French-Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado came to the attention of director Wim Wenders (Buena Vista Social Club, Pina) through a photograph of a blind Malian woman. Her face partly shrouded by a head covering, her exposed eye looks like a faceted jewel—not ugly, but strange and beautiful. In his narration, Wenders, who bought a print, says it still moves him deeply.
That exchange led to a friendship, which led to this Oscar-nominated documentary. Wenders and codirector Juliano Salgado, Sebastião’s son, track his career from social photography to nature photography in an uncritical portrait filled with majestic, painterly images.
Aside from his formidable technical skills, Salgado, a former economist, appears to have the patience of a saint, since all of his projects have taken years, including the reforestation of his grandfather’s Brazilian farmland.
Wenders never mentions money, even though some of Salgado's books sell for as much as $10,000, but the man has spent most of his life photographing the world’s poorest people, so it’s hard not to wonder if he ever felt guilty that he had so much when they had so little, or maybe he thinks of himself more as an altruist than an artist, since he’s helped to share their plight with the world. The matter goes unaddressed, which leaves this stunning-looking film feeling a little incomplete.