Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Salt of The Earth

After discussing the history of the word ‘photograph’, Wim Wenders opens The Salt of The Earth by stating a photographer is somebody ‘drawing with light’ and ‘writing and rewriting the world with light and shadows’. This is exactly what Sebastião Salgado does. You may now know Salgado by name, but his work is among the best in the history of photography - completely colourless but stunningly moving and powerful. Who is the man behind the lens?

Out now on DVD & Blu-Ray and directed by documentary legend Wim Wenders (with co-direction from Juliano Salgado) comes the Oscar-nominated The Salt of The Earth, one of the most thought-provoking films of recent years. For the last 40 years, Sebastião Salgado has been travelling the Earth and witnessing an ever-changing humanity. He has seen some of the major events of recent times; international conflicts, starvation and horror. His companion for all of this travelling was his trusty camera. This is his story. But as well as being a biographical piece about Salgado, The Salt of The Earth also holds a mirror up to us, the world, and asks us why our history is full of such pain. “We humans are terrible animals”, Salgado says in the doc. “Our history is a history of wars. It's an endless story, a tale of madness.

There’s been a lot of debate around Sebastião Salgado since the release of this film. Many have asked why, if he thinks things are so bad, does he not help to solve the problems in front of his eyes? Some argue he’s a selfish man who hides behind his camera to profit out of others’ pain, by selling his photographs of the horrors he has witnessed. But then Salgado’s supporters have argued that he is helping, by exposing these issues and bringing them to the public’s eyes. He states in the doc that many of these photos need to be seen, and they do. Especially as many of the things he has seen are still problems today, including famine and particularly the current refugee crisis. It’s not my place to comment here, but it’s certainly something to think about.

In terms of the film, Salgado is characterised as a kind and gentle soul, deeply troubled by the things he has seen throughout the years. He addresses the audience almost constantly during the film, telling stories of his life and work as his photographs play out as almost a slideshow. The film plays out chronologically, taking us back in time throughout Salgado’s many expeditions as he tells us stories. Due to Salgado’s black & white photography style, the film is visually very bleak and colourless but therein lies the haunting beauty, for which Salgado is known. But the film isn’t entirely made up of his work. We also get a rare glimpse into his upbringing, his home life and through meeting his son Juliano Salgado (who co-directed and co-narrated the film with Wenders), we hear all about him from someone who knows him better than many others. And as well as not being completely based on his work, it isn’t a completely colourless 2 hours. Salgado’s late-1990s dream to plant a forest in Brazil and restore his father’s farm gave birth to the Instituto Terra, which has since been declared a Private Natural Heritage Reserve. And the footage of this loving project is presented in vibrant colour, a contrast to the bleak pain of Salgado’s work. Maybe the world isn’t such a bad place after all.

In conclusion, The Salt of The Earth is an exceptionally thought-provoking documentary about a fascinating figure. It’s extremely moving and, although often harrowing and difficult to watch, it is very inspiring. Wherever you stand on Sebastião Salgado personally, one simply cannot debate the raw power of his work. These photographs will live forever as glimpses at some of the world’s darkest history, and although sadly still relevant today, they will hopefully soon be a thing of the past once and for all.

The Salt of The Earth is pure art and earns a solid 5/5.


Sam Love

The Salt of The Earth at CeX

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