American Sociological Association

Sebastiăo Salgado Award Statement

 Sebastião Salgado Award Statement

Brazilian-born documentary photographer Sebastião Salgado is ASA’s 2010 recipient of the Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues Award.This award recognizes the contributions of individuals for their promotion of sociological findings and a broader vision of sociology.

Salgado’s in-depth projects explore the issues of inequality, development, urbanization, environmental degradation, labor, migration, and globalization, which correspond closely to many of the core themes of sociology.Salgado has committed to documenting a comprehensive set of human and sociological issues with skill and beauty, reaching a wide audience through the medium of photography.Salgado has photographed in over 100 countries, yielding over a dozen major works and books, which he has exhibited worldwide.

His approach, like many sociologists, is to spend long periods of time with his subjects whether it is in refugee camps, on job sites, or in agricultural communities, or among herds of animals in isolated areas.He has devoted a lifetime to recording economic and social change, conflict and global development.Through the medium of black and white photography, Salgado’s work brings his audience very close to these conditions and opens the door to understanding the human condition.

Salgado never set out to “do sociology.” Growing up in swiftly developing Brazil of the 1950s and 1960s influenced Salgado’s career path first to economics, and then to photography. 

Salgado trained as an economist at the University of Paris before turning his eye to visual representations of global social issues. Salgado moved to London prior to writing his PhD thesis and worked as an economist at the International Coffee Organization (ICO) making field visits to Africa.His wife Lélia Wanick Salgado was a student in architecture and urban planning at the time, and bought a camera to take architectural pictures.It was in using his wife’s camera that Salgado understood the role photography could play in communicating complex ideas.As he said in a recent interview in Contexts: “I looked inside this camera and I rediscovered life!As an economist it was impossible to tell the things I could tell with photography.” [1] Within a few years, Salgado quit his job and moved back to Paris with his wife where they had studied in previous years. In the early 1970s, Salgado took on photojournalism, first as a freelancer and then with some of the most prestigious photo agencies in the world: Sygma, Gamma and Magnum.

Salgado eventually started his own Paris agency in 1994, Amazonas Images, and continues to spend much of his time out in the field, around the world.

As a photojournalist, Salgado photographed Africa, Europe and Latin America. His first book, Other Americas, focused on indigenous Latin Americans and was published in 1984.He followed with a project reporting on the African famine, in conjunction with Doctors Without Borders. A six-year project in 26 countries yielded Workers: An Archeology of the Industrial Era (1993) and portrayed the end of the age of large-scale industrial manual labor.That project inevitably led him to document the movement of people throughout the world in two publications, Migrations, and Portraits of Children of the Migration.

Salgado’s current project Genesis, which began in 2004, sends him to some of the most remote places on the planet to document landscape, wildlife and humans yet to be touched by human development.

Salgado and his wife founded a nonprofit in the Brazilian state Minas Gerais, Instituto Terra.The organization’s mission is to restore the area to its original state, but as important to become a center of excellence in the areas of restoration and environmental education, sustainable development and social mobilization.

[1] Audrey Singer, “Behind the Lens: The Social Photography of Sebastião Salgado,” Contexts, August 2010.