Sebastião Salgado, one of the great photographers of our time, addresses Lesley University’s Strauch-Mosse Visiting Artist Lecture Series
Friday, April 26, 2013
Hundreds of people packed the Rabb Auditorium at the Boston Public Library on Thursday night for a presentation and lecture with Salgado, presented by Lesley University’s Strauch-Mosse Visiting Artist Lecture Series. They came to witness the work of an iconic and award-winning documentary artist who spends months – and sometimes years – with his subjects. He has embedded himself with UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization, and his photographs have appeared in major publications throughout the world.
“I photographed with my most deep sincerity, ideology and ethics,” said Salgado. “These photographs are my way of life.”
Before he shared a riveting, and at times haunting, montage of his various photographic projects, Salgado, 69, began the evening by describing his childhood in Brazil and the trajectory of his life. He grew up on a sweeping, forested cattle farm, which he described as “paradise.” During college, he became a young political activist, and his resistance to Brazil’s right-wing government led him and his wife, Lélia, to move to Paris in 1969, where he finished his studies and became an economist.
He discovered the power of photography while dispatched to Rwanda as an economist, and soon became a member of the legendary Magnum photo cooperative.
“Something changed inside of me,” he recalled of his discovery of photography. “Photography gave me ten times more pleasure. … Photography was my life, much more than anything.”
He began his first documentary project in the 1970s on immigrants’ integration in European society. Most recently, he has spent eight years on the “Genesis” project, a series of black-and-white photographs of landscapes and wildlife that depict the unblemished faces of nature and humanity, a divergence from much of his work that has depicted human struggle.
“People were asking me to speak, to transmit the situation for others to understand what was going on,” Salgado said, reflecting on his career. “It’s quite different (for) people who live in other parts of the world, but this is a big majority of the planet. … I work with this language that is photography to represent the cross-section of society.”
Following the 20-minute video slideshow presentation at the lecture, Salgado engaged in a Q&A with the audience, moderated by Lesley professor Christopher James, director of the new Master of Fine Arts in Photography program.
“Your work is absolutely beyond comprehension, it’s so beautiful,” James said at the start of the Q&A, remarking on Salgado’s commitment to “penetrating the circle” of his subjects. Salgado says he sees himself as a messenger, who has relayed the living and working conditions that a majority of the world’s population grapple with. One audience member asked Salgado about the driving force that has kept him going despite witnessing so much human tragedy.
“Rwanda was so violent, so tough,” Salgado recalled. But he said it “always is a big privilege to be a photographer.
“You have the right to see what is our real society: what incredible animals we are, and what terrible animals sometimes.”
He was asked about his photographic techniques, whether “Genesis” was inspired by a desire to capture life after seeing so much death, and whether he has been met with opposition by authorities during his work in over 100 countries.
“I’ve been arrested a few times,” he acknowledged. “Of course I have had problems, but that is a good thing about working with a small camera. You can go, you can mix with people. Before, it was necessary for me to carry all of my film and all my cameras for months. So I was very mobile. … I’ve photographed many risky situations.”
Lesley President Joseph B. Moore, who welcomed the audience at the start of the lecture, noted that Salgado’s visit was a capstone to a year of events and celebrations commemorating the Centennial of The Art Institute of Boston (AIB), one of Lesley’s four schools. The commemoration winds down as a major project ramps up to move AIB from its current home in Kenmore Square in Boston to Lesley’s Porter Square Campus in Cambridge, where a new, state-of-the-art Lesley University Arts Center is being built.
Salgado, who is still based in Paris, travels next to Canada, where his exhibit “Genesis” opens at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum on May 4. You can learn more and see his work at www.amazonasimages.com.
The Strauch-Mosse Visiting Artist Lecture Series, established through a $1 million gift by Lesley University Trustee Hans D. Strauch, enables Lesley to host locally, nationally, and internationally renowned artists for exhibitions lectures, promoting Lesley’s dedication to cultural and artistic literacy. View past lectures.
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