As somebody who studied photography briefly during my time at university, only to have it go completely over my head – mainly through first year hangovers than anything else – a film about world famous photographer, Sebastião Salgado, wasn’t one that necessarily filled me with excitement. That said, after last year’s wonderful Finding Vivian Maier, which told the story of a mysterious and relatively unknown photographer, I went into The Salt of The Earth with a great deal of open-mindedness.
Directed by Wim Wenders, with the help from Sebastião’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado; The Salt of The Earth is a beautiful and fascinating portrait of an artist whose work is stunning, shocking and important. Subtitled A Journey with Sebastião Salgado, the documentary uses the extensive catalogue of Salgado’s work to take us on a journey through the photographer’s professional and personal lives, which seem forever intertwined.
From his childhood in Brazil to his early career as an economist, the film depicts how his passion for photography grew and how his artistry evolved into something much greater: an expose of the horrors of humanity all over the world. Over decades, Salgado witnessed famine, war, violence, murder and unnecessary death on the largest of scales, and his work was important in shedding a light on these social injustices.
The imagery captured during these moments are harrowing and painful to look at, yet altogether striking and almost impossible to look away from. All the while, Sebastião himself narrates over, and sometimes through the image, giving the sad history behind the picture. Amongst the gallery of death, destruction and skeletal bodies that so often engulf the screen, there are moments of jaw dropping, awe inspiring beauty too.
The photos taken by Sebastiào, especially in his later life when nature and animals became predominant in his photography, are unbelievable to look at. I may not have a photographer’s eye or mind, but you really don’t need either to fully appreciate his work and talent – and that is in itself one of the most successful things about the documentary.
The imagery it has to offer is undeniably amongst some of the best you’ll see on the big-screen this year, but as well as being visually arresting, it tells a very personal story too. Central to the film is how all the horror took an impact on Salgado’s view of the world and how having “seen into the heart of darkness”, one can come back from that the same person as before.
Through all the darkness though, there is a glimmer of light as Sebastiào and his wife return home to Brazil, where they take on the seemingly impossible challenge of restoring its surrounding habitat to its former glory. With the possibility of growing new trees and returning wildlife comes hope that mankind’s mistakes aren’t irreversible, and that perhaps one day we’ll learn from our previous short comings. It’s this personal challenge that rejuvenates Sebastião Salgado’s passion for work, proving that life inspires art and vice versa.
The Salt of The Earth is a humanistic piece of film-making that should appeal to everybody. The breathtaking photography that is on display through the film – some of which graces the above poster – is unmissable and is ideally seen on the biggest screen possible. It has depth, soul and the worldly Sebastiào Salgado’s life is a remarkable story.
It won’t be in cinemas for long, so make sure you catch it while it is.
Image credit to http://www.rottentomatoes.com