Two Decades of Sublime Photography in Sebastião Salgado’s Singapore Debut

In a small clearing insulated by a thick wall of palm fronds, a gathering of nude women relax, lie in repose, and talk together, all the while applying red color from the urucum fruit to their bodies. This intimate scene, recorded in 2009, takes place in a tiny Zo’é village in the remote rainforest of Brazil. Its simplicity is due to the sensitivity and ambition of the unseen photographer, whose works impart an enduring sense of wonder—upholding the quiet power of the camera even in an era of rapidly expanding digital technologies.

Artist Sebastião Salgado trained as an economist in São Paulo, before pursuing a career working on global trade agreements for the coffee industry. While undertaking missions for the World Bank, he traveled widely through Africa in the early 1970s, and began documenting his journeys with a borrowed camera. His passion for capturing the impressive terrain he crossed, and the local populations he encountered, led him to photojournalism, and work with photo agencies Sygma, Gamma, and Magnum Photos, before establishing an independent practice. Salgado’s powerful black-and-white frames, both medium and large format, take the stage at the artist’s debut solo exhibition in Singapore, at Sundaram Tagore Gallery’s outpost at Gillman Barracks. The show spans more than two decades of the renowned photographer’s career, drawing together six series, including “Genesis” (2013), a compilation of rugged, untouched wilderness scenes; “Workers” (1993), featuring the conditions of manual laborers across the world; and “Migrations” (2000), which surveys the fate of war and climate refugees.

Photographs on view range from the ethnographic, to the social documentarian, to the natural sublime—brilliantly captured in Iceberg Between Paulet Islands and the Shetland Islands, Antarctica. Salgado’s rich images, even when they do not focus exclusively on the subjectivity of their human figures—as is the case in works like Workers on the canal construction site of Rajasthan, India—ultimately represent the broader sociological and environmental impact of economic globalization. Like the assembly-line panoramas of Andreas Gursky, Salgado’s more lyrical case studies address abstract forces far beyond the views they frame. As seen in the wide-angle The Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta, Indonesia, Salgado’s absorbing images also include grand expressions and celebrations of the human spirit.

Sebastião Salgado” is on view at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Singapore, May 20th–Aug. 3rd, 2014.