CNN Photos

Capturing Ecuador at a crossroads

Italian photographer Pietro Paolini searches for something that many of us run from: conflict.

He likes uncertainty and change — moments when anything seems possible because whatever was there is gone and whatever will be has not yet taken shape.

He’s found fertile ground in South America, where he has traveled and worked for the past decade.

For his latest project, Paolini turned his lens toward Ecuador.

“Maybe in 20 years, the country will be worse. Maybe it will be better. I don’t want to prejudge the political situation,” he said. “But I like this tension for a different future, for a change.”

Paolini pointed to two photographs that show his preference for capturing ambiguity. The first shows a farmer enveloped in smoke.

“I really like that you can see there’s someone there, but you can’t see the face,” he said. “It’s about this identity of the population — of the country — that is still in progress.”

The second photograph shows a bullfighter on break. Paolini said he likes that image because it’s an example of the complexity of culture — a fusion of Spanish and local traditions. The bullfighter, in full regalia, stands beside men dressed in jeans, T-shirts and regular work jackets.

The light and colors in both photographs are muted. There’s a lot of beige and gray. That’s intentional, Paolini said.

Much of what’s photographed in Ecuador, he feels, falls into the category of visual stereotypes. Bright colors are common, as are images of people in traditional dress.

“I really wanted to try to build a new iconography — a new vision of this country,” he said. “I was looking for a different visual feeling.”

To help capture that feeling, Paolini stressed the importance of staying in a place long enough to understand it. He wants his images to be textured, multidimensional — reflective of the way the world actually is.

“I’ve been traveling in South America for 10 years, and I really feel that every year I feel more comfortable. I feel more inside the culture,” Paolini said, speaking by phone from Caracas, Venezuela, where he’s working on his next project.

“I prefer — not to make the situation more simple — but to try to give the complexity of events, the complexity of history,” he said.

- Dana Ford, CNN