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"Workers: An Archeology of the Industrial Age"

Photographs by Sebasti£o Salgado

On display through June 5

Groton School, de Menil Gallery 282 Farmers Row, Groton



Using photography to bridge cultures and solve problems is the goal of photographer Sebastião Salgado. Internationally acclaimed, Salgado's "Workers" exhibition depicts manual labor from the workers' point of view in many countries around the world.

"The images offer a visual archeology of a time that history knows as the Industrial Revolution, a time when men and women at work with their hands provided the central axis of the world," Salgado, a native of Brazil, wrote on the website documenting his work.

Salgado said his interest in workers was piqued when he realized how automated the working world is becoming. "Workers are being fired around the world," he said in a telephone interview last week. In the early 1980s, when he began taking pictures for the "Workers" exhibition, he was particularly interested in the way computers are taking over what used to be manual labor jobs in many industries.

Photographing workers in approximately 25 countries in a span of five to six years, Salgado became immersed in the lives of the laborers. "It was interesting to see the hard work and the dreams," he said.

There are several events surrounding the exhibition at the Groton School's de Menil Gallery. On Feb. 24, from 7:15 to 8:15 p.m., the gallery will host a screening of Andrew Snell's documentary, "Sebastião Salgado: Looking Back at You." On April 1, from 7:15 to 8 p.m., Diana Gaston, associate curator, Fidelity Investments, will give a gallery talk to help audience members better read and interpret documentary photographs. She will also address the problems of interpretation that arise from re-contextualizing documentary photographs in a gallery setting.

Fred Ritchin, who wrote "An Uncertain Grace: The Photographs of Sebastião Salgado," will discuss the exhibition on April 21, from 7:15 to 8 p.m. He was a picture editor for The New York Times Magazine in the early 1980s and worked with Salgado for over 20 years, both at the Times and with independent projects. Ritchin also was curator of Salgado's retrospective "An Uncertain Grace" in 1991 at the International Center of Photography in New York City.

While on an assignment that Ritchin gave him for The New York Times Magazine, Salgado photographed the attempted assassination of President Reagan. "That was important financially," said Ritchin. But his photo essays are "what made him internationally important."

"It's an embracing photography that is democratic in the sense that he finds dignity, strength, endurance, and intelligence throughout the world, and it is empathetic photography in the sense that we're all in this together," said Ritchin. "We're all people and we all have to live our lives and endure and push forward. It's not a kind of pathetic photography."

During the 1980s, Salgado's photo essay work was not very well known because people found them to be too depressing. According to Elizabeth Fee and Theodore Browne of The American Journal of Public Health, "his 'militant photography' compellingly, and with a sad tenderness, depicts human and economic injustice while always respecting the innate dignity of the workers."

"I had him work on the famine in the Sahal region of Africa," said Richin. "At that time it was Hands across America, Musicians United Against Famine. His pictures were not being shown in the papers in this country, it was more the big-bellied starving African child pictures." Because of the country's initial uneasiness about his type of empathy-not-sympathy photography, it took 20 years to publish the book on his photo essays, "An Uncertain Grace."

Despite his difficulties, Salgado believes his biggest problem was not with critics. "My biggest problem was with bureaucracies that were scared about the press and photographers," he said. "They push you out and won't give you authorizations."

He talked about one such moment when he was photographing the oil industry in Venezuela in 1991. "I was a foreigner and it was during the Kuwait conflict," he said, "they pushed me out to protect their industry."


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