Jun 012015

Salt of the Earth: Sebastiao Salgado

A  f i l m  f o r  p h o t o g r a p h e r s

This weekend, a good friend recommended I watch “Salt of the Earth.”  The new documentary by Wim Wenders chronicles thirty years of Sebastiao Salgado’s work, life, and accomplishments.  While there are endless stories about famous photographers, there are not many films made about their lives.  The stories that make it to the big screen, like the Bang-Bang Club or a tragic adaptation that includes Robert Capa called “Hemingway and Gellhorn,” tend to get it all wrong.  They play up the cheesy parts, ignore the interesting parts, and never get into the heart of “Why we make pictures?”  

Sebastiao Salgado in the Sahel

Sebastiao Salgado in the Sahel

Wender’s project gets it all right.  He provides a look behind the lens and in front of the camera, of Salgado, as he works on massive projects like Workers, The Sahel, or recently Genesis.  It becomes apparent that while Genesis seems like a project of biblical proportions, almost all of Salgado’s works are large in scale.  The film adds a timeline to Salgado’s approach that is hard to understand when you pick up his books.  By tracing his roots as an economist, the film de-mystifies the motivation behind making the images, without removing the excitement  we experience when viewing them.

This was the image that inspired Wim Wender's to produce a film on Sebastiao Salgado.

This was the image that inspired Wim Wenders to produce a film on Sebastiao Salgado.

And further on the plus side, the film is interesting enough that you can watch it with someone who does not care about f-stops or dynamic range.  It is a carefully constructed story that illuminates three points that never receive enough attention in the photography world:

1.  Sebastiao Salgado has a clear point of view that is reflected in his images.

2.  The projects, while receiving plenty of news coverage, were not conceived as “news pieces.”  These projects took years to complete.

3.  When Salgado realized that “bringing exposure to events through pictures” was not enough, he did something about it.  His Instituto Terra showed how a strategic approach actually effects change and pictures make the topics more engaging with people who would otherwise be too busy to care.

Wim Wenders and Sebastiao Salgado reviewing Salgado's work.

Wim Wenders and Sebastiao Salgado reviewing Salgado’s work.

“Salt of the Earth” is playing at select independent theaters, but will be on iTunes or Netflix soon.  Check it out and let us know what you think of the film, Salgado and the pictures.

Sebastiao Salgado © Carlos Bertoni (an alumni of the A. MARELLI Workshops in Prague and Berlin)

Sebastiao Salgado © Carlos Bertoni (an alumni of the A. MARELLI Workshops in Prague and Berlin)



  4 Responses to “Salt of the Earth: Sebastiao Salgado”

  1. Non-Portuguese speakers may not realize “salgado” means salty. I had the privilege to get to know Salgado personally and realize he is someone who, through photography, brings “salt” to our lives.

    • Hi Carlos,

      Haha, that is funny…as a non-Portuguese speaker I missed that too.

      It is nice that you had a chance to spend time with him…while he was here in NYC, it was great to meet him and listen to his story first hand. I will post your picture above to accompany your image.


  2. We saw the film, Salt of the Earth, at the University of Victoria, Cinecentre, Victoria, BC, in early May. A testament to the film and to Wim Wenders is that we saw the film in a fully packed theater on the last night of a seven day run in a theater where most films run for only one of two days. Your comments sum up exactly what Kathryn and I felt at the end of the film.

    • Hi Rob,

      I can easily see you and Kathy enjoying the film. You guys have the sensibility to really grasp everything he accomplished, beyond the images.

      Look forward to discussing it next time we see each other.


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