Sebastião Salgado

Non-machine Man

The scene takes place in the Serra Pelada in the Brazilian federal state of Pará. 50,000 human figures are busy digging here for gold. Each day, they descend into the open mine which is as large as a football stadium. Sets of three dig, six carry the sacks containing the excavated earth up and out of the mine. To do so, they have to make their way up hundreds of wooden ladders along the side of the mine. No machines can be used given the nature of the terrain. The men working for gold there are called “garimpeiros” or “mud pigs”.

Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado traveled the world for six years working on his best-known series, the “Archaeology of the Industrial Age”, published in 1993. The monograph focuses on the workers: Cuban sugarcane farmers, Ruandan tea planters, Galician fishermen, Indonesian sulfur carriers, Chinese bicycle assemblers, Brazilian gold prospectors, Azerbaijani oil-field workers. His photographs offer an insight into an age which we in north Europe, oversatiated with civilization, thought had long ceased to exist – a world in which people work the way they have done for generations: using all the physical energy the human body has to offer. And in so doing instill their activity with a dignity that makes them almost seem like heroes.

Sebastiao Salgado’s monograph on the working class confronts us with a geographical divide: the Third World lies in oppression and misery, the Second World in socialist ruins, while the First World worships consumption and waste. Yet his portraits of slaughterhouse workers in North America, of dockers in Poland, or of fishermen in Spain document the fact that even in the highly industrialized nations there is still labor that is the way it was centuries ago: physical grind and struggle for daily survival.

Biographical information

1944

born in Aimorés, Minas Gerais, Brazil

1973

after his studies in economy in São Paolo and Paris started his carreer as a photographer

1979–94

member of the photo agency Magnum

1982

Eugene Smith Award for Humanitarian Photography

lives in Paris