Sebastiao Salgado @ Maxxi

Sebastiao Salgado is considered one of the world’s greatest contemporary photographers. But his story began in Brazil many years ago and his passion for photography came later.


Sebastiao Salgado was born in Brazil in 1944 and grew up studying as an economist first in Brazil and then in France. When he started working for the “World Coffee Organisation” he discovered photography.

He went on a business trip to Africa, commissioned by the Parisian investment bank. It was in the deserts of the Sahel that he met the love that convinced him to give up everything and devote himself totally to it.

In 1973 he decided to become a photographer and to devote his entire life to his camera. The first was a 35mm Leica, until he moved up to a Canon 1Ds Mark III, and made reportages on all five continents.

The sun-kissed continent will always have a special place in the photographer’s heart.

For three years he would travel the length and breadth of Africa to witness the critical situation there.

Africa photographed by Sebastiao Salgado.

Initially he reported on the drought in the Sahel.

The first place to photograph for me is still Africa, I love its skies, deserts, mountains, everything is huge and every time I arrive I feel I am at home. I also recognise the underdevelopment that was Brazil, the drought, the deforestation, I meet women and men who work hours a day, without education, without housing, without good food, without assistance and without shoes, just to sell underpaid products. But I am not moved by a bad conscience or a sense of guilt. As an economist I have studied Africa and I know the reasons for these imbalances, I am moved by the idea of telling the story of the workers and their dignity. Even when I went to refugee camps, I did not photograph poor or desperate people, but people. I did not show the miserable, but people who lived in balance and then lost their homes, their land and were looking for another place to live. This is my photography: to respect them and to show a story. I am not driven by the idea of taking beautiful photos or becoming famous but by a sense of responsibility: I write with a camera, it is the language I have chosen to express myself and photography is my whole life. I don’t think too much about light and composition, my style is inside me, and that light is the light of Brazil, the one I have carried inside me since I was born

Sebastiao Salgado talking about Africa

The main purpose of his photography was to represent people and their ideas, stories and realities. He wanted to go deep and try to give a voice to those who were deliberately ignored.

One of the most crucial moments came after seeing the savagery and brutality of the genocide in Rwanda. Afterwards, he became so ill that doctors advised him to change his lifestyle and put photography aside.

Sebastiao experienced one of the darkest moments of his career, which led him to abandon his camera for a while, and he also lost his faith in the world.

He decides, therefore, to return to Brazil where he will change his style in photography: the beauty of nature will be at the centre, driven by his love for nature. He decided to undertake a reforestation of the entire region where he had lived during his adolescence.

After a few years, 2.5 million trees continued to grow.

Nature became his new muse, with “Genesis” first and “Amazonia” later.

Amazonia exhibition at the Maxxi

“Amazonia” from Maxxi, Rome

From 1 October 2021 to 13 February 2022, the Maxxi Museum in Rome will host the exhibition ‘Amazonia’ curated by Léila Wanick Salgado. With more than 200 works, Sebastiao immerses us in a new dimension where the Brazilian green embraces us and gives us a breath of fresh air.

Through six sections, the exhibition highlights the fragility of the ecosystem, shows some protected areas where Indian communities live, where the forest has not suffered any damage and invites us to reflect on the ecological situation and the relationship we have with nature.

This exhibition is the fruit of seven years of human experience and photographic expeditions carried out by land, water and air. From the moment of its conception, with Amazônia I wanted to recreate an environment in which the visitor feels enveloped by the forest and can immerse himself both in its luxuriant vegetation and in the daily life of the native populations. These images are intended to bear witness to what remains of this immense heritage, which is in danger of disappearing. So that life and nature can escape further episodes of destruction and depredation, it is up to every single human being on the planet to take part in its protection.

Sebastiao Salgado

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