Sebastião Salgado: a picture from Genesis. Photo courtesy Taschen Books.
It just occurred to me yesterday, when I vetted a comment from Paul Amyes claiming that the printers of Sebastião Salgado's internegatives from digital are Dominique Granier and Paul and Max Caffel, and not Voya Mitrovic, that I've been getting into trouble for more than twenty years trying to report "what Salgado uses" for his work.
The very first occasion was when I read (some time in the '90s) that Salgado carried three cameras—two Leica M cameras, one with a 35mm lens and one with a 28mm, plus one Leica SLR (an R6, I think it was) with a 60mm R Macro. I repeated this in an article, and got all sorts of blowback for it—no, said some, this is wrong, he uses other lenses; no no, he uses different cameras; no no no, that was what he used to use, but not any more; and so on. Everyone, it seemed, had read a different article or interview, and was willing to attest to some different truth.
Ever since then, I think I've reported (or published) about five times "what Salgado uses"—usually based on what the photographer had said in an interview—and each time it was a different thing, and each time there have been dissenters who knew better.
So I pretty much decided this morning—unilaterally and spontaneously—that I should make it axiomatic that none of us knows what the hell Salgado uses for anything at any given point in time...even if the photographer says so himself; because he might have moved on since he said it. The man is obviously peripatetic in his travels; maybe he's also questing and capricious in his methods, trying different things all the time and making changes frequently. I don't know. I don't know Sebastião. We are not acquainted. I've never watched him work or heard anything directly from him. All the information I've ever gotten about him is secondhand at best.
What also seems axiomatic is that a great many people love his work, respect his accomplishments, and admire his skills. Maybe that should be enough.
P.S. Meanwhile, our next print sale—Peter Turnley's, at the end of October—will include two pictures taken with the Leica M-Monochrom, transferred to a 4x5" film internegative, and printed—by Voja Mitrovic—on traditional fiber-base silver gelatin paper. So at least a few readers (buyers of one of those prints) will be able to judge for themselves what they think of that technique.
I haven't seen the prints yet myself, so I don't know yet what I think. What I do know about them is that their success or failure will largely depend on the photographer and the printer and their judgment and visual sensitivity and skill, because that, not base technique, is what makes photographs work.
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Featured Comments from:
Paul Butzi: "In every photo of the man that I've seen where he has a camera, the camera was a Leica M of some sort.
"But that's immaterial. I have owned a number of Leica M cameras (and own one now, and I like it a lot). I even own a 35mm lens just like the one Salgado is reputed to use. And I've used a 28mm just like the one he is supposed to have used.
"And before that, I used a lens exactly like the one John Sexton used in a lot of his photos, and not only that, I used the same film and the same paper and the same chemistry and processing methods as John.
"Despite this somewhat creepy similarity between Salgado's equipment and mine, and between Sexton's process and mine, the risk that someone might look at one of my photos and think 'Why, that looks like it was made by Sebastião Salgado' is essentially zero. Same thing if someone looks at my landscapes made with a 4x5 in terms of mistaking my work for Sexton's.
"The problem, I think, is that Salgado makes photographs with his brain and his understanding of the subject and his emotional responses, and Sexton likewise with his brain, understanding, and emotions, and I must limp along with my own brain, understanding, and responses. And of course since we are all different, our photographs too will be different.
"Some people apparently consider this to be a problem. Myself, I think it's an absolutely glorious state of affairs."