Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

The Mines of Serra Pelada

with 31 comments



Sebastião Salgado is possibly the most famous and eminent photojournalist working today. He embarks on great photographic projects, seeking out places that are untouched by modern humanity and exposing the inhumanities it left behind. If there is one Salgado picture that will stand the test of time, it is this picture of a dispute between Serra Pelada gold mine worker and military police taken in Brazil in 1986. It is the classic picture of tension with a twist–the authority is in the hands of the police on the right, but he earns much less than the miners thus infusing that facet of tension into the picture too.

The tale of Serra Pelada was straight out of the great 19th century gold rushes of Australia and the American west. A 6g nugget of gold, found by a local bathing his child on the banks of a remote river, started an uncontrolled gold rush that turned the place into a modern day Inferno. In five years, tens of thousands of men swarmed the site in a huge goldstrike worth more than the annual output of all Australian gold mines combined. Salgado not only documented a lengthy photoessay about Serra Pelada but also the nearby town of “stores and whores”,  where tens of thousands of girls under the age of 16 sold their bodies for a few grains of gold. It is also said there are 60-80 unsolved murders in the town every month.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 23, 2009 at 8:13 am

Posted in Society

Tagged with ,

31 Responses

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  1. The government needs to do something about this. This is destroying the environment. I know these people are just trying to make a living, and now the economy is in a shithole. This problem still has to be dealt with.


    July 2, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    • I totally agree with you. this needs to be dealt with


      July 2, 2009 at 1:17 pm

      • Serra Pelada is pretty much empty for many years already.


        January 9, 2010 at 12:19 am

  2. Dear Sirs,

    Prof. Artioli from the University of Padua is interested in reusing two of your pictures in a textbook. For more detailed information, please contact me at the following e-mail address:

    barbara.vianello at unipd.it

    Thank you.


    July 14, 2009 at 10:21 am

    • this website has no reproduction rights. You can contact Mr. Salgado through his agency or a museum.


      July 16, 2009 at 8:37 am

      • Thank you!


        July 30, 2009 at 3:36 pm

      • So this entire website is a shrine to copyright infringement? Are you collecting ad money from it?


        October 29, 2009 at 8:17 pm

      • what’s the contact info. for Mr. Salgado’s angency? have a few questions about the picture posted above with the miner dispute with solider.


        September 17, 2012 at 9:02 pm

  3. […] human and environmental consequences. For a positively biblical vision of hell, have a look at Sebastião Salgado’s famous photo-essay on Brazil’s Sierra Pelada goldmine (which is now defunct, leaving a giant open pit that has […]

  4. There was an awesome documentary made of this “gold mine” – the whole thing was surreal.


    August 19, 2010 at 3:21 am

  5. […] description vividly echoes Sebastião Salgado’s photographs of the now defunct Serra Pelada goldmine in Brazil. The scenes look millennia-old – swarms of […]

  6. Please, will somebody tell me where and how I can buy a copy of this print?


    March 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    • Do you know how to copy and paste?


      April 30, 2011 at 8:28 pm

  7. In the 1970s I saw a documentary on this. Left a searing impression on my mind, especially that no work I would ever do could be as hard as the dirt haulers.

    If anyone can help me identify that documentary, it would be greatly appreciated. I’ve got some young grandchildren who will need to see it in a few years.


    January 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    • It’s the opening scene in the film, Powaqqatsi. See http://bit.ly/Mk5Pii


      August 4, 2012 at 2:41 pm

      • braulio, thanks, yes, I knew it’s in Powaqqatsi, but it’s not the old documentary I was looking for. The documentary has much more gritty detail than Powaqqatsi. It was similar to THE CHARCOAL PEOPLE, but making a much stronger impression on me.

        Anyone? That 1970s documentary? Would you know the title?


        August 4, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    • There was an Australian TV doc for Sixty Minutes, with George Negus, called Teasure of Serra Pelada and a WNET doc called Gold Lust narrated by Orson Welles. I don’t know of anything from the 70’s. Gold wasn’t discovered there until 1979.

      pete johnson

      August 14, 2013 at 8:36 am

      • There are also two Brazilian docs: Montahas de Ouro and Serra Pelada Ouro. Both can be found on Youtube.

        pete johnson

        August 14, 2013 at 8:42 am

      • Pete, I’ve just checked Wikipedia, and you’re right about 1979.

        In my memory, I watched the documentary in a living room in Fort Huachuca. I was stationed there from ’71 to ’73.

        Obviously not possible that I watched it there.

        But reading the Wikipedia description, there’s no doubt I did watch a documentary. I’ll go to Youtube to see if those two Brazilian documentaries are what I watched.

        Many thanks.

        Steve Kohn

        August 14, 2013 at 9:41 pm

  8. […] Picture Credit: […]

  9. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the images on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.
    Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.


    December 12, 2012 at 7:13 am

  10. […] giant miner Cia. Vale do Rio Doce. The ‘ant-men,’ made sadly famous in the Brazilian Sebastião Salgado‘s photos, may be gone but the demand for cheap labor and for what the land has to offer […]

  11. […] Genesis photographs are smaller than the series that made his name, of the gold miners of Serra Pelada jammed together in a medieval hell of mud, and they do not rely upon religious symbolism for their […]

  12. […] Genesis photographs are smaller than the series that made his name, of the gold miners of Serra Pelada jammed together in a medieval hell of mud, and they do not rely upon religious symbolism for their […]

  13. […] of his most famous work was shot in the Brazilian gold mines of Serra Paleda […]

  14. […] Esta entrada en Iconic Photos. […]

  15. […] seiner Fotos werden vorgestellt, darunter auch die Reportagefotos über eine Goldmine in Brasilien. Die Goldmine, die auf seinen Fotos wie ein Ameisenhaufen wirkt. Diese Fotos haben ihn als Fotografen […]

  16. Reblogged this on Eric Mugambi.


    November 30, 2014 at 10:22 am

  17. […] whose work includes: Genesis series which covers Antarctica, the Arctic and points between;  Serra Pelada series featuring gold […]

  18. […] Genesis photographs are smaller than the series that made his name, of the GOLD miners of Serra Peladajammed together in a medieval hell of mud, and they do not rely upon religious symbolism for their […]

  19. […] collections, each with a different focus on the world. The first  image they show is of a gold mine in Brazil with thousands of workers climbing in and out of the pit on rickety ladders, I don’t know if […]

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