Sebastião Salgado

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Undertaking projects of vast temporal and geographic scope, Sebastião Salgado (born 1944) is one of the most celebrated photojournalists working today. Whilst inescapably memorable for their beauty, Salgado’s photographs are laden with political purpose exposing the social and environmental problems facing our planet.

All works are available for purchase – please click on an image for further information.

Works

Chinstrap Penguins on an Iceberg between Zavodovski and Visokoi Islands, South Sandwich Islands, 2009

Sebastião Salgado

Dinka Cattle Camp of Kei, Southern Sudan, 2006

Sebastião Salgado

Colony of Chinstrap and Macaroni Penguins with Mount Michael an Active Volcano Behind, Saunders Island, South Sandwich Island, 2009

Sebastião Salgado

Dinka Girl at Kolkuei Cattle Camp, Southern Sudan, 2006

Sebastião Salgado

Crossing the Ob River, Siberia, Russia, 2011

Sebastião Salgado

Iceberg Between Paulet Island and the Shetland Islands, Antarctica, 2005

Sebastião Salgado

Chinstrap Penguins, Deception Island, Antarctica, 2005

Sebastião Salgado

Performer at the Mount Hagen Sing Sing Festival, Papua New Guinea, 2006

Sebastião Salgado

Herd of Buffalos, Kafue National Park, Zambia, 2010

Sebastião Salgado

A Portrait of a Young Nenet Girl, Yamal Peninsula, Siberia, Russia, 2011

Sebastião Salgado

Tigray, Ethiopia, 1985

Sebastião Salgado

A Group of Wauru Fish in the Piulaga Lake, Mato Grosso, Brazil, 2005

Sebastião Salgado

Chinstrap Penguins on an Iceberg between Zavodovski and Visokoi Islands, South Sandwich Islands, 2009

Sebastião Salgado

Refugees at the Korem Camp, Ethiopia, 1984

Sebastião Salgado

A Leopard in the Barab River Valley, Damaraland, Namibia, 2005

Sebastião Salgado

The Confluence of the Colorado and the Little Colorado Rivers, Arizona, USA, 2010

Sebastião Salgado

Baobab Trees on a Mushroom Island in the Bay of Moramba, Madagascar, 2010

Sebastião Salgado

African Buffalo Herd in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, 2007

Sebastião Salgado

Chinstrap Penguins on Zavodovski Island, South Sandwich Islands, 2009

Sebastião Salgado

Sea Lions at Puerto Egas in James Bay, Santiago Island, Gala?pagos, Ecuador, 2004

Sebastião Salgado

Sand Dune, Namibia, 2005

Sebastião Salgado

Desert Hell, Kuwait, 1991

Sebastião Salgado

Adansonia Grandidieri, Madagascar, 2010

Sebastião Salgado

The Roraima Tepui, Venezuela, 2006

Sebastião Salgado

Desert Hell, Kuwait, 1991

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Mali, 1985

Sebastião Salgado

Bighorn Creek, Kluane National Park, Canada, 2011

Sebastião Salgado

Kafue National Park, Zambia, 2010

Sebastião Salgado

Yamal Peninsula, Siberia, Russia, 2011

Sebastião Salgado

Mali, 1985

Sebastião Salgado

Amak Cattle Camp, Southern Sudan, 2006

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Church Gate Station, Bombay, India, 1995

Sebastião Salgado

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, 2009

Sebastião Salgado

Southern Elephant Seal Calves, Saint Andrew’s Bay, South Georgia, 2009

Sebastião Salgado

African Elephant, Kafue National Park, Zambia, 2010

Sebastião Salgado

Dinka Man, Southern Sudan, 2006

Sebastião Salgado

Mata Tea Plantation, Rwanda, 1991

Sebastião Salgado

Maper Payem Area, Rumbek District, South Sudan, 2001

Sebastião Salgado

Dinka Man, Southern Sudan, 2006

Sebastião Salgado

The Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta, Indonesia, 1996

Sebastião Salgado

A Himba Woman, Kaokoland, Namibia, 2005

Sebastião Salgado

Dinka Man, Southern Sudan, 2006

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1986

Sebastião Salgado

Kluana National Park, Canada, 2011

Sebastião Salgado

Desert Hell, Kuwait, 1991

Sebastião Salgado

Marine Iguana, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, 2004

Sebastião Salgado

Large Sand Dunes in Maor, Tadrart, South of Djanet, Algeria, 2009

Sebastião Salgado

Sand Dunes, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia 2005

Sebastião Salgado

The Anavilhanas, the Worlds Largest Inland Archipelago, Amazonas, Brazil, 2009

Sebastião Salgado

A Member of the Zo’é Group, State of Pará, Brazil, 2009

Sebastião Salgado

Zo’é Group, State of Pará, Brazil, 2009

Sebastião Salgado

The Amazon Rainforest Borders the Imeri Mountain Range, Amazonas, Brazil, 2009

Sebastião Salgado

Mentawai Climbing a Gigantic Tree to Collect Durian Fruit, Siberut Island, West Sumatra, Indonesia, 2008

Sebastião Salgado

Yali Tribal Group, West Papua, Indonesia, 2010

Sebastião Salgado

Teurem, Sikierie and Leader of the Mantawai Clan Preparing a Filter for Sago, West Sumatra, Indonesia, 2008

Sebastião Salgado

Giant Tortoise, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, 2004

Sebastião Salgado

Southern Right Whales, Valdés Peninsula, Argentina, 2004

Sebastião Salgado

Southern Right Whale Tail, Valdés Peninsula, Argentina, 2004

Sebastião Salgado

The Penguins of Paulet Island Resting on an Iceberg, Antarctica, 2005

Sebastião Salgado

The Tundra Valley Extended between Tolbachik and Kamen Volcanoes, with the Base of the Kamen Volcano Behind, Russia, 2006

Sebastião Salgado

Kamen and Kluchevosky Volcanoes, Kamchatka, Russia, 2006

Sebastião Salgado

The Once-Prestigious Jade Maiwan Avenue, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1996

Sebastião Salgado

Yamal Peninsula, Siberia, Russia, 2011

Sebastião Salgado

Yamal Peninsula, Siberia, Russia, March and April 2011

Sebastião Salgado

The Grand Canyon in Utah, Viewed from the National Forest, Arizona, USA, 2010

Sebastião Salgado

Mother and Child at the Korem Camp, Ethiopia, 1984

Sebastião Salgado

Refugees at the Korem Camp, Ethiopia, 1984

Sebastião Salgado

Portrait of a Girl from the Ashaninka Indigenous Group, State of Acre, Brazil, 2016

Sebastião Salgado

Portrait of a Girl from the Ashaninka Indigenous Group, State of Acre, Brazil, 2016

Sebastião Salgado

Portrait of a Man from the Yawanawa Indigenous Group, State of Acre, Brazil, 2016

Sebastião Salgado

Three Figures from the Yawanawa Indigenous Group, State of Acre, Brazil, 2016

Sebastião Salgado

Performer at the Mount Hagen Sing Sing Festival, Papua New Guinea, 2006

Sebastião Salgado

Early Years

Sebastião Salgado was born on 8 February 1944 on a large cattle farm in Aimorés in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, to a middle class family as the sixth of eight children. He has said that his childhood spent on the farm heavily influenced the expansiveness for which his photography is renowned. Salgado moved to a nearby city for school and then to Vitória and São Paulo to study economics. In 1967 he married Lélia Deluiz Wanick who went on to play an integral role in the development of his photographic practice. He considers his work the product of their partnership, and Lélia to be the visionary and guiding force in the planning and execution of his projects. They have two sons and one grandson.

Salgado began his career as an economist working for the secretary of finance to the state of São Paulo before moving to Paris to undertake a doctorate. This move was largely the result of his participation in the student protests against Brazil’s military dictatorship that led to the revocation of his Brazilian passport. Exiled for ten years, his passport was only regained after a process of litigation, but the family decided to remain in Europe, partly to ensure the care of one of their sons who was born with Downs syndrome. Salgado started working for the International Coffee Organisation at this time and travelled extensively to Africa for the World Bank.

Photographic Career

Salgado began photographing in the early 1970s when Lélia bought a camera to use whilst studying architecture. In 1973 he gave up his career as an economist as photography made ‘a total invasion’ of his life. After working for the Sygma and Gamma photo agencies, in 1979 he joined Magnum, the prestigious agency that had been founded by the four fathers of modern photojournalism – Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour. He cemented his reputation as a photojournalist, however, when he captured the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in March 1981.

Leaving Magnum in 1994, Salgado set up the photo agency, Amazones Images, in partnership with Lélia to promote his photography. In 1999 the couple also founded the Instituto Terra, a non-profit organisation established to conserve the Atlantic rainforest that surrounded his family home. Taking over the cattle ranch that had been owned by his father, Sebastião and Lélia set about undoing the devastation caused by deforestation and erosion and recreated a forest with the species that had once flourished there.

In order to understand the communities and habitats he photographs, Salgado undertakes prolonged projects, or “photo-essays”, that present huge, thrilling dramas of clashing geographical, social and cultural structures. His earlier projects – Migration and Workers – centre on the trials of humanity across the globe, taking seven and six years respectively. Consumerism is constantly impinging on the wilderness in these photographs as the ancient and modern come into terrifying proximity. Some of Salgado’s most famous images were taken at the Serra Pelada gold mine in Brazil where he immortalised scenes of medieval horror as tens of thousands of men worked in appalling conditions. Despite the foreboding shadow cast by humanity’s propulsion towards self-destruction, community is constantly at the centre of Salgado’s vision. Displaced, degraded and corrupted, humanity can always be ennobled through the return to community.

After photographing brutality and violence across the globe, Salgado’s most recent photo-essay, Genesis, marked a rekindling of faith in the partnership of humanity and nature. Completed in 2013, the eight-year project is awesome in the truest sense of the word. Genesis is about returning to origins – finding nature in its pure, pristine state. It takes us on a journey to the remotest regions of the planet to see five tonne elephant seals in South Georgia, people of the Dinka tribe herding cattle, thousands of penguins on Zavodovski Island and the Nenets of northern Siberia crossing the ice into the Arctic Circle. As Salgado has said, Genesis is a “mosaic presented by nature itself”, but it is not just a romantic contemplation of the sublime, instead, it opens up a discussion about what we have done to the planet and what we must now do to protect it.

Rather than dwelling on the consequences of our disregard for the environment with the polemic zeal of his earlier work, Genesis is an elegy to the disappearing wonders of the planet. “The work is the record of my journey,” Salgado has said, “a visual ode to the majesty and fragility of the Earth. But it is also a warning, I hope, of all that we risk losing.” As a photo-essay, Genesis is a strangely timeless document, showing the ancient, the present and the future in a colossal nexus of human, nature and planet.

More so than any other contemporary photographer, Salgado has come to typify the genre of fine art photojournalism. Renowned for his highly skilled tonality, the chiaroscuro effect of his dramatic black and white images has contributed to the repositioning of photography as “high art”. This success undoubtedly issues from his political insight and distinctive aesthetic that renders the world both beautiful and humbling. It is this combination of political and aesthetic force that makes it impossible not to respond to Salgado’s photography with thought and comment.

Exhibitions and Awards

Salgado has won almost every major photography prize and is the recipient of a deservedly long list of honours, including the Photographer of the Year Award from the American Society of Magazine Photography in 1987. He is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has had his work exhibited in numerous exhibitions worldwide continuously throughout his career.

Interview with Sebastião Salgado

Transcript

Giles: So, what I thought we’d just do quietly now just for the first thirty seconds or so is have a look at some photographs on the screen above us

[photographs shown]

Giles: So firstly, you studied a PhD in economics… what lead you to become a photographer?

Sebastião: Well, I schooled photography very late... we came to France to Paris in 1969 and I was preparing this PhD in Economics and my wife was doing studies of Architecture. In June 1970, she bought a camera to do pictures for this group of architecture and I remember our holidays in France just on the border in Switzerland. We bought one Pentax with a 50mm lens and from the first day that I looked through this viewfinder, my life completely changed. I had another relationship with everything that I saw. I had a huge plate to make these pictures but I feel, reading the catalogue of the camera, the manual… that you possibly had also other angles to photograph more large, or to have taller lens, And we had few money... We went back to Geneva which was not too far because it was the time where the cameras were most cheap in Europe, and we bought two more lenses, one 24mm, one 200mm lens. And we had over this... and I started my pictures in this moment. And it was total invasion in my life... total.

I was… we were leaving the City University in Paris and I was 27 years old in that moment... no, 26 years old, and we had very small money. I had this scholarship and was living in a student house, and I started to develop film for the other students and I bought a small and large and started to copy pictures for them. This I learnt how the well to develop the films, how real to copy the prints and that was this. I finished the third part of my PhD and I had a job here in London. I came to live here in 1971 working in international coffee organisation and in reality, I was not really dealing with coffee. We had investment funds where they had a huge amount of money because each bag of coffee in that time that was exported would put one dollar per bag. And each country that was importing the coffee put one dollar for their sign. To create this fund and to do the diversification of the coffee plantation around the world quickly breaked the offer in order to hold a good price for the coffee.

And, I started to remember the first trip that I did was in Rwanda in the end of 1971. We started the future of tea plantation. I was responsible for a project employing 32,000 families. Was more than a 100 thousand people dependent on cheap plantations of this project. And we made these trips to Africa with the world bank. We made the 10% investment of the country that had no money – we put the money for the country and there were banks there. It was a thirty years project, but doing this I brought my camera with me, and coming back to London, my pictures gave me ten times more pleasure than the economy was, that was my certainty. And boy, it was real progress – I started to see for the first-time photography in my life here. And I went to the galleries in London to see pictures... I started buying books of photography. I remember to have a book that appeared at that time that said… photography of the year. And it had a kind of concourse that was all over the planet. And you had a photography... that I had big pleasure to say the name of the photography was. And looking at the black and white photography of... for me was a huge pleasure and I come back to where I… I’m at Carnaby street and have the missions to Congo, because my original work was Rwanda, Congo... I was the first responsible for these three counters and our second in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. I was travelling this area and coming back and doing these pictures.

In that moment, it was not necessary for me to make a decision because it was a huge place really, photography. I remember that with my wife we went to the Serpentine lake, we were living in Queensway at that time. We had a small boat and we stopped in the middle of this small lake and we sat there for hours discussing what we would do and what we would not do, because I had a proposition to go to Washington to work in the world bank. And I was supposed to go back to brazil, to be the assistant of the minister of finance in Brazil at that time. In the university of São Paolo also, for a teacher of some part in micro economy.

Giles: So, this was a huge decision for you guys…

Sebastião: Oh, quite. I was between should I go? Should I not go? Discussed with my wife and we took a decision – we go for photography. And I went to see my boss here, it was the director of the organisation, and I ask him… I said, “on Sunday I’m resigning.” He said, “I know that you’ll be going to the world bank.” I said, “no, I’ll be a photographer.” He said, “you are the most stupid person in the planet… me, I want to be a photographer, my wife wants to be a photographer, my daughter wants to be a photographer… everyone wants to be a photographer, you are stupid leaving London and this job… in front of you, you have an incredible future and one day you’ll be the minister of finance of Brazil.” I said, “oh my God, but I want to be a photographer.” And we went back to France and I started photography.

I came from a country where the social problems are yet incredible, and that time much more than now – Brazil is a developing country about to arrive there, but in that time, it was real under the... before the social problems. We were students, leftists, we came to France and made a stance of Marxism and the economy that we did was not enterprise economy, it was public finance and micro economy, it was political economy. And, of course, with this background, one day I don’t know when where and why. I was 100% in search of photography and I was completely concerned on this. I dedicated most of the part of my life doing the social history…

Giles: So, that was the moment… Fascinating. I want to ask you about your wife Lélia. I know the answer to this already, but could you tell everybody here a little bit about your relationship with her and your professional relationship with her and how important she’s been to your career?

Sebastião: Well not just for my career, my wife’s the most important person in all my life long. We’ve lived together for 50 years, we started together in 1964. My wife was very young, me I was not too old also. I was 19 and she was 16 years old when we started and everything that we did in life we did together, we discussed together... and she... before she did play piano when we met she was doing a conservatoire. She did the piano... and when I did university in Spirito Santo in Vittoria, and after went to São Paolo to do a Master’s degree in Economy. And she came to São Paolo to do specialisation, more advanced in piano. And, but we had a big drama in our life: just two months before to leave to France, we were in an edge to be arrested by the police because we are inside this student movement, a big dictatorship in Brazil. And the organisation that we are close take the decision because we are too young so it was better to abandon the count because they were arresting a lot of people and people going to torture or killing a lot of young people in Brazil.

And we arrived in France and she never more touched the piano, never. And she loved architecture, she went to the school of Beaux-Arts in Paris and she did Architecture. And we always were very linked – everything we discussed in life. Many years later, I was in Magnum agents as a photographer and Lélia came inside photography. We have a downs syndrome son and when his downs syndrome was son born, Lélia stopped to work for two years. Because he had a big problem of respiration and he had bronchi (tracheosis)– two on one side, three on the other. And he started a cold at 4pm, and 10 in the evening he was in the hospital. And it was a big problem for us, and then it slowly stopped, the third one disappeared and he became good. And when he becomes good, she did not come back to the architecture, she came back to photography.

She created the Magnum gallery in Paris, but before she worked as a teacher of photography in two specialised magazines of photography. And after, she came to Magnum and she created with a group of Magnum gallery in Paris where she did many different shows. And one day she made a decision to abandon everything there and come to work with my photography. And in reality, my wife was the designer of the majority of my books. She is the creator of all shows that I have around the world. And, for me it’s a big comfort, because she’s for me, she’s incredible. She has a capacity for organisation that I don’t know no one else. She has incredible energy, she has fabulous taste, she’s really very good in what she does.

Giles: And she travels with you, I think I’m right?

Sebastião: Well, generally for each project. She came more than... I did 32 trips, she probably did 20 trips with me. She does not stay the whole time, because me I stay more than two months in each of these trips but she came for two weeks, three weeks, to understand what’s going on in order for the day that she designed the book and show she was completely inside the story of these works. You remember probably the show that was here in the Natural History Museum, the colour of the walls. And this colour she found in the streets. For example, Africa. When we take off from Europe we go to Africa, we take off and leave London to Africa very early in the morning. And Africa has this reddish continent with this incredible dust that is very pink. And that does go very high in altitude. And when the sun is very parallel to the earth in the morning and the trajectory of the life is very long, and we see all these particles of the dust that are very red. We have these red clouds in the sky, and we land in a red continent. And she put that colour.

And she travels with me everywhere, she organises everything. We have an environment institution in Brazil where we needed money for it because we plan millions of trips. And me, I speak a lot – I can go and ask money and speak with people and do conferences and do these kinds of things. But, it’s not me the president of the institution, it’s her the president of the institution. She organises everything very well and, plus, I believe that she’s very pretty. I love her very much.

Giles: Thank you. We are going to look at some pictures in a second, but Sebastião, before we look at some, in the broadest sense what do you hope that your photography achieves? That’s a difficult question to answer, but…

Salgado: Well… I don’t know. Really, I don’t know. You see, many times people tell that I’m a photojournalist that were concerned for the economy and an anthropologist photographer. I know nothing of this. Photography is my way of life, it’s my life photography. I did photography because I was very happy to do it because I was very upset or because I had a huge place to do there, or because it was very beautiful. And because I have also a way to think, I have ideology, I have analytics. Photography was a language, and it was my language. I link this photography with this historic moment that I live.

There is a film that came out now in France, it will come out in Germany this week and will be coming out here, called The Salt of the Earth. This film was made by my son, Julian, who is a film maker and... who is a German film maker, they did the film together. This film has come out just now. And it’s interesting to look this film because it’s a film about a photographer but it’s not about photography. What links every part of the film is photography – they project this photography, but in the end of the day it’s a film about the philosophy of life, it’s about a point of view, and it’s about an ideology about ethics and that is this, my photography is this.

My photography participates in many different things. I work a lot with Save the Children and Unicef in this country, I’m a good will ambassador of Unicef. With UNHCR, that’s the United Nations Refugees and the parliament, and doctors of the borders. They use my photography in many different social aspects but I don’t believe that my photography made any difference by only themselves

Giles: So, an image like this one, for example… because a lot of your photographs are of struggle in the face of globalisation, environmental damage, poverty and all the associated problems... do you think that, therefore, with other methods of communication they combine into a powerful message?

Sebastião: That’s the point, because sometimes people say old photography can change the world… photography cannot change the world. Photography can together with different movements, with different groups acting in some direction, photography participates with it, is part of this movement. For example, some of this photography I did with the doctors on the borders, and I were in this moment the doctors on the borders there were Magnum. I did 18 months of work in Africa with doctors on the borders, and we did a book and big shows with them. And that added then a lot of participation in the movement. But it’s part of this movement, it’s not alone movement.

Giles: We’re going to move on now. Sebastião, you’ve worked, quite unusually now, on very long-term projects throughout your career, mostly personally chosen. So, I’m just going to touch on a couple of those – I’m going to touch on Workers, and Migration, and finally Genesis. So, I think we’ll start with Workers. And there’s this fantastic picture from Workers taken in Kuwait in 1991, I think. Can you just explain a little bit about the motivation behind workers and what you were hoping to achieve with the project?

Sebastião: This is a little bit influenced of the economist that was inside myself. You see, in a moment we started to see that a lot of things was changing in Europe. You see guys, you have incredible car industry. You produce incredible automobiles, we produce very few. And these things gone like this. in France, France was big and still produces there. We started to live in reality. The first huge Industrial Revolution happened in this country in the 19th century. And the second huge Industrial Revolution happens around the 80s with the arrival of the intelligent machine and the line of production… the computers, the robots... and we started to displace the production that were here to come to where we had the raw material very cheap, and we had a lot of labour that was not expensive. And this has started to go – this industry has gone from here to India, to China, from France to Brazil, to Indonesia, to Mexico.

And in this moment, I started to see that was a moment to do a kind of homage to the working class that for us was so important in our... of economy and Marxist, that it was necessary to do a kind of homage to this working class because working class were becoming another thing. Before in a factor of car, we have thousands of work, and the car come outside of the production line. It was in front of everyone, it participated everyone – doing the pieces, putting the paint on, screw on, altogether the car was touched by the hand of everyone in sight. And after a moment we started to have a machine that does exact the movement of the arm of the men. And that was the end of the materialization of this movement, that to call a robot. And the guy that operates this robot is no more a real worker, is one technician who specialises in these machines.

That means this transformation in the industry was not employing more or the same workers that had before – was employing a new working class and much a small number of people. In this month, we saw this incredible revolution going on and with my wife we said, it’s a month to do a story, do a story about the end of this first Industrial Revolution that happens in England. And I started to photograph the traditional workers. Remember that the title of the book is Workers and Archaeology of the Industrial Era. And we started to see in the industry that were not born here – I went to find them. The… the motorbike that was produced in this country, that was an amazing motorbike. I went to photograph the factory that was here, that was took piece by piece then put in Madras in India. And I went to India to photograph this factory there like we produced the motorbike here in the end of the 40s and the beginning of the 50s.

And like this, I went to china to see how they were producing trucks there in this moment, I went to Soviet Union, went to Brazil to many different parts of the planet. And we did this body of work, and that was amazing because in this moment we were not speaking about globalisation. And that was the rest of the globalisation that a few years later we started to call this. And photographing Workers was possible for me to see that we are leaving our reorganisation of human family. Because my when I was a child in Brazil, we have about 92% of population leaving the fields or rural population. Now we have more than 92% are European population. And creating these huge industrial centres with the industry come from here to there, with this movement of money that went down there to create this kind of pull of industrial development. We created a huge movement of population in this country.

And looking at this all over the world, when I was finished Workers I had an idea to photograph another story that we call Exodus. And Exodus born inside the Workers project and Exodus in the end is showing the reorganisation of human family because in this moment we were having in the planet more than 250 million people per year that were abandoned refugees going in the direction of the town. And I put myself more than 7 years doing this story for the movement of population. And it’s because this that I told you a few minutes ago that this photography… no one asked me to do this. I created the projects with my wife and I went to the magazines, I came here in the time for Workers with the London Sunday Times. We went to LIFE magazine in the United States, to Paris, to many magazines around the world and they trusted me and we gave them these stories - each time that they went to do a story it was a story I gave for a magazine. This time we get finance to do a project.

And these were our stories. It because these that that I said is the things that were completely concerned... I did long term stories. Workers, I put 5 years to photograph. Exodus, that was Migration, I took seven years to photograph. And, but, if you were not really concerned with this story, it’s not your story, you cannot hold five or seven years in the road because it is part of your life. You must have this kind of comfort to be there, to participate. And, of course, my language is photography. I have huge pleasure all day long to produce my image.

And photography is for me, we have different concepts. I have a very good friend Henri Cartier-Bresson that added a lot in photography. But our concepts work quite different the way to approach photography. Henri Cartier-Bresson had one concept that was ‘this is if not’. Was if you have a tabula, a mathematical cube, you touch this cover in a moment that the tangent would be zero. You’d be the maximum point. But you must be very smart to do this, and you must be a little bit of an outsider in order to approach and do this kind of thing. And me as I come from this world that I’m photographing, I’m part of this story and I was inside of this story. That means if this phenomena if this […] was going... that you were photographing… for me was doing tangents in every point, was leaving with them the phenomenon in a point that when I finished the photograph, sometimes I’m so tired that I go to sleep. Because you live so intense inside this moment and we speak a lot about economy, about sociology… how you went, how you photograph, how I organise all these things. But inside myself, it’s a photographer. And photography is my language. And I have the big privilege to be in the university, to prepare a PhD, to study anthropology, sociology, economy, geopolitics. And that had me to situate myself inside the historic moment that my life was placed over. And for me, it was possible to go inside and to leave, and that is my life.

Giles: Having been absorbed in a project for seven years, how do you know when the moments right to end it? Surely, you’re obsessed with it by that point, or maybe you’re fed up with it, I don’t know…

Sebastião: This project was meant to live all life-long. But you know, I’m not a rich person... I made more money because my picture has a big value and I can finance myself my project. But before not, before was necessary to me to come to chief editor of a magazine. I said “guys, I had this story... a five years story.” They said, “Sebastião, in two years I’m not even sure if I’ll be here so how can I sign an agreement with you for five years?” They said, “we’ll do an agreement to do one year by year, and we made this agreement.” But I made an agreement also with a publisher to put some money in a book. And the publisher said, “yes, I’ll give you five years but no more, because after I may not be here and I will not know how the story will be.” And we made this kind of compromise in the beginning, this arrangement.

And for every one of the stories I created a project, I wrote a project, I conceived these stories before like we do, the guy designs a film. And of course, many of these stories changed in between because its long term and it’s a dynamic life. But the big lights were in sight and people respected and accepted and I produced these stories every… five or six stories per year when I was shooting Workers. And the same with Migration and Genesis, they produced 32 stories in eight years. I’m producing every 4 stories per year. But what I said, if it’s not your history, if you don’t have a huge inspiration, you cannot do.

I remember when we started, [points to audience member] Neil will probably remember this, we were in Magnum together many years, when I started migration I went to a... in Geneva. We said guys, we’ll do a long-term story with a group of Magnum photographers. And I have not wished to do myself alone in this story. We had a common friend here, a British photographer Ian Berry who said this is a nice story. He was very excited and said there we go. And the first story was happening with refugee people coming out of the Guatemalan side South of Mexico. And Ian went there, he was so upset because the cars of UNHCR were not there. Because it was not where we organised. In the end I understood, that was my story not Ian’s story. He went because he was a nice guy and I motivated him, but he was not really concerned.

I am a migrant. I came to France 1969 to do my studies. I stayed there a while as a refugee because in Brazil the government took out our passports. And after, I came here as a migrant worker, and I am a migrant today. And when I came to do this Exodus story, I was doing my history, it’s my history and I was concerned with it. And you must be concerned with your story, because you cannot hold a long time in the road to do this.

This photograph, for example, I did in the train station in Bombay. And these trains... Bombay is a peninsula, it’s a long, long town. These trains bring about six million workers every day inside Bombay. They do long trips, these wagons of men and women and they come all together. They work there. I lived in Bombay about 40 days. In the Exodus, I did nine big towns around the world, all just towns. Fifteen years before that I went there they have only less than 5 million people, and when I went back to photograph there were all more than 15 million people. These huge migration towns. And, fast forwards, these guys came to the job. And we had a second group of trains that came with the food for the guys. And we had a specialised group of people, workers also, that go to the houses of everyone of this person. They prepare this aluminium round container, and each guy is responsible for about 20 of these workers. And they come with this strange thing full of food and they have long chariots where they put these inside, and they go between people – they are not very large, they are narrow to cross between people. And they go in each house to give the food to each of these workers. And when they arrive on the last one, they come back from the first one, collecting them and bringing them back. When the workers arrive in the evening at the house, this is clean, hung and waiting for the other day. It’s incredible social organisation these things, and for me Bombay is the most fabulous town in the world.

Giles: Am I right that at the end of Migrations, at the end of Exodus, you decided that you’d had enough of photography, and you had to stop?

Sebastião: Yes, but… yes.

Giles: Can you tell us about that because we nearly never got Genesis.

Sebastião: That was a very tough moment in my life. I went from many doing these stories, and I went inside very tough stories. I remember former Yugoslavia was so many violence, so tough. And I started to be very disappointed with ourselves, with the humans, my species. What I saw in Rwanda was so brutal. I had days to see 15 to 20,000 people die per day in refugee camps. No more way to bury these people one by one – we made piles of these dead bodies, of thousands of deaths, and had a bulldozer that came in to get these 40 or 50 bodies and put them in common holes. Almost terrible things, the violence to see what we made in one week, we kill about one million people in one week, one by one with machetes, with sticks, with knives… it was incredible.

And in this moment, I started to be sick. My head was not working very well and that started to affect deeply my body. I started to have my own stafilococs, it started to attack me and everywhere I had an infection all over my body. And I went to see a doctor, a friend of ours in Paris. He made no examination. He said, “Sebastião, everything is good in your life. What happens is you are dying, you are simply dying. You see so much death. You are so inside of this violence that you don’t live more and you must stop.” And my wife said to me, “Stop.” And I was about at the end of this photography of Exodus and we went to Brazil for about three months. We went to the beach, we stopped there. And exactly in this moment, my parents had become very old. And they took a decision to give the farm that I grew up on. And when I was a child, this farm was the paradise. I can tell you that I grew up in a paradise. It was a huge farm, the farm of my father has more than, let’s say, 10 miles around. And huge beautiful farm with more than 56% of rainforest on each side. And a lot of water, a lot of white animals. My father had a lot of cattle. And when I received this land, I said oh my God, this land was sick as I am sick.

And my wife said, “Sebastião, you tell me all the time that you grew up in this paradise. Why don’t you replant the rainforest that was here before?” I said “oh, that’s a big problem – how will you do this because it’s a big farm?” We called a friend of ours that’s an engineer in forests and he made the calculation to reveal to this land was necessary to us to replant about 2 million and 500,000 trees of more than 200 different species. We said that we will. We started this project and I started to run, to ask people, to do a speech. We became tax deducted, we do the United States. I came here in this country, in Spain, in Italy, in Brazil, everywhere, and we started to raise the money and we started to replant this forest.

If you have a chance to see this film that our son and his friend did, you see part of this land, because my son made a film of my father in 1998 and 99. You see the love that was there, that was really a desert, completely raw. And we started to replant there, but I do not believe that any more tree we grow there, because the land was there. But guys, when the trees are from the ecosystem, it’s their home. They grow in their home. And these trees started to grow. And we started to see the life come back: hundreds of thousands of the trees, now we have more than 2 million trees planted. And we see all the animals come back, the birds. We have now more than a 170 different species of birds, and the water came back.

And I had a big wish to photograph again and we started to conceive Genesis. In this moment that we minded to photograph Genesis. Not that we chose to convince anyone in this planet about the need to protect the nature – we went because we want to see the planet and we give us the biggest gift that a person can give to himself – is to see this pristine part of the planet. We have here 46% of the planet, this exact as the day of the beginning. We destroyed a good half of the planet, but part of the half is still there yet. Of course, they are the most difficult lands to reach because they are too dry the deserts, or because they are too cold Antarctica. It is a huge continent, and these very cold lands in the north of the planets, these forests and Siberia, in Alaska, in Canada, in all the very high lands. All the lands are very high more than 12,000 or 15,000 feet. These lands are there yet. Because there’s not too many oxidation. And there’s a lot of […] there yet, a lot of red forests.

And we took the decision to go to these pristine parts of the planet. And I organised an assess to go, I went again to all the magazines. I sell the ideas for the magazines and we got it, we’d gone for all these years and the results are all these pictures. These pictures are what together we must protect. We have the obligation to do if you want to survive as a species – we must do. And what we are doing in Brazil, we are replanting Brazil, we must do this everywhere. And here, we must do, but we must replant. Ecological forests get the essence for the region – they planted the essence from this region, not to bring from outside. Making forests that can stay there for 400 or 500 years. The forests that are creating from the water, the forests created by photosynthesis, doing the separation of the carbon. And we need to do this because we have a soaring predomination of carbon, and we are hitting the planet so fast that we must do.

Giles: Do you see that occupying the next part of your career, or can you see a next photographic project developing as a final direction?

Sebastião: I’m in another photographic project, I start to less see another photographic project. Its born from Genesis. Always a project is born inside another. And to do Genesis, I work a lot of danger and movement inside Amazonian forests. You see, what is green in Brazil is […]. Brazil is very special with the Indians. You see, look, guys, because of you, Canada exists, because of you, United States exists, because of you, Australia exists, all born from England, we all come from here, you want that before. But what you’ve been is a kind of you destroy all them. The Indians in Canada live in a refugee camp. There is no more Indian land in Canada. There is no more Indian land in United States, what exists is a residuous of what there was before – the Indian land in the United States and living in refugee camps. What you did with the aborigines in Australia, there is no more aboriginal culture, there is no more aboriginal land, we destroy all this. But brazil has yet 13% of Brazilian territory is Indian land, is Indian reservation. And now we are about to attack this land and there is more than a hundred Indian groups inside brazil and Amazonian forest that were not yet contact. They live yet in the stone-age, they are like we lived 50,000 years before. A lot were contacted but, more than a hundred groups had no more contact with the western civilization yet.

And my wish is to do a story with these guys. I did one quite nice story and worked with a very nice British organisation that is Survive International. We did a nice story of our work in a group in the amazon with them. We did a second story with another group, the Yanomani Indians. I did just want a story that you’d want to see because I was so busy with Genesis’ presentation. But for next year, I’ll be doing three stories, and three the next. And I want to produce a body of work and my wife wants to do a very special show. She wants to create sheets of posters, very well printed, and with the national foundation of Indians in Brazil with Survive International we are to go to every secondary school, to every university and church. We will be producing thousands of pictures of these shows. In order that the younger people that will come inside the direction of Brazil in the next year. They can come with another concern about the Indian cultures. Because, what is the Indian culture is green, is forest yet, and the agro business in brazil has become very tough in the United States and Canada. And we must stop those guys. We have enough land to produce enough food for Brazil to export. What we have till now we don’t need to destroy more. And it is this that we want to do, and I started this work and I want to produce a real body of work about the Indians but, see, I’m photographing people now again. Genesis was a story, now it’s another story and another part of my life.

Giles: Well let’s hope you can find some hope in that photography. It sounds like you will.

Sebastião: Oh, yes. You see, it’s so fun to work with the Indians. The Indians, they live in societies where they live in complete calibrium with the nature and the planet. What provoked for me was that we become so aggressive animals, because we break our equilibrium with our planet. I remember me photographing… we have this picture that is there in Alaska… you had a projection of another valley in Alaska a few minutes ago. I have a memory myself, I had this small plane in Alaska to bring me to a point and leave me there. And he came to collect me ten days later. And I climbed this mountain, I went up in the mountain and I took the... was about 1000 metres above water… these. I climbed this mountain, I arrived there, I took 8 hours to arrive but in that time, during these 24 hours… I started to climb at 3 in the morning and by 10/11 I was up. I sat there 8 or 7 hours looking at my planet, in communion with the minerals and in communion with these storms, the waters, the vegetables, the erosion provoked by these huge avalanches that happened in the winter.

After a month I was planet focused, I was 100% nature, I was so in peace, so inside my own elements. And the […] that become, we lose this. In a sense, we must go back. Look how happy we are when we touch the water, when we can put the hands in the water of a river, a stream, when we come inside the forest. We become inside our element, we are nature, we forget what the world is, but we are nature.

Giles: Sebastião, I think we could all sit here and talk for the rest of the night, but I’m going to have to put a stop to it there because we’ve got a restaurant reservation to get there. But what I would like to do is just to see if we have a couple of questions. Just a couple, I’m afraid. But does anybody want to ask something, take the opportunity? Yes, Charlie…?

Charlie, audience member: Giles, Sebastião… I really enjoyed that. Now, your current project where you’re going to photograph these… in France that have never been touched by modern mankind: do you worry the fact that you’re going to change their culture by going in as a modern man with modern culture?

Sebastião: I never went in any group that was never contacted before. And I believe that we must not go if they want to do a contact, it’s their problem, they do the contact. But we must respect these and we must not go. I went to many groups that were contacted before. And in the month that I was going I made a long preparation with the organisation that work with this group, with the anthropologists, with the linguists that work with these guys. And I told myself that it was necessary for me to spend weeks, to get to know a way to photograph these people who made my understanding with them.

But why? Because I was going inside my own community. I am a human. I was not going inside the community of lions, of elephants… I was inside my own animal. Same if I don’t speak the language, I can gesture as the same. What is essential for me, is important for me, is important for all them. They love like me, like I love. They love their kids like I love mine. They have the idea of solidarity, the same that we have. The community, and I was just coming inside my own community with a small difference of 10,000 years. And that’s nothing, 10,000 years. We do not change in 10,000 years. And plus, these guys are enough as smart to know what I’m coming to do. If I can for then go against them, if I can take something out or I’m giving something, they’re as smart as a person who lives down in London, because we are the same animal, there’s no change.

Giles: Anybody else?

Anton, audience member: Are you ever tempted to think about what might have been if you worked in finance and not done photography?

Giles: And have you ever seen your ex-boss after that?

Sebastião: You see, the life is this. you see, when I was a child in Brazil, it was the start of a huge inflation process. Brazil has 3000% of inflation. And sometimes the farmers, same a lot of London because it was the month that we started to migrate to the towns, the children started to go to university and this farm was still in the farm to receive in 2/3 years. And when they received the money, the money was not enough to buy a bicycle, they lose everything. And my father, when my father was very well before the death, he said, “Sebastião: if I had sold the farm when you were a child, you would not be a famous photographer in Paris, you’d probably be a tractor driver in a big farm near here or we’d be living in one big town in Brazil.” You see how the life is.

In a month when I was doing my PhD in France I had a big wish to go to the Soviet Union to become a mechanical engineer, because they receive students. I said I’ll go there to become a mechanical engineer because I love very much mathematics. And we went to see a friend that was a refugee from the communist part of Soviet Union, in Prague at the time. And the guy said, “Sebastião, forget about Soviet Union. These guys leave it to be in a huge beurocracy, there is a kind of upper class here that’s stalling everything from the other. Don’t come more here.” I said, my Jesus Christ, the guy has reason so we don’t do it.

You see, for one year in my life I made the studies of a lawyer before the studies of economy and it was possible to go in the world to any different place. But I wanted to say that how many photographers are driving a truck? How many photographers become a doctor? How many painters, designers, become other things because they don’t have the opportunity to discover? I had this opportunity, and that became my full life from this moment. But if my wife had not bought this camera, I probably would have never discovered it.