Photographer Sebastião Salgado, filmed by Wim Wenders

This video is called The Salt of the Earth / Le Sel de la terre (2014) – Trailer English Subs.

On 1 January 2015, I saw the film The Salt of the Earth.

The subject of this film by director Wim Wenders is Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado.

Salgado was born in a ranching family. His father wanted him to study law. He did not like that, and switched to studying economics. After a few years of work as an economist, he decided that he really wanted to be a photographer.

Meanwhile, he had fled from the brutal dictatorship ruling Brazil then. He traveled to many countries, making ‘social photography’ about humans and their lives.

Sebastião Salgado saw human beings during terrible circumstances: during wars. In Croatia, Salgado tells, nationalist paramilitaries killed many Serbs in the Krajina region and made many others refugees. In Bosnia, there was violence against Muslim civilians. Then, the horrors of genocide in Rwanda.

The deaths, and more deaths, became too much for Salgado. How could he continue to make photographs? His father’s ranch provided the answer. When Sebastião had been a child, large parts of it were Atlantic forest. Water, birds, and other animals everywhere.

Now, decades later, erosion had destroyed much. Sebastião’s father deplored the erosion, but did not know what to do against it. Then, Sebastião’s wife inspired her husband to start re-planting many Atlantic forest trees in the soil which had dried out.

The ranch became Instituto Terra; now a national park. Over a million new trees were planted. Water springs returned. Birds returned. Even jaguars returned.

This 2012 video says about itself:

Instituto Terra is a civil non-profit organization, founded in 1998 by Mrs. Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado and Mr. Sebastião Salgado, headquartered at the Bulcão Farm, in Aimorés, State of Minas Gerais, in Brazil, that intends to promote, facilitate and support programs and activities of fostering ecologically sustainable development by recovering, conserving, and correctly using natural resources. Following this purpose, Instituto Terra has been operating in four areas: environmental recovery, environmental education, nursery, and the encouragement of sustainable rural development.

The success of Instituto Terra inspired Salgado to photograph again. This time, many landscape and wildlife photographs. Eg, the film shows him making walrus photographs on Wrangel island in Arctic Siberia.

4 thoughts on “Photographer Sebastião Salgado, filmed by Wim Wenders

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  3. Tuesday 3rd January 2016

    posted by Morning Star in Arts

    Sebastiao Salgado’s photographs are a haunting reminder of the environmental destruction wreaked by the 1991 Gulf war, says BEN COWLES

    Sebastiao Salgado
    Kuwait: A Desert on Fire
    (Taschen, £44.99)

    IN APRIL 1991, photographer Sebastiao Salgado was commissioned by the New York Times to go to Kuwait and document the hundreds of oil wells set alight by Saddam Hussein’s army as it retreated back over the Iraqi border.

    Crossing into the country from Saudi Arabia in a rented 4×4, Salgado says that he simply drove towards “the densest clouds of black smoke.”

    Some of the results of that mission can be seen in Kuwait: A Desert on Fire, a collection of 83 hauntingly beautiful black-and-white photographs taken at some risk to Salgado himself — conditions were so extreme that his smallest camera lens warped.

    They centre on “the few hundred fearless men from a handful of nations who brought courage and talent and risked lives and limbs to halt one of the worst environmental catastrophes in recent memory.”

    Salgado says that his images have “a timeless quality to them” and his work more than proves him right. Shooting in black and white tends to give any photograph a veneer of history but Salgado is a master of his craft and there’s much more to his shots than that.

    In many of the pictures the men — garbed in helmets, boots and overalls — are covered head to foot in oil, mud or both as they struggle to stay on their feet.

    Their exhausted and dejected expressions as they try to stem the flow from broken pipes evokes images of the men and boys mercilessly sent to their deaths in the trenches of the first world war.

    Danger abounds in these images. In one, a man walks past an apocalyptical 40-foot fire reminiscent of the Hiroshima mushroom cloud and there was a risk, Salgado says, that the metal tools that they were using on the metal wellheads could produce a spark that would relight the fires.

    His photographs are at their most effective when they capture the concentration in the eyes of the men as they go about their dangerous work. In one, he captures the wry smile of one of the workers as he picks himself up after falling on his arse.

    It’s images like these which sublimely portray the camaraderie that exists between truly heroic workers.

    In his renowned collection of essays The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, philosopher and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard points out that the Gulf war was misnamed. It was an atrocity masquerading as a war and the only media coverage we actually saw was a stylised and selective misrepresentation of what a conflict actually looks like.

    Twenty-five years later, it’s a welcome surprise to see such poignant photographs of the environmental tragedy caused by the first Gulf war at all.


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