The Salt of the Earth (France and Brazil, 2014) is the best artistic and deeply political film I have seen in a long time. It is a biographical documentary of the life and work of Sebastião Salgado the legendary Brazilian social photographer. Directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, it has won many honors and awards. Salgado defines his work as "militant photography" dedicated to "the best comprehension of man." More than any other living photographer, Sebastiao Salgado's images of the world's poor stand in tribute to the human condition, from famine-stricken refugees in the Sahel to the indigenous peoples of South America. Mastering the monochrome with an extreme deftness to rival the virtuoso Ansel Adams, Salgado brings black-and-white photography to a new dimension; the tonal variations in his works, the contrasts of light and dark, recall the works of Old Masters such as Rembrandt and Georges de La Tour.
With Lélia’s encouragement Salgado decided to become a social photographer. Thus began a 40 year journey of a world class social photography as the couple worked as a team. Together they developed projects that sometimes took ten years to complete. Lélia stayed behind to work and to raise their son Juilano while Salgado spent years in far away places getting to know his subjects and taking photos. Once in a while he would return home to be with his family and complete working on his photographs. The results appeared in many photographic exhibits and magnificent books including the following:
- An Uncertain Grace, 1990, with Fred Ritchin about gold miners in Brazil.
- Terra: Struggle of Landless, 1998, about landless peasants in Brazil.
- Migration, 2000, about mass migrations around the globe and their causes.
- The Children: Refugees and Migrants, 2000, portrays children under the age of 15 from Mozambique, Rwanda, Croatia, Burundi, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Brazil, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, Angola, and other countries who will bear the burden of an uncertain future.
- Sahel: The End of the Road, 2004, about the drought-stricken Sahel region of Africa in Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, and Sudan, where approximately one million people died from extreme malnutrition and related causes.
- Workers, 2005, about enduring spirit of working men and women.
- Africa, 2007, portrays war, poverty, disease, and hostile climatic conditions.
- Geneis, 2013, placing humans in their ecological context.
Towards the end of the documentary Salgado confesses that decades of witnessing human brutality and human misery has him give up on the human species. He exclaims: “Our species will die off. It deserves to die.” (I am paraphrasing)
However, when his father died Salgado inherits the childhood farm he grew up on except it has now become so degraded that it is essentially barren. Salgado misses the spring that ran through part of this land and the tropical forest that made running water a possibility.
Again, after discussions with Lélia they jointly undertake to revive the old forest. They planted 1.5 million trees creating new forest. The springs came back flowing. Salgado found new hope in reviving humanity through reviving nature. The husband and wife turned the farm and revived forest into public land trust for educational purpose as an example of what can be done to repair damages done by humans to the planet.
The Salt of the Earth touches our heart and mind and ends up inspiring us to rejuvenate our environment so brutally destroyed as a way to regain our humanity.