Sebastião Salgado, Part 3: The Salt of the Earth

Juliano Salgado in Los Angeles.

Filmmaker Juliano Salgado in Los Angeles.

Sitting on the terrace outside his room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Juliano Salgado, son of Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, pulls down on his cigarette as the day turns to night and the Christmas lights below come to life. Juliano is only a few hours away from attending the IDA Awards, where he’ll represent the nominated feature documentary The Salt of the Earth, which he and Wim Wenders have made about Sebastião’s life and work. A few days before, the film was shortlisted by the Academy’s documentary-nominating committee; it has since been nominated in the Documentary Feature category.

Juliano has flown in from Berlin and is scheduled to leave the next day for São Paolo. Even on a tight schedule, he is meeting with me to discuss the film and how he, an experienced documentarian himself, and Wim Wenders had worked together to bring his father’s life and work to an audience that knew the photographer mainly through his powerful, often disturbing images — or those who did not know his work at all.

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Sebastião Salgado, Part 2: Genesis

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Midway through a scene in the documentary The Spectre of Hope, Sebastião Salgado explains to John Berger that the near 350 photographs in Salgado’s book Migrations represent little more than one second of actual time. This is premised on an average exposure of about 1/250th of a second, yet Salgado says this single second of life as captured with clicks of the camera shutter “tells the story of what is going on in the planet” and poses the question, “Why am I being hurt?” — echoing the Simone Weil quote Berger had read earlier in their conversation.

This “hurt” is also the result of unimaginable psychic pain as it bore down on Salgado as he photographed famine, war, endemic poverty and genocide in Rwanda and in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. This visual catalog of unrest and privation around the world in the final decades of the 20th century evoked in Salgado’s soul a pain that forced him finally to return to Brazil to heal his body and spirit by restoring his family’s devastated farmland. He and his wife, Lélia, came to call this project “Instituto Terra”; it was a return to his roots and the embrace of his aged father.

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Sebastião Salgado, Part 1: The Spectre of Hope

Sebastiao Salgado

Sebastião Salgado

During the seemingly endless wars and humanitarian crises of recent decades, some “conflict” photographers have been accused of exploiting their helpless subjects, of purveying “poverty porn.” Doubtless, there are NGOs and other aid organizations that have found photographs of starving children and displaced people to be useful tools in their fundraising. Much of this photographic genre is merely serviceable imagery, but some of it, including the work of James Nachtwey and Sebastião Salgado, is not only closely observed and deeply emotional, but also representative of the highest aesthetic level of photographic art. And there’s the rub!

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John Adams and The Death of Klinghoffer: Protests at the Met

John Adams

John Adams

Police barricades, yelling demonstrators, hectoring politicians and bitter press harangues — and all this after settling a summertime labor dispute with IATSE Local 1? No, this is not how the world’s greatest opera house, the Metropolitan Opera, expected to stage its 2014-2015 season.

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Godard and Goodbye to Language

Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc Godard, pixelated

Only a few ripples remain. When the critic-filmmakers of the New Wave surged against the ramparts of the French “Tradition of Quality,” sweeping away in Cahiers du Cinema the detritus of many post World War II movies, they introduced a revitalized Gallic cinematic spirit, an élan as fresh as when Gance, Delluc, Epstein, Pagnol, Cocteau, Vigo, Clair, Renoir and Carne made French cinema an artistic equal of Hollywood in the 1920s and ’30s.

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Lech Majewski Meets Bruegel on the Way to Calvary

Bruegel's Way to Calvary

Bruegel’s Way to Calvary

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According to art historians Giovanni Arpino and Piero Bianconi, there are more than 500 figures in the painting — that is, in addition to 40 horses, 20 birds and at least eight dogs. The oil panel is not small; Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s second largest work, Way to Calvary, measures about 4’ by 5½’. That’s a lot of life to cram onto a wooden board. Yet, except for a few clusters of silhouetted figures in the deep distance, every one of Bruegel’s people is an individual, and every expression, gesture and activity its own cog in the great mill wheel of life.

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Freddie Francis and The Innocents

Freddie Francis and a Mitchell BNC

Freddie Francis with a Mitchell BNC.

On the evening of March 26, 1990, cinematographer/director Freddie Francis made a brief but noteworthy speech on accepting his Academy Award for Glory. After a quick mention of producer Freddie Fields and director Ed Zwick, he said, “I’m only going to pick out one guy to thank, and that’s my wonderful operator, Gordon Hayman.” (Hayman’s name had been left off the film’s credits. He operated for Francis frequently from The French Lieutenant’s Woman to The Straight Story, Francis’ last assignment.)

From left: Francis, director Jack Clayton and camera operator Gordon Hayman on set for THE INNOCENTS.

The Innocents. From left: Director Jack Clayton, camera operator Ronnie Taylor and Freddie Francis.

The 72-year-old cinematographer concluded with, “And we’re available from September.” Both sentences were typical of the generous and indefatigable man who, though widely known as one of the greatest English cinematographers, also directed nearly two dozen features (plus television) between 1962 and 1989.

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Stop, Go, Stop, Go: Rob Whitworth and Time Lapse

Rob Whitworth's equipment

Rob Whitworth’s equipment

Passport? Check. Sneakers? Check? Ramen and espresso maker? Check. Oh, and a couple of Nikons with prime and zoom lenses, a tripod, the all-important ND filters for extended exposures, and a laptop loaded with After Effects.

Shanghai based time-lapse filmmaker Rob Whitworth is ready to hop on a plane to any of the world’s capital cities and take you on a dazzling tour of its vistas and the intricate patterns of its frenetic people and traffic.

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Mark Harris: Five Came Back

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Unlike 405,399 of their fellow American servicemen (according to the Department of Veterans Affairs), John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra did return from the trauma of the Second World War. But they were, like all of the “greatest generation” soldiers, profoundly changed by the experience.

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A View from the Blog

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A few weeks ago, I received a gracious comment from Austrian photographer Reiner Riedler on my recent post about his photographs of motion-picture print reels. I was disappointed that I had been unable to contact him directly for an interview because interviewing artists for these essays has been one of the payoffs of the writing.

Photo by Reiner Riedler

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