Beauty of the feminine spirit
CORDOBA, Spain — A soft sari adorns an Indian woman as she shoulders a heavy water pot.
An elder of the Navajo people decorates her practical clothing with a turquoise necklace.
The long finger extensions of a Thai lady suggest she may be about to dance.
These are some of the images captured by Spanish photographer Francisco Gonzalez and reproduced in a book of photographs portraying women around the world.
Mr. Gonzalez introduces subjects dressed in myriad costumes and performing a variety of roles: homemakers, grandmothers, craftswomen, artists.
"Mujeres del Mundo: Retratos del Alma" ["Women of the World: Portraits of the Soul"], depicts the mental, physical and emotional reality women cope with, whether living in villages or cities.
The images won for Mr. Gonzalez the Meridiana award from the Andaluz Institute of Women, and they have been seen in an exhibition that toured more than 20 cities and towns in Spain. With the publication of his book, a wider audience now has the opportunity to enjoy the work of this 43-year-old artist with a camera.
Mr. Gonzalez takes us into the homes of these women and to their workplaces. We witness their lives in rural and urban areas, and we see some of them at worship.
His photographic subjects appear undefeated by their challenges but shine out of the pages as examples of courage and spiritual insight who have risen above the pressures of their daily life. Somehow he has captured the beauty and sensitivity of the feminine spirit.
A common approach among modern photographers is to exploit the image of women. In contrast, Mr. Gonzalez appears to look at his subjects with different eyes. The photographer seems to search to find out what is it that men can learn from women.
For example, in the picture showing an Indian woman with a pot of water on her shoulder the artist depicts a hard-working woman carrying water for her family. However, she is not straining under her burden. Her beauty comes from the dignity with which she carries out her task.
Mr. Gonzalez traveled the globe and selected for publication 59 of his photographs depicting women, young and old, of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds in countries as diverse as Italy and Samoa, Costa Rica and Bosnia.
Inspired by the photographs, young Bolivian writer Jorge Nazra wrote nine poems to accompany the images. Included, too, are excerpts from the Baha'i writings that point to the importance of the equality of men and women as a pathway towards a peaceful and united world civilization.
To carry out his project, Mr. Gonzalez, the photographic editor of the Spanish daily, "Cordoba", visited Baha'i-inspired social and economic development projects all over the world. He also obtained images at the May 2001 opening of the Terraces of the Shrine of the Bab at the Baha'i World Centre, in Haifa, Israel.
In an interview, Mr. Gonzalez said he considers his body of work a contribution to the well being of humanity. For him, he said, photography is a tool to represent the teachings of the Baha'i Faith -- in this case the equality of men and women.
He said the unity and equality of the sexes is not a goal but rather a pathway towards the attainment of a united and peaceful world.
Awarded the Andalucia Award of Journalism in 1995, Mr. Gonzalez was nominated three years later for the Romeo Martinez International Award of Photography.
During the seven years he spent collecting photographs for "Women of the World: Portraits of the Soul" Mr. Gonzalez initiated another project called "The Pathway of the Sun", in which he introduces his viewers to the life of the indigenous American populations and the ways they contribute to a global society.
"Mujeres del Mundo," by Francisco Gonzalez, (Barcelona, Arca Editorial, 2003). For information: http://arcaeditorial.com
For more information on the work of Francisco Gonzalez see http://www.bahaiworldnews.org/story.cfm?storyid=191.
Review by Edit Kalman