The Salt of the Earth

The Salt of the Earth tells the inspirational life story of Brazilian social photographer and photojournalist Sebastião Salgado, from the very beginning during his days as an economics student, a time which provided the foundations of his sociopolitical knowledge of global suffering; his first encounter with a camera which his wife bought; through to his epic adventures to the deepest and darkest corners of the earth in his quest to document the diverse and perpetually changing nature of life.

Directed by Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club) and Salgado's son, Juliano Riberio, the biographical film was a chance for the latter to really understand and 'get to know' his elusive father, described as something of a superhero for his unfettered drive and commitment to his work, and his profound belief in the beauty and goodness of humanity. As well as his illuminating and compassionate professional work, Salgado, his wife and a team of volunteers literally rebuilt an eroded forest in the family's back garden. It is now a National Park that is available for public use.

What the film emits in ethical context and explanation (did he step in and offer aid to these vulnerable people he is photographing, such as the famine-stricken Ethiopians or the refugees escaping Rwanda?) it makes up for in stunning, thought provoking imagery. Wenders and Salgado Jnr let the man himself and his standout pictures do the talking, no need for elaborate speeches from critics or reflections on the hostile and doomed humanity captured by the 71 year old. We're reminded at the outset of the film what 'photographer' really means - telling stories with light. And what a phenomenal storyteller Salgado was and continues to be.
Images from Salgado's 'Workers' project, which spanned six years and 26 countries, documents the men and women who we owe thanks to for their underrated toil. He has come under fire from some critics for 'romanticising' the pain, suffering and isolation of the workers his project profited from; to which Salgado replied:  
'People in England say to me that my photographs are too beautiful, that they make an aesthetic statement out of human misery. What do they mean? I think that the British, especially, have a problem in coming to terms with the Third World. They want it to look miserable, unhappy. But, if you have lived and worked in India, for example, you will know that for many workers misery is not material; for them, misery is to do with loneliness and rejection, with leading life isolated from the group, and not principally with hardship and poverty. Look how the women who dig the Rajasthan Canal and toil in the coal mines dress in saris, wear as much jewellery as they own and have fresh flowers plaited into their hair. If I celebrate that dignity and beauty, what is wrong in doing so?'

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