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Issue No. 18 - Humanity

SALT OF THE EARTH, (2014) DIR. WIM WENDERS AND JULIANO SALGADO

Image above: Photo by Sebastião Salgado, Courtesy of © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images/Sony Pictures Classics.

 

I hope that Sebastiao Salgado is pleased with this film. It is the documentary he deserves. It takes it’s time and gets up close and personal with the man and his work. If it weren’t clear from seeing his work that he is a great humanitarian as well as a genius, it is now.

For me, he has always been an icon of bravura photography. His subjects are never less than operatic in scale - humanity writ large - revealed by a compassionate documentarian. Brutal manual labor, hunger, famine, poverty, war, and exile are some of the subjects of his in depth investigations. He became committed to helping to improve the lives of those whom he had documented by sharing their stories with the rest of the world. He seemed to believe that humanity needed to see the different realities suffered by members of our own species. It must be stated that he never condescended to his subjects. He saw the nobility in all of them.

510538d7-f3df-4ce5-8111-206398a71b73Left to right: Director Wim Wenders, Director Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Sebastião Salgado. Photo by Thierry Pouffary, Courtesy of Thierry Pouffary/Sony Pictures Classics. 
 

That there were two different directors is fairly obvious but I think it makes for an interesting balance. The fact that one of them is the great Wim Wenders, who has been a devotee of Salgado for decades, and that the other one is Salgado’s son (another type of devotee), was apparently as complicated and difficult as one can imagine.There are some segments with Salgado speaking directly to the camera about his work. His angular face reveals so much humility, intelligence and compassion (Wenders). Then there are fascinating on-the-job segments in exotic, often-inhospitable locations with his son, Juliano. Each style and point of view enhances the other.

The film gives a fair amount of personal detail involving his marriage to Lelia, the love of his life, mother of his two sons, inspiration, business partner and equal. She is to him what Jean-Claude was to Christo - “the great woman behind the great man” (sic).

a14e14e4-be9c-490d-b4ca-f35375e6136fPhoto by Sebastião Salgado, Courtesy of © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images/Sony Pictures Classics.

 

He would spend years on each project much of it travelling which would generate hundreds of gelatin silver prints accompanied by large beautifully printed coffee table books which Lelia art directs. Images so dramatically composed and gorgeously printed that it is almost possible to miss the awful realities being portrayed Salgado has a vast reservoir of empathy for humanity which he refers to as “salt of the earth”. He has found beauty, dignity, courage and strength in the most marginalized, degraded, and vulnerable of people. However, upon completion of his last project in Africa he found himself “burned-out” and disillusioned about man’s inhumanity to man - convinced we (humans) were too horrible to deserve to live. He put down his camera, lost interest in work and began questioning his beliefs. It was, the insightful Lelia, who suggested that they return to Brazil to his grandfather’s farm and plant trees. The condition of the once verdant 600 acre farm had become completely barren as a result of neglect, timber sell-off, erosion and soil degradation.

87b70cc1-e55d-436b-a91b-c62974884b95Photo by Sebastião Salgado, Courtesy of © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images/Sony Pictures Classics.

 

But planting trees was what brought him back to life as it brought the farm back to life. After 20 years and 2 million trees planted it is once again in its natural state with wildlife, flora and fauna and brooks running with water and filled with fish. He has turned it into a foundation and given it to the public and it is being used as a model for conservation and reforestation projects around the world. Sebastiao is back at work with his camera and has just completed Genesis. This glorious opus is dedicated to nature in all it’s splendor, grandeur and ability to heal. The only people included in this collection are those who are living in maximum harmony with nature. It is a statement of gratitude and appreciation of the natural world.

This is a totally inspiring and engaging film about a wise and hugely talented man who has endeavored through his work to encourage a greater awareness of global concerns, and an embracing social consciousness through exposure. It is hard to see this film and not feel a shift in one’s own awareness.

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ad9e9a76-c56b-4c0e-9fd9-4dcaad739428Images above: Photos by Sebastião Salgado, Courtesy of © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images/Sony Pictures Classics.

 

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