Serene and fluid, Gleeson Paulino’s photo series gives baptism a new meaning

Sourcing inspiration from bodies of freshwater, the photographer uses nature as a springboard to explore questions of belonging.

6 March 2023

The process of ‘return’ is one that many creatives have tried to grapple with; the process of returning to one’s roots and facing memories, attachments and maybe even fears from years long past. This is the focus of Gleeson Paulino’s Batismo, an enchanting series which documents his return to Brazil, and the way nature provided him with a new home.

At the age of just 17, Gleeson left his hometown of Eldorado and made the near 5,000 mile move to London. The journey was a means of escaping the “strict” religion Gleeson grew up in – one he likens to the environment of the Amish community. “I always felt very caged, especially the guilt of being gay in those communities,” Gleeson shares. “When I came to London, I finally had the feeling that I could be myself, and experience life more freely without fear of rigid rules.”

However, after a number of years living in London, Gleeson began to have feelings of restlessness, and a desire to return to his home country. “It was becoming clear to me that I had to return to face the traumas and fears I’d still been holding,” he expands. The decision wasn’t what you may call a thoroughly considered one or, as Gleeson puts it, a “rational” one. Instead, it was one driven by intuition, much like his decision to move to the UK.


Gleeson Paulino: Batismo (Copyright @ Gleeson Paulino, 2023)

On returning to Brazil, Gleeson found himself experiencing the country with a fresh perspective. Describing how he felt “reborn”, things that Gleeson had never noticed in his 17 years living there soon held new beauty and pertinence, and he began “looking past the once mundane into the details, forms and colours that build the scenes I was presented with”. One of the key things that really struck Gleeson was the “wild, lush and abundant” nature that surrounded him, and he found himself particularly drawn to bodies of glistening water: creeks, lakes and the sea. “Reflecting back over the images that had drawn me in, I noticed the emerging pattern that connected so many of my photographs – freshwater.’ Gleeson adds: “That’s where the series name came from. A new Baptism.”

Whether originally intended or not, iconography related to baptism and christianity seeps into every corner of the series. Pale blue material clings to a drenched body, rosary beads lie across a bare back. But perhaps most connected to the theme is the image of two children on the cusp of teenagehood. Lying peacefully in a still, shallow body of water their postures mimic those replicated in baptism, their bodies submerged, their faces above water. But, aspects of the image verge away from the scene of baptism, the water lies still, and the boys appear alone, captured in a moment of rest. The divergence from the theme represents the subtle skill of Gleeson’s, both attending to and rewriting a narrative. The peacefulness and serenity exuded by the scene is quite astonishing, something which is replicated throughout the whole of the exquisite series.

GalleryGleeson Paulino: Batismo (Copyright @ Gleeson Paulino, 2023)

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Gleeson Paulino: Batismo (Copyright @ Gleeson Paulino, 2023)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

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.

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