Sebastião Salgado, the photographer is quoted as saying “Reality is full of depth of field.” He describes filling his images with ‘great and intricate detail.’ Well, that is the technical aspect. But the core of it, the marrow of his artistry, lies not in his technique but rather in what he observes, what he chooses to immortalise. It’s this discernment, this keen eye, that renders his work unique, profound, setting it apart from the mundane.
Take twenty photographers, put them in the same place and ask them to capture the same subject. You’ll not receive twenty carbon copies. No, you’ll be handed twenty unique testaments, each a distinct vision of the world. It’s a matter of choice. What will you let your eyes, your soul, see?
Salgado, through the brunt of his life, has existed among tribes & societies that are so far removed from my everyday British life that I can’t even fathom their existence. Living on the edge of my understanding, these societies are alien to me. But Salgado, he doesn’t cast judgment. He simply observes, witnesses, interprets through the lens of his humanity.
In the film that covers his life’s work named “Salt Of The Earth” (2014), it tells his story almost with a poetic grace, drawing us in, guiding us to understand his perception, his depth of field. Watching the film is something I’d suggest for all, a masterclass not merely in the art of photography, but in the art of seeing as a human being. His account of a gold mine in Brazil, which birthed one of his most recognised images, left me slack-jawed and awestruck, as he detailed how his experience shaped his perspective.
It beckons the question – how do we train our eyes, our souls, to recognise the unseen, the unapparent?
How can we nurture our artistic vision, to cultivate a depth that allows us to truly see when the moment strikes, to act and encapsulate the moment’s full potential?
We ought to unfetter our senses, let them drink in all that surrounds us, inviting novel information, urging ourselves to adopt a new prism through which we view and understand the world.
This could take the form of an ideological standpoint, or it could be an artistic endeavour. In either case, it’s an ‘observational practice.’ Even more critical, it’s an intuitive process; by bridging the gap between observer and subject, we enable empathy to broaden our focus. It lets us birth works of art that speak the truth.