Since the 1970s, Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado has recorded the human experience — what it means to be alive, and often struggling, on the planet today — in elegant, black-and-white images.
His in-depth, wide-ranging photography has covered themes such as work, migration and the daily life of rural farming villages in untrammeled corners of the Americas.
For his series "Genesis," he traveled to the remotest corners of the Earth, photographing nature and landscape. His latest project sent him around the world again, this time to coffee plantations where he documented the ways in which the popular beverage has shaped the land and its people for the book "The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee" (Abrams).
"I grew up in a country that produces a lot of coffee," says Salgado. "My father came to my region carrying coffee. My PhD is in the coffee trade. I have it in my veins — even though I don't drink coffee .... There are 50 million families in the world that work with coffee. And each grain is picked by hand by someone."
Now the globe-trotting lensman — who is constantly jetting between remote assignment locations and his home in Paris — finds himself in Los Angeles. Salgado is in town to launch a new retrospective exhibition at the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica over the weekend. And, on Monday evening, he joins celebrated essayist Pico Iyer for a conversation at the Broad Stage, as part of a collaboration with the Library Foundation's ALOUD series.
The gallery exhibition will feature some 70 prints from Salgado's various bodies of work — from his early "Other Americas" series to the "Genesis" project. With Iyer, he will discuss the many in-depth series he has undertaken over his long career.
"Genesis," Salgado remarks, was one of the most transformative.
"I put in eight years of very intensive work," he says. "I was outside of home an average of eight months of the year. I went to 32 places around the planet: Amazonia, Africa, the hotspots of biodiversity. I went to the Arctic when the season was good in the Arctic."
When he began, he says, the idea of shooting nature was quite foreign to him — since his focus had always been other humans.
"I had no idea how to photograph landscapes or other animals," he says. "So I had to learn. The whole thing changed me a lot .... Every place was amazing. I discovered the Brooks Range in Alaska. I saw 7,000 reindeer in Siberia in the cold. I was in the mountains of Ehtiopia."
Currently, Salgado is at work on a series about remote Amazonian ethnicities.
"It's about the future of the Amazon — the Indian future of the Amazon," he says. "In Brazil, 13% of the territory is Indian territory. That is a lot of land. So, I work with them. My wish is to produce a book for the secondary schools in Brazil, for the universities — so that the next generation will have more respect for the Indians."