Photographer Sebastião Salgado at 80

The legendary photojournalist looks back on a life committed to documenting people and the planet, and explains why nature became his focus

All photos by Sebastião Salgado

08 February 2024 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News

Sebastião Salgado at 80: ‘They say I was an aesthete of misery’

08 February 2024 | Andrei Netto | The Guardian

‘I photographed the world,” says Sebastião Salgado, flicking through the archive in his Paris studio. Salgado, who turns 80 this week, has witnessed wars, revolutions, coups, humanitarian crises, and famine. He has also seen some of the most pristine places on the planet – locations and peoples untouched by the devastating fury of the modern world.

His body of work, an instantly recognisable combination of black-and-white composition and dramatic lighting, has been built up over decades, covering hundreds of assignments in 130 countries and his name stands in the photojournalist pantheon alongside figures such as Robert Capa, Eugene Smith, Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, James Nachtwey and Steve McCurry.

Now, Salgado tells the Guardian, it’s time to step down. “I know I won’t live much longer. But I don’t want to live much longer. I’ve lived so much and seen so many things.”

Although still strong and active – able to walk or cycle several kilometres a day – his body is paying the price for his years working in some of the world’s most hostile and challenging places.

Still living with the legacy of a blood disorder from improperly treated malaria caught in Indonesia and problems with his spine from a landmine that blew up his vehicle in 1974 during Mozambique’s war of independence, Salgado is ready to retire from the field.

That is not to say he has completely finished. Now, he has become the editor of his own monumental archive, which 15 years ago numbered about 500,000 works. A new count is under way as a first step to selling it.

There is no shortage of projects for him to focus on. The next one is the Sony World Photography Awards 2024 exhibition at London’s Somerset House, from April, which celebrates his Outstanding Contribution to Photography award. There is also a collaboration with the Wende Museum in Los Angeles on industry in the Soviet Union, which he describes as “the workers’ paradise”. Yet another project will bring together some of his earliest pictures at São Paulo’s Museum of Image and Sound.

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