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Sebastião Salgado. The power of the Planet and the people who work the earth with their hands

Culture / -

Sebastiao Salgado 1 ottobre
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015

The great Brazilian photographer doesn’t consider coffee simply as a product, but as an interweaving of stories: stories of the people who have grown it, stories of the hands which have worked the earth and the expressions on the faces in the plantations. Sebastião Salgado tells these stories in the Coffee Cluster at Expo Milano 2015 together with Illy.

Your photographic exhibition in the Coffee Cluster is called “Profumo di sogno”, or Dream Scent: how did this reportage come about? 
I adore the perfume of coffee, and that’s how the exhibition got its title. We began this project in 2002, with the idea we’d discussed with Andrea Illy, about building a story around the people hidden behind coffee’s production process. Everyone knows all about the vast market of coffee consumption, but very few know anything about how it is grown and processed. We wanted to go among the people involved and show the richness of the product and the work involved in producing it. Worldwide, tens of millions of families live on the coffee trade.
These photos will be exhibited in Expo Milano 2015 until the end of this month. What happens then? Will you continue your involvement with food? Do you think it is a socially relevant subject?
We may well propose the exhibition elsewhere, in other countries, from Brazil to the US. I’d be very happy to do more photographic work on the subject of food: it’s wonderful to observe the people who work the earth, producing food and interacting with the planet: it’s fantastic! I’ve photographed coffee, now I could photograph rice, olive oil, wheat… but in every case I would show the human dimension hidden behind these products.
It’s extremely important to work on these kinds of photos, to show people in contact with the earth. Our ancestors always worked the earth and produced everything in collaboration with it. We live in a modern industrial society and we have the impression that all work involves intellect, industry, technology. But actually, the majority of the world’s workers still do as what people did 2,000 years ago: they put their hands into the earth and procure everything that is needed. If we leave the cities, we see how the earth is cultivated. For example, we can see how olive oil is produced, see how people work among these trees which are hundreds of years old. The power of the Planet is incredibly strong, and the power of the people who touch the earth is incredibly important.
From your photographic projects one feels the beautiful yet precarious relationship between humanity and nature: do you think photography can help to make people more sensitive about respecting the resources of the Planet and making their lifestyle more moderate?
Photography is a means, hardly decisive on its own, but together with texts, films, television and newspapers it can contribute to the flow of information. Photography is part of this wider information system.
Coffee is part of you: what has this project activated in you? Memories, emotions, new interpretations of your life?
No, it hasn’t activated new interpretations, it is my whole life. My father used to grow coffee and transport it through the forest using 15 mules to the ports on the coast. He had a small industry for preparing coffee for export, where I used to work too. Coffee is my whole life, and this exhibition is part of that, a continuation of that.
illycaffè is the Official Partner of Expo 2015 for the design and content management, of exhibitions and events dedicated to coffee, within the common areas of the Coffee Cluster. The meeting with the photographer Sebastião Salgado and illycaffè has resulted in "Scent of a Dream": the largest ever reportage dedicated to the world of coffee.

Joel Meyerowitz: Bread is the star of my photographs for Expo Milano 2015

Culture / -

Joel Meyerowitz img rif cover
@ Saignon

A simple food which, with its inviting aroma, conjures images of family scenes and the joy of eating together. Bread is the star of the photographs by Joel Meyerowitz that are being exhibited in the Cereals and Tubers Cluster.

For Expo Milano 2015 you are in charge of the photographic exhibition within the Cereals and Tubers Cluster: you’ve built installations out of bread from all over the world. Does this mean that you’re focusing only on food then?
I am focusing on breads, because the Pavilion is dedicated to Cereals and Grains and bread is the first use of these food resources. For this work, the breads actually came from all over Italy.
How did you choose the different breads? Did you discover any new ones while working on this project? Did you need to travel far to find them?
Most of the breads were sent to me by Francesca Allamprese Manes Rossi of Il Granaio delle Idee Srl, who I met by chance near Buonconvento and who, once she heard what my work was about, offered her services to find nearly 75 different breads. However I did find a number of local, or private bakers who made their own special kinds of bread just for me for this project.

From a photographic point of view, what aspect fascinated you most about these subjects? The colors, the textures, the shapes?
I had only just begun making Still Lives about two years ago, so when this commission for the Pavilion came up my immediate response was to make photographs of Bread, as if each one was a separate ‘personage,’ and treat them as unique characters. To that end I made a little, corner-like stage for them to act on, and the stage, in a deep gray color, would also serve to carry the dark image of the ovens they were baked in. Following on from that angular space I had the idea to create three-sided columns on which the breads (much bigger than life size) would function somewhat like “totems’ inside the public piazza space of the pavilion. In that way, the repetition of similar forms and colors would be seen as actually being incredibly diverse, just as each region and city has diverse cultures. 

In an interview on your official website you said: "The world continues outside the frame". Is this also valid in the sense that photographs can provoke questions in the viewer on big issues such as food waste and world hunger?
I would hope that the power of imagery today could be effective in helping to demonstrate that problems really exist, and that all of us should be willing to make an effort to ‘read the signs’ that photographs present and make some changes that would benefit mankind. In that sense photographs do exist outside the frame. However, I cannot claim that for my photographs here at Expo Milano 2015. These images show the abundance and diversity that a rich culture like Italy has as a basic, daily reality. This, of course, is not so in most of the other countries in the Pavilions, where scarce resources, or political systems diminish the number of choices.

In mythology grain is often linked to the creation of man. For example, in the sacred texts Popol Vuh of the Maya, man comes from corn, while according to Chinese legend, man comes from "Lord of Millet". Is this ancient truth that links grain to the creation of man reflected in your photographs?
I wish that were the case. I cannot say that these portraits of bread possess any kind of legendary or mythic potential. However, these do have their own history and local tradition baked into the way they look and the functions they serve. There are festive breads for holidays, decorative forms made from flour and water, sweet breads, flat breads, salted and salt free breads, breads that have crossed national boundaries to become part of the borderland breads where traditions, like cultures and language, mix and change and reinvent the basic forms of bread baking. I did try to celebrate the idea of bread being the ‘staff of Life’ by giving each bread a chance to be an individual, and through this I hoped to show the diversity and beauty of this most basic food source.

Alex Webb: I wandered between the colors of the spices to photograph them

Culture / -

© Rebecca Norris
© Rebecca Norris

Spices have always conjured up images of distant, exotic lands, vibrant colors and intense flavors. Magnum Photos photographer, Alex Webb, who has put together the exhibition in the Spices Cluster, talks about his photographic journey through India, between ingredients, people and rituals.

Merchants, travelers and conquerors have all landed in India following the Spice Routes, ancient trade routes steeped in charm and mystery. When you think about this land, you immediately smell the intense fragrance of the bazaars and the aromatic flavors of the food, a rich contrast of flavors and colors. Alex Webb tells us about his journey that involved "walking, waiting and photographing".
You are in charge of the photographic exhibition within the Spice Cluster. Can you tell us which countries and areas you visited for your shoots and how you selected the images?
As India—and particularly the southern state of Kerala—is one of the primary sources for spices, I wandered throughout this region. I visited a variety of spice production locales and explored the culture of spices—the towns, the festivals, and other public activities of the region. Additionally, I spent time in the Spice Market in Delhi, which is one of the largest in the world.

You worked for National Geographic, and your photographs very much reflect the culture of travel, which is historically associated with spices. Is there a particular food that you ate during your travels that excited you, maybe the taste, the sharing of it, the form, the emotional aspect?
Indian food, especially the southern cuisine of Kerala, is richly complex. It often mixes multiple tastes–sometimes hot and sweet simultaneously—along with the visual delight of the food itself, thanks to its saffron-colored tumeric, deep red chilies, and other brilliantly colored spices. So I guess it’s not surprising that my photographs of Indian spices—and the cultures and events surrounding them—teem with hot reds, intense oranges, and vivid yellows.

The theme of Expo Milano 2015 is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. Through your photography have you covered or interpreted this theme?
For Expo Milano 2015, I decided to photograph Indian spices—including pepper, tumeric, ginger, cardemon, and chilies—because they are an integral part of many cuisines worldwide.

About your way of photographing you said: "I only know how to approach a place by walking. For what does a street photographer do but walk and watch and wait and talk, and then watch and wait some more, trying to remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the secret heart of the known awaits just around the corner". Has this way of walking and waiting and getting to know your subject changed the way you perceive the environment and therefore photograph it?
Over the years, I’ve found that exploring a particular culture by walking and waiting and photographing in its streets has changed me utterly—not only as a photographer, but also as a human being.  My choosing to work this way—intuitively and spontaneously as a street photographer—has ultimately made all the difference for me and for my work.

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