Sebastião Salgado revisits, with the perspective offered by the passage of time, the work that consecrated him as a photographer of uncomfortable realities that turns into art: Serra Pelada, that impressive anthill of workers attracted to the Brazilian Amazon because of a gold rush he photographed in 1986. Black and white images of tens of thousands of men carrying sacks, soaked, drunk with the dream of getting rich caused great impact. The 75-year-old Brazilian photographer now gathers 56 photographs (31 of them unpublished) in the exhibition Gold, Ouro Mine, Serra Pelada, curated by his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, and recently opened in São Paulo. The exhibition has a book version for the general public and another for collectors, both edited by Taschen.
After waiting six years for the authorities of the military dictatorship to give him permission to visit what became the largest open pit mine in the world, Salgado and his camera spent 33 days in that crater pierced in the state of Pará. "What about that yellow and opaque metal that leads men to leave their homes, sell their belongings, cross a continent to risk their lives, their bodies, their sanity for a dream," asks the photojournalist in the presentation of the exhibition Three decades later, a recent morning dozens of visitors fill a room of the SESC Paulista to discover the photos that Serra Pelada showed the world or see with new eyes the images of those men who embody effort and delirium. Many of those who look at the images were not born when they were taken, at a time when Salgado was traveling with 400 films. And the photos were meditated.
Gold He will then travel to Stockholm, Tallinn, London or Fuenlabrada, where he will be at the Tomás y Valiente Art Center next November.
Salgado's patience for authorization was rewarded because that was an amazing reality. Intense Fleeting. Thousands of Brazilians – including doctors or lawyers, not just poor or hustlers – landed there shortly after the discovery of gold. They reached 50,000 garimpeiros.
Like the real anthill, under that appearance of chaos, the activity was meticulously organized. The pioneers divided the land. Each one was responsible for the ownership of a plot of 2 meters by 3. What came out of it was theirs. The following became employees: those who dug with a beak or ants, who climbed with heavy sacks down some precarious wooden stairs baptized as "goodbye mom." They worked until the body endured in exchange for tempting fate. At the end of the day they could choose one of the bags. Most of the time it was pure land. The own photographer, born in Minas Gerais, the quintessential mining state of Brazil, argues that gold is "an unpredictable lover."
Wanick Salgado, curator of the show, explains by telephone from Paris, where the couple lives, that the idea of returning to the archive came up while her husband was recovering from a knee operation. "We saw that he really had so many good photos that we could make a book and maybe an exhibition." He maintains that the meaning of the images has not changed in these more than three decades. They portray a monumental work, such as "the construction of the pyramids of Egypt or the mines of King Solomon."
The bulging eyes that he later portrayed undoubtedly scrutinized him when the man with a camera arrived at the mine. His wife tells how blond and blue-eyed, because of a misunderstanding, they thought it was coming from the mining company, but no. When the police "handcuffed him before everyone, they realized he couldn't be from the company, he was a friend."
Salgado, who in 1981 became known for photographing the shooting attack that President Ronald Reagan He survived, chose black and white for his project on the mine. A decision, in the wake of Edward Weston, George Brassaï or Robert Capa, that gives extraordinary power to his work. The Brazilian is a visionary when choosing the themes. In the nineties, the decline of industrial work; in the two thousand, mass migration and Africa. Now he is embarking on a project to document the Amazon and its inhabitants.
Gold finished a decade later, the crater is now a polluted lake, but illegal mining persists in Brazil although there has been no phenomenon like Serra Pelada. Since Jair Bolsonaro assumed the presidency it has expanded on indigenous lands in the states of Pará and Roraima, according to satellite images analyzed by the BBC. It is one of the threats to the environment, an issue that worries the Salgado, who have a foundation to recover the Atlantic forest in Minas Gerais. Although they live in Paris, the artist is worried about his native country. "Brazil is a country that struggled to create large institutions and now they are at serious risk," he said at the opening of the show, according to the newspaper States, where he emphasized the Funai (the National Indian Foundation). "The current government is destroying that great institution without presenting any other program."
Out of the photographs was part of the history of Sierra Pelada. That of those garimpeiros out of work and that of Major Sebastião Curio, who was sent by the governor to order the massive arrival of miners. He banned weapons, alcohol and women; and imposed that all gold be sold through a public box at a fixed price. Los garitos and prostitutas — they became 5,000 — settled 30 kilometers away, where a city, Curionópolis, sprouted. The military from which he took his name became mayor.
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