Somewhere inside the premises of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, said to be the burial ground of Jesus Christ, two women press their ears close on a tomb-like structure.
“They say if you listen hard enough, sometimes you can hear the hearbeat of Jesus Christ. I haven’t tried it out though,” quips Jordi Pizarro. This ability to maintain a strict distance between work and personal beliefs has stood the 29-year-old Barcelona-born photographer in good stead over time. The discreet detachment between what his subjects feel and what he feels strongly about has only lent his photographs beautiful objectivity. Pizarro’s exhibition, The Believers, was most recently on display in the underground hall at Spanish Institute, New Delhi. He says his four-year-long project, The Believers, is an attempt to document the followers of various faiths and cultures across the world. The recent exhibition offered a glimpse into the ‘believers’ of four disparate geographical regions — India, Poland, Cuba and Jerusalem. But Pizarro plans to keep travelling further to more countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Haiti and Venezuela. In order to raise sufficient funds for his trips, he has made available for sale 100 copies of one particularly striking photograph taken in Allahabad during the Maha Kumbh.
“I started photography when I was about 19, working for small newspapers and magazines. I was also in Morocco for sometime for work, trying to show how the mafia was introducing hasheesh in Europe. This work got published in the Sunday Times magazine, and other global publications. Eventually I got a contract with Contrasto and I’ve been working with them since,” says Pizarro.
Pizarro was already doing well as a full-time photojournalist, and his work had been published in global publications such as TIME, Forbes, Vice and El Pais. But it was his desire to work on a long-term project that he could personally relate to, which kept gnawing at him: “I was mostly shooting for interviews or demonstrations and the like. There was no time to work on something meaningful for the longer term. That also was one of the reasons I started this project. I was, of course, always interested in humanity and what drives all these believers.”
All of Pizarro’s photographs succeed in drawing the viewer in, making the person almost experience the same mood that has been framed. In the Jerusalem section for example, an old man, his wrinkled face distraught with some powerful emotion, is weeping without restrain and clutching a cross close to his chest. The veins of his forehead are prominent and a single tear drop hangs from the tip of his nose. In the Poland section, some of the photographs show a number of Orthodox Christian devotees on their knees carrying large wooden crosses. The section on India comprises about 14 frames and is titled, slightly ingenuously perhaps, The Sacred Babas of India.
“I am not a believer. I only believe in my work, my friends and my family. So when I saw thousands of people at the Kumbh taking part in the rituals, it all seemed crazy! However, it is not always about religion. I do it because I am also interested in culture and anthropology,” says Pizarro.
But maybe a bit of colour could have livened up the frames? Pizarro grins and says, “I was shooting a lot in colour when I was doing commercial photography. But this was a personal project and I chose black-and-white to escape the conventions I was working within. Also, religion is something that goes on in the minds of people. The sentiment is in a way imaginary, and black-and-white effectively transports the viewer into a more magical world, which is slightly different from reality.”
Pizarro says his own views on religion, faith and hope have not changed over time. But he does recognise the need to have faith and hope: “Humans need to invest themselves in something that gives hope. Just that for me it is photography. If I wake up in the morning and realise I have lost my energy or ability to photograph, I will be a f***ing zombie! So maybe what photography is to me, religion is to other people. However, irrespective of the religion, all people are essentially following the same path of hope and faith.”