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Sebastião Salgado awarded the 2019 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

The Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade today at a ceremony attended by roughly 700 invited guests. The ceremony was held in the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt am Main.
Erstellt am 20.10.2019

The Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade today at a ceremony attended by roughly 700 invited guests, including Germany’s Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht and Minister of State for Culture Monika Grütters. The ceremony was held in the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt am Main and the speech honouring this year’s recipient was given by German filmmaker and photographer Wim Wenders.

In his acceptance speech, Sebastião Salgado spoke of himself as a “photographer who has spent much of his life bearing witness to the suffering of our planet and of so many of its inhabitants who live in cruel and inhuman conditions; a photographer who has placed these same people at the heart of the broader photographic essay that he began fifty years ago and continues to write today”. He also noted: “The language I speak is light. But it is also the mission of shining light on injustice that has most guided my work as a social photographer”.

In his speech, Salgado placed the emphasis on those people whose fate he documented over the course of his fifty-year career: “These men, woman and children area among humanity’s most needy. They comprise a vast army of migrants and exiles, of exploited workers and casualties of war and genocide. They include those who have fallen prey to famines, droughts, climate change and deforestation; those who are driven off their land by the avarice of powerful and greedy men, who are victims of mechanized farming, of the concentration of landownership, of unplanned urbanization, of a violent economic system controlled by the richest nations on earth. I would like to share this prize with them. I don’t accept it for myself; I wish it for them; I wish it with them”.

Salgado explained that his photographs of terror and suffering are intended to jolt us out of our stupor and inspire us to work on a better future: “My only hope is that, as individuals or nations, we can reflect on our present human condition, on the need for a deeper sense of responsibility, of order, of good conscience. Somehow we must find new means of coexistence. […] We cannot ignore what we are capable of doing to each other, because man is always a wolf to another man. Yet the future of humanity can only be in our hands. To build a different future, we must understand the present. My photographs show this present and, painful as it may be, we must not shy away from looking at them”.

In his speech honouring Sebastião Salgado, Wim Wenders described this year’s prize recipient as a photographer who has “helped us gain a sense of those things that are the great enemy of peace in our time: the brutal demise of compassion, of shared responsibility, of community spirit, of a fundamental will to forge the equality of the human race”. With reference to Salgado’s three major volumes of photography, Workers, Exodus and Genesis, Wenders noted: “With these three monumental monolithic works alone, this man has shown us the fundamental conditions necessary for peace: there can be no peace without social justice, without work, there can be no peace without the acknowledgment of human dignity, without the cessation of unnecessary states of poverty and hunger, and there can be no peace without respect for the beauty and sanctity of our Earth”.

Heinrich Riethmüller, Chairman of the Börsenverein, drew attention to the urgent plea to society sent out by Salgado’s stirring images: “Sebastião Salgado shows us the whole world, that is, the world damaged by civilisation but also the world that is as yet untouched by civilisation. His photographs also show us that we have a mission to work for the preservation of the planet, to wake up and radically change our ways of life. Only if we make these changes will there be a chance that we can bequeath a liveable planet to the next generations”. 

The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade has been awarded annually since 1950 by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association on the final day of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Previous recipients include Albert Schweitzer, Astrid Lindgren, Václav Havel, Jürgen Habermas, Susan Sontag, Liao Yiwu, Navid Kermani, Margaret Atwood and last year’s Aleida and Jan Assmann. The Prize is endowed with a sum of €25,000.

A press photo will be available online starting at approx. 3 pm today:

The text of Sebastião Salgado’s acceptance speech is available online at:


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