By Leslie Byron Pitt @
Wim Winders Oscar nominated feature The Salt of the Earth is a remarkably timely feature, which highlights the work of social photographer Sebastiao Salgado. The film details Salgado’s powerful imagery of refugees from all over the world from the sands of Sudan to the Gold Mines of Serra Pelada. The film is light on many elements within his photography, with much of Salgado’s footage is of dead or dying persons, and the film only scratching the surface of how he feels towards his tougher shots during the last third of the feature. Yet despite this, The Salt of the Earth is beautiful and hypnotic examination of the man’s body of work.
With some stunning photography shot by Hugo Barbier and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Sabastiao’s own son, the film slowly glides through Sabastiao’s early life as an idealistic economist before chronicling each of his major photographic projects. Many of these projects take years and his patience is wryly shown halfway through when he rejects the moment to shoot a polar bear due to the composition being compromised. Even though the passage of time has been diminished for our viewing pleasure, we can still sense the length of the wait.
As the film continues we absorb more of Salgado’s work (often with a Sebastiao informing us through blended transitions), we notice how his work captures the breakdown of social and economic structures. The poor are left persecuted, suffering and often dying. The disheartening picture of Aylan Kurdi recently shown to the western world the power of a well composed and well timed picture. The images we witness through most of The Salt of the Earth are equally as provoking, with Salgado stating that his soul itself was sick in witnessing and achieving such tragedies. One moment, in which the poignancy of his work hits its peak, Salgado lambasts:
“We’re terrible animals, we humans. Whether in Europe, in Africa, in South America, everywhere, we are extremely violent. Our history is a history of wars. It’s an endless story, a story of repression, of madness.”
It’s difficult not to agree with his grim take on the human race.
But it’s through observing such tough images, which make the film’s final third feel (the creation of his humanitarian and landscape photo project genesis) so hopeful. Salgado’s replanting of trees may possibly distance some (it’s the kind of liberal idealism that is still looked at with scorn by a good many), and the film’s sedate pacing and still compositions may make new documentary viewers raised on more action fuelled affair bulk. But the heart of The Salt of the Earth is soulful, inspiring and distinctive purchase.
The Salt of the Earth is out on demand now.