Wim Wenders like his contemporary Werner Herzog in recent years has devoted his time almost exclusively making documentaries. The latest is The Salt of the Earth which was nominated for an Academy Award last year. It’s about the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado whose son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado co-directs the film with Wenders.
Salgado’s work is undeniably beautiful, heartbreaking, insightful on the entire human condition from absolute desolation to more optimistic images. Salgado started out in economics and actually gained a master degree in economics. He worked for the International Coffee Organization and that’s where he started taking up photography, he was in his ’30s. Gradually he became a full-time photographer and is now considered by many to one of the most important photographers of the 20th and 21st Century.
Wenders in the beginning says he was deeply moved by one of the photos from Salgado’s Salz der Erde series. The film’s problem somewhat springs from Wenders’ infatuation with his subject. He never digs deep enough to get how the heartbreaking experiences has shaped Salgado’s worldview and it does end seems somewhat optimistic with his series depicting wildlife. The son for instance obviously loves his dad but he seems to have been a fairly absence father for most of his life but this is glossed over.
There are obvious ethical issues when it comes to Salgado’s photography and aspects of that are covered, for example one scene he describes how he couldn’t give some South American Aborigine’s his knife but could throw in out of his plane for them to find. I wish the documentary would have gone in discussing should you film totally desperation and desolation or is exploitation of these people. There is also the question if you see totally destruction and the pain people are suffering should you intervene but this topic is never discussed either.
Salgado has done a lot of good though, he is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has helped restore rain forests in Brazil amongst many other things.. I do wish Werner Herzog had got hold of Salgado because he would have asked the profound questions that would be interesting to hear Salgado’s responses. Wenders has made a achingly beautiful film mostly due to Salgado’s photography but it lacks the substance I would have preferred but the man is such a great talent and interesting person and his observations on his work are insightful.
Documentary | Germany,Portugal 2015 | 15 | Curzon Artificial Eye | Dir.Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders | Juliano Ribeiro Salgado | Buy: The Salt of the Earth DVD