Sebastião Salgado: Scent of a Dream

Paris Expo . Porte de Versailles
Paris, France
9 – 13 November 2017

This exhibition is presented for the first time in France and exclusively for the Salon de la Photo. Commissioned by the coffee producer illy, defender of sustainable development, Salgado has photographed coffee plantations since 2002, across three continents, revealing the lives of the workers who are at the basis of the coffee chain.

In this photographic panorama Salgado plunges us into a little-known and fascinating world. This long-term project, similar in a way to all his great photographic ensembles, reveals his profound desire to communicate his passion for the relationship between Man and Nature.

My earliest childhood memories are linked to coffee. Living in the town of Aimorés in the Brazilian State of Minas Gerais, I would accompany my father in his truck to collect coffee beans for milling. Without noticing, I came to understand the numerous steps that turn a coffee cherry into a cup of coffee.

Soon I was helping at the mill where machines removed the outer husk of the bean. I was frequently charged with drying the beans and then sewing the jute bags in which they were transported to the port of Vitória for export.

Many years later, while in Paris with my wife Lélia Wanick Salgado to pursue my economics studies, I chose to write my doctoral thesis on the worldwide supply and demand for coffee.

But before completing my doctorate, I began working as an economist at the International Coffee Organization in London, a job that took me to the coffee regions of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. And it was then, with a camera borrowed from my wife, that I first began taking photographs. At that point, photography proved stronger than coffee! In 1973, I left the ICO and changed careers.

But coffee did not disappear from my life. Almost three decades later, Andrea Illy and his sister Anna visited the Instituto Terra, the project that my wife and I have developed to reforest the arid and eroded land of my parents’ old farm in Aimorés with native species of the Atlantic Forest. With its renowned commitment to the environment and Fair Trade, the Illy family has been encouraging further reforestation by promoting shade-grown coffee, which is less acid than sun-grown coffee and is usually of higher quality. My contact with the family led to this exhibition and the accompanying book.

It is my hope that the resulting images convey my pleasure in returning to the world of coffee, one that for the most part lives in silent isolation in remote mountain regions of developing countries. For the peasant farmers or day laborers, whom I sought out in ten countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia, coffee defines their livelihood. They are the men, women and children who grow, pick, clean, dry and select the coffee beans. For coffee drinkers in Venice and beyond, they may barely exist, yet we should never forget that the grains in every cup of coffee were once touched by human hands.

– Sebastião Salgado

It started in 2002, when Sebastião Salgado and illy met, Scent of a Dream is a journey through coffee growing countries, based on a shared common value: sustainable development, the fundamental principal by which the Trieste-based company is able to maintain its supreme quality.
Throughout his journey, Salgado has managed to use his black and white pictures to celebrate the daily lives of those on the plantations, the beauty of the terroir from which the precious bean is grown and harvested. The sequence of his images was constructed, shot by shot, in ten of the countries from which illy buys coffee: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Colombia, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Tanzania.
Scent of a Dream is also a book, edited and designed by Lélia Wanick Salgado, and published by La Martinière in France, where the images of places, people and men that made it the greatest reportage ever produced on the world of coffee, are close to texts signed by Andrea Illy, Luis Sepulveda, Angela Vettese and of course, Sebastião Salgado.

Sebastião Salgado in the collection of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP)

At the same time 40 important works chosen from the collection of the European House of Photography (MEP) in Paris, will be exhibited in a separate part of the Salon, showing work from Other Americas – “Autres Amériques” (1985) up to Exodus (2000), revealing the evolution of Salgado’s work and his essential preoccupations in terms of theme. The Salon de la Photo invites the visitor to rediscover the incredible journey of this artist, committed to taking on the big challenges of the contemporary world and who has always known how to surprise us and make us dream.
The European House of Photography (MEP) owns over 350 prints by this photographer, one of the biggest collections of his work in Europe.

Simon Edwards
Artistic director of the Salon de la Photo