Sebastiao Salgado, the renowned Brazilian sociopolitical photographer, is the subject of this emotionally harrowing documentary. The viewer witnesses photographs of heartbreaking gravity and human agony, both unprecedented and breathtaking. The 2014 Academy Award nominated The Salt of the Earth reveals Salgado’s masterpieces of portraiture, political journalism, landscape, and animals in a way that evokes strong feelings. A display of Ansel Adams this is not!
Perhaps the most startling experience in watching The Salt of the Earth is the beauty that is embedded in the tragic and cruel situations of his subjects. Here we see the evidence of his emotional response to what he photographs and frame by frame, in mostly black and white photos. Each black and white photograph is a meditation, not a representation and Salgado is keenly aware of this as he narrates each photographic series: “Workers”, “Exodus”, “Genesis”, and others.
The majority of The Salt of the Earth is extremely painful to watch–a testimony to violence, genocide, and holocausts beyond even the most grotesque of imaginations. Deeply affecting, this documentary visualizes the inhumane, abject conditions that much of the world’s population, particularly women and children, endure. The Salt of the Earth is a must-see. Courageous and compassionate, Salgado explains his photographs in elegant poetic form: “Our history is a history of wars. It’s an endless story, a tale of madness.” With soulful voice and unbelievably sad eyes, he is unflinching in reporting on the ugliness of human existence but also the beauty of those struggling to survive. The underbelly of human behavior is powerfully depicted, mostly in stark monochromatic photos, with the support of the extraordinary director Wim Wenders (of “Buena Vista Social Club” and “End of Violence” fame).
Anyone watching The Salt of the Earth will wonder how Salgado survived the horrors of what he witnessed,– the heart of darkness,– with his soul intact. “We humans are terrible animals” he says at one point. He himself confesses there were times when all he did was sob throughout the night. Photographing war and genocide may have brought Salgado to the edge of despair and insanity, but recently his projects have been redirected to renewing and restoring the planet.
Salgado is a living testimony to how art can be witness to truth. His photographs and experience, his “drawings in light”, The Salt of the Earth is unforgettable. You cannot but be moved by this film!
Note: Available on Netflix