Below is an excerpt of an interview Salgado gave in 2016 at the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow.
"Brazil, where my wife and I come from, was ruled by a dictatorship, and we were protesting against it. In 1969, when I was 25 and Lélia was 22, we had to leave the country. We moved to France. I didn't like economics anymore. We were going to move to the Soviet Union, we dreamt of studying at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia, I wanted to change my speciality and become an engineer — I was good at Math, and studied in Paris Graduate School of Economics and Statistics. We studied Marxism and the works of Lenin. We received a fantastic education. We went to Prague in 1970 to meet one Czech communist, so that he would advice us how to move to the USSR and enter the university. And he said: "Guys, you are young and idealistic, you believe in communism, but you should know there are no ideals in the Soviet Union anymore. They are not building communism, the power does not belong to the people, the apparatchiks have taken it, and if you want to fight for happiness of the common people, you should stay here and work with the immigrants."
Russia was especially important to us people from the Third World. We had high expectations for Russia.
So I am thinking, what would happen if I did become an engineer? Just half an hour ago at the door of our hotel I met a person from Senegal and asked him: "How did you end up here, in Russia?". He replied that he came here to study and stayed for good. Just think: if I came to study here, I would become an engineer and never be who I am, a photographer now. I'd be a simple Russian old man.
After that conversation with the Czech communist we went back to Paris. Some time later Lélia needed to buy a camera to photograph architecture. At that moment I had the opportunity to snap a picture for the first time in my life. It was a small Pentax camera, and when I looked in the viewfinder, I realized it could change my life completely.
And although I started doing photography at a rather mature age, thanks to this knowledge I had, I had many more possibilities than a photographer who had no such education.