Ana Paganini captures the grand spectacle of religious procession in Portugal
Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet is a bewitching series that investigates contemporary interpretations of pagan Catholic rituals across Sintra and Vila Real.
- Olivia Hingley
- 28 February 2023
As a photographer, so much of your practice is often based around capturing intriguing visual moments in time. But much of it also consists of uncovering the context behind such striking events. This was the case for Ana Paganini’s whose series Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet centres on religious processions across Portugal, and how “something invisible – faith or spirituality – is manifested in the visual”, Ana explains. Throughout the bewitching series, Ana demonstrates the complexity and elaborate nature of such traditions, from the significance of the sea and the towering structures specially built for each procession. Though what most fascinated Ana about these events was the people involved, their reasons for attending and the “performative” quality of their roles.
Capturing such a staggering visual tradition, Ana had an intricately laid out vision and clear aesthetic intentions. The series’ first inception came after Ana viewed her friend Patrick Lewis Dowse’s series Community Embers. A similar look into long-lasting traditions and ceremony, the series focuses on band members in villages in the North East of England. It was also Patrick who recommended that Ana use a medium square 6x6 format. Allowing her to centre in on specific individuals or moments within the processions, Ana explains that it “was key in organising the visual chaos in the events”.
Alongside her broad visual approach, Ana had two aspects she was keen to highlight through the series – the sky and array of costumes. The sky, because “all the efforts that go into the procession are really about attempting to connect heaven and attain an afterlife”, and the rented costumes, for how key they are in creating “colours and textures” that are so unique to Portuguese processions.
It’s the costumes that bring the vibrancy, character and personality to the series. Clothed in such traditional garments, and set against the streets of Portugal’s old towns, at points it seems that the figures adorned in lace and heavy fabric could be from a bygone era. That is, until you spy a pair of modern trainers poking out from beneath. Or, in one particularly powerful image, a young woman dressed as Santa Barbara, with hands mimicking the posture of a religious wax statue, your eyes are eventually drawn to her long acrylic nails, matching the colours of her costume, backlit by the bright sun.
Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet is a project nearly four years in the making. It began in 2019 after Ana returned to her Lisbon home after having spent five years in London. Completing a foundation year and BA in documentary filmmaking at London College of Communication, Ana tells us was an experience that “revolutionised my life and consequently my work”. While in London, Ana had documented the solstice celebrations at Stonehenge, which in turn piqued her interest in ceremony, and pushed her to investigate the pagan origins of Catholic rituals in Portugal.
After shooting in 2019 and becoming so impressed with the results, Ana planned to continue the series. However, in 2020 all of the religious ceremonies ceased for two years, putting a stop to Ana’s project. In 2022, it became clear the ceremonies would recommence, and Ana recalls it being “spectacular to witness people’s joy in resuming this tradition, to see how they had held tightly on to their faith and kept their devotion alive during those two years”.
Moreover, despite the extended break between Ana’s shoots, there were some happy coincidences. Returning to the same towns, Ana ended up photographing the same children, now grown up. In one image from 2019, a young boy looks tentatively into the camera, a pair of fluffy angel wings visible on his back. In 2022, the same boy is shown, visibly older, staring more consistently down the lens, his angel wings replaced by a more mature robe. Ana views these images as a way of paying homage to her favourite photographer, Alessandra Sanguinetti, whose most famous project The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their dreams is a 20 years documentation of the same two cousins.
As a whole, the word Ana sees as most summarising of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet is ‘spirit’. Prevalent in its original meaning and religious connotations, the word is apt in describing the passion of individuals involved in the procession. Moreover, more than anything, Ana was moved by the ceremony's ability to bring people together, even more so in the context of Covid. “In a time where people seem more divided than ever and technology has both the capacity of bringing us together but also drastically apart, it was special to experience a grand moment of collective ecstasy and union,” Ana ends.
Ana Paganini: Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (Copyright @ Ana Paganini, 2019)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.