Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Then and Now: Photographs by Sebastião Salgado

Then and Now: Photographs by Sebastião Salgado

The David Brower Center in Berkeley is exhibiting a small selection of photographs by the great documentary photographer Sebastião Salgado. The show consists of large digital prints, many over 3' x 4'. The prints have a matte rather than glossy finish, & at this large size they look very grainy. The concrete lobby is unevenly lit & a bit forbidding, making for less than ideal viewing conditions. However, the images themselves demand attention, & each one is arresting in its own way.

The photos come from all over the world, though many are from Africa & South America in the 1980s & 1990s. They often depict the devastating consequences of war or the sheer toil of physical labor. The balanced compositions, beautiful landscapes & luxurious textures are frequently at odds with the harsh subject matter. This results in mesmerizing images. I find it impossible not to identify with Salgado's subjects. I first became familiar with Salgado through his surreal photos of workers at Serra Pelada, & I was glad to see two images from that series here.

Three images of subjects from the natural world were unexpected, as was a formal portrait of shamans from Brazil. Looking estimable & a little smug, they reminded me of those pillars of society depicted in a group portrait by Frans Hals.

The Brower Center itself seems to be the very model of a green building. I was quite impressed by the building dashboard in the lobby, which I discovered to be interactive. I could view the building's consumption of electricity & water in real time, as well as the production of electricity by solar panels on the roof. It's a nifty way to encourage people to conserve resources.


sfmike said...

It may be an impressively green building and I hear the upper stories are quite airy and beautiful, but that concrete lobby feels like a World War Two bunker. Love Salgado's photos, he's one of my heroes, but they felt weird in that brutal architecture.

Axel Feldheim said...

I agree entirely about the concrete lobby. It's a cold exhibit space.