The good intentions of concerned photographers.

Ingrid Sischy’s article on Sebastiao Salgado in The New Yorker mentions the lack of deep observation in the images of The End of Manual Labour, she mentions the lack of evidence, no scars that show a sense of ecological devastation. Sisley argues that Salgado’s portraits of the firefighters are remarkably similar to his portraits of gold miners, and the promotional tone of the exhibition, unusual at best that the ICP, International Center for Photography, somehow ignores the separation between publicity and curatorial norms.  To find promotional articles at an exhibition is very unusual. This exhibition seems to have become more about the photographer, that it is about the issues that he wishes to help fix, or at least draw attention to. In the main I do agree with Sisley here. There is no doubt that Salgodo’s images are beautifully constructed, technically and visually, however there, like Sischy states appears to be no sense of the ecological devastation that he speaks of.

Sischy also comments on Salgado’s An Uncertain Grace, and the people of the Sahal region in particular. The aestheticization of imagery often using iconic religious signs in his work. However, Salgado as is Brazilian, I can see that this could be a cultural and aesthetic norm for him, most likely having grown up surrounded with this kind of imagery.

‘Salgado’s work here, as in the Sahal, is too aestheticized, too caught up in itself, to fully acknowledge what’s happening to others.’ Sischy on Salgado. 

Beauty is a word that we hear a lot regarding Salgados projects. People respond to these beautiful images, however I’m not sure that this choice to challenge usual cliches on poverty are effective towards any change. Perhaps the images that he makes are easier to look at, this aestheticization almost normalizes the situation. 

Sisley states that ‘He means to negate the revulsion that can take over when disease and hunger are on display.’ Sisley challenges Salgado’s aesthetic treatment of subjects on this project, however, could his approach have a positive effect? By making these beautiful images, perhaps more people are engaged and will buy the book and Medecins Sans Frontieres then benefit from the sales. Salgado donated money from the sales of his book to MSF. Salgado is a UNICEF ambassador, so this could be his way of helping raise funds.

It could be argued that this is his way of drawing attention to things that he is deeply troubled by. That he felt the need to make a different type of image on a very difficult subject matter and to draw any attention to these desperate situations may help with aid to these areas. That said, I would find it incredibly hard to spend the time it would take to photograph many of the scenes that he has sought out, his attention to technical aspects, lighting and composition are no doubt time consuming. This is an incredibly hard subject matter to photograph, it is sensitive no doubt difficult terrain, potentially dangerous. It is difficult to get viewers to pay attention to the subject matter let alone jolt the public enough to donate money to a cause. Perhaps Salgado did not fulfill his stated intent, however he did make work that the public were engaged with and he ultimately raised money that was desperately needed.

‘Sebastiao Salgado an Uncertain Grace – Google Search’. 2020. [online]. Available at: [accessed 30 Mar 2020].

‘When People’s Suffering Is Portrayed as Art’. 2020. Nieman Foundation [online]. Available at: [accessed 30 Mar 2020].

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