The photographer Sebastião Salgado

The Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade 2019 for his photographs, which demand social justice and peace, but also for his commitment as a nature and climate protector. See our video interview with Sebastião Salgado and a selection of his world-famous pictures on KfW Stories.

Interview with photographer Sebastião Salgado about his life's work and his commitment to the rainforest (KfW Group/Thomas Schuch).

For many years, Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado has been portraying people marked by hunger, flight and misery. His black-and-white photographs became world-famous because they mercilessly document human suffering and thus express without words the need to put an end to social injustice and war.

After restless years in theatres of war and refugee camps, Salgado returned to his parents' abandoned farm in the Brazilian rainforest at the end of the 1990s. Actually, to recover. But he found a quagmire landscape, marked by ruthless deforestation, the soil emaciated, the rivers dried up.

And so in 1999, together with his wife Lélia, he began an unprecedented reforestation project. They planted more than 2.5 million seedlings of almost 300 tree species on the former Fazenda in the Rio Doce basin. In an area larger than Manhattan, the tropical flora and fauna returned. In our video interview, Sebastião Salgado reports on the most important project of his life: Saving Brazil's rainforest.

Read more under the video.

His life, his pictures

Salgado was born on 8 February 1944 and grew up on his parents' cattle farm near the small town of Aimorés in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Because he rebelled against the military dictatorship, he had to emigrate to Paris with his wife Lélia in 1969, where the couple still live today.

Salgado came to photography by chance. The impetus came from a business trip to Africa as an administrative employee, on which he took his wife Lélia's Leica with him. In 1973, the economist decided to set up his own business as a photojournalist.

KfW’s commitment in Brazil
Karim ould Chih

Reforestation in Brazil reported by KfW project manager Karim ould Chih.

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Salgado began with sports and wedding photos, soon followed by agency commissions all over the world. His focus was increasingly on people who suffer injustice and who live on the margins of society. He documented gold miners who live and work under seemingly medieval conditions and traveled to crisis areas, where he often accompanied hungry people and refugees for many weeks. His pictures convey their suffering unfiltered.

He himself suffered so much that he fell ill and had to give up his intensive life as a crisis photographer. Since then Salgado has dedicated himself above all to nature conservation – in his works and through the Instituto Terra, which he founded with his wife to protect the Brazilian rainforest. Their unprecedented reforestation project also attracted the attention of KfW, which is now working with Salgado and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on strategies to reforest the Cerrado savannah area, the Amazon and the Atlantic rainforest along the coast.

Published on KfW Stories: 19 June 2019, last updated: 17 October 2019