Portrait of the artist
'I looked through a lens and ended up abandoning everything else'
Tuesday 28 February 2012 22.30 GMT
|'I have lived a hugely privileged life'|
Photograph by Eugenio Savio
What got you started?
I discovered photography completely by chance. My wife is an architect; when we were young and living in Paris, she bought a camera to take pictures of buildings. For the first time, I looked through a lens – and photography immediately started to invade my life. I finished my PhD in economics, and become an economist, but the camera gave me 10 times more pleasure. Eventually, I abandoned everything and started a new life as a photographer. That is still my life today.
Do you suffer for your art?
I cannot really say I "suffer". Photo-graphy is part of my way of life – the two things are completely integrated. As in any person's life, there have been difficult moments: I have a son with Down's syndrome; through my photography, I have witnessed all manner of human degradation. But there have also been very happy moments.
Has the advent of digital photography been a good thing for the art form?
Yes, an incredibly good thing. I photographed with film for many years; now that I work in digital, the difference is enormous. The quality is unbelievable: I don't use flash, and with digital I can even work in very bad light. Also, it's a relief not to lose photographs to x-ray machines in airports.
What's the best advice anyone gave you?
When I was just starting out, I met Cartier-Bresson. He wasn't young in age but, in his mind, he was the youngest person I'd ever met. He told me it was necessary to trust my instincts, be inside my work, and set aside my ego. In the end, my photography turned out very different to his, but I believe we were coming from the same place.
Who or what is your greatest source of inspiration?
Gandhi. I admire so much the fact that wherever he went, he integrated completely with the communities he was living with.
Is there an art form you don't relate to?
Not really. For me, art is such a wide concept – anything can be art. When I was a student, I lived in a housing park designed by Le Corbusier. Recently, I saw the very furniture we used to have in our rooms on sale in a gallery. I said: "My God, I lived with that furniture for two years – I put my clothes in it. And now it's become an art object."
What one song would work as the soundtrack to your life?
The Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. I have lived a hugely privileged life: I've visited more than 120 countries, seen many different people and climates, seen marvellous things and terrible things. That piece sums it all up.
Born: Aimorés, Brazil; 1944
Career: Began working as a photographer in Paris in 1973. Has published several books, including Workers, Terra and Africa, and set up his photo agency, Amazonas Images, in 1994 with his wife Lélia Wanick Salgado.
High point: "Every time I'm about to go on a trip."
Low point: "When my wife and I were prevented from returning to Brazil for many years for political reasons."
Portrait of the artist / Jane Birkin / 'I was at the wrong audition, but Graham Greene still gave me my big break'
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