Saturday, December 5, 2009

Farmer, Former Humana School, Rajasthan, India, November 15, 2009

Last year a Humana People to People India School operated in this village. All was calm and we had the cooperation and guidance of the teacher in making exquisite portraits of the girls. We made portraits on the roof of their home and then moved to the field to continue the work, all without a single problem.

We were served lunch on a wonderful day later in the week when the foundation had organized a 'Culture Day' for all of the schools. That lunch was served in the same home and all of us ate together on carpets laid out on the floor.

With these memories in mind I arrive at their village this year, dropped off by the driver and alone. The volunteers from Humana People to People have been left behind at the last village to have their lunch and then head back to the main town. The driver will return in three hours to collect me and my equipment. I am alone and with about a dozen Hindi words to my credit.

In my mind, this is an easy village, one full of friends from last year. While this may be correct, a certain sense of trouble is in the air when the first response from a few people is to tell me to leave. Pretending to lack an understanding of their words, I decide to sit down and wait it out, more so since it's a bit early for photography. With me sitting there, about a dozen boys, older and younger, decided to sit down with me. This is usually trouble since they lack a sense of discipline and respect without an older presence. This proves to be correct. The boys decide to poke at the equipment, demand to see the albums, mock the lack of language and the usual. I am pretty used to all of this but unused to it being all alone.

I decided to do the one thing that usually anesthetizes their need to dominate, make pictures of them. In my experiences with men and boys from around the world, this has worked well. Since most of my work is with women, the men generally feel slighted and ignored, usually for the first time in their lives. Here is a man that places women and girls first in their midst. The trick is to reverse this conception, make portraits of the men and then diffuse the situation.

Since a digital camera is with me this time around, it's even easier to show them their portraits. We begin by making a few for fun, then some men begin walking over for their formal portraits. The one above is made after a few of the younger boys poke fun, as usual, at some older man walking by. By walking over to the man and showing him some respect, his portrait is made in peace.

At this time, a few of the older boys decide to help. This is a turning point since the girls are just waiting for the atmosphere to change. It has for the moment and we collect a chair and head out to the field. The older girls are too startled to come along and this saddens me, since many of them are past subjects. Nonetheless, enough girls come along initially to attract others once the photography begins.

We head to the field and arrange a space. Four helpful boys come along, between the ages of 14 and twenty perhaps. One stands by my equipment, one makes sure the younger boys limit their silliness and two help with the arrangement of the girls. We ask the girls to stand on the chair, one by one, therefore limiting the amount of interference that the younger boys can produce. We work for about one hour before the man of the land comes by to ask us to leave. He is a young man of about twenty and it is unclear to me if he is really the man of the land. Regardless, after a few Hindi words, he allows us to stay for another half an hour, every five minutes needing a plea from me to continue. I know that if we break this session, it will be hard to continue somewhere else. At that time, the taxi driver comes along. He is a great man and helps with the translation.

We decide to walk up to the street and as we are about to pack everything up, I notice a wonderfully yellow wall lit by the sun. We ask permission to continue and are given that permission. We arrange the equipment and continue with the girls. Now there are many, many more. Most of the girls photographed today are younger than twelve and that makes me happy, they are the future of my work in this village.

We end up by making more pictures of the boys and then head back to town. All in all, a very strenuous but successful day.