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Sebastião Salgado to receive 2019 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

The Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade has chosen the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado to be the recipient of this year’s Peace Prize. The announcement was made today by Heinrich Riethmüller, Chairman of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein), at the opening of the 2019 Berlin Book Days. The award ceremony will take place on the final day of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Sunday 20 October 2019, at the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt am Main. The ceremony will be broadcast live on German public television. The Peace Prize has been awarded since 1950 and is endowed with a sum of €25,000.


Sebastiao Salgado
© Yann Arthus-Bertrand

The Board of Trustees issued the following statement with regard to their choice:

“The German Publishers and Booksellers Association awards the 2019 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade to the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. In doing so, the association and its members have chosen to honour an exceptional visual artist who has continually campaigned on behalf of peace and social justice and whose entire photographic oeuvre lends a sense of urgency to the global debate surrounding nature conservation and environmental protection. With his ongoing work at the “Instituto Terra”, he also continues to make a direct contribution to the restoration and revitalisation of biodiversity and ecosystems.

The photographs of Sebastião Salgado have been showcased in innumerable exhibitions and books, many of which show communities strongly rooted in their traditional natural environments, while others portray individuals violently uprooted by war and climate catastrophe. As a consequence of his considerable body of work, Sebastião Salgado has succeeded in raising worldwide awareness for the fate of labourers and migrants as well as for the living conditions of indigenous peoples.

By describing his often breathtaking and characteristically black-and-white photographs as an »homage to the grandeur of nature« and by capturing in equal measure both the fragile beauty and environmental destruction of our earth, Sebastião Salgado offers us the opportunity to recognise our planet as a habitat for living creatures, that is, as a home that does not belong to us alone, and one that we must take every effort to preserve.

Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado was born on 8 February 1944 in Aimorés in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. He grew up on a large cattle farm in a rainforest area and went on to study economics at university. During the Brazilian military dictatorship, he was involved in the leftist opposition movement, which ultimately prompted him to leave for Paris in 1969. In 1971, Salgado worked as an economist and oversaw development aid projects in Africa, where he discovered his passion for photography. In 1973, he left his job to devote himself entirely to the craft.

Poverty, displacement, war and the loss of home have been the main motifs of Salgado’s characteristically black-and-white photographs from the very beginning. Many of these projects and their accompanying photo volumes were created in cooperation with organisations such as Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, UNESCO and Reporters Without Borders. The books Migrations and The Children: Refugees and Migrants, both of which were published in 2000, drew attention to the fate of 30 million displaced persons worldwide and raised money for the children’s charity organisation UNICEF.

In the mid-1990s, Salgado took a break from photography, in part due to health concerns, but also because he had been overcome by doubts with regard to his own work, in particular after his direct confrontation with the genocide in Rwanda. Together with his wife, the architect Lélia Wanick Salgado, with whom he has been married since 1967, Salgado returned to Brazil and began reforesting his parents’ farm. By 1998, they had converted 680 hectares into a nature reserve and founded their non-profit “Instituto Terra”. Since then, they have planted 2.7 million trees and succeeded in returning almost the entire forest to its original state, including a great diversity of plant and animal life.

In the 1990s, Salgado also increasingly turned his attention to landscape photography, producing the works Africa (2007) and Genesis (2013). In the latter project, he sought to capture his impressions of untouched environments, the animals living there and groups of isolated indigenous peoples, all in an attempt to show how fragile our world has become.

Sebastião Salgado has received numerous awards for his work, including the Foreign Honorary Membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2019), the Save the Children International Prize (2010), the Order of Rio Branco (2004), the Centenary Medal of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (1994), the Grand Prix National from France (1994), the Prince of Asturias Awards (1998) and the World Press Photo Award (1985). In 2016 Salgado become a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France, one of the most important cultural honours in France.

Sebastião and Lélia Salgado live in Paris and have two sons, Juliano (b. 1976) and Rodrigo (b. 1981).