THE SALT OF THE EARTH [Wim Wenders & Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, 2014]


The technical perfection of composition and tone in Sebastião Salgado’s exquisitely crafted images inspire wonder, but more importantly they also have the power to touch our very core – to elicit empathy, and to stir up an almost overpowering sense of sadness, even despair, in response to the stories being told.

This documentary wisely gives us time to look carefully at the photographs, accompanied by the soft, gentle voice of Salgado himself, telling their story. At times his face appears like a reflection in the image, as he too looks again at his work and shares with us the memories evoked.

The face, the voice, the images – they all reveal a deep compassion and humanity. Salgado’s work doesn’t feel voyeuristic; the images don’t exploit, but bear witness.

After so many years documenting the cruelty of humankind, it is no surprise that the photographer succumbed to hopelessness. “We are a ferocious animal. We humans are terrible animals. Our history is a history of wars. It’s an endless story, a tale of madness.”

Yet the film finishes on an optimistic note. Salgado and his wife Lélia return to the family ranch and put in place a staggeringly ambitious project to reverse the “destruction of nature” that has stripped the land of vegetation. They succeed in planting 2.5 million trees and creating a revitalised ecosystem teaming with life.

It’s a welcome message of hope on which to end the film.

There is not time for the film to properly deal with some of the fascinating people in Salgado’s life, such as his father and above all his wife. However, I like the fact that you are left wanting to know more; that there are other stories waiting to be told.

A deeply moving film.