Serra Pelada refers to a series of photographs that were taken in 1986 depicting endless numbers of mine workers distributed on various parts of a tall gold mining cliff. The black and white photos were taken from a distance and at an elevated vantage point by photographer Sebastiao Salgado. Because of the location and the angle in which the photos were taken, the subjects look like dots as only their general forms are noticeable. The photograph captures gold grabbers and miners pouring from the side of Brazil’s then largest and most dangerous mine known as Serra Pelada.
Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado Júnior is a Brazilian social documentary photographer and photojournalist that has built a successful photography career that has seen his work published in numerous books and publications. As a photojournalist, Salgado seeks to photograph the most unsettling images of human life on earth, exposing things that appear almost unrealistic and improbable such as the Serra Pelada gold mine.
The purpose of his photography has always been to expose the secrets of marginalized or remote places; places that are too inaccessible and off the beaten path that people do not even know that they exist on earth. Because of his continuous use of black and white in most of his photographs, Salgado may very well be one of the few classic photographers in the world that deal with humane tradition.
Salgado’s Serra Pelada consists of 28 photographs taken during his time at the mine. To get a true picture of the occurrences of the mine, Salgado was forced to spend several weeks living at Serra Pelada, where he observed miners and workers making as many as 60 trips up and down the dangerous cliff while carrying heavy sacks that weighed between 30 and 60 kgs. To worsen the situation, miners were only paid 60 cents for each of the trips amidst instances of disease, violence, and danger.
The 28 photographs that Salgado took of the mine were also to be part of a larger series titled Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age 1986–92 which included 3131 photos of 42 different types of workplace scenarios from 26 other parts of the world. Apart from producing individual prints of the photos in the series, Salgado also compiled a book of the same title that was published in 1997 with the aim of exploring and exposing the various social and economic conditions in the world in the hope of affecting positive change.