F4: The World in Pictures
Salgado, the Sahel, and Photography’s Biggest Dilemma
Although The New Yorker criticized Sebastião Salgado’s photography during the Sahel famine of the 1970s claiming his “beautification … is a call to admiration, not to action,” very few of his images are beautiful. And unlike his later works, which became some of the most celebrated and widely known photography projects of all time, Salgado’s book “Sahel: The End of the Road” is neither mesmerizing nor captivating. In fact, the vast majority of its images, despite being compositionally elegant in Salgado’s trademark, highly saturated black and white style, make the viewer want to look away. Anybody who either appreciates art, feels compassion for the world, or both, should celebrate that distinction.
Before becoming the world-renowned photographer that he is today, Sebastião Salgado was a trained economist. During his time spent working for the International Coffee Organization in 1971 (a subject that he would later document at great length), he began taking photos. At first, he was merely a freelancer, but his desire to feel more connected to the people he knew only in academic contexts imbued him with the palpable empathy that defines his work today — a characteristic reflected by his emphasis on portraying the suffering of people who rarely have their stories told. Just over a decade later, working with the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, he began photographing a drought which tore through the lives of countless people across Africa’s Sahel region.
McCurry, Meiselas, and the Mystery of Imagination in Documentary Photography
I have always loved photography’s ethereal quality. I cherish the medium’s ability to turn reality into fiction and create a world of imagination from concretely real things. Several years ago, my parents gifted me a copy of National Geographic’s “Asia and Oceania: Around the World in 125 years.” My history-loving, faraway imagination was seduced by the book, transporting me to the mountains of Kashmir, ports of Victoria Harbor, and jungles of Bagan to live a multitude of lives I had never before conceived of.
Of the photographers represented in the compilation, one of the most notable is the American photographer Steve McCurry, who is most well known for his portrait “Afghan Girl,” a dazzling work which takes as its subject a green-eyed young Afghan refugee in the early 1980s. Despite its stunning composition, the photo has become highly controversial in recent years after some of McCurry’s coercive tactics, which he employed to make his subject Sharbat Gula pose for the photo, surfaced.
Picturing the Past and Future — The Resurgent Importance of Nadav Kander’s Journey Along the Yangtze River
“I'm not interested in truth,” Israeli photographer Nadav Kander told LensCulture in an interview over a decade ago. In a way, it was a strange comment for a photographer to make, but it was also an ultimate show of respect for the complexity of his subject.