Sunday, June 27, 2010

Widow, Courtyard of Mosque, Zakat Foundation of India, Old Delhi, India, November, 2008

Just like her counterpart below, this woman is shunned by her society and is placed in a situation of need as a result. She comes to gather her bag of dried goods for the next thirty days, until she needs to return the following month.

This is her second time in front of my camera and in the very same spot, the courtyard of a local mosque. The scene outside of the courtyard is one of madness and extreme difficulty in terms of photography, so we choose a place that allows us to make portraits in peace.

However, as our session extends into the second hour, men start to gather inside the courtyard for prayer. Because of timing issues with the foundation, we still have a dozen women in need of photography. Men begin to complain about the camera and also the presence of women in their midst.

One man especially does so a few times, loudly in fact. He continues to do so and his face is familiar to me, he is a face from last year's photography. So instead of asking my translator to quiet this man down, his picture is found in my bag and handed to him quickly by me.

He quiets down immediately, albeit with a sense of disgust, and walks away.

A few men sitting down for their prayers smile as a result.

Blind Widow, Courtyard of Mosque, Zakat Foundation of India, Old Delhi, India, November, 2008

This man represents a part of society that is generally shunned. He is both blind and a widow, resigned to receiving a bag of dried goods monthly in order to survive.

The people that provide this bag do so through the Zakat Foundation of India, in an anonymous manner. Usually, about twenty to thirty widows gather at a specific site three times a month, three different groups, to collect their bag of goods.

They, or someone that sponsors them, apply for this program and their application is reviewed by the good people of the foundation.

For this session, we use the courtyard of a local mosque. They are kind enough to allow us the space for photography due to the fact that the foundation is well known in the area. The streets are busy beyond our control and the courtyard allows us to make peaceful portraits.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Young Girl, Student, Banganga, Rajasthan, India, Humana People to People, November 20, 2009

From the note on this roll of film, this portrait is the first negative from the 24th roll of film on November 20, 2009.

She is dressed in her school uniform, has her portrait made in front of the teacher's home. Ten girls or so stand to her left only a few feet away and perhaps a dozen students and bystanders are to her right. Behind her is a white sheet stretched over a bench.

The teacher of this school is also the owner of this house, along of course with her husband. They are of the highest caste yet do almost all of the work themselves, from plowing the fields to the irrigation.

The teacher has a sister whose house is but a few meters away. Together they have considerable land and respect among the rest of the villagers. Instead of having others do the work, the two husbands work from sunrise to sunset. In all of my visits, four up to this year, I have never seen either husband sitting down upon arrival; they are always at work in the field.

Every time we arrive on this spot, both women and their daughters prepare two sets of tea for us, one from each family. Every time we have a meal, both families prepare a meal for us and sit down to watch us with smiles trying to finish both meals.

This is her fourth portrait in as many years. This session lasts for over two hours yet she and her girlfriends are able to maintain their composure for that length of time without hesitation.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mursi Man, Earrings, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2010

This portrait is the morning after the portrait below, in the middle of Mago National Park.

The night before we sleep near a stream and under a large tree. For our dinner, we have corn from the previous day and some canned tuna. While we sleep, a guard from the park services department watches out for us along with some men from his tribe, the very tribe we intend to photograph the next morning.

The reason for the decision to camp is based on the amount of gasoline remaining for the trip. Sleeping near the tribe allows us to eliminate the arduous trek over the mountain range and also lessens the wear and tear on the truck, as well as the driver.

Clouds, for some reason in the land of sunshine, decide to appear on the horizon just as the sun is shining most beautifully this entire week. Sleep is hard to find all night because of this. Every once in a while, I unzip the small tent and look up at the skies only to see stars. Then I go back to sleep only to repeat this a few times during the night.

In the morning, before the sun rises, I check on the sky one more time, seeing only stars. Excitement builds and we decide to move quickly. We pack all of our gear, place it on top of the truck and head to the village only a minute or so away.

As written in previous posts, a tribe that is supposed to be most difficult is in actuality more than gentle. We begin with the girls, then the women and then the older men. During this morning's session, a large cloud appears out of nowhere unexpectedly and seems to be moving in the same direction and with the same speed as the sun.

With the previous five days in mind, I almost decide to put everything away and give up. The translator tells me to be patient, tells me that the sun will reappear in less than one hour. In the end, he is right. The sun does reappear and even though it is higher and stronger than before, the people are able to stand up and collaborate beautifully.

We finish on a high note and move on to the next tribe, until our return next year hopefully.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mursi Man, Hat, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2010

This portrait is made on a late afternoon while our truck idles behind me. He stands looking to his right where perhaps twenty women and girls sit. Earlier today they had their portraits made and even sold a few lip plates to me, all with different shapes, patterns and colors.

In between sessions, we wait under the hot sun, to the surprise of the driver and the translator. While most of their friends bring customers into the village for a few minutes only to drive back to the motel for the rest of the day, these two good men get to hang out with me all day and wait for the sun to begin its descent into the late afternoon.

We would rather go back and rest ourselves but know that to come back would be most difficult for the truck. So we have our lunch under a tree, share a can or two of sardines with a few tribesmen, sleep for a bit, talk to the older men and generally are the center of attention for the younger generation.

Today the sun exists without clouds and my only wish is that this remains so until the afternoon. We are granted this wish and arrange to make the men's portraits. One by one they walk from under the row of trees to stand in front of the camera. Some come as they are, some bring their rifles and some bring their swords.

While this tribe lives in a most inaccessible part of Ethiopia, they have been photographed beyond ability to count. Almost every single day a group of tourists stop by for their dose of a different world. They typically get out of their SUVs, walk around with their eyes wide open, stand behind their guide and wait for an opportunity to make some pictures then return to their air-conditioned vehicles twenty minutes later on their way to the next visual attraction.

So this tribe has seen it all, the world has come to them and continues to come to them on an hourly basis. For this very reason, their portraits amaze me this afternoon. While cameras are nothing new to them, their collective reaction to my camera is fresh. They usually negotiate a fee for a single image but are willing to stand in front of me for a few minutes and hear the continuous sound of the shutter without refusing me their portrait. According to our translator, our approach is quite unorthodox yet accepted.

These men honor me and my work, I am humbled by their worldliness.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Girl, Student, Humana People to People, Near Virat Nagar, Rajasthan, India, November 19, 2009

Once again, the note on the roll of film tells me that this portrait is the 8th exposure from the 11th roll of film. The background is that of a white wall. Behind her and to her right, a woman is working a fire, away from the frame of the portrait.

During her portrait, she is both serious and funny, most of the time the latter dominates the former. Her laugh is infectious, helps everyone around us laugh when she does. Even the older men laugh and then poke fun at her. To my surprise, she pokes fun back at them with an attitude rarely seen by me in a young girl from this culture.

Her village is away from the beaten path and it takes us at least thirty minutes over rough terrain to arrive. She and her friends are performing chores and gather themselves the instant we arrive for their portraits. We arrive early in the morning, almost before the sun has risen.

We walk to the end of the village and, to our pleasant surprise, we find a home with a glorious white wall, and with the sun directly striking it. We set up our equipment after receiving permission from the owners of the house. The setting is quite private and enables the girls to feel comfortable. The older men are quite gentle and allow the girls to express themselves both in expressions and in their choice of clothing. Many of the girls are dressed in their traditional attire but some of the girls have chosen other styles.

In this image, she is in between expressions. The film is exposed while she is trying to regain her composure. She is perfect before, during and after this image.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Angie, Mother, Wife, Model, Cleveland, Ohio, United States, May, 2010

Every once in a while in the States, someone approaches me and asks to have their portrait made.

Usually, my camera stays in the closet.

An email is received from Angie and all of a sudden a realization comes over me: there are plenty of people on this side of the ocean that can find their way into my portfolio.

Her words are concise and sweet. For her portrait, she wants nothing in return. As a matter of fact, she is willing to drive across the state for the photography.

As of this portrait, she has given me two opportunities to make her portrait, the one above is from our second session together. Because of my need for natural light, she reserves time for me without knowing for certain the chance of meeting.

Unlike the subjects in the rest of my portfolio, she has modeled extensively and has been photographed by some of the finest photographers from across the country. She has been photographed in larger and smaller cities, in professional studios and in natural settings.

For our portraits, she arrives on her own the first time and with her family the second time. She comes dressed beautifully simple, with nothing to decorate her face. She is a most humble, kind individual, one who has taken her rightful place next to the faces in my portfolio.

She has my deepest respect.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Young Mursi Girl, Body Paint, Ear Modification, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2010

Out of all the communities we run across in the Lower Omo Valley, the Mursi Tribe seem to attract the most tourists.

The lip plates?

Can it be the way they modify their earlobes?

Maybe the fact that they live in a national park?

Does body paint have anything to do with it?

Do raised patterns on their skin catch the tourists' attention?

With the exception of the lip modification, this young girl has it all. She belongs to the Mursi Community, lives in a national park, adorns herself with wonderful images and boasts beautiful raised patterns on her shoulders as well.

She is however different in that she is missing an opening in her lower lip for the placement of a lip plate. She is near the age when such is done, as a transition to womanhood. Wearing a lip plate is associated with fertility and eligibility for marriage, a sign of sexual maturity.

This is all missing above; or is she perhaps signaling a change in her culture, in the mindset of her people?

According to some accounts, the influence of mainstream Ethiopian culture as well as the introduction of tourists have perhaps challenged internal perceptions regarding this practice.

While older women and men view the lip plate as a transition to womanhood, a certain portion of the younger generation is aware that this practice is seen as 'backward' by the state. While the older generation considers the absence of a lip plate as a sign of weakness, awkwardness and a general lack of grace, the younger generation at times sees it as a transition to the 'modern world.'

A most intriguing article regarding this phenomena is included here for your review.

As for this young Mursi girl, she stands above with strength and balance; she holds herself with a grace that few can rival.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Daughter of the Kanjar Community, Rajasthan, India, November 4, 2009

A daughter of the Kanjar Community, she stands before us on a chair with only the sky behind her. A daughter of the Kanjar Community, she plays in alleys where sex is traded out in the open in exchange for payment.

She watches as her aunts and sisters entertain local villagers in the very house that she calls her home. When finished, these very customers will turn and walk in the other direction, barely acknowledging her or her community. When in need, her community is sought after and when in day to day circumstances, it is shunned.

This is the world in which she lives, this is a collection of homes on top of which she stands for her portrait. She has been waiting for over an hour and yet has the wonder of a girl that has just seen the camera for the first time. She is shy at first and then allows her smile to surface for the rest of us to witness.

At an average age of fourteen, the girls of this community are sent to the brothels of the larger cities. Their brothers and uncles go along as well, serving as their handlers, as their managers. While this community has seen generations of this life, their history is rich with another life.

In a previous time, they served as traditional entertainers for all castes. They earned their living in a system of trade by playing music, walking ropes, dancing and acting. With the disappearance of this traditional system and without land to their name or a manner of making a living outside of entertainment, they made the transition to the trade of sex.

A foundation is making a difference in her life as this is written. The Nirvanavan Foundation has established a school in her small village, has provided her with a most enthusiastic teacher, one that smiles as he speaks and one that teaches as he smiles. The classroom is filled with their drawings, the shelves stocked with books. A small curtain acts as a signal that one is entering a sacred place.

After the photography, we walk around the village and watch as women go about their chores. Under one tree, a group of people are playing a game. We set the video to work and document their conversations. After which we are led by a man that is to sponsor land for the new school building. He is a proud man and one that is making an effort to help his community find a different way.

We walk to our truck and say our goodbyes, we hope to return next year to a different community.