Cannes 2014: Photos That Inspire in Wim Wenders' 'Salt of the Earth'
by Alex Billington
May 27, 2014
We live on a remarkably beautiful planet, filled with diverse man-made and natural creations, spanning all corners of the world. From lush rain forests to massive deserts to extraordinary mountain ranges to epic landscapes of every kind. In the documentary The Salt of the Earth, filmmaker Wim Wenders connects with legendary photographer Sebastião Salgado, and explores the world with him by telling the story of his life, growing up in Brazil, eventually photographing the atrocities of humanity as well as the remarkable splendor of this world. Take a deep breath, sit back, and let this man's incredible images and story wow you.
Born and raised in Brazil, Salgado is a photographer whose photos you have mostly likely seen at some point in your life (see some of his work here). He started out in black & white, capturing many images of the brutality, bravery, intensity and tenacity of humanity, from international conflicts to starvation and exodus. Over the years he took on the job as a free-spirited photojournalist, traveling around the planet for years at a time to document our world at its best, and worst. After photographing people and humanity for so many years, he eventually began to document the planet itself, realizing he could make a difference, one tree at a time, after watching men destroy so much of the natural beauty that surrounds us. Or once surrounded us.
Told thoughtfully by a talented Wim Wenders, Salt of the Earth briefly explores the upbringing and origins of Sebastião Salgado, before diving into his photography and experiences in life. Those who may not be already familiar with Salgado are given a chance to meet him and understand his motivations, while also getting a stunning glimpse at his work, and what makes him such a photography legend. What impressed me the most about the doc is how patient it is, demanding that the audience sit still, breathe slowly, soak up and appreciate the imagery being shown to them. Even the horrific images he's captured of famine and genocide contain some beauty - the remarkable determination of human beings. A testament to his work.
It's not only mesmerizing to watch and awe-inspiring to see his photos, but the film has plenty of levity and jovial moments as expressed by the alluring Saldago himself, captured by his son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (credited as co-director with Wenders). Salgado opens himself up and establishes his legacy through this documentary, showing us how and why he was able to document history so exquisitely, in turn inspiring us to stop and look at the world around us rather than hurry from one event to the next with our eyes stuck to the ground. It's a very personal portrait yet at the same time a very broad and encompassing look at the world, the events that have shaped it, our history, even if no one was watching (except, of course, Saldago).
Where the film goes from entertaining to extraordinary is in the later half, when Salgado (after documenting so much human horror for so many years) shifts his focus to landscapes and the planet itself. The message by the end is very clear, and perhaps a bit heavy-handed: we can save our planet, restore the beauty we've destroyed, and protect the beauty that remains, if only we care enough and make a difference ourselves. We cannot just leave it in the hands of others, we cannot ignore it, we must address it, we must take care of it, and every single person is important to achieving this. It is quite refreshing to see a doc made with such an intimate care and concern, that also ends on a rather hopeful note. An inspiration to anyone, and everyone.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 8.8 out of 10