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New Left Review I/223, May-June 1997

Julian Stallabrass

Sebastião Salgado and Fine Art Photojournalism

Black-and-white photographs of a vast pit, its sides cut into a giant’s stairway and scaled by crude ladders, its surface covered with figures, most bearing large sacks; scanning the space between foreground and distant background, the effect is dizzying—there must be thousands of these figures. [*] I would like to thank Robin Blackburn, Sebastian Budgen, Robert Garnett, Kitty Hauser and Elena Lledó for their comments on an earlier draft of this essay. The pictures are of an open-cast gold mine in Brazil, named Serra Pelada. No mechanical diggers or trucks are to be seen. Instead, so we can read in texts which accompany the pictures, there are workers who dig out the ore with shovels, load it into sacks—weighing between thirty and sixty kilos—and haul them up ladders and mud slopes to the authorities waiting at the top. They make as many as sixty trips a day, and for each climb they are paid twenty cents. Fifty thousand workers toil here, dreaming of the chance find that could make them rich. [1] Sebastião Salgado, Workers. An Archaeology of the Industrial Age, Phaidon Press, London 1993, isbn 0-7148-2931-5, £70. For information about Serra Pelada, see the supplementary booklet to Workers, pp. 19-20, and the disgracefully entitled anonymous picture feature, ‘Brazil Nuts’, Photography, December 1987, p. 14. This short text also notes that there are many fatal accidents at the mine.

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Julian Stallabrass, ‘Sebastiao Salgado and Fine Art Photojournalism’, NLR I/223: £3

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