Sight of Grace
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About An Uncertain Grace

By: Ashley Freeman

It's not the book you would pick up for a leisurely read on a cool September evening, or the book you would leave laying on your coffee table to act as a coaster. It’s not the book you would bring up to impress a first date. So, why bother reading it?

Sebastião Salgado's book, An Uncertain Grace should have a sticker on the front of it, much like the parental advisory stickers found on the cover of "bad" CDs—only this sticker would read: warning: open if only you enjoy thought provoking essays and pictures, enjoy being inspired, and are not afraid to realize that sometimes life deals us the wrong cards and there is nothing you can do about it. However, the most important lesson lies beneath all the warnings: you can strip a person of everything, but they will always have his/her human spirit (an object more valuable than any material possession).

This book has many pictures of what some people would call "third world countries," but I found the most surprising pictures were of the US. The photographs showed how meat is made in certain factories. Yes, this picture inspired a sudden boycott of hot dogs at our dining hall.

However, on a more serious and inspiring note—the photographs represent whatever you want them to. Whether it is life, or death, the "Uncertain Grace" comes from your interpretation. The photos force you to make up your own mind, whether it is positive or negative. The photos stir some emotion inside of you, whether it is guilt, happiness, sadness, or awe. I think the awesome part about these pictures is looking at them—making that judgment that we have been socialized, and then totally tearing it apart and finding some graceful thing in a photo of a starving mother trying to breast feed her children knowing their inevitable fate is death.

Salgado's whole book lets the reader's mind wander. With just a photograph, the reader gets an inside glimpse at someone's world. Not just anyone, an actual person whose livelihood can be found on these pages. So what if it is not the commercialized pictures you find in travel books or the pictures of pretty people and pretty places. Isn’t someone’s life (no matter what or how it is) important and beautiful? With Salgado's book you don't get a fake glimpse of the maps in encyclopedias, or pictures found in travel books—but a real glimpse of a place's culture, lifestyle, and history.

Above any other enjoyment gained from this book, I found a whole new respect for the human race, and a new appreciation for my family, friends, and myself. I realized that in the long run petty problems just don’t matter. Salgado’s book is a healthy escape from our own reality, and when we venture back it doesn’t look so bad.

Buy An Uncertain Grace or other books by Sebastião Salgado

Click on the book covers below (or titles if no picture exists) and you'll be taken to Amazon.com pages where you can purchase each individual book. You may also want to try www.aperture.org, which publishes most of Salgado's books, or www.powells.com, www.bookfinder.com, www.abebooks.com, www.bibliofind.com, or www.half.com, all used book sites (or databases) which ought to have used copies of many of these books as well. If you are looking for the books in Portuguese or Spanish, some of the above sites may have copies, or you could try www.loslibros.com. What's important is that you actually buy some of Salgado's books.

Note that the books below are in chronological order by date of publication (except for An Uncertain Grace), and represent only those works currently in print.

An Uncertain Grace (1991): See above.
The Children (2000): In this book the pictures relay a story of the effects of wars, natural disasters etc. on children. Once again Salgado captures the persevering happiness of the human being.
  Migrations (2000): This book chronicles people's migrations at the end of the twentieth century. these pictures are taken over a span of seven years, and are from over 35 countries.
China (1999): This book is a compilation of pictures by various photographers. China's political, economic, and social struggle is portrayed in these pictures.
  Workers (1999): this book is composed of 350 pictures that depict people working in what most people would deem the worse conditions. Similar to An Uncertain Grace, Salgado captures these peoples' dignity.
  Terra (1997): The black and white pictures in this book are taken from Salgado's home, Brazil. They represent the current struggle in Brazil, and the displacement problem that faces the people there.
 

Other Americas: No picture available. This book is currently out of print, so if you find a copy you're lucky!

 

Last Place on Earth: No picture available. This book is currently out of print, so if you find a copy you're lucky!

  CriticalMirrors: Photographer Stephen Mayes took the pictures in this book, and many distinguished photographers such as Sebastião Salgado wrote essays about the photos.
  Looking Back At You: This actually is not a book, it is a documentary video about Salgado's life and pictures. This was done before he shaved his head completely, and he has a moustache.