for Oliver, Cami, and Julie
Sebastião Salgado, From my Land to the Planet
I first heard the name of Sebastião Salgado from Mev in the early 1990s. She esteemed him more than any other living photographer, as he embodied a secular “preferential option for the poor.” Mev wished to make a similar option, precisely as a photo-journalist and theology student. The Struggle is One, her book about the liberationist church in Brazil (Salgado’s homeland), was one expression of her commitment.
Given your interest in and commitment to photography, I wanted to share a bit with you from Salgado’s recent autobiography, From my Land to the Planet. The book was put together by Isabelle Francq, who interviewed Salgado during a very busy period of his life. The book necessarily goes into much greater detail than what is suggested in Mev’s interview with him from 1993, which is one of the “Seeing the World” chapters in The Book of Mev. I think you will find a lot in this book that stimulates your imagination and photographic praxis.
Salgado and his girlfriend Lelia became politically involved in the days of the Brazilian military dictatorship (her uncle was a founder of the Brazilian Communist Party). But as things heated up there, they choose to leave the country for France. Salgado was trained early on as an economist. But he grew to love the adventure of taking photographs much more than writing detailed reports on countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda. The couple, eventually to marry, used their savings to invest in the best possible photographic equipment. He began to see this work less as being journalistically au courant and more as investing time to listen to people and community’s “long-term stories.”
This is one of the aspects of Salgado’s work that most impressed Mev: His willingness to be immersed in the communities where he was taking photos. He reflected on this path: “Totally integrated with his surroundings, the photographer knows that he is going to witness something unexpected. When he merges into the landscape, into that particular situation, the construction of the image eventually emerges before his eyes. But in order to see it, he has to be part of what is happening. Then, all the elements will start to play in his favor.” He lived for a year and a half in the Sahel during the famine. He got to know the people through the organizations working with them. This reminded me of how Mev would make connections with the local Catholic church (and Maryknoll Missionaries), say, in Brazil, and through them meet people and become familiar with their struggles. Read the rest of this entry »