Wenders Paints Powerful Portrait of Salgado in 'Salt'

By Zack, Jessica | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), May 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Wenders Paints Powerful Portrait of Salgado in 'Salt'


Zack, Jessica, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Wim Wenders remembers the first time he saw Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado's powerful black-and-white images in an art gallery more than 20 years ago. The exhibition included photos from Mr. Salgado's 1986 series of mud-covered workers in Brazil's teeming Serra Pelada gold mine, which are now considered among the most iconic images of the 20th century.

"I had no idea who took them. I thought, 'Whoever it is must be not only a great photographer but a great adventurer,'" Mr. Wenders says in his new film "The Salt of the Earth," a documentary ode to Mr. Salgado that was nominated for a feature documentary Oscar this year. "What I saw profoundly moved me. One thing I knew about this Salgado: He really cared about people."

Mr. Wenders ("Paris, Texas," "Buena Vista Social Club," "Pina") purchased two Salgado prints, including a haunting 1985 portrait of a blind Tuareg woman in Mali that still hangs above his desk at home. He also developed a deep curiosity about the man who took so many arrestingly beautiful portraits of people who were enduring horrifying circumstances - famine, war, displacement.

Finally, in Paris in the summer of 2009, Mr. Wenders had the opportunity to meet Mr. Salgado, now 71. The two men developed a friendship and fruitful artistic dialogue over many hours of discussing Mr. Salgado's work, which prompted the "idea that we make something together," said Mr. Wenders during an interview after the "Salt of the Earth" screening at the Telluride Film Festival. "At first I thought it would just be a film about a photographer. Little did we know. It ended up being so much more."

Co-directed with Mr. Salgado's oldest son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, "The Salt of the Earth" is an illuminating documentary portrait of Mr. Salgado the artist, husband, father and journalistic witness to some of humanity's most devastating man- made tragedies of the last 40-plus years.

By showing numerous highlights from Mr. Salgado's prodigious body of work (which are especially dramatic seen on a large screen), the film makes clear how influential his reportage has been in drawing public attention to overlooked peoples, environments and atrocities in more than 100 countries: the severe 1973 drought in Niger; Ethiopia's mid-'80s famine and exodus of refugees to Sudan (where Mr. Salgado documented the largest refugee camp in history); war in Yugoslavia; Saddam Hussein's ignited Kuwaiti oilfields (which left Mr. Salgado partially deaf) and the bloody genocide in Rwanda and bordering Congo in the 1990s.

Originally trained as an economist who was headed for a career with the World Bank after leaving Brazil for Europe in 1969, Mr. Salgado does work informed by an understanding of the global market forces underlying human interactions and inequities.

"I wanted to find out who that man really was," says the younger Salgado, seated beside Mr. Wenders with a wide smile after the Telluride audience's enthusiastic reception of the film.

"He would travel and be away from home working for six to nine months a year," says Juliano, 40. His memories of staying home with his mother, Lelia (an ardent collaborator and promoter of her husband's portfolio), and younger brother, Rodrigo, who has Down syndrome, lend a grounded poignancy to the film subject's unquestionably towering achievements. …

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