Giorgia Fiorio

The Gift - 2000 2009

The Word Gift

On the pathways of mistery
Gabriel Bauret

2000 / 2009 trajectories

Giorgia Fiorio

At the end of these first ten years, although I understood that my idea of "photography of the real" had changed, I had not yet gauged to what degree, nor in concrete terms, in what way, my relation to the object of the photographic gaze had become radically different. Similarly, I understood that to my mind photographs were no longer, and perhaps never had been, answers, but instead were a horizon of questionings which would not move as long as I did not question it. Moreover, I realized that though I did not photograph "to understand", I needed direct confrontation with the reality of the questions I was asking myself, in order to push that horizon a little further. However, at this moment I did not yet clearly know how to proceed. I felt a desire for a much broader dimension, no longer solely masculine and Western, but human in the full sense. I began with the term "religion", correcting it to "the religions of the world" before correcting it once more a few months later to "spirituality and the forms of belief". It is said that "to believe is a gift". And so I entitled the new project, which I began in January 2000, "The Gift". At that time, I had not yet grasped the breadth and implications of that word "gift" which would lead me on to a further photographic evolution. Contrary to Men, I knew that I wished to carry out a single project whose elements would take on their meaning in relation to a unifying idea. I also understood that it was not a matter of drawing up an inventory, but of charting a path. The problem would arise anew insofar as the subjects, the people and subsequently, the places, which I would photograph were not in themselves the theme of the research. Instead, the theme was that which animated and inhabited them. In other words, the relation which the individual has to his or her own perception of the mystery of existence, to the unknown and the Sacred, within the multiplicity of expressions that different human and cultural realities give rise to. Three years passed and I realized that the element which arose most frequently in this work I was pursuing "on spirituality" was the human body. It was a coming to awareness which triggered the first key revelation in the development of my project: the human body as the visual manifestation of mystery. Though this realization helped define the project tangibly speaking, I could not as yet fathom why. In the course of the following years, through the gradual confrontation between the cultures I was exploring, the echoes between rituals belonging to often very different cultures began to multiply. These were complex correspondences, whose meaning I did not fully understand, which seemed to fly back into the mists of time. The realization began to take shape that most of these rituals were articulated mainly around the acts of offering and thanking. During the seventh year of the project I finally grasped the meaning of the word which had accompanied me from the start – gift – a transitive term towards which the civilisations of the whole world converged to meet. The object of this exchange, giving and receiving, propitiation and grace, is human life in its perpetual cycle, and thus death too. The body which lives and dies, which crosses, as both witness and messenger, the space that lies between the two furthest poles of existence.
…And I’ve seen limbs pierced by multiple blades not shedding a drop of blood, twirling human bodies like spinning-tops for fifteen minutes in a row; human bodies motionless for interminable time under the hammer of 2° Celsius waterfall falling from hundreds of meters; human bodies collapsed into pools of mud, excrement and blood; bodies crossing the mountains for days crawling with their chest over the rocks, naked human bodies, painted, tattooed, covered of inscriptions, scars or covered in exquisite precious adornments, composed in poses and gestures, enthralled in raving dances.
Over the last few years which lead to the completion of this particular pathway the scenario of a new quest, or perhaps a further evolution of the same, has emerged, still articulated around the human "figure". This project, as yet still in its conception and experimentation phase, is entitled Humanum.

Le Don - 2000 2007

Giorgia Fiorio

What force moves migrations of multitudes across the vastness of deserts and the highest of mountains? What have those who bang their foreheads against the ground and those who lift their gaze skywards in common? Why some shaved-bald as peeled almonds, others hirsute, with hair and long beards rolled into exorbitant turbans? Who inhabits the limbs of flagellants, who beneath the skin covered in ashes or intricate tattoos, who beneath the masks, who behind the veil? Do ecstasy, trance, contemplation, or meditation, reveal the unutterable perception of death, or the core of a physical experience?
For eight years, through raw, direct experience, without encyclopaedic intentions, I followed the course of a photographic project based on a personal quest: “The Gift”. At the Origins of Belief, in the earliest Sacred Texts, as in the pagan ancestral oral tradition, a pattern of resonances emerges: suspended in universal space-time, a labyrinth of paths, in a relentless quest for unison between individual outer identity and the subconscious inner-self. Like language, Belief marks the history of humankind: language and writing recount the outer history, related to knowledge and exchange between human beings. Beliefs trace the innermost history of individuals in their personal relation to the unknown: Mystery, the Sacred, the ancestral past, the intangible future, the cycles of Nature, the Elements, the notion of Time, the dimension of Space, ultimately, the very meaning of existence.
Footprints of different paths overlay the wake of the word gift. In its multiple semantic declinations, gift is one of the earliest words of human language. In its transitive quality, it embodies two meanings: to offer/give and to receive, or even to take. Yet the eternal question is: to give or to receive "what"? Physical finiteness seems inextricably entwined with the manifestation of Mystery. Human life received as gift, as grace and offered as tribute, sacrifice, or consecration… These two visions, have endorsed multiple interpretations from one civilisation to another, over the course of time. Inevitably, at the heart of all questioning, every ritual is marked by the corporeal dimension of the human condition. Codified in the gesture, disciplined, repressed, hidden, mortified, purified, honoured, stripped, decorated, possessed, liberated... the body – specifically “flesh” as substance and the human “figure”, as paradigm and representation of the individual – is the outer evidence, the “carrier” of the spiritual dimension, the messenger between life and death. Perhaps indeed, if the soul is shadow, the body is shadow’s shadow. Life is the Gift and inseparable from it, is death. Promised hope of a life beyond life, of other lives after one’s own, it comes full circle: life received, grace which gives, regenerating life anew, as soon returned.

The Gift Subjects

2000 Ethiopia: Lalibela, Timkat, the Orthodox-Coptic celebrations of the annual collective baptism; Poland: The Monastic communities and Catholic Seminars in Krakow; Philippines: Pampanga San Pedro Cutud, Easter rituals of purification through bodily mortification; Haiti: Saut d’Eau and Plaine du Nord, Voodoo rituals.

2001 India: Source of river Ganges, Gomukh Garwal Himalayas; Sagar Island, the celebration of Sagar Mela - the annual pilgrimage to the Ganges Delta, Gulf of Bengal; the holy city of Varanasi, the cult of the dead and the holy Indian wrestle, Kusti; Allahabad, the Hindu pilgrimage, Maha Kumbh Mela.

2002 Himalayas: Tibet, Mount Kailash pilgrimage, Darchen, the Saga Dawa Festival (day of the Buddha) celebration; Zanskar and Ladakh, monastic life in Big Vehicle - Mahayana - Buddhism.

2003 Myanmar. The “Small Vehicle”, Theravada, Buddhism: Kiaik-hti-yo, the Golden Rock; the Shin-Byu initiation of children; the Lotus Position Padmâsana meditation. Thailand. The “Tiger Temple” Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno; the “Golden Horse” monastery, Wat Maa Tong; and the “Tattoo Temple” Wat Maa Tong. Cambodia. Angkor Wat: the Temple of the City and the Temple of Ta Prohm.

2004 Africa and Oceania: initiation and fertility rituals: Southern Sudan; Northern Kenya, Turkana; Southern Ethiopia, South Omo river valley tribes and Surma tribe, harvest and fertility rituals; Southern Pacific, Vanuatu, Pentecost Island the Nangol rituals and rituals of fertility and Ambrym Island. Turkey: the Sema ritual, of Sufi whirling dervishes Mevlevi. Japan. The Shinto ritual in the practices of Sumo wrestling.

2005 Africa: The Holy town of Harar; in North Ethiopia, Axum; Geech Abyss; Tigray women traditional tattooing rituals. Easter Island, the Moai and the “Birdman Cult”. Southern Thailand: the Jia Chai, the extreme piercing “Purification Chinese Festival”–. Indonesia. Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta: Junma, Friday Midday Pray. Buddhist Sanctuary of Borobudur.

2006 Peru. Qoyllour-Ritti annual pilgrimage Ausangate range. Shamanic rituals at the sacred Huaringas lakes. Brazil, Salvador Bay of all Saints, Candomblé rituals in the Afro-Brazilian cult of the Orixas and the celebration dedicated to Yemanjà.
Japan: Yamagata sacred mountains Haguro San, Yuduno San, Gas San; Yamabushi celebration Tagkii Ghioõ ritual in the Shintoist Shugendo tradition. Kyoto: the Kare Sansui holy Zen gardens.

2007 Israel: Jerusalem: Jewish Cemetery – Mount of Olives; the Western Wall; Purim in Mea Sharim; Holy Sepulchre; the Mosques Esplanade – Al Haram al-Qudsi al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and Russian Orthodox Monastery Am Karen-Gorny. Meron: -Lag Baomer celebration at Shimon Bar Yochai Holy Tomb. The Judean desert of Jericho.
Jordan: the Nabatean Necropolis of Petra.
Brazil – Mato Grosso, Alto Xingu, Aldeia Kuikuro: N’dourè ritual of sacred dances and body painting – Jenipap and Uruku, scarifications rituals and intra-tribal ritual of sacred flutes Taqwara.

2008 Spain: Navarra, Catholic Cross-bearers annual pilgrimage and ritual in commemoration of the Trinity.
Uzbekistan: rituals of Islamic funeral: Qoq’om Firgana Valley; circumcisions and celebrations of Holy Friday prayer Djhuma and the Medrassas of the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.
Russia: Orthodox monastery of Tikhvine and celebration of Saint Anthony Dimsky’s pilgrmage at Dimskoe lake.
China: mandala ritual - Tong Chong at the Buddhist monastery of Langmusi, Sichuan/Gansu province; of Holy Friday prayer Djhuma at the mosque - Dong Dasi Qingzhensi – Tongxin, Wuzhong province; Kung Fu and Thai Qi/Chi practices in the Wudang mountains, Hubei province.

The Word Gift

Introduction - On the pathways of mistery

Gabriel Bauret

Giorgia Fiorio belongs to that family of photographers who are, when all is said and done, quite rare – not simply in a quantitative sense – and who have chosen to work on projects of a long-term nature. In an age when photography is frequently the instrument of the ephemeral, because too often limited to the spectacular, a handful of lone figures work steadfastly on the margins of the fray. And time is on their side. Giorgia Fiorio's approach is comparable to that of someone like Sebastiao Salgado, in that the energy she deploys is almost entirely focused upon an undertaking of several years which she has set out for herself. In the manner of the documentary photographer, she has singled out a territory – which happens to be of an anthropological nature. Yet her concern is not to exhaust this terrain, but to find the means to progress in the knowledge and creative restitution of it. The work she undertook in 2000, and whose title "The Gift" epitomizes this spirit, is as much a questioning of her own self as of mankind. Her approach is at once objective and subjective, documentary and meditative. In the course of the last few years this project has continued to evolve. So much so, that each time I meet her as she completes a new phase of reportage, her personal quest has gone yet another step beyond the mere discovery of new ritual practices and has grown into an ever greater awareness of inherent mystery. When this project comes to a close in 2008, Giorgia Fiorio will have explored the most diverse aspects of the human quest along the time-worn path of truth – her own truth and that of the human community – But she will also doubtless have come close, if not shed light upon, a possible bond between these many rites whose beauty and purity she has captured the world over.