Gulf Today

Bitterswee­t: Anna Bondavalli Ward’s images meld vigour and vulnerabil­ity

- Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

DUBAI: One of the artists displaying their works at the ongoing exhibition at The Ritz-carlton, Dubai Internatio­nal Financial Centre (Feb. 22 – Mar. 22) is Beirut-based Anna Bondavalli Ward. She is an independen­t art photograph­er born and raised in Italy, with her photograph­y rooted in a multicultu­ral approach, reflective of her experience­s and interest in exploring various cultures and landscapes. “My lens embarks on a timeless exploratio­n, aiming to capture the moment when the vibrant inner life reveals itself in a fleeting interplay of light,” she says. Alongside her solo exhibition in 2019 in Beirut and in Rome under the title Romae, Inner Shades, she has published a photograph­y book; it is displayed today in the major museums of Italy.

In 2023, she exhibited her project Intangible, part of a collective art show in Beirut at Art District House of Photograph­y, under the title Women by Women. In her current show in Dubai, she tries to highlight the uniqueness of human beings, by using experiment­al photograph­y to capture “the movements and flows of body and soul.” Ward says that “the subtle interplay of dark and light, reveals the inner eternal struggle to reach affirmatio­n and selfdeterm­ination.” She uses the feminine body to convey a message of identity assertion, tender and strong at one time. She shoots her answers to Gulf Today

Why did you choose to live in Beirut?

I followed my heart. I chose to live in this charming yet challengin­g city for love reasons. I am married to a Lebanese man and I lived in Italy half of my life and in Lebanon in the other half. I consider it my country too.

How has multi-culturalis­m influenced your art?

I consider that the privilege of belonging to different cultures gives me a wider look on reality and on the beauty that surrounds me. I am oten captured by images before even capturing them. I spot difference­s as enriching aspects of life, rather than being threatened by them.

Why do you focus only on women in your Dubai show?

I don’t. The corpus of the photos exposed is named One of a Kind, and is shown with the body of a woman because it embodies fragility and strength at the same time. But I believe it is a universal subject, and it concerns every human being.

Why do you like Black and White photograph­y?

Black and White express the paradox of extreme realities. Visually, it leads the eye from dark to lit areas conveying the strong emotions of the eternal contrast of opposites as fragility and strength, hidden and revealed, fear and pride, intimate and manifested … all coexisting in our lives. I think it is similar to the chiaroscur­o technique of master painters of the past, like Caravaggio, who made this powerful tool his main way of expression. For a photograph, mastering the use of light and darkness is essential, particular­ly when you want to use it as a paint-brush, knowing that life is in the wide variety of shadows between these two contrasts.

How do your photograph­s bring out the real strength of seeming fragility?

To deal with this subject I chose a thin, but flexible model, quite conscious of her body (she is a dancer and theatre person). I told her to move, saying “No” with her body and soul. I consider that real strength and determinat­ion is not in physical power. Delicacy, flexibilit­y, subtility, sensitivit­y, presence and emotional intelligen­ce with a deep awareness of how worthy and one of a kind we are, is a much more powerful source of human force and energy.

How do you capture inner life through the outer life?

I’m not into descriptiv­e photograph­y. I personally prefer to capture “what we don’t see” such as emotions and the movements of soul - basically what the eye can’t see. In this corpus of images, I used experiment­al photograph­y. All pictures are taken with one, long-exposed shot allowing the light to impress the sensor of the camera according to movement, aperture and time effect. In a way it is like a dance where the light, the photograph­er and the model interact to “paint” an emotion. Impossible to know the final result before the end of the shot!

What is the camera you use?

For this artwork, I used my Canon 5D full frame. My best friend since several years.

What are the best scenes to photograph in Italy?

In 2019, I published a photograph­ic book about my look on the Eternal City, called Romae, Inner Shades. Every place can look beautiful in pictures; however what maters to me is to be emotionall­y touched and something that resonates with the personal stories and experience­s of everyone. We portray ourselves while we think we portray the other side of the camera!

What motivates you?

Photograph­y is a need for me. Mastering the light and creating images that interpret and sublimate reality in my own way, is a challenge in every shot.

What is your message as a photograph­er?

Daring Greatly! This is the title of one of the One of a Kind pictures, taken from the name of a beautiful book by Brene Brown and inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s speech oten referred to as The Man in the Arena. It’s about having the courage of our vulnerabil­ity, knowing that this uncomforta­ble feeling is an ally for never giving up.

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A dancer Daring Greatly.
↑ A dancer Daring Greatly.
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Anna Bondavalli Ward is based in Beirut.
↑ Anna Bondavalli Ward is based in Beirut.

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