The Salt of the Earth

The only other doco I remember which involves taking photographs and incorporating that medium into the film is “Born into Brothels” but its focus was less about serving the photos, compared to “The Salt of the Earth”.

Clearly an homage to Sebastião Salgado’s work, the film confidently opens with Wenders’ voice, “a film about the life of a photographer.”

“The Salt of the Earth” made me aware about the concept of directing the audience’s gaze within a frame. The approach to filmmaking was very much like in photography. “Maybe it’s good at the beginning, to remember where the word comes from. In greek, photo meant light; graph was writing, drawing. A photographer is literally somebody drawing with light; a man writing and rewriting the world with lights and shadows.” Accompanying this introduction, the audience follows the patches of soft light, slowly appearing in new places across the screen and expanding, before it they bleed into each other and are focused to reveal the first image. Then, we are given time to take it all in: to allow our gaze to fall onto different parts of the image, absorbing the detail and drama of the photo. For about thirty-five seconds, we observe the photo.

The use of strings in the music, like a drawl or a moan stretched in time, gave us further guidance to take our time viewing the images. It is not the first time Wenders had worked with composer Laurent Petitgand; it seems both makers and their work complimented each other well. The sound, reminiscent of a those made by a lyra or erhu, perhaps told of the hardship faced by many of Salgado’s photo subjects or Salgado’s pain of remembering what he had witnessed. There is the sense of pain, compassion and perseverance I picked up from the sounds; qualities in Salgado which Wenders kept highlighting through the latter’s narration.

“In the “dark room”, we ran through Sebastião’s entire photographic oeuvre, more or less in chronological order, for a good week. It was very difficult for him – and for us too behind the camera – because some of the accounts and journeys are deeply disturbing, and a few are genuinely chilling. Sebastião felt as if he was returning to these places, and for us, these internal journeys to the heart of darkness were also overwhelming. Sometimes we’d stop and I had to go out for a walk to get a bit of distance on what I’d just seen and heard.” – Wim Wenders

Interview with Wim Wenders. 2015. Sony Pictures Classics. Available at:

I felt like being brought on a journey, making discoveries throughout film. Not only did Wenders and Juliano Salgado use light and music to direct our attention, they also played with movement and colour. I would think I was looking at a still image of Sebastião Salgado sitting on a rock until, given the time to absorb it, my eyes catch the slight movement of the leaves and bushes. It was as though the directors were playfully nudging us, “keep looking and tell me what you find.” This cinematic tactic, employed across the film, was a successful “bait”, something that encourages the audience to finish watching the film as we continued to question if what we’re watching is a photograph or a video.

The use of colour is both a storytelling device and a well-timed aesthetic choice. Colours first fade in at about 00:09:21, at which point I felt like a thirsty person who has finally received water. While the still and moving images were pleasing to look at, I am very used to expecting colours and the constant black-and-white was beginning to wear me out. By starving us just long enough before providing salvation, the audience never dropped their energy too long before being baited again by something else and pulled along to follow the story.

We come to learn that colours marked Salgado’s present time or his colourful life outside of his work as a photographer. These moments were interspersed like our recesses from viewing his darker-themed, black-and-white images.

J-cuts were used to gently introduce the next image or sub-topic. L-cuts were used to precede a pinter pause or a silent, breathing space for the audience; it marks either a shift in tone a change of topic. I really enjoyed how all the cinematic elements subtly bleed into each other to form this one fluid body.

And I respect how the directors allowed Salgado’s photos to take centre stage and bring to light the more important and relevant stories Salgado witnessed his subjects experience. While there was respect, there were also creative liberties. 

The Making Of: Waterlogged

Scroll down for reflection and video
Click on highlighted segments to go to post


PRE-PRODUCTION: Design & Communication

a) Equipment / Practise
b) Our Pitch
c) Production Schedule
d) Shaping Story and Listing Questions
e) Shot List
f) Documents

PRODUCTION: Engagement & Improvisation

a) On Set Attitude and Rapport

POST-PRODUCTION: Marathon Jogging

a) Transcription & Organisation
b) Draft 2
c) Draft 9
d) Draft 14
e) Final Cut & Deconstructing Sound Design


a) About Truth
b) The Salt of the Earth


I bring forward one of the quotes I had applied to bearing witness:

“…one needs for his own salvation to know as exactly as possible who he is and… that he needs to tell it as explicitly as possible to some other people.” (Foucault, 2007, pg 148)

It still rings true to me.

Every one has the innate desire to communicate our experiences and by doing so, with words or whatever medium of expression, we validate our histories and thus, our identities.

[It is also interesting to note how this desire to express ourselves may be driven by our hope to go, sane (Adam Phillips, 2006). But I digress.]

Taking Focault’s words into account, my colleagues and I approached Barat’s story with much respect. Communicating his photos and stories not only serve as a salvation for him from his trauma but also for the millions of people displaced on this earth, right now. His work speaks of a much larger, current issue which requires all of our attention and compassion.

“Figures at a Glance”. 2018. UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency. Available at [19 June 2018]

Being on board this project has taught me about being an active witness. It’s more than just bearing or receiving a story. Upon being aware that we have a piece of something vital, which illustrates the bigger part of our (his/hers)tory like the refugee crisis, we have the choice to encourage a call to action within ourselves and the community.

Listening to Barat, my colleagues and I have become second-hand witnesses to the tragedy and by retelling his story, we weave ourselves into this world-wide tapestry of experience, expression and salvation. May those who watch our video do the same.

I am so grateful to Kim, my colleagues and Barat for having me on board, for this opportunity to receive and give. It has been one of, if not the most, fulfilling project I had ever been a part of. It gave me insight about refugees in my birth country, Indonesia. [Never had I heard it on the local news.] Besides the news value of the story, what made this collaboration so exiting were the people.

I was used to being the stern team-player – which made collaborations a chore for everyone. Participating in this studio has encouraged me to be more playful with my colleagues. The right buttons were pushed and working together felt easy, for the most part, due to penguin/turkey videos and screaming, “call your mother!” to each other’s faces. Or, as Jen highlighted, it was the shared absence of a nose bridge. Although I was shaking in class and could not wait to step out the door, this lightheartedness and infectious humour had me looking forward to our meetings and progress.

We all wanted the same things: to be professional; we wanted to practise using the equipment, apply “on-set vocabulary”, and deliver Barat’s story: we shared an an esprit de corps. Being objective and organised from the beginning was also crucial to pacing ourselves; our asking, “what’s the agenda for today and this week,” accompanied with the natural aptitude to laugh with (and at) each other, helped us to complete this storytelling marathon.

Undeniably, there were many times we had different opinions or when each of us prioritised/valued different things, during which we would either 1) democratically cast a vote and/or 2) trust the designated leader of that department [being organised from the beginning, we played our respective roles]. We initiated and compromised; provided ideas and let them go. We move on.

Compromise and letting go are probably the heaviest chisels shaping our final cut. The downside of our respect was our holding onto the details too preciously. I think it possibly stems from insecurity, the fear of not doing enough or serving the story justice. Initially, our approach was to 1) organise his story 2) identify crucial elements 3) include as much important details as possible. With about an hour of footage, compressing them to 3-5mins seemed impossible. For weeks, we shaved and shaved and shaved. We decided to cut time by incorporating texts to contextualise and “mark” his journey.

Then we showed our rough cut and everything changed. Ok, it sounds more dramatic than it is. Kim suggested 1) there was too much text throughout yet not enough to contextualise the plight of Hazaras and 2) we should go back to / question our topic sentence.

So we changed direction, or maybe we became more specific about what to convey. I suggested that, instead of focusing on Barat as an individual asylum seeker, we focus on the danger and arduousness of an asylum seeker’s journey. And it became less about him and more about the people and situation: the objective truth (Michael P. Lynch, 2004).

Perhaps this little shift in perception was what relieved us from our insecurities; maybe we now felt more in control of our story making, it became more about our voice and salvation, through his.

So we got rid of all the texts. Well, almost. Lo and behold! It worked! Turns out, we were underestimating our audience – maybe ourselves. In retrospect, we have allowed the audience to do some work and follow the story, rather than being fed it. I need to remember that it’s the chase which makes learning a story fun. I hope that with my future projects, I can be more purposeful about identifying and placing the bait.

We continued to cut down details by questioning what we identified as important or reflective of our statement, making the work as concise as possible before refining it with details like sound, colour, and pinter pauses.

Searching and editing the sounds made me panic. For a while, I regretted pitching for soundscape. “Have I overestimated myself and the public library?” The sounds made the video comical and I was afraid of diminishing the value of the story. Then I experimented with the timing, fading in and out, and layering different audio details to create a more realistic environment sound.

Compared to our fellow creative peers, our documentary is more straightforward. After everyone’s group pitch, I anxiously suggested our team take a more experimental approach but I’m glad that, with this story, we kept grounded and served it instead. Compromise and let go.

On Set Attitude & Rapport

We were not able to recce the production the filming location before the shoot because it is Mr Batoor’s private property and all our schedules did not allow it. So prior to our first meeting, we requested for him to send us a few photos so we could plan our shooting positions beforehand and manage production time more effectively. Thanks to Mr Batoor, we could imagine possible furniture arrangements and its effects on lighting.


On the day, we requested for a few minutes to set up, plan our positions and collect ourselves. I was very nervous. On the bright side, I was able to use that energy to maintain a formal, professional attitude. Even though we all contributed, planned and organised the shots together, my mind was very scattered and I was not very helpful with keeping track of what had been shot or suggesting new shots. Fortunately, that was not my stipulated role. Khalidah was operating the camera and Jen had the shot list. I decided to take a step back and focus on breathing and recording sound, instead. I learnt that I cannot multi-task. Does this mean employers do not want to hire me?

Then we wrapped up filming. Mr Batoor and his partner were very kind to offer cake and tea. We talked about Bollywood, our shared interest in Irfan Khan, a little bit about Cate Blanchett’s representing UN and his future projects. This part of the process was easier for me: being curious about another’s disposition, sharing opinions and having a somewhat formal, get-to-know-another type of work. Perhaps I should go back to applying and enhancing my interviewing skills during our next project. And I realise how important it is to have these kinds of conversations, to have a better idea about who we are working with and if we would enjoy working together again: it’s networking, not facebook-ing.


Transcription & Organisation

During my last internship, I was mostly tasked with transcribing past award shows. It was tedious but I saw how recording movement using words would benefit the company in the long run. A transcript provided a record that was quicker to read, to pick out patterns and analyse what events worked or what did not. So I thought, with about an hour’s worth of footage, it would be more efficient to transcribe our interviewee’s speech so we can better make sense of all the information he provided before proceeding to decide which parts are most relevant we want to retain.

Divide and Conquer

Transcribing for a visual representation to mark segments to use

Organising usable segments