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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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Outdoor Photographer: How are you able to get up close and personal with the subjects of your photographs, yet remain almost invisible to them?

Salgado: You need time, only this—real time. With the Bushmen, for example, I spent many days and nights with these guys. I became integrated with them. It was a pleasure for me to spend time with them. You must have a big identification with the things that you’re doing to be able to spend a long time in a place.

The Kunene Valley, which forms the border between Angola and Namibia, was originally shaped by glaciers about 280 million years ago.
Desert elephant, Main Huab River Valley, Damaraland, Namibia.

Outdoor Photographer: What photography equipment are you working with? You must be working with pretty sturdy equipment to survive the conditions you’re exposing your equipment to.

Salgado: I use Leicas and a Pentax 645, both with TRI-X film. In the Africa book, there are a lot of medium-format pictures. I choose medium format when I want to exhibit bigger pictures. The longest lens I have for the Pentax is a 300mm. The longest I have for the Leica is an 80-200mm zoom. My other lenses are all shorter. Normally, I handhold these lenses; they’re very stable. The Pentax lenses are excellent for black-and-white and give a very nice field of gray tonalities. The Pentax 645 has very good zooms as well. The Pentax has a 120mm macro lens that’s an incredibly good lens. Pentax also has a 75mm that’s very good, and it has a 45mm that’s like a 28mm in the 35mm format. It has a small zoom that covers 45-85mm that’s incredibly good. When I shoot in interiors, I must go to the faster prime lenses. I have a 55mm ƒ/2.8 that’s very good for low-light situations.

Outdoor Photographer: Do you ever work with a flash or tripod?

Salgado: Flash, no. I work with two kinds of tripods. I have a Leica tabletop tripod, which I put laterally on my chest with the Pentax 645 so I can shoot handheld at a very low speed. I also have a Manfrotto carbon-fiber tripod.

Outdoor Photographer: You tend to work with wider lenses and get in close when you work with people. Do you have a different approach when you photograph animals?

Salgado: It depends on the animals. Some animals allow you to be close, so I can work with them with a short lens. Those that don’t I must shoot with a long lens, though I don’t have the really long lenses that many animal photographers have. Some of the animal photos as well as some of the landscapes were shot from a balloon in Namibia. Balloons are fabulous to photograph from—no vibration, no noise. You become the wind.

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