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Saturday, November 1, 2008

African Connections

Sebastião Salgado is one of the true living legends of photography. His latest book, Africa, examines the continent in a way that only Salgado’s provocative imagery can.

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A leopard in the Barab River Valley, Damaraland, Namibia.
Sebastião Salgado’s book, Africa (Taschen), pays homage to Africa’s people, wildlife and landscape. It’s a magnificent collection of images culled from more than three decades of the Brazilian-born, Paris-based photographer’s work on the continent.

Salgado’s images have earned him numerous awards and accolades, but one of his most prized is being named as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. His deep concern for the people and places before his lens is evident in every frame.

Outdoor Photographer: What is it about Africa that fascinates you?

Sebastião Salgado: I’m Brazilian, and Africa for us is a place that’s much closer to us spiritually than it is for the Europeans who were there and colonized it. Americans are far away from Africa, though part of your population came from there. But for us, Africa is the other side of the same piece of earth. One hundred and fifty million years ago, Africa and South America were just one land. The things you have on one side you have on the other. A lot of the plants that you have in Africa we have in Brazil. With evolution, there are differences, but the base is the same. The climate is the same.

In the 18th century, an incredible amount of diamonds were discovered in Brazil. We couldn’t find the vein where the diamonds pushed out from in South America. With the separation of the continents, the diamonds that were discovered in Brazil came from the vein that stayed a thousand meters underground in Namibia. They are identical diamonds that are found in the ditches in Namibia. It’s unbelievable.

In the hills of Moko at the Gisovo tea plantation, Rwanda.
We, as did the United States, had a big group of Africans that came to Brazil as slaves. But Brazil is completely different from other nations because it’s a country where the mix of races really happens. We have so many mixtures in Brazil—Asian-Black, White and Black. When I was a child, Africa was huge in my dreams. I always wanted to go there.

Outdoor Photographer: You had a job as an economist for the International Coffee Organization. Was that when your dream of going to Africa came true?

Salgado: My first trip to Africa was to Kenya for the ICO. It was then and there that I started photography. My book Africa is the result of between 35 and 40 trips there.

Outdoor Photographer: You’ve tended to be more of a people photographer over the years, but your Africa book includes many images of landscapes and animals.

Salgado: I’ve done so many kinds of pictures in my life, even advertising. But I’ve become known as a social photographer. My wife, Lelia, divided the book into three chapters with images of animals and landscapes included in each section. The first concentrates on the southern part of the continent—Mozambique, Malawi, Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia—where there was a big fight for liberation. The second is on the Great Lakes region—the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya—which is an area that has struggled with social disorientation and ethnic conflict. The third section is on the sub-Saharan region—Burkina Faso, Mali, Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Mauritania, Senegal and Ethiopia—which often suffers from severe droughts and brings a very tough life for the humans there. We have a tendency to see Africa as just one monoblock, and it’s not.

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