Sebastião Salgado is a world famous photographer, who needs no introduction. He is certainly the most illustrious photographer in Brazil and, perhaps, one of the most known in the world. Besides authoring more than 30 photo books and winning numerous international awards (World Press Photo, Photography of the Year by the American Society of Magazine, Photojournalist of the Year, Visa Dór, Photography Book of the Year), Salgado was president of the Magnum agency in Europe for several years. However, to enumerate his prizes is not the goal here.
My meeting with Salgado took place in 2014, a year after the release of my book on coffee photographs. At the time of our meeting, I had just produced my book on coffee plantations in the Zona da Mata region, while Salgado was finishing his new book on coffee crops around the world. We met because a sympathetic friend and owner of a major coffee-producing property, made sure to introduce us.
It was a great honor to meet Sebastião and talk to him. During lunch, I proposed a recorded interview, but, in a friendly manner, he said that he would rather answer my questions without having an interview appointment. Therefore, I will share the main topics I remember from the conversation we had with our readers at PL.
My first question has already been incisive:
Why do you only shoot with a closed aperture? (stopped down to a small aperture)
I shoot with the closed aperture, because I think that is how we humans see things as well. All focused. The eye does not blur, it sees everything focused. I do not like the blur effect, I find it unattractive. So I shoot everything stopped down to smaller apertures. The technology of modern cameras made it even easier. Using Canon 1DX I can shoot with a super high ISO and always keep my aperture small. Since my pictures are black and white, the noise does not present a serious problem for me. In fact, the 1 DX has virtually no noise. I have photographed in dense forests with it, at relatively good shutter speeds of 1/250, which was previously much more difficult to achieve with film.
Could you describe your experience at Magnum?
Well, I was the president of Magnum for several years and there I witnessed Homeric fights due to jealousy and competition. Then, I went out and set up my own agency.
Why Canon and not Nikon?
I had worked with Nikon for a few years in the past and it disappointed me. Today I only work with Canon and that’s what works for me.
Do you prefer prime or zoom lenses?
Today I use zoom lenses a lot, because of their excellent quality. I remember talking to a technician from Canon in Japan, who explained that in the past there was a noticeable difference between zoom and prime lenses. Today, thanks to the use of computer technologies at the design and manufacturing stages, the difference hardly exists anymore; it is minimal and almost imperceptible for most people.
Note: At the time of the meeting, Sebastião was with two lenses: a Canon 24-105mm f/4L and the other was a 70-300mm zoom.
Changing the focus of the chat a bit, we talked about difficulties in long walks and hikes. Sebastião said he had just experienced a great difficulty in the ascent of Pico da Neblina in Amazon. There was a lot of rain, mud and his assistant got sick and some Indians gave up the journey.
Always very friendly, helpful and playful, Sebastião showed with his attitude that what matters is the human heart, not our titles and honors. Attitude, which matches a lot with his photographic work.
I wish I had more to add to this brief meeting, but I will leave that for next time, when I have a chance to talk to Sebastião a bit longer. We finished our lunch tasting with a delicious Banana pie my wife, Nina, prepared, after which Sebastião showed me his equipment. I recorded this with a video camera, which I present to you below (in Portuguese):
The photos in this article were taken by my wife and the below portrait of Sebastião is made by me. Obviously, I could not miss this opportunity!
What was left from this meeting with the master of photography?
Some truly valuable tips:
- The important thing is PERFORMING your project. PHOTOGRAPH! Get out and do what you like, what you want and believe to be important. This will transpire in your work. The photography work, when it is done with great enthusiasm is done better.
- All great photographers work thinking of the aperture. That is the secret of the technique in photography. CONTROLLING the focus line. By that you impose a style, be it with blur or not, being aware of aperture is very important. Many photographers buy their lenses and they do not come out the same F / stop. That’s a bad sign. Have you ever wondered about that?
- Do not concern ourselves with the equipment that great photographers have, they are in another reality. They fly at ANOTHER altitude. What they did to arrive at that altitude was the result of their work, the photographic content and not their equipment. So, do your work with love and dedication and one day you may get there too.