The Story
Refugees from the Bihac pocket waiting for delivery of the letters from relatives and friends who stayed behind; mail is delivered once a week by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Batnoga-Krajina (Croatian territory occupied by the Serbs). 1994. Photograph by Sebastião SALGADO / AMAZONAS Images / CONTACT Press Images.

(view printable version in PDF format - requires Acrobat Reader)

Between 40 and 50 million rural dwellers leave the land to go to the cities every year. The growth of migration within and between nations is inexhaustible. Because of pressure on the land, over-exploitation of the soil and demographic growth, the Third World is at the core of the planet's environmental crisis. In this part of the world, the environmental problem is erosion of the soil, which often provokes famine. Some 450 million Third World peasants cultivate land that is both low-yielding and declining in terms of quality. Millions are left without work or land.

This work is composed of the following stories: the struggle of the Brazilian landless peasants, who refuse to be corralled into urban centers; the hundreds of thousands of peasants who have been swallowed up by the diamond industry in India; the exodus of men from rural areas of Oaxaca and Guerrero, Mexico, leaving villages only inhabited by women and children; the leaving of the land by the Indians in the Chimborazo region of Ecuador; the tribes of southern Bihar in India, who want to protect their land against large mines and dams.

This trend is creating the planet's new metropolises....Bombay, India; Djarkata, Indonesia; São Paulo, Brazil; Cairo, Egypt; Mexico City, Mexico; Manila, Philippines; Istanbul, Turkey; and Shanghai, China.

Growth comes mainly due to exodus from rural areas. By the end of this century, eight of the planet's ten largest metropolises will lie in the Third World, each of them with a population of more than 15 million. Thirty years ago, these cities had an average population of less than 5 million people.

These huge cities, with their belts of shantytowns, are more than ever an El Dorado in the eyes of jobless and landless rural workers. In the city, income is twice as high as in rural areas and drinkable water, schooling and doctors are more accessible.

When I was working in the displaced persons camps in Mozambique in 1994, I constantly found myself surrounded by groups of children who kept me from my work, always trying to be in the picture. So I made a deal with them: I would make a portrait of each of them, and in exchange they would let me be. I continued to do this every time I encountered the same problem.

Back in Paris while I was editing the work, I realized that I had a group of powerful portraits; that in front of my camera, I had had very young people who had lived experiences of great intensity already. These seemingly simple and straightforward portraits depict with force their pain and their dignity. Here, I have a true sample of the men and women of tomorrow, on whom humankind must depend in order to build the future.

Through all these themes and chapters together, we tell the story. This is the story I imagined in 1992, which is now completed. We are living a globalization of humans. I believe this concept of borders that we had in the past, is now a relic of the eighteenth century. Now we are living in the moment close to the twenty-first century, where we are completely changing the concept of borders. In the European community, we have eliminated the borders for goods. We eliminate the borders for information. We eliminate the borders for money. The concept of borders must change completely, and quickly to accommodate the reality of human movement.

From these photographs, we are preparing a two-volume book set, international exhibitions and a series of films that will provoke debate and discussion about the human condition today.

"I want people to come out of this show and see immigrants in a new way, with a new respect."
I want people to come out of this show and see immigrants in a new way, with a new respect. I want the person who is sitting at a restaurant in the United States while a young man from El Salvador or from Mexico serves him, to see through the pictures, that it is a long, long trip to get there and is sometimes very dangerous. This young man working in the restaurant had the courage to move himself, to fight for his dignity, to fight for a job. I want the American to see that all these people moving around are moving somewhere to work, to produce, to give something to the country in which they want to live. This is the spirit in which I have created these pictures.