Resistance with Sebastião Salgado
Sebastião Salgado is a Brazilian photojournalist known for utilizing his photography as social documentary. Salgado captures the unique traditions and cultures of communities around the world, especially targeting humans interacting with nature and also with each other. He shoots mostly in black and white so as to keep the focus on his subjects: subtle expressions, creases and wrinkles in work-worn hands, and tendons flexed in aggression. By portraying the strength of human character and the perseverance of hope in even the darkest situations, Salgado’s photographs expose beauty and resilience in a world that is often too harsh.
This untitled image is shot at the scene of a gold mine in Serra Pelada. In the midst of a swarm of thousands of laborers, a native man stands in defense against a white man in uniform – possibly a foreman or company guard. The laborer is physically bigger and stronger than the guard. His broad shoulders and thick, lean limbs make the guard’s small stature even smaller in comparison. Despite this, the laborer is rendered helpless in the presence of the guard’s gun. This photograph displays a complex moment of power struggle between the two men.
The laborer’s stance is wary yet forceful. One hand is open cautiously against his chest; the other curled boldly around the barrel of the gun despite the minimal protection that his flesh and bones offer against bullets and steel. The laborer knows that the machine is more powerful than his body, capable of spilling blood with the simple pull of a trigger. But his open, assertive gestures and fearless gaze suggest that he believes himself to be more powerful than the man behind the machine. What do you think of this statement-making piece?
The interplay of light and dark is stunning. Great descriptions!
the amount of strength portrayed in these photos is truly amazing
Great post! Salgado’s photography truly shows the hardships Brazilian natives confront and depicts what life is like beyond the surface of the country’s well-known beaches and festive culture. I agree that Salgado’s use of contrast and light enhance the worker’s empowering stance and expression not only in this photo but in the third one as well. As you mention, he clearly shows the strength of human character both physically and emotionally. To better understand the confrontation between the laborers and the guard, what is the historical context surrounding this image?
Serra Pelada was a gold mine located in Brazil. With about 100,000 laborers mining the ore by hand, it was one of the largest mines in the world. Whenever gold was found, these laborers had to carry sacks of mud and earth up the precarious slopes of the mine, and they were allowed to pick one of the sacks to keep for themselves. Whether the sack was filled with worthless dirt or contained priceless gold was a draw of luck. State civil guardsmen were assigned to guard the mine, but their wages were typically lower than that of a miner; thus, bitter rivalries ensued. The guards lorded their higher status over the laborers in order to compensate for their lower wages. This often created instances of conflict and violence. Hope that answers your question!
Excellent work Heeyoung. The only question for me that comes to mind is if this mine is still in operation today under the conditions noted in your article.
Actually the mine is abandoned now, and over time the pit has filled with water to create a small lake. Because of the mercury that was used in the gold extraction process, the lake and its surrounding areas are heavily polluted, affecting fishing areas downstream.
Thanks for the historical background! Apparently, Salgado is a trained Economist and conservationist as well. I can sense he’s angry and wants to photograph to document what he sees.
The black and white makes these photographs look almost surreal. Lovely!
Beautifully written Heeyoung