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The Most Expensive Sebastiao Salgado Photography in Auction

  • 2016 paris contact
May 30, 2016
Passionate about art, frequent visitor of exhibitions, Widewalls photography specialist and Editor-in-Chief.

Let’s talk about a photograph entitled Legs, Serra Pelada, Brasil, taken in 1986. It is one of the most remarkable examples of Sebastião Salgado photography and one of his most famous artworks too. It is a traditionally black and white image showing a group of people climbing a muddy incline. We don’t know much else about it: from the title, we know it’s taken at the Serra Pelada gold mine in north-west Brazil, so we suppose these are miners at work. As per usual, behind every great work of art there’s a haunting story. Part of a twenty-eight photograph portfolio entitled Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age that Sebastião Salgado took during the several weeks he spent observing the Serra Pelada workers, it depicts a small portion of around fifty thousand men laboured there, making as many as sixty trips up and down the muddy cliffs while carrying up to sixty kilograms of weight. At the end of such day, they get paid twenty cents per journey.

This is only one of many crisp, compassionate photographs that Sebastião Salgado has taken over the course of his long artistic career. Dedicated to the documentation of human suffering around the world, the celebrated Brazilian photographer continues to produce some of the most influential photographic imagery of our time, one that leaves no one indifferent and one that wishes to make a change and open hearts. Among his many photography books there are the above mentioned Workers, but also Migrations, Sahel and, most recently, Genesis, a marvellous collection of wildlife, seascapes, indigenous peoples and of course, landscape photography, his other great passion and a large part of his life. Since the very first analogue print the artist has ever made, Sebastião Salgado photography has played a major role within the realm of fine art, by contributing an elaborate, complex reflections on the wonders of the world we live in and the lives people we share it with. As such, it has also been a great success at auctions.

For all of Sebastião Salgado photography at auctions, make sure you visit his dedicated page, and for his most expensive works, scroll down!

   Editors’ Tip: Sebastião Salgado: Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age

One of Sebastião Salgado’s most haunting project, Workers is a global epic that transcends mere imagery to become an affirmation of the enduring spirit of working women and men. The book is an archaeological exploration of the activities that have defined labor from the Stone Age through the Industrial Age, to the present. Divided into six categories–”Agriculture,” “Food,” “Mining,” “Industry,” “Oil” and “Construction”–the book unearths layers of visual information to reveal the ceaseless human activity at the core of modern civilization. Extended captions provide a historical and factual framework for the images. “Salgado unveils the pain, the beauty, and the brutality of the world of work on which everything rests,” wrote Arthur Miller of this photobook classic, upon its original publication in 1993.

Chinstrap Penguins (Pygoscelis Antarctica), Deception Island, Antarctica, 2005

As if it came straight from a black and white cartoon film about a planet of penguins, this 2005 print depicts an actual place – though not exactly a planet. It was taken on Deception Island, an island in the South Shetland Islands archipelago, with one of the safest harbours in Antarctica. The caldera of an active volcano, this location is also home of entire colonies of chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica), who also live on the neighbouring islands of Saunders, Zavodovski and Visokoi. These were also photographed by Sebastião Salgado, as part of his Genesis project, and it would seem that each of these images is somehow even more stunning than the one before.

The highest price with buyer’s premium for Chinstrap Penguins was achieved at Phillips in New York in 2011 – $21,250. Click here for more auction data!

Dinka Man at Cattle Camp of Kei, Southern Sudan, 2006

Sebastião Salgado is a photographer who does not turn away from famine, despair, exploitation. Instead, he manages to document the very core of it, to touch just anybody’s soul with a kind of imagery that simply couldn’t be more honest than it already is. This Dinka Man was photographed at the Cattle Camp of Kei in Southern Sudan, as part of the artist’s book Sahei: The End of the Road, a heartbreaking portrayal of the extremes of human suffering in Africa that are constantly swept under the rug by the Western society, or are not being recognized at all. Here, for example, we see many of the men covered in ash from a burnt cow patty, not as a decoration, but to keep harmful insects away.

Dinka Man was last sold at Phillips London in 2010, for $23,190 with buyer’s premium. More auction information on the work here.

Kuwait Series, Greater Burhan Oil Field (Capping Well Head), 1991

In 1991, Sebastião Salgado visited the Greater Burhan Oil Field in Kuwait, a month after the first Gulf war against Iraq was over. Saddam Hussein’s men had used a large number of explosives in order to destroy the oil wells, some of which were still burning when these photographs were taken, leaving clouds of smoke and a land saturated with oil. The exposure to noise, stench and heat was devastating, but the photographer had already endured quite a journey coming there, as he had to cross the border with a fake ID card. The Kuwait Series depicts a group of specialist firefighters from Canada who were trying to put the fields back together in exhaustion and extremely difficult working conditions. ”The firefighters were making a lot of money, of course, but the work was so tiring and so tough that a few times I saw some of them just sit down and cry,” said Salgado about the project.

This Kuwait Series print was sold for $26,100 with buyer’s premium at Phillips in London in 2013. More statistics after the click!

Sahara, South Of Djanet, Algeria, 2009

The fact that Sebastião Salgado always opts for black and white over color, even in the cases in which he needs to depict stunning landscape such as Sahara, does not in any way minimise the incredible visual impact of his photography. It is nevertheless lustrous and almost incredible, like the lone figure gazing out oh the seemingly endless dunes of the Algerian desert. Perfectly contrasted as always, the image is dynamic and nostalgic, describing a somewhat familiar world in a whole new light and providing us with another insight into the communities of our planet that deserve to be known, talked about, in some cases even preserved. Sebastião Salgado’s images are often this simple, yet carry an immense complexity behind their creation, as well as an impressive story of its subjects.

Sahara, South Of Djanet, Algeria last achieved $40,000 with buyer’s premium at Phillips New York in 2014. Click here for more information!

Church Gate Station, Western Railroad Line, Bombay, India, 1995

Captured here is the terminus station of the Western railroads, built by the British in 1853 as part of the Mumbai Suburban Railway system. The trains are notorious for being dangerously overcrowded – in fact, they carry more than three million passengers per day, and despite its frequency in service, they’re often packed with 5,000 plus passengers. Sebastião Salgado marvellously captured the rush hour back in 1995 by using longer exposure in order to transmit the flow the right way. This image also inspired director Danny Boyle’s scene from Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, who wanted to recreate the image as accurately as possible so he could obtain the same chaotic effect.

Church Gate Station’s highest price at auctions was reached at Phillips New York in 2012, $60,000 with buyer’s premium. More auction history of the work here!

Iceberg Between the Paulet Islands and the Shetland Islands, Antarctica, 2005

Much of Sebastião Salgado’s photography, like the example we’re looking at here, aims to draw attention to the serious consequences of global warming and climate change, and to send an urge for help and attention. Apart from being visually stunning, perfectly executed and even more extraordinary when seen in person, the Iceberg shows earlier flotation levels of the ocean, clearly visible where the ice has been polished by its constant movement, as well as numerous ice erosions and melting caused by higher temperatures. Also a part of Genesis, this image is a demonstration of what we are doing to our own beautiful planet and what we must do now to protect it, before it’s too late.

In a long auction history at Phillips, Iceberg’s highest price was $68,610 with buyer’s premium in London in 2015. More auction data after the click!

The Eastern Part of the Brooks Range, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA, 2009

Often on a quest to find a pristine land untouched by humanity, Sebastião Salgado traveled to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska in 2009, where he created incredible aerial shots of its Porcupine caribou, named for the Porcupine River, on the flatlands between Kaktovik village (on the Arctic Ocean coast) and the Brooks Range mountains. In this shot, we see the eastern part of the Range, which rises to almost 10,000 feet, where the mountains are incised by deep river valleys, glaciers and a variety of microclimates. A truly amazing view, filled with detail and captivating elements like the patterns of the mountains and the curtain of light in the distance. A remarkable work of fine art that surely deserves the title of Sebastião Salgado’s most expensive photograph ever sold at auctions.

This print scored a whopping $97,500 at Phillips in New York in 2015! For more auction data, please proceed here!

Featured image: Sebastião Salgado. Image via All images used for illustrative purposes only.