"A photographer who specializes in world misery (including but not restricted to the effects of war), Sebastião Salgado […] has come under steady attack for producing spectacular, beautifully composed big pictures that are said to be cinematic […] particular with the seven-year project he calls ‘Migrations: Humanity in Transition’.
The problem is in the pictures themselves, not how and where they are exhibited: in their focus on the powerless, reduced to their powerlessness. It is significant that the powerless are not named in the captions. A portrait that declines to name its subject becomes complicit, if inadvertently, in the cult of celebrity that has fueled an insatiable appetite for the opposite sort of photograph: to grant only the famous their names demotes the rest to representative instances of their occupations, their ethnicities, their plights. Taken in thirty-nine countries, Salagado’s migration pictures group together under this single heading, a host of different causes and kinds of distress. Making suffering loom larger, by globalizing it, may spur people to feel they ought to ‘care’ more. It also invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local political intervention. With a subject conceived on this scale, compassion can only flounder—and make abstract. But all politics, all of history, is concrete. (To be sure, nobody who really thinks about history can take politics altogether seriously)."