Project: Narrative

Information and Expression

For this section I have read John Mraz ‘s  essay. While I understood this to be an exposition of the way in which Salgado portrays his homelands as a native South American and the changes that Mraz claims to have found over time in this portrayal, from the production of Other Americas, Migrations and Terra;  I found it difficult to follow even after a second reading.

It is unfortunate that I was not able to obtain a copy of Other Americas from my local library. However, to complete this exercise I will look at Migrations, and Terra to identify and write about Information and Expression as they relate to Salgado’s portrayal of Latin America and its people. I will also look at Workers and the section on the Gold Miners of Serra Pelado as Mraz identifies this section as significant in terms of the change in Salgado’s portrayal of Latin America. What I did find interesting in the essay was a quote of Salgado by Mraz which explains why Salgado thinks long term projects are so valuable. I thought it was worth copying here: “When you work fast, what you put in is what you brought with you – your ideas and concepts. When you spend more time on a project, you learn to understand your subjects…….There comes a time when it is not you who is taking the pictures. Something special happens between the photographer and the people he is photographing. He realises that they are giving the pictures to him.

I started my research by looking at a brief article by Alan Riding of the New York Times (7 Sept 1986). Riding describes Salgado’s Other Americas as “the world as the other Americans saw it”. Salgado highlights the similarities of the lives of the peasants in the different nations as the inevitable changes that accompany the movement of labour from the land to the urban centres erode their way of life, locking them into a different yet still unremitting poverty.

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Ten of the images from the book can be found on the Amazonas Images website and I have looked at those as well as a so called “review” of the pages of the book on You Tube. Both provided a less than ideal view of the images but I was able to appreciate Mraz’s view that Salgado had linked “alienation to peasant culture with sadness, misery, death and enigma.” He also asks if Salgado did not borrow this aspect of Frank’s The Americans for his own work? These images are from Ecuador, Guatemala, Brazil, Bolivia and Mexico. It appears that he has used these rural scenes and unusually dressed peasants to represent an alienation that he feels is present in the countries of South America.

Workers, Gold, Serra Pelada, Brazil

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Mraz notes this section of the ‘Workers’ collection as a good example of a change of the representation of South American people, with a clear narrative compared to that of the pictures in ‘Other Americas’. There is no real need for text to explain the arduous conditions endured by the men working for a pittance against the lottery of riches from a lucky gold strike. The thirty or so images detail the immense scale in terms of size and numbers involved in the manual mining operations and the minute details of the experience, bulging muscles, straining ropes, mud, the ant like swarming of the men over the mine, the tension and resignation in the faces of the miners and the guards tells it all. The difference in the style of the presentation of the two works is marked.

Migrations

This massive book contains hundreds of images taken in 40 countries over a period of 6 years, documenting the lives of countless thousands of migrants in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe as the 20th century came to a close.

Abandoning the land in Ecuador:

Ecuador

Typical of the stories in the book, Abandoning the Land in Ecuador  shows a beautiful landscape but with marginal plots of land farmed by women and children at subsistence level in the mountains, while the men seek work in the cities or abroad. This image shows the wake of an old man who died alone after his children had migrated to the cities. The smoke from the burning straw is believed to carry his soul to heaven. The twelve or so images with very detailed captions illustrate the quiet dignity of the people and the hardship they endure.

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 Terra – Struggle of the Landless

This collection of images of the landless of Brazil has  detailed captions pages at the back of the book, a moving introduction by Jose Saramago and poems by Chico Buarque. It also contains images familiar from Workers, Migrations and Other Americas.

There is no doubt that this collection of images stands as a powerful indictment of the Brazilian government’s land reform policy, showing as it does the peasant’s struggle for work, land and justice at the turn of the 20th century.

Since 1995 governments have settled some 900,000 families—4m-5m people—in farming colonies, though sometimes in appalling conditions. The Economist, 26 April 2007 http://www.economist.com/node/9079861 for the full article.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landless_Workers’_Movement and an overview of the struggle.

Images in the book cover the human faces of the Yanomami villages, seasonal work in the sugar fields, the cocoa plantations, gold miners, malnutrition, birth death, marriage, migration to the cities, the great drought of 1982-3 in Ceara province and the continuing struggle for land in the encampments along the highways in various parts of Brazil.

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Peasants commemorate victory on the lands of the Cuiaba plantation in 1996, Sergipe

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Wedding feast, Consancao, NE Brazil.

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Sao Paulo, children, often drug addicted live in cardboard boxes in the city.

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Migrants from the interior often find work as construction worker’s helpers in the ever growing city of Sao Paulo.

This collection of images form a moving story, not only by their sheer number and variety but by skilful editing. It is the people that tell this story. As Salgado is quoted as saying in Mraz’s essay, the people have given him the pictures.

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