The work of Sebastião Salgado will forever exist in the context of a larger picture. Captivated by the people of all nations, he strives to portray the everyday beauty of life in times of tranquility as well as desperation. With an immense international identity, Salgado emerged from the analytic world of corporate economics to find his passion in activist photography. An apostle of humanitarian efforts across the globe, Salgado has pushed his work to render the most imperative of global issues ranging from rural to urban migration, environmental degradation and basic human rights. Far from mere interest, Salgado is driven by the passion of the human story in the best of times and in the worst of times.

Born in February of 1944, Salgado grew up in Aimorés, Minas Gerais, in Brazil’s vast Atlantic Forest. Moving from his hometown to seek secondary schooling, Salgado relocated to the coastal town of Vitoria in 1960. Upon completion of those studies, he moved farther south along the coast to Sao Paulo with an intended degree in economics in 1963. At the University of Sao Paulo he met his wife and life companion Lélia Deluiz Wanick. Following shortly after their graduation in 1967 they were married. In 1969 the couple moved to Paris where Sebastião studied for his doctorate and Lélia began her architectural studies at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts.

Broadening his global reach and in pursuit of a PhD in agricultural economics, Salgado and Wanick moved to London, England in 1971. There he gained a position as a top economist for the International Coffee Organization and soon he realized his passion for humanitarian aid. It was that same year, during a mission trip with the World Bank that Salgado was first able to connect with the people of Africa. Back in London reviewing the many photographs he had taken on the trip, Salgado decided to abandon his career in economics for one in photography. [i] With his wife by his side as chief producer and exhibition designer, they began working on projects global in scale including Other Americas, a series about Latin American Indians as the rural poor; Sahel: Man in Distress, a series focused on famine in Africa; as well as other works surrounding forced exodus of people due to war, hunger or urbanization, the featured topics of Migrations and The Children.[ii]

It was for Migrations that Salgado traveled to over 40 countries to witness and capture the untold stories of people forced into transition. After photographing Rwandan refugees, orphans from Zaire and the fleeing youth of Sudan, Salgado returned to his native country to photograph the indigenous people of the rainforest. During the colonization of Brazil, the eastern coast went through immense urbanization. Around the 1970s there was a military coupe, which pushed many people, often the urban poor or ideologically opposed, farther west, and in most cases, deeper into the forest.

As more and more people flooded into the western Amazon, the resulting deforestation and massive environmental degradation accelerated, endangering more than just the natural environment.  The Brazilian Amazon is also the home of many different indigenous groups like the Marubo tribe pictured here. For centuries the Marubo people have lived off of the diverse rainforest ecology, living in familial based communities, foraging for herbs and practicing swidden (“slash and burn”) agriculture. This indigenous agricultural practice, frowned upon by the modern world, has worked for centuries because of open access to unnumbered miles of land around them. As urban populations encroach, so spreads the extension of national politics, disease and the ever-globalizing economy. The impact of land policy and the influence of capitalism has left no indigenous peoples completely isolated the effects of globalization.

Present in the picture is a mother with her five children. Each of her children, except the oldest boy, is dressed in traditional Marubo clothing. They wear customary beads around their wrists and ankles, long hair and loose clothe around their bodies. Marubo women, as a part of a large, communal family structure, daily forage for herbs and water and harvest the family crops to provide for their families. The younger boy, present with his mother in the foreground, indulges in a taste of the water, participating and still very close with his mother. The older boy however is wearing a very westernized tee shirt and shorts. His clothing signifies a certain mobility that men often have in indigenous groups. Where the older girls are expected to learn the ways of their mother, boys are ever more integrated into urban culture, often getting the chance to go to school and to learn Portuguese. Gender specific roles are widely held in Marubo culture though here Salgado exemplifies how urbanizing pressure is snaking into the strongholds of even the most remote native family units.

Throughout Salgado’s many collections even the untrained eye can focus on the adept nature of his use of black and white. Salgado manipulates the exceptional light of the rainforest and uncovers a moment that is pure and true. As the boy in front lifts the water to his lips, the action signals the innate indulgence of drinking water, one that resonates with all humans. The attention of the young girls and even the dog is off into the forest representing their continual awareness and solidarity to the land around them.

Sebastião Salgado perpetually challenges the way we view life on earth. This photograph shows the resilience of indigenous families despite the ever-globalizing world around them. Salgado’s ability to bring this and many other human experiences into public awareness is not only educational it is awakening. His common theme, as he has lived and breathed, worked and witnessed, is that life rarely goes uninterrupted.


[i] “Biography: Sebastiao Salgado.” The Guardian, September 11, 2004. Accessed April 11, 2011.ãosalgado.photography2.

[ii] Carvalho. Denise, “Salgado, Sebastião,” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, (accessed April 11, 2011).