By Norika Sefa
I marvel at what my eyes show me and at what I allow them to see. The stunning visuals captured by the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado will likely feel alien to most of us, as he shows the world unimaginable horrors and fosters hatred and pain about the human being. Ambiguity. Life and death separated by a thin thread. A visual ode to the photographer whose photos raise awareness about the violence and the brutality is too vast, too close, too epic and the misfortune has an eternal dimension portrayed by his lens. Fear. I see a small hand thinner than the stem close to it, empty eyes and bodies in which it appears that the light will just penetrate. The visuals appear strangely real. Sebastiao’s use of shades, light and space made something more than a photo. It makes me feel like I was there when it was taken. Aware.
A documentary by Juliano Ribeiro Salgadoand Wim Wenders, The Salt of the Earth witnesses some of the major events of our recent history—international conflicts, starvation and exodus—through Salgados’ work. The extraordinary life of Salgado associates him with the Odyssey and his journey as a similarly epic travelogue of our time. Salgado spent many years traveling and went to 34 countries, took part in wars and conflicts, meeting thousands of people and turning their fates into a mythical glory. If photography is a need to make immortal the mortal, Salgado captured people living through death. His immense collection of work is devoted to the world’s most dispossessed and unknown, and his camera “looked into the heart of darkness” like Salt of the Earth itself, which begins with brighter photos before proceeding to very dark ones: it does not unfold chronologically.
The movie starts with rich and complex black-and-whiteimages, very composed and conceptualized. From one-person photos we get through some more spontaneous events, massive groups of people; deeply inviting us to feel the sufferings, misfortunes, the horror. It gradually becomes more difficult to digest all this. So the audience feels the mental load as much as Salgado was feeling in that point of his journey. The longer I let these images sink in, the closer I feel to the persons and I did so because I was willing to experience them. I’m always watching those stills by having Salgado in my mind. This was unavoidable. It’s fascinating to hear Salgado discuss the emotions he felt while shooting in this vast historical landscape.
The movie is more about this great, powerful man, this brave and smart photographer who was able to catch this unknown world more than the world itself. It is always about the photography and its composition, the lighting and the action within those. Sometimes the photos made me think more of their beauty than the issue those were portraying. There was never a comment on Salgado’s working methods, first steps, the artistic influences and relation to the other photographers. The movie wanted to portray him as a “goddess” and not describing his ordinary days: Salgado, explorer of deprived communities. A job that unavoidably left him psychologically scarred by the horrific misery he witnessed and recorded. He lived totally inside of the photography and that’s why Wenders projected the master’s photographs onto a semi-transparent mirror so we could see him too.
Salgado discovered much of the body, life, death, nature. He saw too much death that he was basically dying. He stopped and came back to his grandparents land and it was dead as him. In 1998, they succeeded in turning this land into a nature reserve and created the Instituto Terra, an institute dedicated to conservation and environmental education. Salgado got the camera again, and began his latest project, Genesis, in which his masterful lens is now trained on the splendour and diversity of the natural world. In this project he is not alone, being followed by his son, the fist time we feel the presence of the him as a director, who kind of gets between, gradually displacing us from Salgado’s head and feeling he will walk away and move on. The film should not be missed by lovers of photography or anyone with an interest in the rousing highs and crushing lows of the human condition.