My friend Claire sent me a link to London-based Spanish photographer Jordi Ruiz Cirera’s website, because she knew I would love his photographs. She was right – they are beautiful – and I’m particularly taken with his portraits of Mennonite families in Bolivia. One of the images, a camera shy lady sitting at a table, won Ruiz Cirera the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize in 2012.
The pictures form part of the photographer’s long-term project to document the daily life of this religious community. The project was particularly challenging, as the Mennonite religion forbids the creation of images and many members were reluctant to appear in photographs. However, having travelled to their villages in South America on two occasions, he gradually won the trust of several families living south of Santa Cruz.
The Mennonites’ uneasy relationship with the camera is reflected in the winning portrait of Margarita Teichroeb at her table; “She seems to be afraid of the photographer, unwilling to expose herself to our gaze. Her awkward expression says a lot about the tradition, isolation and lifestyle of this community,” says Ruiz Cirera.