Sebastião Salgado, who was installed at the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France on December 6 by Yann Arthus-Bertrand at the post of Lucien Clergue who passed away in 2014, joins the very select club of “immortals” to “promote and encourage artistic creation in all its expressions, and to ensure the defence of French cultural heritage“.

The sound of drum roll resonates under the Cupola of the Institute of France, giving the signal for the beginning of festivities. Members of the academy arrive, tightly in line. The academicians arrive in close ranks, a parade of green costumes with swords at the waist, make their entrance in a small amphitheatre filled with everyone that the world of  photography counts as official. We see the director of the MEP, the director of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, editors of magazines and photo agencies, and of course photographers such as William Klein, tired, and arrives in a wheelchair, and others who are only slightly younger. A lot of grey and white hair in this assembly with the majority masculine.

Humanist photographer

Yann Arthus-Bertrand, academician and photographer known among others for his work on La Terre vue du ciel “The world seen from the sky – ed”, opened the ball by taking a few pictures of the public before starting his speech.

It is with emotion that he recounts the astounding career of Sebastião Salgado, humanist photographer that has travelled across all five continents while producing considerable black and white images (Other Americas, Workers, Exodus, Genesis..), exhibited and published around the world. The Brazilian-born photographer responded with an emotional speech, paying respect to his partner Lélia, a true accomplice, thanks to whom he chose photography at the age of 30, and dedicated his life to it.

Four armed men

Joining Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Bruno Barbey and Jean Gaumy (the latter, like him, having collaborated with Magnum), Sebastião Salgado is therefore the 4th photographer to join the close knit circle of the Institute of France (without counting Lucien Clergue who paved the way entering the Academy in 2006). Compared to the four musketeers, these four armed men, with their mission to “promote and encourage the artistic creation in all expressions, and watch over the defence of French cultural heritage“.In no way do we deny the quality of these four photographers who have been promoted to ‘immortal status’, we can only regret that no woman has yet joined them. There was a time when a name went around, but maybe it will be for next time. It should be remembered that it was not until 1980 that Marguerite Yourcenar entered the Coupole, an institution founded in 1635, three and a half centuries ago!

The history of the academicians was very present in everyone’s mind, with the passing away two days before of Jean d’ Ormesson who entered the Institute in 1973 at the age of 48. And that very morning, Johnny Halliday – not really an academic – death was announced, but the speeches for the reception and handing over of the sword made reference to it, giving this day a rock’ n’ roll emphasis that was rather dissonant.

Sebastião Salgado, vous connaissez ? “Do you know Sebastião Salgado – ed” © Nina Peyrachon

© Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas Images

Translated by Molly Sisson