In 2013, when Sebastiao Salgado’s ‘Genesis’ photo exhibition was premiered in the Natural History Museum in London, I had the urge to fly into London just to see the exhibition. Such was the draw of a photographer who seemed to me both adventurer and artist, a winning combination of a dream life. It would have been extravagant for me to make that trip to London. Fortunately a year later, the ‘Genesis’ exhibition travelled to Singapore and I got to see them in the National Museum.
The 2014 film ‘The Salt of the Earth’ is about Salgado and the extraordinary images that he has captured throughout 40 years. Some of the most stunning and seemingly unbelievable images are that of the Serra Pelada goldmines of Brazil where swarms of people climb up ladders in ant like fashion – these photographs froze in time the height and madness of the gold rush. In the photographer’s own words, “when I reached the edge of that enormous hole, in a split second I saw unfolding before me the history of mankind. The building of the pyramids, the Tower of Babel, the mines of King Solomon”.
Salgado built his career and name as a social photographer: his photos of war, grief, poverty and suffering brought the world’s attention to these plights. These are not photographs that are easy to see. What goes through a person’s mind when thrusted upon with the sight of cholera, corpses and genocide in 1980s-90s Africa? A photographer isn’t just an image-maker, he or she is also a story teller, a quality which Salgado also demonstrated through his compassionate narration in the film. And yet the photographer’s job requires the unflinching steely clicks of the camera to tell the story as it is.
The ‘Genesis’ series remain my favourite: these photographs take us to the Galapagos islands (once my dream islands!), the paw of a Galapagos iguana that reminds me of a sequined ladies’ glove, the human-like penguin colonies in the Antarctic, the eye of a whale peeking out from her oceanic home, the depths of the Amazonian jungle with polyandry ladies of the Zo’e tribe and more. The photographs remind us of our pristine natural world. And in my case, sowing more (if that’s even possible) seeds of wanderlust.
I just watched this film today at a film festival and I highly recommend it!