s project: ‘Other Americas’

Based on reading text by Mraz, exploring the work by Sebastian Salgado

(ways of seeing latin America)

To contextualise the photographer, Salgado was born in Brazil as one of eight children to a middle class family. His father was a cattle rancher but he himself trained as an economist. Salgado was from a privileged background, one assumes. At the point of completing a PhD. in economics he was faced with a career choice crises over being an economist or photographer. In the end he chose photography. Salgado’s work covers a huge geographic region, from Africa, to the middle east and back to his own territory in latin americas. His main subject matter has been in the domain as photojournalist working to highlight displacement of people from their land, poverty and general degradation of society, especially the regions of Latin America.

As a student he was involved in political struggles and ended up relocating in Paris, as a part of these events.

He is a big photographer on the world stage of photographers and is much written about but also has attracted a fair bit of criticism from people that do not always believe his representations of poverty are justified in the way that he does it.

It must be seen that Salgado owns a fair degree of his success to his architect wife and curator/manager. She is the main contributor for a lot of the aesthetic and distributional decisions of Salgado’s work (Parvati, 2011) [1]

John Mraz (ways of seeing latin America, 2002) argues that Salgado has offered up in his work: Other Americas a trope presentation of what we in Europe and the west expect to see based on our historical knowledge of this region, thus once again, perhaps, placing the people of the undeveloped world into the role of victim?

“The Brazil-born, Paris-based photographer traveled extensively in Latin America between 1977 and 1984 to document the shifting religious and political climate in the region, especially as reflected in Latin America’s rural cultures and traditional lifestyles. Other Americas, Salgado’s first photobook, included portraits of farmers and indigenous people, landscapes and pictures of the region’s spiritual traditions.” https://monovisions.com/sebastiao-salgado-other-americas/ [2]

One of Mraz’s main concerns is that the style within which Salgado functions (fine art photojournalism) turns the project of his photos in Latin America away from the subject matter and more towards himself as a photographer. He argues that in fact, Salgado, far from generating sympathy and respect from his viewers in turn does not do justice to the situation by playing into existing preconceptions of what people already know and expect to see, in this kind of work, and in this kind of situation.

As such we are asked to reflect on wether this work tells us anything optimistic or positive about the lives of these peoples or is simply that the situation defined by  hopelessness and deprivation.

There are within the series of images of ‘other americas’ a few images that appear to be less morbid and more as it were, playful. The image of the girl with a tray full of what appears to be toffee apples sitting on her head, sucking one herself, could be seen as more of an optimistic and lively image. One notices that the tone of the image, black and white with heavy grain, tends to lean into a particular reading of the photo which makes them feel heavy and serious, even though the denotive elements of the image are essentially positive or at least not giving the impression of poverty and lack.

Alan Riding writes, “Salgado has sought out a lost corner of the Americas and he has made it a prism through which the entire continent can be viewed. A philosophy of life is caught in a look; an entire way of life is frozen in a moment . . .” [3]

As to riding’s comments above, generally he sees the work in favourable terms. Wether or not actually Salgado did really capture a lost corner of the Americas of wether this is a clever use of photographic jargon I am not sure. To extrapolate that through Salgado’s work we are seeing the cultural, emotional, socio-economic conditions of an entire continent is somewhat questionable.

The fact that Salgado himself was forced into exile becomes an interesting and relevant detail when examining his work as this would make more sense of his focusing on this particular area: it is a deeply personal and even unresolved issue to him. Along with this is a dominant focus on, as some critics have described his work, a silent and contextless absence of what is going on in the bigger picture within the socio-political system that he is documenting. This silence has been surmised to be related to Salgado’s own experience of exile from his native land (Ritchin, 1990, cited in: Nair, 2011) [4]

In conclusion to this research, Mraz’s comments have offered an interesting view of Salgado’s work, Other Americas, and in some ways seem reminiscent of Sontage’s work whereby she states:

“To suffer is one thing, another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience or the ability to be compassionate” (Sontage, 1977:20) [5]

All in all Sagrado’s work is an impressive body and aesthetically strong, however, this particular study seems to highlight where Documentary meets the aesthetic, presenting suffering in a manor that for some people is stereotypical and fails to do justice to the actual situation and therefore raising ethical issues of honesty and completeness in the presentation.


references

 1. Nair, P. A different light: The photography of Sebastiao Salgado (2011) Duke university press, Durham and London [online] https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ucreative-ebooks/reader.action?docID=1172977 [accessed, January 2020]

2. Monovision, black and white photography magazine [online] https://monovisions.com/sebastiao-salgado-other-americas/ [accessed January 2020]

3.Riding, A. Aperture [online] https://aperture.org/shop/salgado-other-americas-books/ [accessed, January 2020] Alan Riding (born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1943) is a journalist and writer who worked for The Financial Times, The Economist and joined the New York Times in 1977.

4. Nair, P. (2011) Fred Ritchin: The lyric documentarian: Sebastiao Salgado, an uncertain Grace: 148-149 New York aperture (1990).

5. Sontag, S. On photography (1977:20), Penguin Press.

Published by Truevisionphotography

I'm a student photographer studying through the OCA a UK based arts university. I'm in the foundation year of my studies and enjoying it immensely. I'm also a yoga teacher and co-founder of Bodhiyoga a buddhism based yoga teacher training program that runs in the UK and Spain each year. As a photographer I'm interested in all forms of fine art. I find the arts really important in my life. I love nature and aim to be in the outdoors as much as I can. Generally I think that all the different strands of my life are flowing to towards self development in the greatest sense of the term. The arts, buddhist practice yoga and meditation are all tools to that end. I feel committed to communication the these values in the world both through the visual arts as well as teaching.

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