illy takes special pride in its longstanding relationships with the people who raise coffee on four continents – bonds borne of mutual respect, pursuit of a common goal and shared prosperity. Coffee is a journey, and its farmers the stewards of coffee’s lands, legacies, communities and cultures.
Theirs is a story of sustainability quite like no other: one illy has beautifully shared with the world through the lens of Sebastiao Salgado, the renowned social photographer. The project is a photographic journey spanning Brazil, India, Ethiopia, Guatemala Colombia, China, El Salvador and Costa Rica exploring the very roots of coffee culture. Salgado’s moving images convey that for farmers, cultivation, harvesting, drying and selection of coffee aren’t merely actions, but rather, rituals deeply steeped in history and pride.
Salgado approached the nearly decade-long project from an unusually ideal vantage point. Born in 1944 in Minas Gerais, one of Brazil’s major coffee growing regions, he found work as an economist for the International Coffee Organization. But photography went from avocation to calling, and in 1973, Salgado started a career in images by documenting the lives of poor, migrant workers in Latin America and Africa.
The collaboration with Salgado brings into sharp focus illy’s enduring commitment to sustainable development, its respect for local cultures and its love for the lands that nurture coffee. Out of continual collaborations with farmers have grown relationships characterized by respect, fair exchange and growth, with a shared understanding of the power that ever-improving quality wields to improve lives.
The journey to Costa Rica brought Salgado from San Isidro de Alajuela in the Central Valley, to Llano Bonito, West Valley and the Tarrazu area. Here coffee growing is known for its attention to sustainability also thanks to the careful use of water resources that helps preserve the terrain and protect its important biodiversity. The coffee coming from Costa Rica is the perfect combination of acidity, sweetness, body and bitterness with uniquely distinctive notes of chocolate and caramel enhanced by delicate hints of toast, orange, honey and vanilla.
In 2014, El Salvador was Sebastiao Salgado’s first destination to discover the history, tradition and landscapes of coffee’s lands. Salgado travelled through the country, in the “fincas” of the San Vicente, Ataco, Santa Ana and Santa Tecla areas, set among the Apaneca mountains. He portrayed the precious beans coming from these plantations and the men who harvest them in the shadow of the native trees, granting the excellence and quality of the product. This coffee, grown at the foot of volcanoes and influenced by the winds coming from the Pacific Ocean, is characterized by a delicate aroma, completed by sweetness and hints of orange.
Salgado focused his camera on the province of Yunnan, located in the far southwest of the country, particularly the regions of Baoshan and Simao, the latter of which is known for the production of Pu'er tea. The coffee that comes from these areas is medium-strong bodied, with intense hints of caramel accompanied by fruity top-notes. Salgado's photographs reveal a rural landscape of stunning beauty, where hunan presence is both respectful and discreet.Salgado's China photography was given its public debut at the Galleria illy in Beijing in October 2012.
The world’s second largest washed Arabica producing region, a territory populated by small farms operated by more than 650,000 coffee producing families. Traveling from San Agustín in the south to the remote Pitalito, Salgado visited the department of Santander where the legend of the birth of Columbian coffee culture is told. Moving to Santa Marta, Sierra Nevada on the region’s Caribbean coast, Salgado trained his lens on a boisterous local market in the town of Pueblo Bello Gamake. A first viewing of the fruits of this final stage, along with a retrospective of all previous stages, was presented at a 75th birthday celebration of illy’s founding, hosted by Berlin’s International Forum for Visual Dialogue, considered a temple of international photography.
Next on the journey was a country with gloriously marked variations in landscape, reflected in the distinct characters of coffee produced region to region. Strong notes of chocolate weave a common thread throughout. Salgado committed to film images of Atitlan Antigua and surrounding regions, capturing the growth, harvesting and processing of Arabica beans, against the backdrop of wonderfully unusual landscapes. Galleria illy in Milan hosted a preview of the phase’s finished work in 2006.
The birthplace of coffee served as third home of this journey, at once, one of the world's poorest countries, and one of its largest producers of Arabica. Here Salgado trained his lens on Yirgacheffe, the region where perhaps the world’s best Arabica coffees grows. The images had their world premier in Lingotto in Turin, in 2005.
Salgado travelled to the state of Karnataka in southern India, whose plantations of Arabica coffee grace the illy blend with full body and a light, pleasant note of bitterness. Images captured between coffee plantations (in the natural shade of tall trees of tropical fruit, nutmeg, pepper and cardamom) and large indoor areas where beans are stored, chronicle the rhythm and flow of daily life on the region’s plantations. The captivating black and white images were first presented at the Chapelle de l'Humanité in Paris in 2004.
The country chosen for the journey’s first steps is the world leader in coffee productionand home to the first illy Award for Quality Coffee, now a 20-year program. From Zona da Mata in the state of Minas Gerais to the state of Espirito Santo, Salgado’s initial images reveal the rituals of green coffee harvesting, capturing the beauty of the earth and the dignity of farmers who work it. The Auditorium in Rome played host to the images’ first public viewing in 2003.