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Art
 
Human Dignity in Tragic Times
The Photography of Sebastião Salgado
at The Leonardo’s Inaugural Exhibit
By Stephanie Geerlings

 
Sebastião Salgado's 'Exodus'
 
The Leonardo Center
(209 E. 500 South)
Now through Dec. 17
Tickets $10,
$7 for youth under 17,
students, seniors and military.

 
Visit www.theleonardo.org
or call 531-9800.
 
'An Evening of Conscience'
 
featuring Salgado,
humanitarian Homero Aridjis
and author Terry Tempest Williams
 
Kingsbury Hall (University of Utah)
Thursday, Dec. 1, 7 p.m.
 
Call 581-7100
 
   

More people worldwide are moving or being forced to flee their homes than ever before. This mass global migration has been set into motion because of civil wars, disparate economies and the desire for a better life. Sebastião Salgado, renowned photographic storyteller, illuminated this decampment in “Exodus,” shot in 40 countries from 1994 through 2000.

Three-hundred photos line the walls of the old Salt Lake City library. That space is now dedicated to The Leonardo, a partnership between Global Artways, the Center for Documentary Arts and the new Utah Science Center. “Exodus” is the center’s first exhibit and also the last before remodeling gives it a face lift. It is an excellent choice to set the professional tone and champion the Human Rights Gallery, which will be a permanent feature of the center. The breadth of Salgado’s scope and the years of commitment to a single thesis are unparalleled by any photojournalist of this era.

Salgado’s storytelling produces a special kind of photography that straddles the role of photojournalism and the fine arts. Born in Aimores, Minas Gerais, Brazil, he was not formally educated in photography. He instead received his PhD in Economics from the University of Paris. His photographs’ raw nuances and storylines take many cues from his field of study, as he pictorially analyzes the flow of resources.

Leslie Kelen, Executive Director for the Center for Documentary Arts, partnered with the University of Utah’s College of Humanities and the Salt Lake Film Center to bring the exhibit to Salt Lake City. He believes that it captures the full expanse of his organization’s vision for The Leonardo and the Human Rights Gallery’s future. “We wanted an exhibit that would grab and hold the community’s interest on many levels.” This show appeals to the general public, artists and promotes education. “It offers a significant message about what documentary arts are capable of,” Kelen says.

Salgado was on the ground and living with refugees from Rwanda in 1994, amid the sea of bodies resulting from the genocide. He was rejoicing in Mozambique as refugees were finally allowed back into their homeland after years of civil war had scourged their country. The circumstances facing the people of individual countries are analogous to many others worldwide, from Guatemala to Mexico to Morocco to Hong Kong to Bosnia. Salgado spent months or years trying to tell each area’s deep story, rather than providing surface icons. The essays are physical and starkly human. There is an empathy and honesty that is not present in mass media.

Through his work, Salgado shows the aftermath of many heavy decisions that were being made all over the world. He does not, however, exploit the suffering of the people he photographs. Even given the severity of their subjects’ struggles, the photographs are compelling and depict human intelligence and dignity. Much of the photographer’s proceeds go to help the communities in various medical and educational programs.

Because of the position of power and political climates, Salgado had a very difficult time showing his earlier work to wide audiences. Finally, in 1991 the fine art world gave him his first momentous break. His photo essay about the worker was shown in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The images could no longer be censored or contained. Now, more than 3 million people all over the world have seen his work.

“Exodus” is a politically charged show. It doesn’t necessarily argue for one side or another, but offers the many a voice over the powerful.

“We are face to face with the circumstances of their immediate lives. ‘Exodus’ portrays the nakedness of people and the elements of humanity stripped of social or governmental comforts,” Kelen says. He adds that the exhibit gives us a chance to see something in ourselves: “We are all potentially capable of being placed in these difficult circumstances.”

This influential collection of images and complex photographic essays unabashedly depicts social and political power dynamics. The experience will most likely stir you. Written on the entry to the exhibit is a quote from Salgado, “I hope that the person who visits my exhibitions and the person who comes out are not the same.”

steph[at]saltshakermagazine.com

 

 
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