Sebastião Salgado’s Salt of the Earth

I just watched for the third time the inspiring photo-documentary, Salt of the Earth by legendary Brazilian monochrome photographer, Sebastião Salgado.

Here’s the trailer on YouTube.

Most of the documentary is of close-ups of Salgado’s face as he looks through images throughout his career. In this minimalist approach, he proceeds to open his soul (in French) to the audience about his work. It’s really powerful.

He explains why he decided to be a travel photographer…having initially fled his native Brazil during the military dictatorship of the 1960s to Paris to work as a World Bank economist. His economist work took him to Africa when he started capturing the natives and soon gave up on his career as an economist.

Pain and Suffering

At times, it’s a difficult documentary to watch due to close ups of suffering, pain and environmental destruction in deprived parts of the world, namely the Congo, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kuwait (1991). It’s interesting the way he explains how photographing such misery was formative to shape who he is today – more on this later.

Copyright: Sebastião Salgado

Paying tributes to natives

At other times, it feels anthropological as he pays tributes to the natives of Central & South America and Papua New Guinea. It’s shot beautifully as he seems to build rapport with the natives almost effortlessly.

Copyright: Sebastião Salgado
Copyright: Sebastião Salgado

Hope and a return to a simpler time

Humanity can be cruel and Salgado explains how he just couldn’t take all the pain and suffering any longer. He decided to devote his energies to going back to the basics, hence the title of his latest book, Genesis. He travelled far and wide to over 100 countries.

“Genesis is a quest for the world as it was, as it was formed, as it evolved, as it existed for millennia before modern life accelerated and began distancing us from the very essence of our being. It is testimony that our planet still harbors vast and remote regions where nature reigns in silent and pristine majesty” – Lélia Wanick Salgado

Copyright: Sebastião Salgado
Copyright: Sebastião Salgado

I don’t want to give too much away as I hope you watch it, as it carries a beautiful universal message of anger, destruction and finally hope.

How Salgado’s work has personally influenced me

For many people who may be stuck in careers that just don’t feel right, the pull towards doing something worthwhile & creative, albeit financially risky, is too strong. As mentioned earlier, Salgado quit his lucrative career as an economist to pursue a job as a photographer and never looked back.

I can certainly relate to Salgado, as I studied law and worked in various legal firms and in-house but never finding my true calling as a lawyer, although it has helped me tremendously in terms of writing. It’s clear that I’m much more drawn to being a travel photographer, even if it goes against the grain of what society “expects”.

Artistically, I’ve been influenced by Salgado’s style, as I aim to capture the essence of humanity. This can be difficult in stock photography as it’s less to do with emotion and more to do with technicals. That’s why I prefer to shoot fine art photography and editorials and it’s a nice way to diversify as a photographer.

Although I’m only at the beginning of my career, here’s some of my fine art / editorial work that may resemble some of Salgado’s style. I say this as humbly as I can. What do you think?

Fishermen at Lake Garlate, Italy
Copacabana at sunrise with fishermen
Copacabana, Brazil
Charity work in Quito, Ecuador
Quito, Ecuador
Refugees in Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

Hope you get a chance to watch this fantastic documentary and until next time!

Alexandre Rotenberg

Travel & Fine Art Photographer






One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.