The silent drama of photography | Sebastião Salgado

Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Morton Bast I’m not sure that every person here is familiar with my pictures. I want to start to show just a few pictures to you, and after I’ll speak. I must speak to you a little bit of my history, because we’ll be speaking on this during my speech here. I was born in 1944 in Brazil, in the times that Brazil was not yet a market economy. I was born on a farm, a farm that was more than 50 percent rainforest [still]. A marvelous place. I lived with incredible birds, incredible animals, I swam in our small rivers with our caimans. It was about 35 families that lived on this farm, and everything that we produced on this farm, we consumed. Very few things went to the market. Once a year, the only thing that went to the market was the cattle that we produced, and we made trips of about 45 days to reach the slaughterhouse, bringing thousands of head of cattle, and about 20 days traveling back to reach our farm again. When I was 15 years old, it was necessary for me to leave this place and go to a town a little bit bigger — much bigger — where I did the second part of secondary school. There I learned different things. Brazil was starting to urbanize, industrialize, and I knew the politics. I became a little bit radical, I was a member of leftist parties, and I became an activist. I [went to] university to become an economist. I [did] a master’s degree in economics. And the most important thing in my life also happened in this time. I met an incredible girl who became my lifelong best friend, and my associate in everything that I have done till now, my wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado. Brazil radicalized very strongly. We fought very hard against the dictatorship, in a moment it was necessary to us: Either go into clandestinity with weapons in hand, or leave Brazil. We were too young, and our organization thought it was better for us to go out, and we went to France, where I did a PhD in economics, Léila became an architect. I worked after for an investment bank. We made a lot of trips, financed development, economic projects in Africa with the World Bank. And one day photography made a total invasion in my life. I became a photographer, abandoned everything and became a photographer, and I started to do the photography that was important for me. Many people tell me that you are a photojournalist, that you are an anthropologist photographer, that you are an activist photographer. But I did much more than that. I put photography as my life. I lived totally inside photography doing long term projects, and I want to show you just a few pictures of — again, you’ll see inside the social projects, that I went to, I published many books on these photographs, but I’ll just show you a few ones now. In the ’90s, from 1994 to 2000, I photographed a story called Migrations. It became a book. It became a show. But during the time that I was photographing this, I lived through a very hard moment in my life, mostly in Rwanda. I saw in Rwanda total brutality. I saw deaths by thousands per day. I lost my faith in our species. I didn’t believe that it was possible for us to live any longer, and I started to be attacked by my own Staphylococcus. I started to have infection everywhere. When I made love with my wife, I had no sperm that came out of me; I had blood. I went to see a friend’s doctor in Paris, told him that I was completely sick. He made a long examination, and told me, “Sebastian, you are not sick, your prostate is perfect. What happened is, you saw so many deaths that you are dying. You must stop. Stop. You must stop because on the contrary, you will be dead.” And I made the decision to stop. I was really upset with photography, with everything in the world, and I made the decision to go back to where I was born. It was a big coincidence. It was the moment that my parents became very old. I have seven sisters. I’m one of the only men in my family, and they made together the decision to transfer this land to Léila and myself. When we received this land, this land was as dead as I was. When I was a kid, it was more than 50 percent rainforest. When we received the land, it was less than half a percent rainforest, as in all my region. To build development, Brazilian development, we destroyed a lot of our forest. As you did here in the United States, or you did in India, everywhere in this planet. To build our development, we come to a huge contradiction that we destroy around us everything. This farm that had thousands of head of cattle had just a few hundreds, and we didn’t know how to deal with these. And Léila came up with an incredible idea, a crazy idea. She said, why don’t you put back the rainforest that was here before? You say that you were born in paradise. Let’s build the paradise again. And I went to see a good friend that was engineering forests to prepare a project for us, and we started. We started to plant, and this first year we lost a lot of trees, second year less, and slowly, slowly this dead land started to be born again. We started to plant hundreds of thousands of trees, only local species, only native species, where we built an ecosystem identical to the one that was destroyed, and the life started to come back in an incredible way. It was necessary for us to transform our land into a national park. We transformed. We gave this land back to nature. It became a national park. We created an institution called Instituto Terra, and we built a big environmental project to raise money everywhere. Here in Los Angeles, in the Bay Area in San Francisco, it became tax deductible in the United States. We raised money in Spain, in Italy, a lot in Brazil. We worked with a lot of companies in Brazil that put money into this project, the government. And the life started to come, and I had a big wish to come back to photography, to photograph again. And this time, my wish was not to photograph anymore just one animal that I had photographed all my life: us. I wished to photograph the other animals, to photograph the landscapes, to photograph us, but us from the beginning, the time we lived in equilibrium with nature. And I went. I started in the beginning of 2004, and I finished at the end of 2011. We created an incredible amount of pictures, and the result — Lélia did the design of all my books, the design of all my shows. She is the creator of the shows. And what we want with these pictures is to create a discussion about what we have that is pristine on the planet and what we must hold on this planet if we want to live, to have some equilibrium in our life. And I wanted to see us when we used, yes, our instruments in stone. We exist yet. I was last week at the Brazilian National Indian Foundation, and only in the Amazon we have about 110 groups of Indians that are not contacted yet. We must protect the forest in this sense. And with these pictures, I hope that we can create information, a system of information. We tried to do a new presentation of the planet, and I want to show you now just a few pictures of this project, please. Well, this — (Applause) — Thank you. Thank you very much. This is what we must fight hard to hold like it is now. But there is another part that we must together rebuild, to build our societies, our modern family of societies, we are at a point where we cannot go back. But we create an incredible contradiction. To build all this, we destroy a lot. Our forest in Brazil, that antique forest that was the size of California, is destroyed today 93 percent. Here, on the West Coast, you’ve destroyed your forest. Around here, no? The redwood forests are gone. Gone very fast, disappeared. Coming the other day from Atlanta, here, two days ago, I was flying over deserts that we made, we provoked with our own hands. India has no more trees. Spain has no more trees. And we must rebuild these forests. That is the essence of our life, these forests. We need to breathe. The only factory capable to transform CO2 into oxygen, are the forests. The only machine capable to capture the carbon that we are producing, always, even if we reduce them, everything that we do, we produce CO2, are the trees. I put the question — three or four weeks ago, we saw in the newspapers millions of fish that die in Norway. A lack of oxygen in the water. I put to myself the question, if for a moment, we will not lack oxygen for all animal species, ours included — that would be very complicated for us. For the water system, the trees are essential. I’ll give you a small example that you’ll understand very easily. You happy people that have a lot of hair on your head, if you take a shower, it takes you two or three hours to dry your hair if you don’t use a dryer machine. Me, one minute, it’s dry. The same with the trees. The trees are the hair of our planet. When you have rain in a place that has no trees, in just a few minutes, the water arrives in the stream, brings soil, destroying our water source, destroying the rivers, and no humidity to retain. When you have trees, the root system holds the water. All the branches of the trees, the leaves that come down create a humid area, and they take months and months under the water, go to the rivers, and maintain our source, maintain our rivers. This is the most important thing, when we imagine that we need water for every activity in life. I want to show you now, to finish, just a few pictures that for me are very important in that direction. You remember that I told you, when I received the farm from my parents that was my paradise, that was the farm. Land completely destroyed, the erosion there, the land had dried. But you can see in this picture, we were starting to construct an educational center that became quite a large environmental center in Brazil. But you see a lot of small spots in this picture. In each point of those spots, we had planted a tree. There are thousands of trees. Now I’ll show you the pictures made exactly in the same point two months ago. (Applause) I told you in the beginning that it was necessary for us to plant about 2.5 million trees of about 200 different species in order to rebuild the ecosystem. And I’ll show you the last picture. We are with two million trees in the ground now. We are doing the sequestration of about 100,000 tons of carbon with these trees. My friends, it’s very easy to do. We did it, no? By an accident that happened to me, we went back, we built an ecosystem. We here inside the room, I believe that we have the same concern, and the model that we created in Brazil, we can transplant it here. We can apply it everywhere around the world, no? And I believe that we can do it together. Thank you very much. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “The silent drama of photography | Sebastião Salgado

  1. I, as a Photographer and human, have the big wish is to go on photography tour with him in morocco, chapau Monsoir Salgado!

  2. Mubeen Mughal: salgado is an extraordinary human being whose photographs of war, famine and suffering have no doubt helped people question the destructive nature of man's thinking. He has helped many people see how we human beings have not only behaved brutally towards each other but towards animals and nature too. He has made us stop and question our behaviour to each other. His works express compassion for mankind, for nature, for animals. He is not a voyeur. You almost feel that he becomes the subject he is portraying. He is an inspiration to us all.

  3. What an inspiring video.
    Wonder what people were thinking when the hit the dislike button. Or perhaps not thinking!

  4. Obrigado Sr. Sebastião Salgado por fazer parte da preservação da Natureza, e acreditar naquilo que lhe dá prazer que é a Fotografia, deveria haver mais pessoas como o Sr. com esse pensamento altruísta de preservação, e acreditar que o Homem pode e deve fazer melhor por este Planeta.
    Bem Haja

  5. Que bela alma essa do Sebastião Salgado. Traz um pouco mais de esperança para a humanidade. Orgulho de ter nascido na mesma terra que este grande homem.

    What a beautiful soul Sebastião Salgado is. It brings a bit more of hope to humanity. Proud of being born in the same country as this great man.

  6. what is the most important, this Man not just talks about saving the planet, he also shows the results of the huge titanic work he had done. great project!
    ok, this weekend go and plant some more trees on the lawn

  7. Salgado… esse brasileiro mais que me orgulha… me inspira e deixou seu legado em minha vida, hoje enxergo melhor através de seu olhar único. Seu trabalho e sua inspiração nos prova o quanto a fotografia e a imagem, carregam vida e se transformam constantemente, de acordo com o olhar de quem a absorve, naturalmente…

  8. I am so happy that inspiring persons as Sebastio Salgado exists! THANK YOU so much for this talk and your stunning photography, including the wonderful documentary that Wim Wenders made. Especially in these alarmingly times, Sebastio is able to reach us all, to touch our hearts with his authentic story.
    It gives me hope that we as humans are capable to save and rebuilt our planet, that we have the power to join and inspire eachother worldwide in our deepest values of love and caring, starting positive actions now, each and every day, as in the smallest contribution of humanity can hide the biggest impact!

  9. Until the world goes Vegan, health is fucked and the planet will be destroyed by land being used for cattle and their feed. Greedy companies don't care about people or the planet

  10. Terrific photographer…terrific man !

    Not to contradict Mr. Salgado directly, but just by way of pointing out another observation…I've driven all through just about every part of the US (not just flown from city to city), and seriously – and like 99% of my country is uninhabited and in it's natural state. I understand that this is NOT the case in the greater San Francisco area, or LA or NYC or wherever. But it takes me like a day to make it across New Mexico, for instance – and except for the asphalt you're driving on you'll hardly see any signs that humans even exist.

    Yes, we can do better. But, take heart, all is not lost. Not even close…

  11. This man is so inspirational! I hope to one day have a positive impact with my photography just as well as Salgado

  12. What an amazing man! Salgado has always been one of my favorite photographers, now I love him even more.

  13. Masters degree in economics. Ph.D. in economics in France. Worked for banks, traveled the world, became a photographer, and yet he speaks hardly any English.

    I can't understand that.

  14. That first photo never fails to bring shivers all over and I'm always in awe of it. As far as overall impact, I can't think of another photo that has by itself so much incredible power. It's truly as close to a perfect photo as you can get

  15. Los fundamentos de su fotografía son increíbles. Lo conocí leyendo una conversación con John Berger.. Sus fotografías son de gente deseperada en un mundo globalizado. Gracias

  16. Im a brazilian as well, not proud about our politicians, but proud of the people, Sebastião Salgado (photographer), Ayrton Senna (F1 driver), Pelé (soccer player), Oscar Niemeyer (architecture), Amyr klink (sailor), Torben Grael (olimpic sailor) and others…

  17. Esse cara é O CARA. Obrigado Sebastião Salgado por existir, por nos fazer enxergar sua fotografia do mundo.
    Sou muito grato e agradecido pelo senhor ser brasileiro e poder dizer: "Esse cara, meu conterrâneo, me representa."
    Obrigado Sebastião! Por tudo, do fundo do meu coração.
    De um fã que muito te admira,

  18. I like the message of this speech, but there is one thing i am not agree with: that is the title of the video.
    I was looking for a video about photography, so i feel cheated by the title and TED. Yes i know how things work, this way you drive audience to this topic, but this is a lame marketing way.
    I will probably be more careful with TED videos from now on.

  19. His talk is a reminder that we should replace despair about the state of the planet with hope that there is time to fix the harm we have done.

  20. Gerçekten harika. Sanırım buna ihtiyacımız var. Bakmaktan ziyade görmeye ve gördüklerimizi okumaya 📖👀 O kadar güzel konuştu ki üzerinde söz söylemeye dilim varmadı. Teşekkürler Başak Kablan sayende hayatımıza böyle bir adamı katmış olduk. 🙏

  21. 非常有啟發性,利用攝影呼籲大家關注環保議題。時常我們覺得自己的生活一片混亂,資訊爆炸、科技日新月異工作會不會被機器人取代、凡事向錢看左右我們的行為,但看了Sebastião的演講後覺得日常生活中的煩惱都是微不足道的,正視地球環境與和平並行動才是人類未來最重要的課題。

  22. Thanks to his photographs, life and the movie I started looking at some things from different point of view and asking myself important questions about the meaning of my life. Having such an impact on other people must be the greatest achievement of them all. Great man. Let's all become better people learning from his lesson.

  23. i have read and seeing documentary of Sebastio Sagado over the years but, his video explanation on Photojournalism has a deeper place in my learning process of visual storytelling.. He is one of the greatest in Photojournalism..

  24. Me orgulho de ter gente como vcs, Sebastião e Lélia, em nosso país. Ainda mais agora, num momento em que outro crime ambiental acontece por aqui, pela negligência de nossos governantes, o que nos entristece e ao mesmo tempo nos chama para a responsabilidade na preservação do nosso planeta. Que os Sebastiões e as Lélias se multipliquem como as árvores do seu paraíso. Abc.

  25. Our photography 101 teacher introduced our class to this wonderful man. The documentary, "Salt of the Earth," was definitely one of those movies that is at the back of my mind.

  26. Beautiful man of Sirius secret strange mysterious video it's a message from extraterrestre man wonderful

  27. I think it was a mistake on his part to show the after photo of his parents farm in black and white. We could have gotten the full extent of their achievement had the image been in color. The true sense of nature is in color.

  28. Watch a 30 mins video in 3 mins. The BEST extension in google chrome store.

  29. Sebastião procura fazer as pessoas refletirem sobre a situação econômica do local retratado, seja por meio do choque, por meio da imagem nua, da dor ou da fome. As fotografias dele são bastante excelentes, que pena que o povo Brasileiro não dá o real valor à um profissional divino que nem o Sebastião Salgado! Parabéns pelo o belíssimo trabalho, quando conheci por meio das fotografias fiquei bastante encantada 👏🏻👏🏻

  30. Sebastião Salgado é um ser extraordinário, um ser repleto de amor por seu lugar onde vive. Suas fotografias nos remetem muitas reflexões de como reclamamos sem necessidade, suas fotos tão reais que nos fazem sentir que está presente naquele momento. Uma grande ideia de sua esposa, quantas vezes morremos por dentro e procuramos algo para reviver! De tanto ver sofrimento e dor morreu e dando vida a mata de origem de sua fazendo reviveu e fez aquele ecossistema renascer também! Fantástico que sirva de exemplo para nossos representantes e para nós mesmos pois se fizermos nossa parte o mundo ainda terá jeito!
    Meus parabéns Sebastião ser de luz e de amor ao próximo! Cuidando de nossa casa comum estás cuidando de muitos brasileiros.

  31. Sebastião é uma pessoa incrível, e suas fotografias são muito lindas. Eu acho incrível a obra dele, as fotografias parece muito com uma pintura, mas elas não é uma simples fotografia, ela nos mostrar o mundo de muitas pessoas e faz com que nós pense mais e admire a obra dele.

  32. Amei o vídeo e a temática.
    Sebastião Salgado é um exemplo de como podemos e precisamos repensar em como tratamos o ambiente em que vivemos (terra), e em como a diferença pode ser feita apesar de parecer impossível. Suas fotografias são muito importantes e Sebastião com certeza merecia mais reconhecimento aqui no Brasil, suas fotografias carregam em sí muito talento e amor, e nos ajudam a ver às coisas por outro ângulo, e aprender com isso.

  33. Sebastião e uma pessoa incrível e suas fotografias são bem realista. Mostra toda a verdade sobre a crise que temos hoje no meio ambiente e não é tarde para nos também ajuda o meio ambiente,nem que seja apenas uma Árvore.

  34. Sebastião Salgado, prova viva de um ser espetacular, sua história de vida é muito interessante e bonita de ser ouvida, tão quanto a história que tem por traz de suas fotografias, que nos atenta ao mundo que nós mesmos estamos vivendo e estragando , também nos mostra de certa forma o quanto progredimos em alguns termos mas regredimos em muitos outros.

  35. A história de Sebastião Salgado é simplesmente incrível. A história dele é parecida com a de Stephen Dupont, da série "Tales by Light", que fotografava a miséria, a fome, as migrações devido às guerras,etc. E depois tomou um rumo diferente de sua vida. O feito de Sebastião Salgado que me deixou mais impressionado foi de reconstruir a floresta com sua esposa Lélia, pois quando ele foi embora aos 15 anos de idade, havia mais de 50% de floresta tropical, mas, quando ele voltou para a fazenda havia menos de 0,5% da floresta. Outra coisa incrível dele era suas fotos, q eram encantadoras, eram ótimas, uma qualidade impressionante. Uma coisa que não consigo acreditar é que ele é de nacionalidade brasileira, mas tem mais fama fora do Brasil. Sebastião Salgado é uma pessoa impressionante, e que pode nos servir de exemplo, pois o que ele fez é inacreditável.

  36. Fotografias são coisas muito bonitas, ou sendo interpretadas de outra forma, tristes. Mas sempre com algum propósito. Nas fotografias feitas por Sebastião, pôde perceber, a hora em que ele tirou algumas fotos, seus exatos momentos, que foram épicos. Linda história, do mesmo. Uma história onde ele teve de recomeçar, mas seu amor por fotografia, não passou. Muitas estão em preto e branco, mostrando e dando mais significado a cada foto.

  37. Fantástico!! Salgado é um homem espetacular, excelente fotógrafo. Eu comecei a gostar dele quando conheci sua história, pois ele é humilde, e também teve suas lutas, assim como nós pra chegar onde estamos. Interessante que em uma época em sua vida, ele largou tudo e dedicou-se somente a fotografia, pois são muitas poucas pessoas que fariam isso, e ele está entre elas. Sem contar a sua proeza, quer dizer, sua e da esposa, que saíram por aí plantando árvores pela região de sua casa, ou seja, ele replantou uma floresta inteira, simplesmente inacreditável !!!

  38. Sebastião Salgado é um ícone de personalidade brasileira, um senhor pouco conhecido aqui em nosso pais, suas fotografias são incríveis cada uma tem um significado bastante oculto por trás dela, fotografias que tentam transmitir para nós uma forma de interpretá-las e saber seu real significado e seu objetivo de nós transmitir muitas vezes uma forma diferente de enxergar o mundo em que vivemos, Sebastião Salgado além de um grande fotografo também se mostra ser uma pessoa que se preocupa com o futuro de nosso planeta e o ecossistema em que vivemos, Sebastião Salgado além de um grande fotógrafo, um grande brasileiro, infelizmente pouco reconhecido aqui.

  39. Sebastião salgado é um excelente fotógrafo, e também um incrível homem, que se importa com o que estava acontecendo, ele podia muito bem, fotografar outros tipos de fotos, mas a sua preocupação era tão grande que ele se interessou em fotografar a triste história do passado, o sofrimento de cada um, e tbm para mostrar para as pessoas que nem tudo na vida é fácil, e que muitas vezes não estamos nem ai, para o que está acontendo ou vai acontecer, mais Sebastião via sua profissão como uma fonte de mostrar para as pessoas a triste realidade daquela antiga história. com o intuito de mudar o pensamento, e a forma que as pessoas verem as coisas.

  40. Sebastião Salgado é um excelente fotógrafo que se preocupa com o nosso meio ambiente que junto com sua esposa Lélia plantam 2 milhões de árvores em 20 anos para restaurar uma floresta destruída. Que saiu pelo mundo conhecendo pessoas e lugares que jamais foram vistos ou esquecidos correndo o risco de morte e isso é uma história pessoal da arte, mostra tmb imagens impressionantes. E estou completamente encantada, que toda essa história sirva de exemplo para todos. Parabéns Sebastião pelo o seu trabalho, por se orgulhar e contar sobre suas fotografias que foram tiradas e fazer com que agente possa refletir.

  41. The image with the leopard or panther or cheetah I’m not sure. But holy wowza. Does anyone have an idea as to how he did that?

  42. Amazing person, and yet people don't listen. As we speak a mad right-wing government has taken hold of Brazil and continue to destroy it's natural wonders.

  43. Pior tipo.. lobo em pele de cordeiro.. socialista de butique & burguês enrustido que já fez até campanha de automóvel & faz fotinhos pelo mundo só para aliviar sua "consciência" pesada.. abram os olhos..!!

  44. The Amazon is still rapidly being destroyed by man–today. Fires deliberately created and left to burn. We do not learn. The fires of development and greed are destroying our world, and it is hard to be hopeful for the future. I applaud both this gentleman and his wife—-their courage and optimism. –Thank you

  45. In Portuguese "Yet" and "still" are represented by only one word (ainda) that's why he said 50 % was forest yet (instead of still). Probably useless information

  46. One of the greatest photographers of all time – La Sal de la Tierra should be a must see for us all – photography of the human condition at its lowest ebb but yet Salgados saviour and resurrection of his family land is the answer and his photographs stand as a record as to why we must.

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