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I thought I read somewhere that some of the work was done with digital gear and that the grain was actually added intentionally, I suppose for a consistent look throughout the book. Certainly not my preference either.

Jim Swift

But didn't he only switch to digital when he could not longer get film. Could it be that these images were taken in his film days?
Just a question.

I also bought the book and it sits conveniently for daily viewing. I have to admit that I had not noticed the grain.

Brooks Jensen

I haven't heard that, but it sounds plausible. Do you remember where you learn this about Salgado going digital? Interesting.

Allan Culver

Brooks where was the book printed? China?

Could part of the problem be very poor printing, I have seen some books in the past few years with photos looking very gritty. I knew the photographers and had seen the original photographs, they were flawless, but the printing was terrible.

I am a retired printer, I used to work on Heidelbergs so I am a little critical of the printing. Lenswork is always flawless by the way.

Brooks Jensen

Printing looks good to me. Good blacks, DMax right at about 2.00. Can't find a printing location in the book, but Taschen is a top German publisher and their reputation is beyond questioning in book publication. I suspect the grain is solely the result of Salgado's photographic process, one way or another. Still, I feel a little badly casting a negative light on this book because I do love his work and the book is well worth owning. Just an "eyes wide open" comment about expectations for future buyers.


Some more details here, you have to scroll down a bit to get the good part:

Brooks Jensen

Very interesting. If I follow all this correctly, it appears that Salgado's choice was to degrade his digital images to match his film ones. Essentially, he chose consistency over quality. What a fascinating challenge to ponder! Not sure where I'd come down on this if faced with the same conundrum. I see the logic of consistency, but my heart pulls me toward quality. I guess the gamble is that the book would seem more odd if the images bounced back and forth between grainy and smooth. I'll need to think about this some more. What do you think?

dale thorn

You can shoot with high ISO and some images look just fine with the grain, until the grain imposes itself to the extent that it distracts from the image rather than just adding texture. There's a threshold for this, yes? And if the photographer is working very close to that threshold, there's going to be a lot of misses. Especially in landscapes - worst of all with foliage.


I think that intentionally degrading images, even if for consistency, is a bad choice. Better to present the best image possible in chronological order and add a comment explaining the variation. Even better, if you're shooting film for landscapes, use medium or large format gear...

Steve Gledhill

Every photographer has their own style, their own approach to their work and it's presentation. And Salgado's contrasty grainy work is what he does - brilliantly. I've read that some of his work may be 'film-ised' from digital capture ... so what, that's how he wants to present it. Every image presented to be seen by others is a result of decisions by the photographer. It's legitimate to constructively critique images, even to comment on the graininess of a set of images, but Brookes, your observations seem to me like negative criticism rather than constructive critique.

I completely accept that presentation is something that can be legitimately commented on, even the graininess of the images, but surely the overriding consideration is that the photographer has made a decision about presentation which defines his approach to showing his work. And given that Genesis is presented as a single body of work it seems that Salgado has most likely chosen a degree of consistency in its presentation. You may not like it, and yes, of course, you can assuredly comment on it, but it seems like you're telling us that he got it wrong. I strongly disagree.

I bought the Genesis book immediately after seeing Sebastian Salgado's Genesis print exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London in May 2013. The book is fantastic, and given it's large size (500+ pages and 14x9.5 inch pages) it's superb value for money too. The exhibition prints were huge - my recollection is that many were 30 to 50 inches. The grain (which was present but not distracting or obtrusive to me) was simply an integral or inherent part of the stunning images. I never contemplated how they might have been 'better' had they been grainless. How pointless would that have been?

Prospective Genesis purchasers don't need to be 'warned' (in your words 'caveat emptor') about the graininess of some/many/all of Sebastian Selgado's Genesis images. Despite your fulsome praise of the images in every other respect I can't help but be disappointed that you've been critical about Salgado's grain. I accept your right to do it but, in my opinion, you've been critical rather than offering a critique, you've been negative rather than offering observations. And that surprises me given that you offer portfolio reviews. Dare I suggest, caveat emptor?

Otherwise Brookes, ... keep up the good work!

Now, where's my tin helmet?

Jim Bullard

I remember reading the TOP article as well as some comments that he used that methodology because the grain in the ISO 400 & 3200 films he used to use were "part of his style", thus the work was more recognizably his. FWIW I think that when one's "style" becomes an impediment to producing the best possible images it is time for the "style" to change, or in more positive terms to grow or evolve. To me degrading one's images to a lower level of quality signifies getting stuck. The world changes, technology changes, growth and progress are the norm. I still like film but no longer shoot 35mm film because I couldn't get the results I wanted when that was all that was available to me. I can't imagine deliberately mimicking work that I was less than fully satisfied with in the past.

Brooks Jensen

I guess I just come from the old school where one chooses the technique to match the subject and, to some degree, the viewers' expectations. I'd have the same reaction to cyanotype fashion photography, or platinum/palladium sports photos. Just seems like a disconnect to me.

And, BTW, my comments are more about our expectations than Salgado's choices. Let me quote me, "Salgado can make anything he wants in any way he wants. And, as I say, the images in this book are still enjoyable for other qualities of the work — not the least of which is the comprehensiveness of the undertaking. I'm glad he did the work, and glad Taschen has created the book." I just thought folks might want to know what they are purchasing before they purchase it so they aren't surprised when the book arrives.

One final thought: Why the sensitivity to "negative criticism"? Sometimes it's deserved. Sometimes the photographer does make the wrong choice — but a criticism of that choice does not mean they don't have the right to make it. Producing artwork is not a popularity contest, but it's also not insulated from disagreement or the audience's individual judgments. As I said in an earlier post, Salgado was faced with an complex choice about image consistency or image quality. He chose consistency. Not sure I would have made that choice because it pains me to downgrade image quality for whatever reason. If he simply prefers grainy images, that, too, is his choice. For me, it diminishes my viewing experience. Sorry if you feel that's a "negative criticism" but it is the way I feel about it. Am I supposed to not feel that way because it might hurt his feelings? He's a big boy and I assure you he could care less about whether or not I like his aesthetic choices. He likes them, and that's the only thing that should matter to him. I simply observed them and brought them to folks' awareness.


There is no "wrong choice" in photography. People seem to forget, with the proliferation of non-creative digital images that we are bombarded with on a daily basis, that true photographers are artists and that they make artistic choices based on their own artistic vision, not what some random viewer deems technically incorrect. As photographers and artists, we use the tools that are available to us to achieve the look we desire, sometimes the look achieved is not to everyone's taste, which is fine, but I doubt very much you would have criticized Salgado 20 years ago for using high speed film and a high acutance developer in a situation that where asa100 film would have given smoother results. Or maybe you're "that guy" and would, but I feel digital photography has made everyone an "expert" and more critical of technical quality, rather than artistic quality.

This article also brings me to another alarming note, do you have permission from Taschen Books and/or Sabastião Salgado to display these images on your website? It doesn't seem like you sought permission, and to me, the largest scourge on the internet is people violating photographer's copyright, much like you have here. It's quite shameful, for a photographer to willing violate someone else's copyright. By the way, something being displayed on another website does not make it fair game for infringement and to make matters worse, you're not using a linked image, you've copied the image directly to your server which shows willful copyright infringement. Something for you to think about.

Guy Tal

I have not seen the book yet so I'll withhold judgment, but it is worth recalling the criticism against Impressionism in its early days. The name itself came from a critic dismissing the works as "mere impressions." It's entirely natural to respond with skepticism to any departure from the norm but the evolution of art does owe much to such departures and persistent artists who would not bow to critics.

I do think that the issue of electronic vs. printed presentation is worth more discussion. Tonality is not the only difference; there are some qualities of a printed image that simply cannot be appreciated on a screen, and vice versa, as can be attested by anyone who had seen a well-processed image on something like a Retina screen. Though nobody decreed it as such, I think that electronic media can be considered as yet another type of substrate, with its own unique aesthetics. This undoubtedly presents a challenge for those purchasing art online.

Brooks Jensen

You might want to become familiar with "fair use" aspects of copyrights that allow for use in reviews and other commentary — which this was.

Brooks Jensen

Yes, but . . . the impressionists made work that amplified their vision and as such their technique was an improvement to their creative vision. To be parallel with this discussion, one would have to contend that the introduction of grain as a technique makes this vision more compelling, more emotive, more complete. Perhaps it does for some, but I guess I'm just not in that group. I do appreciate the concept and point you are making — which is precisely why I've been such a fan of photographers like Brigitte Carnochan or Dominic Rouse whose work is enhanced to new levels with the use of non-traditional techniques. It's not that I'm inflexible about a classicist point of view, but rather than I try to understand work as an integrated whole. In this context, one can find aspects of the work that inspire (which I did) and other that do not (which I did).

Agree completely with your observation about media and their different virtues and qualities. I think that is the nub of the issue here — media and our expectation, not the more simplistic thumbs up or thumbs down about this particular body of work. I'd give it a resounding thumbs up, but that does not change the fact that what I found in the book was not what I expected from what I had seen on the various websites.

Robert Ardinger

I have followed the Genesis project for a few years. It is interesting, given the current discussion, that he actually appears to have used a Pentax 645 camera set at the start of the work, later switching to a DSLR and processing the files to emulate film. In reading about talks he has given, the move from 35 mm film to the 645 camera was to be able to print larger prints but then the issues of travel with large cameras and film grew problematic thus the further move to a DSLR. Interesting that the digital files and possible some of the 645 film scans were eventually processed to emulate 35 mm film. I have the book and find it interesting but was glad that it was not my only exposure to his body of work. He is one of my favorite photographers.



Being familiar with copyright law and "fair use", I will illuminate the situation.
Copying a full work, at non-thumbnails resolutions falls outside of the realm of "fair use". By switching your focus from the book to one specific image, you've fallen outside of realm of "fair use" and that photo becomes the "entire work" being reproduced, not a portion thereof for review or commentary. You cannot reproduce and entire photo and comment on, or review it any more than you could post an entire feature film as part of a review or commentary. Ironically, if you had shown an entire page from the book, with the same picture, it would be considered fair use because you're only reproducing a portion of the entire work.

So take it or leave it, but "fair use" rarely means what people think it means.



You are wrong about your understanding of copyright laws and fair use for non-commercial purposes, including to provide a critique. See this for starters: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

David Miller

I recognize the processing as "tone mapping" with HDR Pro from Nik Software and it does give a grainy look even as it emphasizes detail- it's basically HDR with only one image instead of multiples. Bit of a push/ pull to get an "epic" looking image, but I had a photo teacher who told me "grain can be beautiful" and I agree when it helps a picture "hang together," like adding a texture layer to an image. It can also cover up unnatural looking processing. Psychologically we think of grain and paper textures as making an image look more "real," less processed.

Karine Ardault

I have seen the exhibit in Paris and the prints are absolutely fantastic.
As for the equipment, for several years, Salgado has been using digital and making prints from degital negatives.
As for the book, that I just rechecked a minute ago, I find its quality very good. i did not find the kind of flaws you are pointing out in this post.

Donn Meehl

I've been thinking about this issue for several days now, and I've concluded that graininess CAN be an asset in some circumstances--even in a landscape. Taking a photograph with a telephoto lens will "flatten" an image (through a change in perspective). Grain will also flatten an image but perhaps in a different way--it emphasizes the surface of the print, and thereby emphasizes the "graphic" nature of the image.

No photograph is an "truthful" image in the sense that it perfectly represents reality. Some photographers want to remind the viewer that they are not looking "through a clear window" at REALITY but are looking "at a flat piece" of ARTWORK.

In fact, since no photograph is a perfect copy of reality, one could argue that the graininess makes the print a "more truthful" image. It doesn't aspire to trick the viewer into thinking that the image is exactly what the photographer "saw" in front of him or her. After all, the world in front of a photographer is not a flat plane with a rectangular frame seen in monochrome tones.

Whether the concept works in any particular photographer's work is up to the viewer to decide.

Derek Simpson

Grain was not jarring when viewing the actual exhibition of prints much larger than the book. Viewng distance perhaps more variable/adjustable in a gallery than an easy chair ? More (much more) annoying with the book is the format - great photos with a gutter down the middle - daft - really surprised at Taschen

Jeffrey Oakar

IMHO...and with full respect to Brooks' and everyone's opinion, the grain doesn't bother me. Sebastião Salgado has never been and will never be considered a landscape photographer in the classic sense that Brooks talked about in the podcast. When you look at photos from Migrations, Exodus, Africa, Genesis etc etc....grain plays a part of the documentary style that he has always been known for. I know there are landscapes presented in Genesis, but that doesn't mean that they have to have the same purpose or motive that a person like Ansel Adams would have. To me, that is the flaw in Brooks' premise. Salgado is not a landscape photographer in the classical sense of the word. If I had to classify his work, I would call it Documentary, and grit, grain and strong contrast is what we come to expect, even in his landscapes. View his work for what it is and not for what you expect or desire it to be.

Byron Will

I believe the point from Jeffrey Oaker is correct, and I remember Sebastião Salgado describing his work for this project as documentary in nature. When one views the book in this context, the reproduction and technical issues fall away for me, and I am left with page after page of remarkable story telling, at a very low entrance price.

The smallest gallery prints sell for thousands, and, although I haven't seen them in person, I'm sure the print quality is professional, and in keeping with what Salgado and his wife wish to present.

I clearly remember, when opening the book for the first time, thanking him to myself. It's a tremendous effort.

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