There are few photographers more worthy of feature-length documentary treatment than Brazilian social photographer Sebastião Salgado, just as there are few filmmakers quite so gifted in the documentary craft as German director Wim Wenders. Add to this exceptional pairing the personal documentary work of the photographer’s son, Juliano Salgado, and you’ve got more than enough ingredients to make TheSalt of the Earth an incomparable cinema experience.
The film opens on one of Salgado’s most well known series of images, a nightmarish overview of the Serra Pelada gold mine in Brazil, the surroundings almost completely blocked out by scores of dishevelled workers packed shoulder to shoulder. These images, part of the photographer’s wider Workers series, were well publicised and likely familiar to the viewer – but to hear Salgado recall his personal experiences and feelings on location, his eyes scanning the images and teasing out personal narratives, puts the photos on an entirely more personal level.
Sebastião Salgado, Serra Pelada, State of Para, Brazil, 1986
Captured in the documentarian’s hallmark gritty monochrome, scale and detail observed with exacting technical eloquence, the workers of the mine look like broken-down slaves; the artist likens them to the dehumanised masses used to build the pyramids and other grand tributes to human achievement. But, as Salgado notes, the only thing these people were slaves to was the idea of getting rich. Whenever a vein of gold was struck the workers in that area of the mine could take one excavated sack with them – it might contain enough gold that they never had to work again, or it could be nothing but rock.
Insights of this kind are brought to every chapter of the man’s storied career – from unlikely beginnings as an economist to his visual explorations of South America, bearing witness to the devastating damage of famine in Africa to documenting the plight of workers the world over, and following the mass migration of displaced people around the globe. Being privy to the great photographer’s emotional workings on these journeys enriches the visuals greatly, almost intolerably in some of the most grim cases. Where there was never any doubt of Salgado’s visual mastery, it is his deep empathy and compassionate spirit that truly make the film soar.
For his part, Wenders has come up with an ingenious visual device to help the photographer narrate his images without resorting to the momentum-killing talking head format. The photos are projected onto some sort of semi-transparent mirror surface, allowing the director to film both the photos and his subject peering at the images – Salgado will occasionally lean forward, head intruding through the image on screen, eyes scanning the picture, before he leans back to share another recollection, the image once again unobstructed to the viewer. It invests the footage with an immediacy and interactive energy that you seldom get with this type of documentary.
We go with Salgado pictorially as he journeys through the world and witnesses some of the most devastating and soul-destroying events of the late 20th and early 21st century – war, poverty, deprivation, disease, violence, massacres, hate. The images themselves are incredibly hard going, and the stories that accompanying them are simply heartbreaking. It’s impossible not to empathise with the photographer as he walks away from the fallout of the Rawandan genocide proclaiming he no longer believes in humankind’s capacity to be redeemed.
But the tale is not without an uplifting final flourish – not that anything can really be considered a happy ending after all that explicit misery – as an ageing Salgado finds something of a spiritual revitalisation in a huge project to reforest the devastated Mata Atlântica, which runs through his childhood home. Not only does the large-scale project succeed in replenishing the area and inspiring similar such ecological endeavours the world over, but it motivates Salgado to pick up the camera again, and begin his latest great project, Genesis, in which his masterful lens is now trained on the splendour and diversity of the natural world.
The documentary is by no measure a probing expose; it is an enamoured love-letter crafted by the photographer’s two biggest fans. But this in no way diminishes the film’s beauty and impact, in fact it is easily one of the best-made documentaries ever committed to a photographic artist. Not to be missed by fans of the photographer, of good filmmaking in general, or anyone with an interest in the rousing highs and crushing lows of the human condition.
Sebastião Salgado, Zo’é Indian hunter, Brazil, 2009
The Salt of the Earth is showing at this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival, beginning this month – see the event’s website for screening details around the country.
Tamron’s 18–270mm Di II lens has been designed for photographers entering the DSLR market after shooting with compact cameras with 10–15x zoom lenses, or for travel photographers looking for an all-in-one lens to avoid swapping lenses on their trip. So this lens falls into the ‘super-zoom’ category and — though it is handy to not to carry around more than one lens — by trying to cover such a wide focal range there are some compromises all of these lenses make due to the physics of optics.
The lens itself is nice and light, which is good for a traveller, but with the body made up of mostly plastic and some metal it won’t stand up to a lot of abuse. When the lens is attached to a mid-sized DSLR it feels balanced, but when attached to some of the smaller models it gets top heavy. Also, when walking around with it over your shoulder it tends to suffer from lens creep, where the weight of the lens causes it to extend out on its own. There is a zoom lock on the lens to prevent this from happening but that does not help when trying to use the lens on a tripod pointing it up or down to take a long exposure. Read the rest of this entry »
The Hähnel Tuffs are, well, tough! Made up of two complementary units: a transmitter that sits on the camera’s hot shoe and a receiver with a hot shoe for the remote flash to sit in. Plug them in, turn them on and the camera is shooting in full Canon TTL mode without even consulting the manual.
They are light but made out of a strong plastic material and covered with a protective and removable silicone rubber cover, giving them a go-anywhere take-anything-you-can-throw-at-them feel. The receiver also acts as a foot for the flash, which means you can sit on a table, shelf or any level surface without extra clamps or accessories.
The buttons and controls are oversize, easily accessed but discrete, which means they are easy to use and don’t get in the way — very well thought through design and details. Read the rest of this entry »
Samsung introduced the WB150F in May this year aiming for the traveller who wants something simple to operate, light to carry, and equipped with a good zoom to capture everything from a wide-angle group shot to birds nesting off in the distance. This camera has the specifications to fulfil the task: its metal body weighs 188.2g, lighter than most of its rivals, and its slim profile snugly fits into your back trouser pocket for easy access.
Buttons and dials are clearly marked and thoughtfully placed, which allows for plenty of space around them and it packs a Schneider-Kreuznach varioplan 18x optical zoom, 24–432mm (35mm equivalent) lens. Images are captured at maximum 14.2 megapixel JPEGs and video is recorded at 1280×720 (30fps). Read the rest of this entry »
A large-sensor pocket-size 20-megapixel camera that can shoot low-noise, high-quality images through its fast f/1.8 Zeiss zoom lens, and features DSLR-type controls that are highly customizable — sound too good to be true? Unfortunately for the cynics this is a camera that delivers on its press release, with only a few caveats.
The sensor is indeed large, but only relative to the point-and-shoot cameras that its body size mimics. Sony describes it as a one-inch sensor, which has little real-world meaning as it measures 13.2×8.8mm. That’s four times the size of a typical point-and-shoot, but less than a quarter of the size of a full-frame 35mm camera, and less than half the size of an APS-C, the cameras that are dominating the resurgent enthusiast market.
The lens is fixed (that is, you cannot replace it with another) and zooms from a 35mm-equivalent 28mm, f/1.8, to just short of 100mm, f/5. The body is made from aluminium and feels sturdy but tiny and somewhat awkward in my large hands. Your experience may differ. Read the rest of this entry »
Panasonic has taken an interesting approach with the new LX7 — it looks more like a range finder than a typical point-and-shoot camera. The lens does not retract fully inside the camera and with the maximum aperture at f/1.4 it is one of the fastest lenses available for compact cameras. The zoom range is a handy 24–90mm equivalent, offering a decent focal range. It also has a 1/1.7-inch 10-megapixel MOS sensor and an impressive ISO range of 80–12,800. The camera can shoot 1080p full HD movies and features a ‘Creative’ movie mode where you can adjust both shutter speed and aperture to have more control over the look of your movie.
The other interesting feature of the lens is its aspect ratio switch, offering four different crop options: 1:1, 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9 ratios. But instead of just cropping the original images on the sensor and changing the angle of view, the LX7 crops the image so that the angle of view does not actually change (except in the 1:1) at the different aspect ratio settings. Read the rest of this entry »
Canon’s PowerShot SX500 IS joins the company’s range of cameras with a fixed zoom, sized larger than the very slim, fit-in-the-back-pocket–style compact, yet smaller and lighter than an SLR.
The SX500 IS has a 30x optical zoom lens, 24mm to 720mm range (35mm equivalent) and weighs 318 grams, the lightest in this series. Comparatively, the Canon SX50H has 50x optical zoom but weighs over 200 grams more and the SX 40HS has 35x optical zoom but is also over 200 grams heavier than the SX500.
Although it is very light the camera’s protruding lens and hand grip make it too bulky to fit in a trouser pocket, though its form is fine for a large jacket pocket. It has five scene modes, seven autofocus options and captures 16-megapixel images and HD movies. Read the rest of this entry »
Manfrotto’s Pro Field Jacket is designed around the classic photographer’s vest but modernised and weatherproof. The jacket is well made and will keep the rain out in the most extreme storms; the elasticised cuffs at the wrist ensure that no water can drip down the sleeves when shooting. The Pro Field Jacket’s material is a tough nylon and will stand up to anything a pro photographer is likely to put it through. It also offers textured material on the shoulder that is supposed to help prevent your camera from sliding off.
There are plenty of pockets accessible both on the outside and the inside of the jacket that are perfect for stowing away your extra gear when not needed. A tethered memory card wallet in one of the top chest pockets is very handy, and the main two pockets in the front of the jacket can be expanded to fit your extra lenses. A Canon 70–200mm f/2.8 lens can easily fit in one pocket and a 24–70mm and a 16–35mm can fit in the other, as does one lens and a 580 EX flash. When you are not packing extra lenses, the pockets can be zipped up to keep the jacket looking tidy.
Unfortunately, though the idea behind the jacket is good and there are certain situations that this jacket would be ideal for, it does come up a bit short in the usability department. The shoulder tabs were hard to snap down with the jacket on and the Velcro on the tabs was not strong enough to hold them down on their own. Read the rest of this entry »
At last count I have over fifteen of them and yet I still haven’t found the perfect one. Truth is, there probably isn’t one, but that doesn’t stop me from looking.
When I first saw the Kalahari Kapako I thought, Oh that’s quite nice but way too impractical. It’s just going to be too small and I’ll never get all the doodads in that I’d need, even on a small shoot.
The exterior khaki canvas with mustard-brown suede detailing, along with its desert campaign styling, looks to be a leftover from the props department of an Indiana Jones movie. The only modern touch is the use of ubiquitous click fasteners for the top flap. Lift that top flap away and an old-school brass zip keeps your camera gear well secured.
All the interior compartments are lined with what the Kalahari website calls a lubricious material! To be fair, that is probably a Google-translate fail from the German original, but anyway the lining is very smooth and attractive. Read the rest of this entry »
Nikon’s smart-looking new DSLR, the D3200 DX-format camera, slots into place above its entry-level D3100 and below the D5000. Nikon has upped the entry-level game by equipping this camera with qualities sought after in the professional range while making a much lighter, more portable camera than a pro model yet still capable of producing great photographs. It pushes entry-level pixel boundaries with images of 24.2 megapixels and uses the Expeed 3 image-processing engine also found in Nikon’s D4 and D800/D800E.
At 455 grams (body only) the camera is durable and its weight gives it a serious feel without dragging your arms down. It is easy to place in a small bag and the battery slots directly into a wall charger for easy portability. The camera I trialled was a limited edition deep shiny red, but most will be the standard black affair. Its size and layout make the D3200 ergonomically pleasant and nothing seemed out of place, though a dedicated button to adjust ISO would have been nice. The clunky shutter button is a bit disconcerting but the ‘noise reduction’ menu option quietens it to a ‘normal’ click sound. The lens attached was an 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 G VR — a good all-round starting-out lens. Read the rest of this entry »