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article imageReview: ‘The Salt of the Earth’ combines the art of film and photography Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 11, 2015 in Entertainment
‘The Salt of the Earth’ is a riveting documentary chronicling the life and art of social and nature photographer, Sebastião Salgado.
Photography is a magical medium. With the press of a button, it captures and preserves any given moment conceivably forever. A single image is made even more extraordinary through the skill of the person behind the camera. Their ability to frame a shot can be the difference between an ordinary photo and a remarkable one. The Salt of the Earth investigates the art of Sebastião Salgado.
Salgado grew up in Brazil where his father owned a farm. While at the University of São Paulo earning an economics degree, he met his future wife, Lélia. Together they actively participated in local protests against the ruling regime, which eventually forced them from their home country to avoid prosecution. In Europe, Salgado discovered his love and talent for photography. Agreeing that he should pursue his passion full-time, Salgado would leave Lélia and their infant son, Julian, for long stretches as he travelled the world capturing images of the human condition. Returning to South America to discover its other countries was disheartening since it brought him so close to home, though he was forbidden from returning. However, not all of his explorations were inspiring. Several years in and around Rwanda and the Congo in the early ‘90s would break his spirit. When he finally resumed taking pictures, he transitioned from social documentary to nature photography. However, no matter the subject, Salgado’s ability to create beautiful, moving art was continuous.
Director and narrator Wim Wenders was a fan of Salgado’s before ever meeting him. He came across his artwork in a gallery and was taken by the intensity of his pictures. During the making of the film, Salgado is gathering images for a collection titled, “Genesis,” which depicts untouched lands and wildlife, as well as human communities that continue to live according to their ancient traditions. Their journeys take them to the Arctic to photograph walruses and inadvertently a hunting polar bear. In reverse conditions, they spend time with an Amazonian tribe once thought to be extinct.
Salgado was absent for much of Julian’s childhood as he toured various continents assembling documentary images for his collections. Not so much a father, he was a great adventurer who lived with them occasionally. As an adult, Julian is learning about his father by accompanying him on his ventures and filming their experiences. Consequently, he is credited as Wenders’ co-director on the film.
In addition to the footage shot by the directors, Salgado’s narrative is told via the black and white photos he’s taken throughout his 40-year career. His most famous pictures were taken in a gold mine in Brazil, though many others have also gained recognition. Salgado turned his camera on the world’s desperate and dejected, recalling the death and emaciation he saw in the periods during and after the Rwandan genocide, and in the former Yugoslavia. His memories are so vivid, his descriptions of his experiences in these countries enhance the power of the already stirring images.
In addition to discussing Salgado’s photography, Wenders includes details about the artist’s other passion project: conservation. In Brazil, he and Lélia turned his father’s land into a nature reserve that now consists of millions of trees and expands every year. The Instituto Terra’s mission is reforestation, conservation and environmental education. What they’ve accomplished is awe inspiring, having turned a barren landscape into a full and thriving ecosystem.
Salgado has lived a fascinating life and Wenders does an excellent job compiling what can only be an overview of some of his amazing and most influential experiences. This documentary is infinitely riveting and beautiful.
Directors: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders
Starring: Sebastião Salgado, Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
More about The Salt of the Earth, Sebastiao Salgado, wim wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Documentary
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