a documentary about the life and work of Sebastiao Selgado, photographer. It is not easy to look at the work of Sebastiao Salgado for extended periods of time. It forces one to examine workers treated as animals, migrations of people forced to relocate because of starvation, genocide, and drought, people in extreme duress for whom there is probably no future except painful death. Some of Salgado’s photography brings to mind the documentary shots of the Nazi concentration camps after the war was over: mass murder, barely recognizable humans so exhausted and desiccated and malnourished as to be skin and bones, the skeleton laid plain before you.
Salgado came of age during the idealistic period of the 1960s. Wim Wenders and Salgado’s son provide footage of him as a young man, with long blond hair and a beard, starting out as an economist from a middle class or even privileged background. He and his wife worked as a team once he decided to become a professional photographer, but Lelia stayed at home with the children while Sebastiao traveled the world, and took pictures of outstanding clarity and devastating power: the Serra Pelada gold mine in Brazil; famine in Ethiopia; native peoples rising up to claim land in South America; civil war in the Balkans. Later in the movie, the Salgados are shown at his father’s farm which had eroded and turned to dust. The photographer replanted millions of trees, and now intends to photograph the earth and its many beauties. It is hard to stare the ugly truth in the face your whole life. With Instituto Terra, Salgado’s early idealism has matured to include not only people but also what had seemed lost to him most personally: the land of his birth in Brazil. His wife Lelia as his partner, and his son filming alongside him, contribute mightily to the cause, making it a family business.