Sebastião Salgado’s impressive photos: This was Brazil’s largest & most dangerous gold mine

Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986

Salgado’s Serra Pelada

Serra Pelada is a series of photographs 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 Salgado - Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado - Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
A worker whose job is to carry a bag of up to 40 kg reaches the top of the mine via ladder
Sebastião Salgado - Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986

Working amidst disease, violence and danger

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.

Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
The center of the hole dug in Serra Pelada, which today has become a contaminated lake
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986

About Sebastião Salgado

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.

Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986

What motivates Salgado

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 deals with humane tradition.

Sebastiao Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986, Gold scrubbers
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Gold scrubbers
Sebastiao Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986, Workers with striped shirts, used to identify the group that found a gold lode in a given lot
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Workers with striped shirts, used to identify the group that found a gold lode in a given lot
Sebastiao Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Workers going up the stairs

Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age

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 1986–921 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 published in 1997 to explore and expose the various social and economic conditions in the world in the hope of affecting positive change.

Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Detail of the rise of workers at the slope of the Serra Pelada gold mine
Sebastiao Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986, A worker carries a sack of dirt out of the mine
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
A worker carries a sack of dirt out of the mine
Sebastiao Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986, Gold miners fight in Serra Pelada, a quite common scene
Sebastião Salgado – Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil, 1986
Gold miners fight in Serra Pelada, a quite common scene

Video documentaries

Trailer of Serra Pelada: The Gold Rush that consumed a mountain and thousands of lives.


2min 36sec

TV reporter Marcelo Tas visits Serra Pelada (in Portugese), 1984


15min 26sec

Former location


Serra Pelada, Curionópolis – Pará, 68523-000, Brazil

The Serra Pelada gold mine existed from 1980 to 1986. It is no longer active and has been filled up with water, leaving a highly polluted lake.

All images: Sebastião Salgado unless otherwise noted.

 

More by Sebastião Salgado

Footnotes

  1. https://publicdelivery.org/sebastiao-salgado-workers/

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