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Hard Labor




By Sebasti o Salgado

Aperture x 400pp x $100

Is large-scale manual labor, the engine of progress for millennia, at an end? To produce Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age, Brazilian photojournalist Sebasti o Salgado spent six years traveling the globe, documenting an increasingly rare sight: humans pooling their strength to accomplish feats of industry, engineering, and construction, largely under the conditions such work has been done for centuries.

Throughout, the workers are dwarfed by their projects, a contrast that magnifies their collective accomplishments. And whether it's Indonesians climbing into a volcano to gather sulfur or veiled Indian women, with children in tow, working as masons on the world's largest canal, Salgado's workers share one expression: fatigue, mixed with a bit of resignation. Sometimes, though, we see joy--on the face of a Sicilian fisherman pulling in his tuna net, or in the expressions of French and British workers celebrating the boring of a tunnel linking their two nations.

In the introduction, Salgado calls his book "a visual archaeology" of "a time when men and women at work with their hands provided the central axis of the world." Although often identified with leftist causes, the author says surprisingly little about exploitation. Rather, he celebrates the subjects of his 350 black-and-white photographs, portraying them with reverence and affection.

Salgado does ruminate on just how far removed his Third World workers are from the prosperous markets where their products are sold. In one image, peasants on the French island of R -union in the Indian Ocean work in a large vat, crushing vetiver roots with their feet. The aromatic extracts will wind up in costly perfume. "These barefoot Frenchmen will never be able to buy the result of their labor," Salgado notes. In all likelihood, they will also never be able to buy Salgado's exquisitely produced book, priced at $100.ELIZABETH LESLY

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