So abstracted is the scene of Serra Pelada from anything in our experience,claims Arthur Danto
, that ‘you can’t locate it in history ... You’re astonishedthat anything like that could happen in the contemporary world.’
certainly true that Salgado’s photographs do not settle easily into a culture
dominated by neoliberal doctrine. According to its various and influential
accounts of the ‘end of history’, humanity has reached a Hegelian terminus
where, aside from minor tweaking or local amelioration, we cannot expectanything better. We really are, claim their authors (twentieth-century heirs of
Pangloss), living in the best of all possible worlds, in which ‘all of the really big questions have been settled’.
Even some of those who criticize such ideas,while retaining a deconstructive or postmodern point of view, would have us believe that it
makes no sense to talk of such grand concepts as ‘class’ or to
dare any longer to imagine any overarching project of improvement
and,indeed, some have long and consistently maintained this position.
So part of
the immediate shock of Salgado’s work is sim
ply to present contemporaryscenes which should have long been banished from the perfectible neoliberalstate; to show in a supposedly post-industrial world, scenes of vast pre-industrial labour; in a time of ahistorical bliss, scenes of naked exploitationand oppression.
Why Fine Art Photojournalism?
Given the quotidian interest of these pictures, an immediate question arises:why are they better known in the world of fine art than in the mass media? Inpart, it is to do with the end of the illustrated magazines as a dominant visual
Cited in Miles Orvell,
Documentary and the Seductions of Beauty. Salgado
After the Machine.Visual Arts and the Erasing of Cultural Beauty
, Jackson, Mississippi 1995, p. 101.
The End of History and the Last Man
, New York 1992, p. xii.
Specters of Marx
trans. Peggy Kamuf, New York 1994, p. 15.