The Salt of the Earth – Documentary film
The Salt of the Earth. Complex, multilayered documentary about the life and work of the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Wim Wenders portrays a man who loves people, a photographer who expresses the beauty and cruelty of humanity in the black and white depths of his images.
I wondered if documentary as the chosen medium could work telling the story about a photographic oevre. Don’t the photos perhaps lose their expressiveness and the medium of film may lose its narrative power at the same time? My approach to this cinematic masterpiece about the work of a master photographer was not very straightforward. Launched in cinemas as early as 2014, it received numerous awards and was nominated for the Oscar 2015 in the documentary film category. I intensively examined the documentary, because even after multiple viewing the film definitely does not lose its potential as a source of inspiration, but today I wish I had seen the film on the big screen at that time.
The Brazilian Sebastião Salgado is a social documentary photographer. With his images he has captured social cruelty in the world for decades. The Salt of the Earth does not only focus on Salgado’s vocation and work. The film also illuminates family ties, his roots and the relationship between Sebastião and his son Juliano Ribeiro, who appears as co-director of Wim Wenders and as a protagonist.
Wim Wenders takes us on Sebastião Salgado’s journey through life. We see his Brazilian home, travel with him to different continents, meet the most diverse people and learn a lot about photography and the creation of expressive images.
Sebastião Salgado was born in 1944 in Aimorés, Minas Gerais, Brazil. He lives in Paris. The trained economist first worked on development assistance projects in Africa before starting a career as a professional photographer in 1973. We have often seen his pictures in major magazines. The photographer has documented the humanitarian catastrophes which happened to this planet over decades. He has often been accused of aestheticizing misery. But it was often his photographs that had the power to draw the public’s attention to events and backgrounds. He always respected the dignity of the victims. Beauty and misery in one picture – mankind carries both in itself, the beauty of the soul and the cruel action.
“Human beings – we are malicious, terrible animals. Whether in Europe, Africa or South America, everywhere we are extremely violent.”
After Salgado had photographed in the Congolese camps that provided shelter to the Rwandan genocide refugees, he was no longer able to pursue his profession in the way he had done it before. Together with his wife Lélia Wanick Salgado, who was always involved in the conceptual and organizational aspects of photographic projects, they started to run his father’s farm in Brazil. At this location they set up a project to reforest the Mata Atlántica – the Atlantic rainforest in Brazil. This nature conservation project was to set an example for numerous subsequent reforestation projects in South American rainforests. The Instituto Terra planted about millions of seedlings and soon the previously dry hills emerged in the shape of the landscape that Sebastião Salgado had seen as a young boy. With the trees, the creatures of the rainforest – the animals, could return to reanimate this important habitat.
“I took the time – eight years just to see.”
Encouraged by their experiences with the Instituto Terra, Sebastião and Lélia conceived a new large-scale photographic project: Genesis – the homage to our planet. From 2004 onwards, the photographer began to travel again. This time to depict the beautiful face of nature and mankind. Over a period of eight years, he created landscape photographs, animal photographs and images of human communities living in harmony with their traditions and nature. In spring 2013, TASCHEN Verlag published two books on Genesis in six languages. At the same time, a worldwide exhibition project the same title had started.
As viewing the epic documentary The Salt of the Earth, we travel with Sebastião Salgado to the most remote places in the world. We learn to see the beauty and “colourfulness” of the earth from particular perspectives through his black-and-white drawings of light and shadow. The enormous photographic work is almost raised by the way it is featured in the documentary film. It makes us want to dive deeper into the strongly narrative photographic work of Sebastiao Salgado.
Directed by Wim Wenders & Juliano Ribeiro Salgado:
Titel image: (c) NFP, Sebastiao Salgado