In a career that has spanned six decades, social documentarist and photojournalist Sebastião Salgado is practically synonymous with epic, breathtaking projects. Born in 1944, and brought up in the easterly town of Aimorés, in Brazil, Salgado didn't hang around for long and took up a nomadic existence, travelling to over 100 countries in his 70 years. It seems strange though to think that this illustrious, inspired career only really took off at the age of 26, when Salgado finally picked up a camera and took his first shot. Up until that moment, Salgado had trained as an economist, but photography gave him a way to speak that neither numbers, nor the four languages he was fluent in, could.
Unlike other contemporaries of the photojournalism realm who thrive on the decisive and spontaneous, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Salgado's style turns on a slower axis, getting into the bigger story behind his photos. Working within the tradition of ‘Concerned Photography’, he uses the images he takes to make a difference. Along with his wife Leila he set up an environmental organisation, Instituto Terra, to restore part of the Atlantic Forest and establish a nature reserve. For his project Workers, Salgado visited 23 countries during the '80s and '90s to document the lives of miners, fishermen, tea pickers, and pretty much anyone else involved in industrial manual labour. He followed it up with Migrations, for which he travelled to 35 countries to document the people who opt to leave the countryside for cities: Mexicans smuggled into the United States; Jews fleeing the Soviet Union; Africans making treacherous journeys to Europe. Charting the great beauty and unique humanity to be found in the far reaches of the world, Salgado’s projects are nothing short of cinematic in scale.
Salgado describes his latest project as “a love letter to the Earth and to the resilience of nature”, the culmination of eight years spent documenting parts of the world untainted by modern life: unspoilt landscapes, wildlife, and remote communities. The series, which is now on show at Milan's Palazzo della Ragione connects the sweltering Brazilian rainforest to the bleak expanses of Siberia, the wondrous panoramas of Arizona with the eccentric tribes of Ethiopia. Sometimes the only response can be disbelief. From penguins lining up along an iceberg to take a dip, to the majestic shadows cast by a sand dune, or the intimate lives of remote Siberian tribes, Salgado is as heroic and unparalleled as ever.
Don't miss Genesis on show at Milan's Palazzo della Ragione on show from now until 2 November.