What becomes so obvious in Salgado’s early work is that his pictures couldn’t exist without his commitment to social justice. What he photographs is defined by what he believes in. His pictures are so strong because he knows exactly what he’s doing. If he would have been just some guy who happens to be at a place where social injustice is happening, he couldn’t have captured it in the same way. He would have been an observer, a tourist, but could not have told those stories from the inside out.
In this context should his current work be understood. You could walk into an exhibition of Genesis and think “Oh, these are nice photos of nature I’m seeing here”. Or you could think that Salgado is tired of seeing the world’s pain and sorrow and retired to nature photography in his old days. But it’s the opposite. Salgado understood that the planet’s environment is probably the most pressing and universal issue of our time. That’s what Genesis is about. And if you read it this way, it might be just the start of Salgado’s most powerful, most meaningful and impactful work.
This is not big news. It’s the ultimate message of Wim Wenders and Julian Salgado’s recent film The Salt of the Earth. But I believe that’s possibly why this movie was made in the first place. Salgado wants his message to be understood.
What does it mean for aspiring photographers?
Understand what you want to shoot. Understand the impact your work could have. Study what makes the world move. Don’t just be a guy with a camera, because we all are.
One of the most touching moments in Salgado’s talk was when he mentioned was how hard it was for him to be away from his family. Away for months in the mountains of Brazil, his wife Lélia and son were in Paris. On a Sunday, Salgado climbed a mountain and burst out in tears. He couldn’t change the situation. Travelling took weeks. There was no money. He had to stay to finish his work.
This dedication is what makes a photographer to Salgado. Now that we all take pictures every day, are surrounded by images, we tend to forget that. Yes, we all are photographers today. But few of us are ready to make the sacrifice it takes to truly tell the stories that matter.