Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado speaks during an interview with AFP at Somerset House in London on April 18, 2024. - AFP
Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado speaks during an interview with AFP at Somerset House in London on April 18, 2024. - AFP

Photography is ‘mirror on society’: Sebastiao Salgado

He might be 80 but Sebastiao Salgado, the Brazilian photojournalist who has spent five decades chronicling the world around us, is not ready to hang up his camera yet. Salgado, known in particular for his work in the Amazon, insists there is still a need to “raise awareness” about the deforestation of the planet. “Photography is the mirror on society,” he said in an interview with AFP to mark the start of a London retrospective of his 50-year-career.

Despite his advancing years, Salgado is still working and insists on what he sees as a need to “make people aware that together we can do things differently”. That way, he says, “we will be able to save this great forest on which we depend for biodiversity and also this great cultural reserve that are the indigenous tribes living in the Amazon”.

In 1998, with his wife Lelia, he created the Instituto Terra for the reforestation of the Brazilian Amazon and the planet in general. The self-taught photographer has won numerous international awards for his portrayal of society across the world, most recently turning his focus on the peoples of the Amazon rainforest basin. “We have lost 18.2 percent of the Amazon. But it is not just the Brazilians or other countries in the region who destroyed it, it is our consumer society, because of a terrible need for consumption, for profit”, he said.

‘Second tragedy’

Deforestation of the planet, however, is far from being his only concern. Water shortage, he says, is a “second tragedy, just as important as global warming”. The exhibition, which runs until May 6 at the city’s Somerset House, features 50 of his photographs. “It’s a selection. One can’t present 50 years of career in 50 photos. (But) each one represents a moment in my life which was very important,” he said.

The show comes a month after Salgado was announced as the Outstanding Contribution to Photography recipient in the prestigious Sony World Photography Awards 2024. “It’s the reward for a lifetime’s work,” he said, with obvious gratitude. “A photographer has the privilege of being where things happen”. “People tell me I’m an artist but I tell them no, I’m a photographer and it’s a great privilege to be one. I’ve been an emissary of the society of which I am part.”

As he starts his ninth decade, Salgado has no plans to retire and says he doesn’t waste time thinking about his legacy. “I have 50 years of career behind me and I am 80 years old. I am closer to death than to anything else. (...) But I continue to photograph, I continue to work. “I have no concerns or pretensions about how I will be remembered. Photos are my life, nothing else.” – AFP

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