Behind the Beauty, Lies the Pain


At first glance, Sebastião Salgado’s artistic interpretations look completely entrancing and beautiful. Salgado has attempted to capture the nature of a variety of cultures in their natural glory. However, upon further investigation, and viewing a variety of his artistic expressions, these pictures, in their essence, are that of suffering and very poor and distasteful living conditions. I cannot comprehend how Salgado has received a multitude of awards and honorary certificates and can be described as one of the most widely-respected contemporary photojournalists, when he has depicted human life in a way that utterly dehumanises those in the photographs, and basically treats these victims of suffering as animals.

On further investigation into Salgado’s photographic career, and the way in which he interprets his encounters with those in his photographs, I believe Salgado is leapfrogging onto the major issue of famine and malnutrition, and the suffering of these people living in horrendous conditions. It is evident in the interview linked here, that Salgado is very involved with his interpretations of these serious matters, and how being exposed to these conditions has changed him as a person, or even a photographer. However, nowhere in the interview is there any recognition of the condition, or suffering of those he has been exposed to throughout his photographic career. This leads me to believe that there is something slightly worrying about Salgado’s work, that he manipulates and photoshops images of people in poverty, and not only exhibits them as artworks, but profits from their loss, profiting $9,000 for his book.

The following image is quite distressing, and I feel quite ill sharing it, however this image further reinforces the point that Salgado dehumanises and depicts humans that are suffering in a way that is artistically ‘enjoyable’.


I understand the contrary to my argument, and that Salgado is involved with UNICEF, and I applaud him for using his status within society to help highlight the suffering conditions many people around the world face, however, the way in which he depicts his photographs by manipulating and editing them to be seen in awe, and the use of human suffering for art leaves me a little eerie.

I am open to other opinions of Salgado, and maybe you could persuade me to think of him in a new light, so I invite you to comment your own thoughts and ideas. Possibly even on the broadened topic alone, is it okay to publish images of those suffering?


2 thoughts on “Behind the Beauty, Lies the Pain

  1. Hi there, I also find myself conflicted with showing images of suffering. At what point does showing the image cease to inform the public/ help the subject and only serve to benefit the photographer’s personal goals? While Salgado certainly profited from his photographs, he also worked to raise awareness towards social/ environmental issues, as you mentioned. Your post was well researched and effective in making the reader internalise their perception of looking at suffering. It would be interesting to know more about the general ethics around photojournalism in cases such as this. This link has a case study regarding the conflicted ethics of photographing suffering that might be interesting to look at:

    • Thank you for your reply, I’m glad to hear that someone has the same beliefs as I do. I do also believe that there is a very ‘fine line’ between raising awareness for an issue, as Salgado does, and just leapfrogging onto the issue to, somewhat, ‘put yourself in their shoes’, which I just find too baffling to even comprehend! Thank you also for the link, I’ll be sure to have a look at it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s