Even if you think you don't know the photographs of Sebastião Salgado, you've probably seen them. In one of his most famous pictures, taken in the mid-1980s in Mali, a woman whose face is half-hidden by a dark, rough-textured cotton veil, her bearing as elegant as anything you'd see in fashion photography, appears to gaze off into the middle distance. But when you look closely, her left eye is clouded, obviously sightless. The image is both arresting and moving -- you want to stop short of calling it "beautiful," which implies patronization, objectification, and all other sorts of -ations that we've been schooled to avoid. But there's no way around it: This is a stunning photograph, complex in all the ways that true beauty can often be.
We see that photograph, and many more, in Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado's bracing documentary The Salt of the Earth, which covers Sebastião Salgado's globetrotting career from its beginning, in the 1970s, to the present day. Juliano is Sebastião's son, and the affection and respect between them is implicit in the film's tone. Juliano and Wenders have fashioned their own marvelously detailed portrait of a man and an artist whose compassion has informed his way of looking.
Whether Salgado was photographing mud-covered workers at a Brazilian gold mine in the 1980s or documenting even greater horrors in the midst of the Rwandan genocide, his work stands as a record of many, many situations and events we'd rather turn away from -- and yet, through his camera lens, he coaxes us to look.