" R e s p o n s e P a p e r "
Artist: Sebastiao Salgado (Brazilian, 1944)
Medium: Photography (Silver Gelatin Print)
Size: 24 x 36 inches
Location: Bombay, India
Photograph (c) 1995 Sebastiao Salgado
Manuscript (c) 2006 Lahary Pittman
Sebastiao Salgado presents his photographic subject, Bombay Church Gate, as a bustling train station with angular deep perspectives. The artist takes advantage of dramatic penetrating diagonal lines that nearly reach vanishing points in the recesses of the photograph, while revealing stark vertical lines in the foreground. Elongated geometric shapes and blurs of passengers in motion assume visual priority over a mechanical environment despite the disparity of scale. These shapes create shallow pulsations within a condensed fixed space. By blurring objects in the foreground, Salgado elicits texture from a morphing sea of white garments where the heads of the train's passengers seem suspended, evoking a sense of treading at the surface of a foam. The textures change from undulation to more of an emulsion of shapes and energy.
The black and white film takes advantage of the interplay of flowing white fabric and the warm radiant sunlight found at the furthest depth of field and the cooler artifical ceiling light that occupies both sides of the upper frame of the station interior. This color is balanced against grayscales punctuated by the black frontal designs of two locomotives resting in parallel foreground positions. Further integration of these colors are found in the signage suspended at low mid-foreground levels and the larger ceiling signs deeper into the upper background.
The clear focal point of the picture is the seething blur of motion in the low foreground. Values of moderate contrast provide ample dynamic range in the depiction of people, architecture and industrial transportation. The values seem enhanced by the geometry of the setting where strong low hanging vertical chords are attached to square signs for track numbers and artificial illumination. The imposing vertical lines of the foreground juxtaposed to the parallel, angular deep perspectives seem to provoke a six way, 180 degree concentric view. Salgado's vaulted POV extends the remaining focal points through a closed panorama of
The design of Bombay Church Gate is notable for an exacting symmetry that offsets the rhythm created by the motion of passengers, similar to a colony of ants. This construct of efficient balance allows the design to have multiple streams and lateral layers. The receeding tiny human heads in the middle of the photograph produce an abstracted quality while countering the small negative spaces they are joined to. The composition balances over-arching vantage points across parallel sightlines that converge across, down and through the station untill it reaches the radiant natural light in the center rear plane of the picture. While the visual focal point may well be the center-most motion blur in the immediate foreground, psychological focal points are evident throughout the cavernous space due to the penetrating angular perspectives.
The meaning of Salgado's work is articulated by the artist himself as social documentary. The picture appears as an exposť of mass motion entrenched between endless rotations of exodus and arrival. The bodies in flow suggest that humanity exists in a dependent state of migration, as referenced in the title of the series that this piece belongs to. Migrations; Humanity in Transition, as typified by Bombay Church Gate, appears not so much an imitation of nature as it is a magnifying glass for the cosmic ebb and flow of mankind in compressed time and space. In such a scenario the radiant sunlight at the entrance of the station could be construed as a kind of celestial portal for the masses.
The artist has taken extensive measures to assure our grasp of the full impact of mankind in transition. He appears to challenge us to recognize our subserviance to the ritual undulations of everyday life, and to ponder whether we are fulfilled or to question our willingness to continue as drones engulfed in a hive of daily frenzy. The meaning of Salgado's image could potentially be framed beyond just individual contemplation, in order to pose questions about collective motivations that may prevent humanity from catapulting off it's axis altogether. Bombay Church Gate prompts the viewer to ask "What is the ultimate destination of humanity, how will we transport ourselves there, will we arrive safely, and perhaps most of all-will we need to start all over again?
Upon evaluation, Salgado has succeeded exponentially in creating a depiction of mankind that reinforces migration and transition as more than a seasonal or generational phenomena, but rather an everyday drama of desperate drive, arrival, aggression, satiation and longing. It illustrates the enormous tidal wave of humanity's hopes, aspirations and willingness to travel great lengths to find and fulfill some life affirming place. The image's black and white colors perfectly symbolize and inform mankinds quest to negate death and darkness by plunging into a state of motion associated with reward or redemption. The moving bodies seem to even represent a cleansing process where they are awash with white light, as though purging themselves of dark repressions and unnecessary baggage. The black and white colors may also suggest that the masses are indifferent to, or apprehensive of, any broader spectrum of existence than the daily experience they have come to ritualize. The locale of the photograph corresponds to familiar notions of devout cultural and spiritual belief systems reputed for principles of transcendance. This transcendance is amplified by the vaulted camera position, apparently on a platform or in a station window. The artist is able to transfix our attention by utilizing a long depth of field, coupled with slow shutter speeds to create temporal ambiguity in the foreground and peripheral objects.
Sustaining and overcoming the push and pull of life's uncertainty's is uniformly evident among the anonymous passengers. This idea is contrasted by the tension produced in the fixed prominent lines of the picture, and the aggressive nature of the frontal movements. The photograph evokes strong psychological assumptions about a global society that can justify aggression, yet remain orderly and constrained. While Salgado unquestionably succeeds in pictorializing the instinctual drive of human nature, it is unclear whether he is merely documenting the indisputable forces of our world, or whether he is cautioning us to challenge our assumptions and patterns in order to construct a different dynamic of living. What is clear however is that we are able to not only applaud Salgado's inspired deep perspectives and illusory shapes-but also recogonize his visual ability to render an elaborate call and response psycho-drama in just a single frame.