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Thursday, 13 August 2015
Salt of the Earth
Salt of the Earth
is a documentary on the life and work of Brazilian photographer Sebastião
Salgado. German film-maker Wim Wenders co-directed it with Salgado's son Juliano. I saw it at the French Institute's Ciné Lumière in London.
The Salt of the Earth title refers to humanity. During an award-winning career, Salgada has recorded some of the world's major events with his camera. The film shows many of his still photographs in black and white. The images are both stark and powerful.
Brazilian gold mine
The documentary opens with a blank screen. Then, you see yourself
looking down over a large, open-cast gold mine in Brazil. The miners resemble
ants. It looks like Hell on Earth - yet that experience is saved for later in
the film. The miners at least had the hope a rich seam of gold, as they
carried their sacks of mud up ladders in a fast, steep climb.
One of the most touching early scenes was set in North East
Brazil. Infant mortality rates are high. Death is part of everyday life. Coffins-to-rent are lined up against the wall alongside fruit and
vegetables for the living. If a child dies unbaptised its eyes are left open.
They hope that it will still find the way from Limbo to Heaven.
Juliano speaks of his father as a sort of superhero, who came
and went on his photographic adventures throughout much of his childhood. He
relished the chance to accompany his father. Together they go to the Arctic to photograph walruses
and polar bears. Here, we also see some of the boredom and frustration at
having to wait around for the desired shot and composition - never mind the
discomfort of having to roll over hard pebbles to ultimately get close enough
Salgado captures the human spirit battling against
seemingly impossible odds. In Kuwait, we see the burning oil wells in 1991. He captures
the spirit of Canadian fireman still polishing up their fire engine at the end
of a long, exhausting day - even though they know it will be covered with oil
and dirt again in the morning. He shows the Kuwaiti royal family's thoroughbred
horses driven mad by being left behind, trapped.
We see famine in Africa. A father carries his son only for him to die as they reach the doctor. Salgado shows others who survive, but whose lives and health will still be blighted by the experience.
The most powerful shots are of the Rwandan refugees fleeing
genocide. Salgado captures many traumatised souls in his lens on their trek between
Rwanda and DRC. 210,000 did not make it. Those that did were sent back. He
speaks of having to lay down his camera at times in tears. Some pictures
are unbearable. He saw the real scenes in motion with his own eyes. He says:
"We [...] didn't deserve to live; no-one deserved to live. When I left there
I no longer believed in anything".
Rebirth in Brazil
After the Hell on Earth that was Rwanda, Salgado said he
felt sick without being physically sick. It was his wife Léila who raised the
family morale. They replanted trees on the barren slopes of the once green family
farm. She started something that others copied. The forest and its animals
Together the Salgados created the Instituto Terra. Today,
it serves as a testament to the power of the human spirit and nature to recover.
Karen Andrews runs Anglicity Ltd. She is an entrepreneurial French to English translator, editor, content writer and marketing consultant. Contact email@example.com for further information on Anglicity's services.