Monday, June 1, 2015

Salt of the Earth (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Salt of the Earth

The uncompromising Wim Wenders offers a portrait of Sebastiao Salgado in "Salt of the Earth" about the eccentric photographer. The film, a memoir of Salgado's travels, both mental and physical, is just as much his film as it is Wenders'.

Salgado is a restless explorer, not just of other cultures and lands but also the human heart.

While studying economics in Paris, Salgado receives a gift of a camera from his wife, Lelia. From that point on, Salgado becomes a clicking juggernaut, capturing everything.

After traveling to Africa for the World Bank photography consumes him.  

He became first known for his work highlighting workers in Brazil, toiling on a huge mountain, mining for the possibility of gold. Those photographs reminiscent of Dante's Inferno, pushed Salgado closer to notoriety.  Talking Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison chose the splendid image for a jacket cover on his solo album Casual Gods. Showing the immense panorama of man rippling in tension, the figures can be seen both as tiny titans wrestling with incredible weight and insects rolling and roiling in combat against a great ashen fire.

Salgado's perspective has an immediate power, giving a direct reflection as if an extraterrestrial was given a lens to show a far-away planet. In Oaxaca, a resident tells Salgado that he was sent back in time by Christ himself to report back to Heaven. Indeed, many of Salgado's works seem to feature men coated in silver, in some ways resembling starry laments and in others, harbingers of hell-fire and apocalypse. Whatever the subject, from flowered infants sleeping in their tiny coffins and men shellacked in oil resembling pestilential astronauts, or even a monitor on the rocks of Galapagos whose scaly paw looks like the hand of a lost knight without his chalice,  one can immediately recognize a Salgado work as an otherworldly valentine to a far-away planet, that is, in actuality, our melancholy Earth.

This memoir in film is numbing, beautiful and very hard to watch with its shots of corpses, frozen and still, transformed in death to become tiny alien mummies, or doll-like vessels that grimace in Death.

After many of these images, Salgado became ill. As he says, his soul became sick.

In recent years, Salgado has worked on ecology, both in his life and his art as two degrees in the same orbit. In documenting a kind of netherworld of our own suffering, he has moved back in time to show us what nirvanas we can yet achieve, given proper thought.

Above all else, as a photographer and explorer, of both the heart and the head of the animal Man, Sebastiao Salgado is a surrealist. In his spaced out, yet haunting and confrontational portraits, this one man pulls back our terrestrial curtain to reveal, as Paul Eluard once said "the hidden world that exists within this one".

The final trick of "Salt of the Earth" is that director Wim Wenders becomes so absorbed into the lens of Sebastiao Salgado as to become indistinguishable from his subject. Voila!

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