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?”
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.
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.
“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.