Right before you enter the exhibition room, you are faced with a big black and white photograph in which there are seen monks in procession. The composition is simple. All these elements—black and white, monks in procession, simple composition— come together to give off a solemn, stoic atmosphere. I enter the exhibition room, and am gripped by the solemnity that has been foreshadowed by the photograph of the monks.
Text: Yeonwoo Baik
Jordi Pizarro is a freelance documentary photographer based in India. His works largely concern current social and environmental issues influencing different communities in the world, most of which are remote areas that aren’t advertised by major media. His ideas and works have anthropological touches to them, and he hopes that he can raise awareness and reflexivity regarding issues that affect people and their environments.
Religion is one of the key human phenomena. Through religion people form their ideas on the origins of the world and themselves, believing in and expressing deference to something they cannot sense. It is a truly exceptional product of human societies worth studying. The Believers, a photo exhibition of Pizarro’s works which is held at the Perspektive Museum from the 10th of October, 2015 until April 10th, 2016, shows works from his on-going long term project of the same name. In this project he explores religious communities in ten different countries across four continents in search of the relationships human beings hold towards religions, spirituality, traditions, and cultures.
The not-so-big exhibition venue is nevertheless full to the brim with photos, all down to the cafe area next to the exhibition room and the staircase. Once we step into the exhibition venue, we are surrounded by human faces and bodies—staring, performing rituals, walking in procession, moving in trance, etc. The photographs are black-and-white, and most of them are taken in close-up shots with simple composition. We are so close to these people. The ways they keep their eyes closed, prepare for a ritual or stare at something with concentration are recorded down to the details, striking the viewers so vividly. With decorativeness and distraction at their minimum, Pizarro’s photographs take us right into the core of the human experience of spirituality. In the simplicity of his photographs Pizarro attempts to communicate the essence that lies in the religious practices, letting us concentrate on the spirit of the moments captured in the photographs.
Tens of hands are laid on a big wooden cross. The hands, blurred faces at the back and the cross are captured in a static form, but nevertheless the flowing energy and spirit remain. A woman with her eyes closed is feeling the warmth of the candle lit by the holy fire, and we are gripped by the curiosity over what might be going on in the heart of the woman, over her spiritual experience. The small venue is full of passion, concentration, devotion—the energy flowing through the exhibition hall is never small. It is especially remarkable how all these energies are embraced in solemnity and stoicity without any overflow of emotions. Still, they do not fail in overwhelming us.
It will definitely help if you yourself hold religious beliefs, as empathy plays an immense role in reading the meanings of artworks. However, The Believers is not just about spirituality. It is also about beauty—the way Pizarro utilizes light, the following contrast of shades and different textures, all create breathtaking beauty. The expression, the reserved joy and deference that appears on the face of a nun as she kisses a cross are strikingly well captured, but the photograph is also about the tangible softness of her clothes, and about the contrast between the black clothes and her fair face well captured by Pizarro. You don’t necessarily need religions to witness beauty. The Believers will be a satisfactory experience for viewers in many different aspects.