Sebastião Salgado (b. 1944) is a Brazilian-born photographer and artist-activist based in Paris. He has made it his life’s work to document the impact of globalization on humankind. His hauntingly beautiful black-and-white prints lay bare some of the bleakest moments of modern history, telling the story of Vietnamese boat people, Rwandan refugees, Indian coffee growers, and countless other impoverished individuals. For his most recent project, Amazonia, he spent six years in Brazil’s Amazon photographing its landscape and people.
Over the past three decades, Salgado has traveled to more than 100 countries. Breaking down barriers, he lives with his subjects for weeks, immersing himself in their environments. He sees himself as a participant entering their story. Salgado describes this approach as photographing from inside the circle. Each of his images is infused with empathy and respect for his subjects. Within a single frame, he captures the fragility and the fortitude of the human spirit.
Sebastião Salgado was born in Aimorés, in the state of Minas Gerais, in what was a period of upheaval and change. Brazil was swept by urbanization and close to 80 percent of the population left the fields and poured into the cities. In 1963, Salgado moved to São Paulo and trained as an economist. It was not until the early 1970s, after his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, loaned him a camera, that he embarked on a career as a photographer, eventually relocating to France. Salgado says given his childhood and background in economics that it was only natural that he become a photographer gravitating toward humanistic themes.
Salgado has had numerous exhibitions in major museums across the globe. Among his many honors, Salgado has been named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and an honorary member of the Academy of the Arts and Sciences in the United States. He has twice been named photographer of the year by the International Center of Photography and in 2019 he was the first photographer honored with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Most recently, the World Economic Forum announced Salgado as the 2021 winner of the 27th Annual Crystal Award for his leadership in addressing inequality and sustainability.
Since the 1990s, Salgado and Lélia Wanick Salgado have been restoring a portion of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. In 1998 they founded the non-profit Instituto Terra, an organization focused on reforestation and environmental education. In September 2022 Sotheby’s held its first social impact fundraising gala in New York in support of Salgado’s work. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the accompanying exhibition and auction of Salgado’s work were devoted to Instituto Terra.