One of the greatest photographers of all time came to Santa Barbara to speak, and because he was not provided with a translator, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear what he had to say was wasted. Brazilian Sebastiao Salgado, “Possibly the best loved photojournalist in the world,” according to The Guardian, spoke at the Arlington Theatre on March 2.

He has a very heavy French accent and addressed the audience in English. The first thing he said he was he was sorry for his English. The Arts and Lectures team, which hosted the event, showed his film, The Salt of the Earth in January and had a chance to preview his English-speaking skills. The film used subtitles when he spoke English. Even in his TED talk he speaks English, and there are subtitles. Surely this would have been a clue for the team that a translator would be required.

As he was introduced, it was mentioned his appearance was an event that took five years to come to fruition. Did no one ask about a providing a translator in the numerous planning meetings that took place to bring him here?

Two-thousand people filled the Arlington to hear him speak. After his appearance, instead of people discussing his comments, the only thing discussed among the crowd was how they could not understand what he said.

For the last 40 years, Salgado has dedicated his life to bring awareness to the world’s injustices and global problems, such as famine, genocide, exploited workers, and displaced refugees. Long after he is gone, his photographs will remain as one of the most valuable documents of our time.

This great oversight from the event planners should serve as a lesson for future events which include international guests to provide a translator, so that when we are fortunate enough to have greatness among us, we can learn from them.


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