Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: Sebastiao Salgado

Something I've been meaning to do for a while is share books that I've found influential. If you don't know who this guy is, you need to. There are many, many photographers that I've studied and continue to study, but one of the most influential photographers for me has been Sebastiao Salgado, a Brazilian documentary photographer. His work covers multiple continents, though much of the book I'm sharing is concentrated in South America and Africa. Here's a short review of his book, An Uncertain Grace, with some insight into what I got out of it myself.

First of all, if you're able to/willing to pick this book up from the library or even off (etc), I'd encourage you to read the essays. While the pictures can teach you a great deal about how a photographer approaches his subjects, the way he composes his shots, what he chooses to include and exclude from a photo, and what moments he/she deemed worthy to press the shutter for, the essays will teach you an equally important skill: how to talk and think about photography. This is a skill that is underrated and often neglected to make space for learning Photoshop and Lightroom tricks and blog stalking. Being able to talk about why you like a photo or why you do not can help you to analyze photographs more deeply. It can also aid you in "seeing" in a whole new way. Over time, the language of photography will become inbedded into your skull and you will learn to shoot more from "feel," requiring less thought and analysis during the moment. (Essentially, it will be more/less second nature over time) That's why I read the essays in my photo books and why I would encourage you to do the same. The author's perspective will also help you to appreciate the photos on a level (often) surpassing your own. It often includes insight behind the photos and what the photographer went through to get the photos, though rarely mentioning anything about the technicals.

Sebastiao's work is very raw. He doesn't attempt to glamorize his subjects or their surroundings. He shoots in black and white, which lends itself to an evocative, yet almost surreal quality. Through his work and Sam Abell's, to name a couple, I have grown fond of darker, moodier images and exposures.

Sebastiao's moodiness is accompanied by a quietness, a stillness that seems to reach into the subject's soul and capture something about who that person is. In reading it (and I have several times now), I come away with a sense that I've actually been the places he has. That is another thing to learn by studying this book: how to use context to speak about your subject and how to incorporate setting without allowing it to overwhelm your subject.

If you have the chance to look this book up, I highly recommend it. You never know which photographers will change your life. There are many I like but only a handful that truly changed the way I see. This is one of them. Try it one on for size.

"An Uncertain Grace" by Sebastiao Salgado (I included a few images to whet your appetite)

Thanks, guys


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