Art & Photography / Who, What, Why

The Salt of the Earth

A new documentary pays tribute to the life and career of Sebastião Salgado, one of the world’s most respected photojournalists

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Photography by Sebastião Salgado

Who? Over his extraordinary 40-year career, Brazilian-born photographer Sebastião Salgado has crossed continents, from native South America to Africa and Eastern Europe, silently documenting the lives of the people he met. A trained economist, Salgado turned to photography after relocating to Paris in the 1970s. A major exponent of ‘concerned photography’, Salgado took in wars, suffering, famine, genocides and exodus, putting himself through death, insanity and diseases but also discovering beauty, hope and pristine lands as part of his lifelong photographic mission.

What? Co-directed by Wim Wenders and the photographer’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, the interview-based documentary retraces the footsteps of humanity (the salt of the earth) through Salgado’s powerful and inspiring monochrome work. The film spans the anthills of avid miners in Serra Pelada, Brazil, the brutality of starvation in the African region of Sahel and the barbarous Rwandan massacres. It also explores Salgado's decade-long, primordial project Genesis, in which he lived with Indians and the Papuan people, as well as befriending sea lions, gorillas and whales. The Salt of the Earth is a spoken translation of Salgado’s pictorial love letter to the planet.

Why? Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, The Salt of the Earth is not only the story of an incredible artist, but also a portrait of humanity as a whole. It is a chance to meet the man behind the iconic images of some of the most significant events of recent times, while its contemplative cinematic approach gets us reflecting on the beauty that surrounds us. Salgado teaches us that, despite the fact that “we humans are terrible animals” and “our history is a history of war”, we’ve been gifted with something beautiful, the planet we live in, and his remarkable body of work goes past humanity in portraying the wonders of nature.

The Salt of the Earth is in cinemas now.

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