Celebrating Sebastião Salgado’s 80th Birthday 

09th February 2024
Salgado portrait

To mark Sebastião Salgado’s 80th birthday, Guardian journalist Andrei Netto met with the photographer at his studio in Paris, where Salgado works today with Lélia, his wife of sixty years. “In the basement, stacks of thousands of pictures await his attention. Upstairs, Lélia manages the agency, produces new exhibitions and works on the concept, design and editing of his books. ‘I can’t say where I end and where Lélia begins,’ says Salgado of the woman he met when he was 19. ‘She is central in my life’.” 

Looking back over his life, Salgado laments humanity’s failure to curb its destructive impulses. He says that he is ‘pessimistic’ about humans, ‘but optimistic about the planet. The planet will recover. It is becoming increasingly easier for the planet to eliminate us.’ In the course of his career, Salgado has sought out and photographed some of the last pristine landscapes and traditional cultures – the few remaining bastions of pre-modern life that enjoy a dwindling security from the devastation of globalised economies.

Sebastião Salgado, 'Dinka Cattle Camp of Kei, Southern Sudan, 2006'

Salgado’s approach to photography sprung from the political convictions of humanism and environmentalism. Having photographed people living in humble conditions, Salgado is conscious of how these images are received; “they say I was an ‘aesthete of misery’ and tried to impose beauty on the poor world. But why should the poor world be uglier than the rich world? The light here is the same as there. The dignity here is the same as there.”

Born in Brazil at a time when it was still “a developing country”, Salgado’s first photographs were of the people and world he was familiar with. Much of his enormous oeuvre is distinctive in the combination of black and white photography, dramatic (even operatic) lighting and a sense of engagement and activity. Salgado has covered assignments in 130 countries – “I have photographed the world” – and his work is now a cornerstone for the representation of environmental and humanitarian issues globally.

Sebastião Salgado, 'Southern Right Whale Tail, Valdés Peninsula, Argentina, 2004'
Sebastião Salgado, 'Giant Tortoise, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, 2004'

‘Genesis’, a colossal project and perhaps his magnum opus, involved an extraordinary eight-year expedition across the world. It has come to define his photographic life’s work as a chronicling of the beauty and importance of the last remnants of a life and a world outside of the ravages of modern civilisation. ‘Genesis’, now available for purchase from SOL LDN, is an incredibly articulate love letter to life and to the planet.

Salgado told the Guardian in a recent interview that “I know I won’t live much longer. But I don’t want to live much longer. I’ve lived so much and seen so many things.” One of the greatest photojournalists of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Salgado’s life and work has been dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the supreme majesty of the Earth.

Click here for the full article in the Guardian.

Sebastião Salgado, 'Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, 2009'


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