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'Salt of the Earth' shares a photographer's fascinating and horrifying images of humanity
In "The Salt of the Earth," photographer Sebastio Salgado's life and work are examined by his son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, and by Wim Wenders. - photo by Josh Terry
Most of us carry around a compact camera that would outperform all but the best of the industrys digital options from only a few years ago. Social media and advancing technology have turned photography into an exciting and frightening field full of uncertainty.

We may all be photographers, but Sebastio Salgado is truly drawing with light. Directed by Salgados son Juliano and an admirer named Wim Wenders, The Salt of the Earth is a moving showcase for one of the worlds most accomplished artists.

The title refers to Salgados most cherished subject matter: humanity. With an emphasis on the third world, Salgado spent decades traveling the globe taking pictures of an astounding spectrum of people and places.

The results are challenging, inspiring and captivating, washed in bold blacks and whites and framed with powerful compositions.

Narrated by the photographer, The Salt of the Earth shares the birth of Salgados passion and traces it through his disgruntled and ultimately redeemed hope for humanity.

Raised on a farm in Brazil, Salgado eventually earned a college degree in economics and married a woman named Lelia. One day she brought home a camera, and Salgado discovered his passion.

The Salt of the Earth intercuts live footage from present day projects with a massive assortment of Salgados print work, which is so powerful that it masks the relatively routine style of the documentary itself. It traces chronologically through a series of ambitious photography projects that each took years to complete.

His first project centered on the other Americas and documented subjects in South and Central America. Later projects took him to Africa, where he encountered the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s and Rwandas genocide in the mid-1990s. Imagery from these projects highlights the humility and soul of ignored peoples, and often as in his photographs taken during the funeral of an infant in Brazil his work is troubling and bold.

The journey took an understandable toll on the artists spirit. It is challenging enough to see Salgados impoverished subjects on a movie screen; it must have been horrifying to have been there in person. In his voiceover narration, Salgado laments the number of times he had to set his camera down and cry over what he had witnessed.

On that note, audiences should be warned. The Salt of the Earth may be rated PG-13, but it can be a difficult film to watch. Salgados style as a photographer was unflinching, and the results are often heartbreaking.

(Audiences should also be aware that Salgados third-world subject matter leads to a lot of National Geographic-style nudity, both in stills and in his sons video coverage.)

In fact, Salgados photography is so immersive that audiences may miss what The Salt of the Earth isnt giving them. Salgados son hints that he barely knows his father thanks to his habit of wandering off on photographic adventures for months at a time. An expedition to the Arctic, filmed exclusively for the documentary, is Julianos first official adventure at his fathers side, but their father-son dynamic feels like an untapped topic.

The Salt of the Earth may showcase a wealth of Salgados work, but it doesnt answer some simple questions about it. Judging by the documentary, the artist worked exclusively in black and white, but Salgados commentary addresses his subject matter more than his style.

Nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar for 2014, The Salt of the Earth should be required viewing for anyone with a serious interest in photography, and it will move those without one. At times its depictions of suffering and death may be too much to handle but, if it helps, the films narrative arc ends on an upbeat note.

The Salt of the Earth is rated PG-13 for graphic imagery and nudity, as well as some profanity.
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