Sebastião Salgado and the Silent Drama of Photography

Many of the most iconic photographers have lived colorful and interesting lives, filled with events and encounters that have shaped their brilliant works. Such is what we can discern from the works of Sebastião Salgado, a Brazilian social documentary photographer and photojournalist known for his dramatic black and white photographs that explore man’s relationship with nature and with each other. If you’re discovering Sebastião Salgado’s works for the first time, prepare to be amazed and inspired. His timeless photographs remain relevant and captivating even for today’s budding photographers, so you’ll definitely enjoy this video primer on his life and work by Aidan Moneyhon. Here, you’ll hear Aidan briefly cover some important details about Salgado’s life, and get a glimpse of the imagery that earned him worldwide recognition.

Born in 1944 in Brazil to a big farming family, Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado Júnior initially set out to be an economist, earning his master’s degree in economics from the University of São Paulo. He worked for the International Coffee Organization, and often traveled to Africa on missions for the World Bank. It was during this time that Salgado developed an interest in documentary photography. In 1973, he abandoned his career as an economist and began his journey to become one of the world’s most celebrated photojournalists.

Armed with the drama and striking contrast of black and white photography, Salgado first took news assignments before moving towards documentary work. He eventually became known for photographing workers in less developed nations, showing the immense struggles of their everyday lives. Many photographers also know him for his work on landscapes. His ability to see light and know how to capture people has meant a whole lot for the work that he has created such as in the image below–where Salgado uses very specific lighting as well as the dust to tell a story about the people in the image.


He also extensively documented life around Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico and put these images together for his first book entitled Other Americas. Published in 1986 in France and designed by his wife Lélia Wanick Salgado, it became an award-winning photobook classic and established Salgado as a visionary in the field of photojournalism and reportage.

Want to dive deeper into Salgado’s life and work? You’ll enjoy the 2013 TEDTalks video of Salgado speaking about the personal story of his craft, and his latest latest work at the time, Genesis. Make sure to also watch The Salt of the Earth, an insightful biographical documentary film exploring Salgado’s work. His son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, co-directed the award-winning film.

Screenshot images taken from the video by Aiden