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Worth a thousand words

Kelly Clancy | Monday, September 5, 2005

While black and white photography may seem to be a method of the past, the Sebastião Salgado photography exhibit currently featured at the University of Notre Dame’s Snite Museum of Art proves the assumption wrong.

Salgado’s photographs – over 20 are featured in the O’Shaugnessy Galleries through Nov. 20 – provide a social commentary on contemporary conditions in foreign locations. The black and white character of the artwork evokes the message that these conditions are reminiscent of a world that is rarely understood by present-day Americans.

An award-winning, world-renowned documentary photographer, Salgado tends to focus on underdeveloped countries and third-world nations as subjects for his work.

Born in 1944 in Brazil and employed in Paris as a freelance photographer in 1973, Salgado found himself concentrating his work on his homeland of Latin America.

His most noted series of photographs was a result of the Serra Pelado gold mine in the Brazilian rainforest, discovered in 1980. Salgado was able to capture the raw nature of the gold mine, which was an open pit and involved men carrying enormous sacks of dirt and rocks up cliffs in hopes of finding a simple speck of gold.

The importance of Salgado’s work is recognized not only by photographers worldwide but also by those at Notre Dame. Assistant Professor of Portugese and Brazilian Studies Ferreira Gould assigned her freshman literature seminar class to write a response paper about the exhibit because she felt it was pertinent to Portuguese and Creole literatures studied in the seminar.

“Sebastião Salgado’s photographs bring other parts of our world close to us, making the strange and the unseen familiar and visible: migrants, refugees, children of war, landless people, peasants,” Gould said. “There is an ethical dimension to his work. We emerge from his exhibition transformed, newly aware of our co-responsibility with our fellow human beings.”

Drago Florez, a freshman, enjoyed the assignment.

“I liked the picture ‘Women Carrying Mud and Stones’ because it has a crude beauty,” Florez said. “To see that beauty you must look past the simple truth that they’re living in poverty. The beauty is in the action.”

The subjects of Salgado’s photography vary from painful events to celebratory images. Salgado’s works involve rough and raw conditions and evoke a sense of humility within oneself. The photography also highlights the social message that there is a need to be aware of one’s surroundings and not to focus only that which only concerns oneself. Salgado’s artwork was brought to the Snite Museum courtesy of Mr. Steve Moriarty, the Milly and Fritz Kaesar Curator of Photography. Moriarty realized the importance of the works, which succeed in, “showing a world that we might not otherwise know.”

“I’ve always liked Salgado’s work,” Moriarity said. “The images are beautiful technically and aesthetically but they deal with important issues.”

Salgado’s photographs had previously been shown at the museum as part of a smaller exhibit put together three or four years ago for a sophomore core class that is no longer part of the Notre Dame curriculum. However, Moriarity received such a positive response from the small exhibit, when given the opportunity to host a larger exhibition, he did not pass up the offer.

The Opening Reception for the Snite Museum, on Sept. 11 from 2 to 4 p.m., will feature not only Salgado’s work but also the work of two other Hispanic artists as part of September’s focus as National Hispanic-American Heritage Month.

Featured along with Salgado’s work will be Zarco Guerrero: Caras y Mascaras, an exhibit which displays numerous handmade clay masks along with shrines to Cesar Chavez and Frida Khalo, and Vincent Valdez: Stations, a series of charcoal drawings created by the Hispanic artist Valdez which represents the Stations of the Cross though a boxing fight in a ring.