A Powerful Perspective: The Life & Photography of Sebastião Salgado

TED Recommendation

Sebastião Salgado: The Silent Drama of Photography

Salgado is a maestro of photography.

A Master Storyteller

A moving talk from the inspirational master photographer, Sebastião Salgado. Renowned for having the ability to capture sentiment and substance within his images, his life experience is equally revealing. Salgado’s TED Talk is more than simply a discussion of photography, but one of purpose, empathy, and human connectivity.

In such a condensed talk, Salgado shares with us his profound insights and reflections. Having seen so much of the world through his particular lens, he encourages us to better understand the environment that we’re all a part of.

Sebastião Salgado photography: the Brazilian Awa.
Salgado’s photo of the Awá, an expanse of the Brazilian Amazon.

The Language of Salgado’s Photography

Salgado grew up in Brazil and focused his academic studies on Economics (earning his Masters from the University of São Paolo). From there, Salgado moved to Paris, France where he earned his PhD. Upon graduation, he then went abroad to work for the International Coffee Organization, as well as the World Bank.

It was while travelling for work that he took up the camera (as a result of a photography class his wife took), and the world subsequently benefited. Salgado committed himself to photography. But more than the photography, he was dedicated to people. Capturing what he could of their lives and experiences.

Salgado devoted his photography to social issues and the human condition. In chronicling his life’s journey, he describes witnessing incalculable horror. He saw things that shook him to his core. But he also observed resilience, love, and courage. Through his pursuit of photography, Salgado beheld the persistence of the human spirit and the manifestation of hope.

Sebatião Salgado photography: Genesis exhibit (2005).
Piulaga Lake, In the Upper Xingu region of Brazil’s Mato Grosso (Sebatião Salgado 2005).

Life’s Revelation

Over the course of Salgado’s life pursuing the human condition, there came a point when the sadness and horror overtook him. Deeply distraught, he returned to his family home in Brazil. He felt compelled to get back home, seeking some form of mental & emotional solace, after all the torment he had witnessed.

Upon returning to his roots however, Salgado discovered the land transformed. It had become dead, barren, and arid. What had once been lush and green, was now dead and dry. It necessitated action. As a result, Salgado turned his attention towards planting trees and re-greening the land.

3 generations holding a sapling.
We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow It from our children.” – Native American proverb. Click the image for another brilliant environmental photographer.

For Love of the Earth

This too took time and dedication. After years of struggle, all the hard work eventually paid off! The trees gradually took hold. The green returned to his home, transforming itself once again into the reflection of his childhood memories. Salgado now shares his story with others. His experience is testimony that such change is possible. We can re-green the land! Our homes and local environment can once again bear life.

Furthermore, he has currently shifted his photography to the natural environment and animal life, committing the next stage of his life to raise awareness of the living planet (click GENESIS to see his most recent work).

An Encore of Salgado

Salgado the time traveller?

This TED Talk is one of my favourites. Salgado sheds light on the depth of the human condition. If you’re as interested in learning more about Salgado and his work, there’s a great documentary called Salt of the Earth. It’s essentially a biographical journey of Salgado. It covers his life’s work but, much like his photography, it offers viewers something deeper than the images themselves. Co-directed by Salgado’s son, it has since won considerable recognition, including a special prize at Cannes. Watch on when you can!

The Salt of the Earth – Official Trailer

For other inspiring films, check out our List of Top 10 Climate Change Documentaries.


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