It’s almost worth going to the theater just to see the opening images captured by photographer Sebastião Salgado in “The Salt of the Earth.” Catalyzing the visual, Salgado says in a voiceover, “Not the sound of a single machine was heard. All you could hear was the babble of 50,000 people in one huge hole.”
Usually, photographers are hailed for the way they capture one face, maybe a few faces in a penetrating photo. As this Wim Wenders film boldly showcases, Salgado does up essences in individuals as well, but the photos opening the film connect with the entire history of so called civilization and routes Salgado’s dedicated tracking from there.
Through Salgado’s lens, history and presence and meaning isn’t in celebrity, glory, and buzz. Across his 40 years of photographic projects around the world, it’s about laborers and sufferers; it’s about the extremes in death and surviving. It’s also about remote, alternative pockets of living life.
The film declares that people are the salt of the earth. Whether you harken back to The Bible to inform the substance of that phrase or you react to the chemistry or economics of that phrase, this tribute to an artist’s gift and devotion owes everything to our one and multitudinous humanity.
After a compelling beginning and an almost bland unfolding of how Salgado reached his eventual calling, this documentary travels heavy, to say the least. His series of projects – each lasting years -- clearly deserve you challenging your humanity through the discomforts and glimmers he lays before you.
Wenders wisely portrays Salgado’s even keel and the strong bonds of partnership with his wife and with his son. As a child, the son saw very little of his father, but grew to work by his side and to become the co-director of this Oscar nominated documentary. You almost feel a pre-written arc in Salgado’s life, and relievingly the film farms a dedicated, tactically sound, cycle of hope that redoubles the reasons to partake of this experience.