Made by Hand: Salgado's Art

Article excerpt

WORKERS An Archaeology of the Industrial Age Text and Photography by Sebastiao Salgado 400 pages, 400 photographs, Aperture, $100

SEBASTIAO SALGADO'S landmark book is the synthesis of a life's effort. With his intelligence, sensitivity and superb photographic skills, Salgado speaks for the voiceless, powerless people of the world.

Salgado has traveled to Earth's backwaters, living with and observing people who make their living by hand labor, on the fringes of industrial technology or outside of it. He has found grace, beauty and nobility in the most desperate and burdensome conditions.

It is easy to speak of Salgado's photos in superlatives. Salgado's images are powerful, graphic, visually sophisticated and consistently intimate. But there is more to "Workers" than simply stunning photographs.

Salgado is first a journalist, a documentary photographer. He lived among his subjects and is obviously in tune with their natural rhythms. His photos display both visual dynamics and significant detail within the frame - the balance required for great journalistic photography. His text and captions place the images in context, bringing significance and historical perspective to his visual efforts.

Pre-industrial labor exists in many parts of the world, particularly in farming areas. Salgado brings the viewer into the lives of some of the farmers - men and women who grow sugar cane in Brazil and Cuba, tea in Rwanda, tobacco in Cuba, cocoa in Brazil, and perfume plants on the island of Reunion. In Galicia, Spain, and Sicily in Italy, families of fisher folk still hunt fish in ancient ways, in an increasingly polluted and overworked sea.

At Serta Pelada in Brazil, swarms of sweating, grimy workers climb into and out of a vast, segmented pit in the pursuit of gold. Fifty thousand men struggle in the mud, carrying 130-lb.sacks of dirt up crude ladders, antlike and anonymous in their efforts. In Indonesia, at the Awah Idjen volcano, men who often weigh no more than 130 pounds themselves bite on cloth to keep from choking on fumes as they gather sulfur inside the crater and then climb 2,000 feet to the crater's ridge, bearing loads of 155 pounds. …