Isle of salvation
Photography by Francesco Comello
Text edited by Matilde Castagna
Inhabitants of this hidden and silent community call it ‘Isle of Salvation’. Passing nearby, along the busy road leading from Moscow to Yaroslav, you don’t even notice it. Yet it stands as a unique spiritual, educational and cultural center in the whole Russian territories
Founded in the early 90s by an orthodox priest, it was initially thought to be a confraternity of roughly thirty people, who gathered to live together the Holy Fathers and Gospel principles of life. Through the years it turned into a community housing 300 boys and girls, mostly troubled and unsuited, with different family problems. No tv, internet, cellphones, nor money are here admitted, being all these considered evil out of society. They hoe the ground, they study, they dance. They forge their souls and train their bodies. Supreme values are God and Motherland. An educational utopia out of the world, but deeply rooted in history, where everybody’s commitment to change the individual with a harmonious growth, keep hope alive and kicking. The Isle of Salvation, a diocese that was developed on the former property by Aleksievskaja convent, 122 km North of Moscow, is a suspended land among children school playgrounds, work in the fields and military trainings. A self sufficient community, that strongly wants to separate from the contemporary models of life, that mostly do not reflect, nor respect human rhythms and time.
It’s been years Francesco has traveled Russia seeking for a lost time (his time maybe?) of stories, atmospheres that he has patiently been chasing, season after season, in the same spaces and for long. It all starts back in 2008 with the first narrative on "Oshevensk", a small and remote rural village. From there on, the story has developed first into four short trips until 2011, as a first chapter of a much longer tale. That’s when he decides to go back to Russia, to another place, with another story, still linked to the past ones by an invisible thread. “Isle of salvation” is born as a new-old story with the rare and delicate beauty of a different time and the strong poetry of a far away world.
“Someone tells me that I am slow, and that I should already have published a book”, Francesco says,”but I am more and more firmly convinced that you can’t put time limits to stories, because on personal grounds, photography overlaps human experience and you become part of this experience! In a world where everything is done and fast consumed, I much prefer to walk upstream, going back to the slow time of the narrative, that is not a reportage anymore: it metaphorically becomes a romance, a literary work”.
Francesco likes to work silently, far from footlights. He doesn’t talk much, that may also be the reason behind his strongly emotional photography. As the winner of the 2016 edition of the World Report Award at the Ethical Photography Festival in Lodi (Italy), he declared: “ I am very happy to receive this prize, also because I feel to be representing a bunch of people that, like myself, put ambition apart, but obstinately persist with coherence and determination through this amazing adventure that we call photography”.
Francesco Comello - francesco-comello.tumblr.com