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Brazilian-born photographer Sebastiao Salgado (born in 1944) has chronicled conditions among the world’s poor for over three decades, using a documentary style that criticizes the global economic conditions that create such disparities in wealth and standards of living.  However, in presenting his criticisms he also pays attention to his subjects’ dignity, showing them not as victims but as individuals who endure and do what they must in order to survive.Born in rural Minais Gerais, Brazil, Salgado moved several times as a youth and attended universities in Vitoria and Sao Paulo.  Of his childhood, he comments, “Every step was a move into a denser urban world” (Salgado, 2000, p. 9), implying the inevitability of his involvement with urban poverty.  At Sao Paulo University, he trained as an economist and began taking photographs when studying living conditions in Africa’s coffee-growing regions.  In 1973, he abandoned economics for a career in photography.Salgado explores worldwide poverty, particularly the laboring underclasses of the Third World, as well as Third World immigrants to Western Europe and the United States who work in Western-dominated industries, which do not share their immense wealth with the people who make this prosperity and consumption possible.  Salgado treats his subjects with sympathy, obviously sensitive to their difficulties and clearly offended at the world’s large imbalance of wealth.  However, he does not treat his subjects as victims, but shows the dignity in their faces. Aiming to give these people a voice through a visual medium, Salgado explains, “Many just stood before my camera and addressed it as they might a microphone” (Salgado, 2000, p. 7).Working entirely in black and white, Salgado uses composition and lighting to dramatize the starkness of his subjects’ lives.  In Migrations, his study of Third World immigrants, a photo on page 24 (he does not use titles) shows a solitary figure, supported by a crutch, standing in darkness and looking out the door of his small dwelling, framed by the darkness around him but illuminated and looking less helpless than hopeful.  The darkness on both sides symbolizes the adversity hemming him in, yet he does not appear pathetic or victimized.Salgado also uses contrasts in his photographs, juxtaposing freedom with confinement or adversity with hope.  Another photo from the same volume shows two Mexicans caught by the Border Patrol.  Only their forearms and hands appear, cuffed together, in sharp focus, while the agents in the background are blurred, as if showing their confinement as the most pressing reality and their fate (determined by the figures in the background) unclear and uncertain.  Though the viewer cannot see their faces, they draw the viewer’s sympathy because they have been captured; the fact that the Border Patrol officers are blurred makes them less important.Salgado also shows the immigrant experience’s liberating aspects.  On page 55 of Migrations, he shows an aging Russian woman running toward the camera, her arms open to give an embrace to a person whose left arm is visible at the viewer’s right.  At the viewer’s left, there is a waist-high metal fence separating several observers from this scene of reunion; Salgado uses these to imply the joy at newfound freedom.In Terra (1997), a study of Brazil’s landless, Salgado shows his subjects’ dignity in the face of grinding poverty and persistent social inequality.  The photograph on page 27 shows a wedding party surrounding a small table with no food visible.  At the left the bride and groom look haggard and careworn despite their youth, somber despite the happy occasion.  The others wear shabby, likely second-hand clothes but look directly at the camera, unashamed of who they are or how they appear, asserting their existence in ways Salgado claims he tries to get his subjects to do.Another photo from Terra shows a more directly provocative type of composition.  A white statue of Christ bearing a cross (with two Roman soldier driving him forward) appears at the foreground at the viewer’s left, while to the right two bent figures walk along a dirt street (lined with dilapidated, low-lying buildings), facing the same direction as the statue.  The figures’ proximity and placement implies a connection between them, with the two people bearing their poverty like a cross but trudging ahead nonetheless.In Workers (1993), Salgado chronicles the Third World’s ongoing poverty despite its production of goods for the developed world.  The artist comments that “the planet remains divided, the first world in a crisis of excess, the third world in a crisis of need” (Salgado, 1993, p. 7), and he sees the Third World’s laborers as dignified people who are nonetheless subordinated to economic forces.  On pages 40-41, a close-up of a Rwandan tea picker’s weathered hands surrounded by a bundle of leaves, the worker’s face is hidden, symbolically obscuring the actual human being and focusing on the product, implying that Western consumers do the same thing and are unaware of the work that goes into manufacturing the goods they enjoy.  Similarly, the photo on pages 128-129 shows a textile factory in Bangladesh; the workers’ heads peer from behind a sea of machinery, symbolically showing these people devoured by economic forces.Salgado’s photographs make clear that poverty is a widespread condition, and his compositions illustrate the often-dire situations his subjects face, as well as the contradictions between the wealth they help produce and the poverty in which they are forced to life.  Though he makes clear that these people live difficult lives, he also does not deprive his subjects of their dignity and humanity.  They look straight at the camera, showing no shame and asserting themselves visually by their mere presence.  By showing both the poverty and the people’s spirit, Salgado demonstrates both a reformer’s sense of outrage and an artist’s sensitivity to the human condition.

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