Category Archives: 2 Narrative

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.


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


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.


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:


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.


 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 for the full article.’_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.


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.


Project: Narrative – Research on Semiotics


Exercise: The Americans by Robert Frank

1. I didn’t find it easy to understand this collection of images at first. Having read the book, I also researched and read the following insights.

  • From the Context and Narrative book I read that the book comprised 4 sections, each one starting with an image of the American flag. Short offers Sarah Greenough’s explanation that the book is “generally considered to be the single most important book of photographs since WW2” and the four sections challenged different aspects of American post war identity.
  • In his Guardian article in 2009, Sean O’Hagan doesn’t really explain why it is so important, just that it was, in Paris 1958 and USA in 1959. Even Frank himself seems uncertain, talking to O’Hagan, “People want to know so much….. All the time, this wanting to know. Where does it lead? Nowhere.”
  • John Szarkowski wrote; “The pictures took us by ambush(?) then…He established a new iconography for contemporary America comprised of bits of bus depots, lunch counters, strip developments, empty spaces, cars and unknowable faces.”
  • Gerry Badger says the book is “pessimistic with jukeboxes like alters, death, crosses and cars like coffins”

So the book is important because it was a new way of looking at the country which had never been done on such an extensive scale before. I managed to find  five symbols but my understanding of them is a bit sketchy (this may be down to the age of collection, over 50 years has elapsed since its publication so it is hardly contemporary). I managed to identify the four sections but the theme for the sections was not obvious. I couldn’t identify a unifying idea for any of them.

I found at least five symbols: some, like the US flag, used more than once and in different ways. In the first example Parade, Hoboken New Jersey for me it symbolises the perception I have that the American people tend to hide behind their flag and have a tendency not to question their government’s actions, especially with regard to foreign policy.

The jukebox as an altar is an interesting idea. Again it appears several times and in Candy Store, New York City a group of  teenagers are gathered around a particularly ornate example as acolytes of the emerging “Pop Culture” of the time.

A photograph simply entitled Los Angeles shows a view of a street with a single figure walking left to right uphill on a sidewalk below a large neon arrow also pointing to the right. Could this be Frank’s  thought on the American political direction at that time?

There is no doubt that Frank had picked up on the importance of the motor car in American society. There is an accumulation of images the automobile, ubiquitous as it is. Gerry Badger’s comment about the motor car as a coffin may have come from  Covered car – Long Beach, California juxtaposed as it is with the following image which appears to show the covered victims of a Car accident – US 66, between Winslow and Flagstaff Arizona.

Crosses are also shown in many of the photographs. In Beaufort, South Carolina a black woman is sitting outside, perhaps on the roadside verge below a ridge on which is a tall cross shape. It may be a telephone pole but I can see no wires. The woman is looking to her left and smiling, Beyond the  cross a watery sun hovers above the horizon. To me, this cross could be a sign of hope or redemption.

2. From Jack Kerouac’s introduction I have picked these symbolic references which were really about the words that he uses to describe the photographs. I picked up the symbolism from his interpretations.

….the picture of a chair in some cafe with the sun coming in the window and setting the chair in a holy halo… Cafe – Beaufort, South Carolina

….lying on his satin pillow in the tremendous fame of death…. Funeral St Helena, South Carolina

…. the sweet little white baby in the black nurses arms, both of them bemused in heaven…. Charleston South Carolina

….union boss, fat as Nero and eager a Caesar… Convention Hall Chicago

…..madman resting under a American flag canopy in old busted car seat…. Backyard, Venice West, California

Long shot of night road arrowing forlornly into immensities …. US 28 New Mexico

Having had a chance to look closely at this book, the 83 photographs seem to leave as many questions open as answered. Without the context of the period in time or the intimate knowledge of the nation (I was at primary school during this period and all that American meant to me was Popeye, The Lone Ranger and Davy Crockett) It is difficult to separate the iconic nature of the images which have formed my perception of the USA (photographically speaking) from the reality. We live in a world which runs against a media backdrop of the US, with TV, film, news and global branding that is inescapable. I’ve not been to the USA but I wonder if this manufactured experience has any connection to lives lead by US citizens today?

Project: Narrative

Exercise: Football Boys

Analyse Martin Shield’s photograph

Denotations Two young boys (12-13 years?) dressed in football kit each with a football tucked under their arm while their free arm is draped over the shoulder of the other. Walking away from the camera alongside a street that has been cleared of housing while in the near distance are derelict tenement blocks.

Connotations These lads are good mates. They are returning home after an enjoyable time playing football on nearby waste ground at the edge of a deprived landscape. They may be underprivileged but find joy in their friendship and shared love of the game.

Q. Does the text of the accompanying article relate to your initial deconstruction of the photograph? If so how?

A. Yes, but only in respect of their environment.

Q. Does the text change your perception of the image? If so, how?

A. Yes, but only in that the narrative I constructed illustrates only one aspect of the story. The text has put the image into the context of the story about the rebuilding of the estates in Glasgow.