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Friday, 25 September 2015

Titus Simoens' Boys' Schools

Blue, See Mount Song Los Domadores by Titus Simoens is a much more ordered depiction of childhood than Roberto TondopĆ³'s Cassita de Turron.

And it should be. It is essentially a collection of three essays and shows life in three schools (a naval school in Belgium, the Shaolin Temple Wushu school in China and a boxing school in Cuba - the latter two are documentary staples) and the way in which discipline forms the boys and the quiet moments in which they struggle to create a space within that discipline.

The Belgian section is the most delicate in some ways; one picture shows a very young boy tucked up on a mattress with cuddly toys under his head and at his feet. But there to remind you of where he is are the scuffed boots (they need polishing) of the boy in the bunk above. Here, there is a feeling of the discipline shaping the boys. They brush their teeth (this is a recurrent theme throughout the book), scrub the decks and fall asleep.

In Cuba, pictures of the boys training together are cut with pictures of them in their downtime; daydreaming in the classroom, blank-eyed in the gym, head tilted in thought in the bathroom. These are rather lovely pictures where the mind is wandering into sad places. They're lonely pictures.

The Shaolin pictures are different. Here, Simoens photographs boys with a certain self-consciousness. They are aware of the camera; sometimes they pose defensively, concealing themselves from the lense, sometimes they look at it with curiosity, peering into the lens as if to see what world it is that Simoens comes from, and sometimes they are just exhausted so their eyes are closed and we see them lying passed out on their dormitory bunk beds.

Simoens gave the boys cameras and the back section includes a series of the images they made (the Shaolin boys have the most fun when they're taking their own snaps) and the book is beautifully produced and brings out the sensitivity of with which Simoens photographs his key themes, themes I hope he continues to explore.

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