News / Visual Culture / Wim Wenders

A Tribute to Sebastião Salgado

The Salt of the Earth, Wim Wenders’ tribute to Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado – co-directed with Salgado’s son Juliano – has been nominated for best documentary feature at this year’s Academy Awards.

Wim Wenders, The Salt of the Earth, Oscar Nominated

The Salt of the Earth, Wim Wenders’ tribute to Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado – co-directed with Salgado’s son Juliano – has been nominated for best documentary feature at this year’s Academy Awards.

Visually stunning and lyrical, The Salt of the Earth­ – winner of the Special Jury Prize in Un Certain Regard at Cannes – is the third documentary Wim Wenders has had recognised in this category by the Academy, preceded by Pina and Buena Vista Social Club.

Published in August 2013, Wim Wenders and Mary Zournazi’s Inventing Peace considers the need to reinvent a visual and moral language for peace. For Wenders and Zournazi, Salgado’s visual fluency is an inspiration and a template for this. Here, taken from the book, Zournazi and Wenders pay tribute.

Mary Zournazi on Sebastião Salgado

Inventing PeaceIf we really look, every moment has potential to transform the violence that assaults us; herein lies the power of invention and choice we spoke of. Images of violence do not belong to another world or to the past, to remote places and events, they exist – a photograph becomes a ‘certificate of presence’. In many ways, it is not empathy that is required here nor even sympathy, but the connection with suffering, to be a ‘sincere’ witness for others. This witnessing does not put others at a distance, nor does it seek testimony, redemption or solution, rather it begs questions.

The photography of Sebastião Salgado touches the ‘duration’ we speak of; his photographs invite us to be with the child, mother, father, husband, wife, woman, man, son, daughter in the war zone or the refugee camp. Instead of remoteness and distance between others and ourselves in his photographs, there is a connection, something ‘pricks’ us as Barthes might say, wounds us in some way as we move together with others in their reality, not against it. His photographs demonstrate a great patience and love. With Salgado’s photographs, when a child or the mother looks at the camera, they are not seeking to identify with the existential question ‘Who am I?’ – rather they ask of us: ‘Who are you?’

Pictures of Peace by Wim Wenders

I’m more than impressed
with an effort by one of my favourite photographers on this planet,
Sebastião Salgado.
For decades he took pictures in all parts of the world,
of humankind’s suffering and labour,
of war and violence,
of greed and misery . . .
We all know his images.

But for the last ten years he has moved on to do the opposite:
to take pictures of our planet
where it is still like God created it.
(Which according to him
applies to more than a third of the Earth’s surface.)
GENESIS is the name of his project.
He visited remote tribes in the Amazon, in Africa or Papua New Guinea.
He saw landscapes that were never touched or travelled.
He photographed animals in the jungle and in Polar regions.
He took pictures of our planet
as if he could have made them ‘in the beginning’ . . .
He is truly tapping into time’s memory bank.
His hope is
that these images of absolute peace
will help counterbalance the onslaught of negative imagery
that we are exposed to on a day-to-day basis.

Salgado’s work is in black and white.
For me that corresponds entirely to his mission.
Today, a black and white image is an abstraction from reality.
The world we constantly see is governed by violence and greed.
And it mostly presents itself in glorious colours.
The world Salgado shows us is ‘behind’ the familiar front.
His b/w images show the essence of things.
What IS and what will remain.
Yes, peace is largely invisible.
War always demands centre stage. ■

Visit inventing-peace.com for more details about the project.
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