Sebastiao Salgado documents sustainable coffee farming in his new book
The images span 10 countries, showing workers and their environments
The aroma of coffee is invisible to the human eye, but certainly not to the nose. The reality is that much of the world of coffee is like the aroma of it – familiar, yet unknown, hidden from plain sight.
With Sebastiao Salgado’s latest photo book, it is as though we have been invited to step inside and explore the depths of a silver treasure chest, one filled with black-and-white images of coffee’s most invisible yet most precious ingredients: its environments and the people responsible for its realization into coffee cups around the world.
Salgado’s photographic journey, “The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee,” was done in collaboration with Illy, an Italian coffee company, and resulted from a common passion and value for sustainable development.
“His project became ours, and ours became his: a project founded on a shared dream of respect for the environment and its people through the ideals of kindness, beauty and justice,” Andrea Illy, chairman and CEO of Illy, wrote in the photo book.
Salgado’s images document the traditional methods of sustainable coffee farming. And while the images are inherently similar in subject matter, they are just as rich in diversity.
In his photo book, the photographer discusses how he was not only struck by the coffee farmers’ lives, but by how important the environment is to them.
“I can imagine a coffee farmer from the Lujiang Valley in Yunnan Province, China, adjusting quite easily to working the Todos Los Reyes Valley in Costa Rica,” Salgado wrote. “For coffee farmers, both rich and poor, their trees represent their capital, even their survival.”
Salgado notes the tough working conditions many coffee farmers face in the fields, writing that their daily wages are often based on the weight of the coffee cherries they collect, for example.
He also describes how in the final stage of processing, before coffee’s eventual export, flawed or discolored beans must be removed by hand.
“On small farms, as in the Lake Nyasa region of Tanzania or the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia, this is often the task of women,” Salgado wrote. “But with larger companies, such as the Allana Coffee Curing Works in Karnataka State, India, hundreds of men and women are employed to sort through and grade the tiny coffee beans.”
From the age of 7 to 14, Salgado accompanied his father to collect coffee beans and help him at a mill in Brazil. This was his earliest exposure to the world of coffee, an exposure that led him to pursue a Ph.D. in economics. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the worldwide supply and demand for coffee.
“It is perhaps an odd thing for a Brazilian to admit, but I never drink coffee. And yet it runs through my veins,” Salgado wrote. “Indeed, at several key moments in my life, coffee has played a central role … Now it is my hope that the images in these pages convey my pleasure in returning to this world.”
Beginning in Brazil in 2002 and concluding in Costa Rica in 2014, Salgado’s photos span 10 countries within Latin America, Africa and Asia. The photos serve as an important reminder that with every sip of coffee, we are tasting the time, effort, sacrifice and perseverance of the men, women and children whose hands have cared for our coffee since the very start of its journey.
“The grains in every cup of coffee were once touched by human hands,” Salgado wrote. “To those hands, I dedicate this book.”