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Sebastião Salgado: A Lens on Earth’s Untold Stories

Brazilian Photographer

Sebastião Salgado

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Sebastião Salgado [1944 – Present] is a Brazilian photographer renowned for his powerful black-and-white images documenting the human condition and the natural world.

Born in Aimorés, Minas Gerais, Brazil, Salgado originally trained as an economist. This background deeply informs his approach to photography, which focuses on social justice and environmental issues.

His extensive travels have led to the creation of several major photographic projects, including “Workers” (1993), which chronicles the vanishing way of life of manual laborers across the world, and “Genesis” (2013), a tribute to the planet’s untouched landscapes and wildlife.

Salgado’s work is characterized by its deep empathy, exquisite composition, and ability to highlight human and nature’s resilience.

His contributions to photography and humanitarian efforts have earned him numerous awards and accolades worldwide.

Read the full Biography below.

Photography Quotes From Sebastião Salgado

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Before becoming a photographer, Sebastião Salgado studied economics and worked for the International Coffee Organization, which took him to Africa on missions where he first began documenting the lives of people he met.

Videos about Sebastião Salgado

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Although renowned for his black and white photography, Salgado initially shot in color but found that black and white better captured the depth and dignity of his subjects, leading to his signature style.

Photography Books: Sebastião Salgado

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Salgado’s epic work, “Genesis,” aimed at showcasing the untouched beauty of the planet, took him 8 years to complete, during which he traveled to over 30 different locations, from the Galápagos Islands to Antarctica.

Biography of Sebastião Salgado

Early Life and Academic Pursuits

Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado was born on February 8, 1944, in Aimorés, in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. 

Raised on a farm, Salgado was deeply connected to the land, an experience that would later influence his photographic work. He pursued studies in economics at the Federal University of Espírito Santo, Brazil, before moving to São Paulo for his master’s degree. 

In 1969, Salgado and his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, relocated to Paris, where he completed his PhD in Economics at the University of Paris. 

His career took a pivotal turn when he embarked on a trip to Africa for the International Coffee Organization, an experience that ignited his passion for photography and led him to abandon economics to pursue photography full-time.

Photographic Career and Themes

Salgado’s work is renowned for its focus on humanity in the context of social and environmental issues. 

His deep empathy for his subjects and his commitment to social justice are evident in his comprehensive photographic projects, which include Workers (1993), documenting the manual laborers worldwide; Migrations (2000), an examination of mass migration caused by war, famine, and economic hardship; and Genesis (2013), a homage to the planet through landscapes and communities living in accordance with their ancestral traditions.

Style and Approach

Salgado’s photography is characterized by its epic scale and its ability to convey the profound dignity and suffering of his subjects. 

Working almost exclusively in black and white, his images are marked by their deep tonal range and intricate detail. 

Salgado approaches his projects as long-term, immersive endeavors, spending years on a single theme to capture the depth and breadth of each story.

Institute Terra and Environmental Advocacy

In the late 1990s, Salgado and his wife Lélia returned to Brazil and established Instituto Terra, an environmental organization focused on the reforestation of the Atlantic Forest. 

This project marked a significant shift in Salgado’s work towards environmental conservation, culminating in the Genesis project. 

Through Instituto Terra, Salgado has become as well-known for his environmental activism as for his photography, demonstrating a profound commitment to restoring biodiversity and ecological balance.

Exhibitions and Publications

Salgado’s work has been exhibited in prestigious museums and galleries worldwide, and his photographic projects have been published in numerous books that serve both as artistic expressions and as calls to action for social and environmental change. 

His work not only invites viewers to witness the beauty and tragedy of the human condition but also encourages a deeper reflection on the impact of human activity on the planet.

Awards and Recognition

Throughout his career, Salgado has received numerous awards and honors in recognition of his contributions to photography and his humanitarian and environmental work. 

These accolades include the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography, the Hasselblad Award, and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, among others.

Legacy and Impact

Sebastião Salgado’s profound influence on the field of documentary photography is matched by his impact on social and environmental awareness. 

His photographic projects transcend traditional photojournalism, offering a comprehensive, compassionate, and dignified view of people and landscapes across the globe. 

Salgado’s work challenges viewers to confront the realities of inequality and environmental degradation while celebrating the enduring spirit and resilience of communities facing adversity.


Sebastião Salgado’s journey from economist to one of the most important documentary photographers of our time is a testament to his unwavering commitment to using photography as a medium for change. 

Through his lens, Salgado captures the interconnectedness of human and environmental health, urging collective action toward a more sustainable and equitable world. 

His enduring legacy lies in the power of his images to inspire empathy, action, and hope for future generations.

Joe Edelman

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