SALT OF THE EARTH

This film recounts the stories behind the images of Sebastiāo Salgado as well as his personal history. Salgado is known as a social documentary photographer; the film calls him “a witness of the human condition.”

The film falls into the genre of art photography and biography. The biography, of course, describes Salgado’s professional career. Art documentaries focus more upon the the work rather than so much on the artist. The work we see in this film is powerful; the words we hear from the artist are also powerful and can be used by other photographers as they create art.

  • Creativity : The film opens with no explanation but only a talking, floating head fading into the photographs of a gold mine and its workers. Salgado philosophizes about the thinking and emotions of men who desire gold.
  • Narrative : The film makes it clear that Salgado was driven by empathy for the human condition. This is evidenced by the photographs from his various projects that are shown throughout the film.
  • Style : Salgado is Brazilian and apparently does not speak English and so the film is subtitled in English. Subtitles are inconvenient and prevent full concentration and appreciation of the photographs; a translator would have been more convenient for the viewer.
  • Emotion evoked : I have always been in awe of his photographs and this was no less apparent in the film.
  • Mood established : Salgado starts where all photographers should begin - by understanding their way of seeing. Salgado says that his way of seeing was formed in the landscape of his family farm
  • Call to Action : Salgado’s projects took him from the Sahel to Bosnia to Rwanda and other corners of the world. The genocide and droughts in the Sahel and Rwanda were nearly unbearable for him. It is inconceivable as to how he could have made all those photographs. It was Rwanda that a finally did him in .. “my soul was sick,” he said. “When I left there I no longer believed in anything, in any salvation for the human species.” The collections he made brought attention to the issues and helped to correct some of the wrongs, but problems still exist there. After Rwanda, he returned home to the farm and began to rebuild the tropical forest that once covered their land but had been cut down. This led him to an environmental project in which he once again traversed the world. It was in this project that he photographed other animals for the first time. He also came to the realization “that I’m as much a part of nature as a turtle or a tree.” Both the social and the environmental documentaries are calls to today’s photographers to lend their skills to the world.

Most of Salgado’s social documentary work is in the form of portraits. He leaves two good words for would-be portrait photographers :

“The power of a portrait lies in the fraction of a second when you catch a glimpse of that person’s life.”

“When you take a portrait, the shot is not yours alone. The person offers it to you.”

When the film began, I was not sure that I could even finish it. But soon I found that the power of Salgado’s images and words captured me. I recommend the film to anyone who has an interest in the condition of the world.