Paolo Bona

Paolo Bona

Ecole Internationale de Mime & The faith guardians

by Paolo Bona (Italy)

Ecole Internationale de Mime: Students of the Ecole International de Mime come from all over the world to attend a couple of years of classes, and they often want to stay for a third year because they feel like at home. The school is based on body language following the path of French mime Etienne Decroux. Beginning with a friendly welcome by the Italian director Ivan Baciocchi, and his assistant Natalie Stadelmann, they helped me a lot to concentrate on taking pictures with a positive attitude, leaving pressure behind the door. I was impressed to see those young students working hard and with so much passion.

Portfolio from the Visual storytelling workshop with Ed Kashi, March 2014.

Written review by PAULINE VERMARE,
Associate Curator, International Center of Photography

I am delighted to discover Paolo’s work. These two themes are very well chosen: they are unique, powerful, sensitive. I appreciate that Paolo treated his stories very personally: especially in the case of the Church workers, one can sense that he spent a lot of time with his subjects, stayed at a respectful distance, yet greatly empathized with them. Both subjects promised to make for beautiful essays, but I feel like the first one, Faith’s Guardian, ended up being much stronger than the second one, the School of Mime.

I will start with “Faith’s Guardian”: it is a real pleasure to look at these pictures, an invitation to think about an issue that I personally had never heard of, and a beautiful story. The quality of the images is excellent (this story could easily be published in a serious magazine). They vary in composition but remain similar in style, which is a very good thing: Paolo has a photographic voice, and that is precious. I love the fact that Paolo writes a few words about his subjects in the captions of the photographs: it adds layers of understanding to each image, authenticity in the work, as well as humanity and sincerity.

My favorites are image 1 – the checkered floor makes for a wonderful structure and the light is beautifully treated, as well as all the lines (benches, broom, columns, arches, crucifix) and the added dimension to the right of the image, behind the wall. The two windows at the top of the give gravitas to the subject – who is small but central, perfectly situated in the frame: we are focusing on him, who is in turn intensely focused on his labor.

The image shows how respectfully Paolo thinks of Danilo and his work. Image 2 is a fantastic group portrait, serious and somewhat funny at the same time: perhaps its structure gives it some form of humorous tone, that same melancholy you would find in a Wes Anderson movie, where everything is taken very seriously – especially filial piety. There is also the echo of the holy trinity. Somehow I would like to know more about the young man in the center, who is the one giving this image such a melancholy note.

The photographs of John Mihindukulasuriya are all excellent, very beautifully composed. I particularly love the one with the heavy-duty cleaning machine, where it looks like he is walking on water and parting the red sea… The lighting is excellent. I also love the one where he comes out of the darkness, such a serious and sad photograph. The one photograph of him working against the Christ is also very good, with those rays of light wrapping him, and the symmetry of the gesture between him and the crucifix. Although it is borderline gimmicky (the light, the symmetry) it makes for a very beautiful image.

The photograph of Takeswur Runnoo followed by the clergyman in his traditional gown is extremely powerful, too, and quite revealing of the issue that Paolo is raising: what or who is perceived as noble in today’s church, and what or who is not. Modernity versus traditions in Catholicism. I am less drawn to the four last photographs: they are less striking, or telling, to me. The compositions are a little too obvious sometimes (the man in the shadow with the beautifully ornate ceilings in the background, for instance).

There are still very good images, but less striking. The close-up portrait of Henry Villacis Pihuale is a good one, but it goes too far away from the overall spirit of the essay, perhaps because it is the only photograph in the daylight, perhaps because it is so frontal and blunt, less modest formally. The one of Apolo Carpio that follows, with the candle in the hand, is not very strong: there is nothing to really look at or ponder, no meaning added to the story. The last image, of Luis Mioguel Mondragon arranging flowers, would be stronger without the “empty elements” to the right, distraction to the eye that take the focus off of the main subjects (the man and the painting).

But again, the overall story is excellent and these weaker images should perhaps just be woven into the essay more evenly, so that they don’t stand out in the end.

I won’t expand so much on the second essay, for as much as I love the intention and the subject matter, I find that it is less strong visually. In fact, the only images that I find really good are image 8, which is quite powerful, and the last one - the only one where I can sense that Paolo went close enough – physically and emotionally - to his subject matter, and where everything becomes one: the light, the subject matter, its environment. It doesn’t mean that the other images are bad: they are less striking, and as a whole the story is less consistent formally.

I look forward to seeing more of Paolo’s work in the future, and I hope that his essay on the church workers will be published soon. Thank you.

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