Tuesday, November 30, 2010
He walks over from under a tree for his portrait, along with the rest of the men. The sun is behind me to the left, we have two hours of light left before we need to start back on the road to the motel. The trouble with the truck forces us to leave the engine running, the noise becoming a part of the background by now.
One by one, the men take their turns. Some of them smile, some of them refrain from doing so. A few bring their rifles, a few others brandish their swords. They have seen me before in the form of other photographers and appear quite comfortable.
During my day with this Mursi Community, tourists come and go. They get out of their air-conditioned vehicles for the standard dozen or so photographs, haggling over the price a few portraits that in the end are less than the bottle of water in their other hand. The lack of courtesy shown surprises me very little for the most part, for these tourists barely look my way as well. They remind me of others from their Society that walk past me in the airports, in the streets, in the coffee shops; barely lifting their heads from the bright screens to notice my presence then either.
One man approaches me however. He is this group's tour guide. He has seen enough and walks away for a break from the excess. He notices me and starts a conversation. He is quite friendly, telling me about his work as a tour guide and the number of visits to Ethiopia before this present one.
He then asks me about my ethnicity, about my history. His face turns to curiosity when he learns of my Lebanese descent and time spent in Lebanon during the Civil War. He inquires as to the exact location of my family. When he learns the answer, he smiles slightly and tells me that he has been to that city.
Knowing his background as an Israeli, my guess is that his time in Lebanon was under the occupation of my country by his nation. He confirms this and tells me of his time in the armed forces during the Egyptian conflict as well. His face is transformed at this time, he tells me of one difference between the two conflicts: during the Egyptian affair, if a missile missed its target it might have struck the natural landscape behind that target... but during the invasion of Lebanon, if a missile missed its primary target it might have struck the urban landscape behind that target, quite possibly a civilian series of casualties.
At that moment, he says something completely unexpected, that he has never had respect for his government's decision to invade Lebanon and to engage forces within the population in such a manner. He extends his hand as a sign and we shake hands in the middle of a foreign nation. Here is a man that might have pointed a rifle at my family in Lebanon, telling me of his sorrow for the act, and then sharing his humanity with me years after the incident.
All the while the women from this village are walking around and trying to sell their crafts to the people under his guidance, pieces ranging from woven baskets to clay lip plates. We talk for a few minutes more until his tourists are finished with their snapshots. We bid each other farewell and he returns to a home on the other side of a border from my family.
It is on this day that the portrait above is made, hours after the conversation with the former Israeli soldier.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Is she really that? Does that define her?
Do her aunts still trade sex for money? Are her uncles the pimps behind these transactions?
Can a Society calling itself a democracy allow this to happen in plain view? Are the police aware?
Do the neighbors think of them as the lowest in the Society while they pay for their services?
Does she have a chance in this dark world? Can there be a future for humanity with this in mind?
How much pain has she seen? How many of her sisters have been sent away for money?
When she plays in the alley in front of her home, is she only a wall away from the truth?
Does she perhaps already know her sisters' reality? Does she believe it is hers?
Are there men that believe being with her will cure them of their sexually transmitted illness?
What payment will they make? What price will she pay? What has Society lost?
Does anyone care?
Only the answer to the last question is clear to me. It is one reason for her smile.
She will survive, she will overcome her destiny.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Although most of the sessions are arranged prior to the visit, a few women contact me throughout my time in California. The young woman above is one such example. Through an announcement on ModelMayhem, she responds with a sincere desire to collaborate.
We arrange to meet within a day or two just outside of Los Angeles County. It has been cloudy all week and raining as well. Everyone tells me that they have never seen such weather in their area. This gives me the feeling that they almost feel responsible for it. A silver lining is that once outside of the county and over the mountains, the weather is usually clear, thus the reason for our meeting in this area.
We meet and then drive perhaps fifteen minutes further in order to place ourselves under the sun. A large white wall is found next to a supermarket and we proceed to make her portrait. Lacy for her part is calm and soft-spoken. She follows instructions beautifully and even though her eyes are very sensitive to the sun, she maintains a positive attitude and allows us to continue our work under the brilliant, blue skies.
She tells me of her dance background and we decide to make a series of portraits with this in mind. She changes from one outfit to another without a single complaint and her husband shows his support throughout, with ideas and with words. Working with them is a delight and we end by exchanging information and two prints to remind them of the photographic family that they have just joined.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Some respond once, few do more than this during my visit to California.
Many talk regarding their humanity, few demonstrate it.
Most make arrangements, few keep them.
Such is the case with the young woman above. One morning we set up to photograph, only to cancel at the last moment due to car trouble. The difference in her case is that she is awake early enough in the morning to give me a call. The difference is that she arranges another meeting and makes sure to show up, on her own and determined to collaborate.
She has a vision, she wants to express her experience through portraiture. She is humble enough to share time with someone else in front of the lens, another model already present, and she is focused enough to produce the portrait desired within twenty minutes. She is able to express her emotion on film and with four other people watching, in a public space.
Every single one of her portraits, the ones viewed on color positive film so far, are perfect.
After the session, she decides to climb a rocky formation and have her portrait made by Bailey from a distance. She sees this climb as yet another accomplishment and does so with the smile of a little girl. She is an inspiration to us all and we applaud her strength, both in her ability to tell her story through photography and to climb an incline many would decline.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
One month before my visit to California, a few dozen messages are sent to models in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco. Out of those few dozen messages, two dozen responses are received. Out of those two dozen responses, a handful respond in the manner of the young woman above.
Her name is LeeAnna. As my messages are sent out her messages arrive. She is precise and dedicated to the thought of our collaboration. She reaches out to other models in my list, shares with them her vision. She never gives up, even after two then three then four models fade out of communication.
On the very day that we are to photograph, a model informs me of her cancellation as we are driving to the location. It seems that her boyfriend feels that this location is secluded even though it is a popular park and tourists abound in addition to the park authorities. The compassion that LeeAnna shows me and my work erases such negative experiences for me and restores my faith in humanity.
She has photographed with accomplished photographers, has worked on extensive projects. Yet she makes the time to meet me almost two hours away from her home, without a hair stylist or a make-up artist on location. She agrees to be photographed in the sun and with the wind in her hair. We select one location only to find clouds over that location. We then make a spontaneous decision to meet at another location, near a place called Mormon's Rocks. All this is done while driving separately from different locations.
We meet at the local McDonald's and look around only to see clouds again. My experience, although limited in the area, tells me that the sun will be shining twenty minutes further up the highway. With an unlimited sense of faith in the project, LeeAnna and her wonderful companion decide to follow me in search of light. We drive twenty or so minutes and find that sun, albeit in between clouds.
We take an exit and drive to find a neutral background. We park on the side of a building and organize ourselves, me with my equipment and LeeAnna with her attire. We make close portraits of her, waiting for the sun in between clouds to shine. We are fortunate to be able to expose a few rolls and then decide to make full body images. A small electrical box serves the function of a stand and brave LeeAnna stands on top of it for the last series of images.
She is proud, she is elegant in her stances. In the middle of suburban sprawl, she shows us a most beautiful spirit, shows the other girls and women in my portfolio their sister from California. She looks past all of the buildings, all of the plazas. She looks to her compatriots in Asia and in Africa, shares with them her smile and her strength.
She is an inspiration to me, to them.
We conclude our session and cannot find enough words to thank each other. This most beautiful of women and her companion on this day have shown me the meaning of friendship, of kindness and of love. This will be shared with the others in my portfolio, they will feel it through her portraits.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
The time in Los Angeles is filled with mixed emotions. On the one hand, this is the first time more than a weekend is spent in the States with photography. On the other hand, it is one week away from doing work overseas.
Will the models show up? Will they have the same enthusiasm as girls never exposed to a camera? Will they share a bond with the women in my portfolio?
These questions are answered one woman at a time, one session at a time. The portrait above is an example of an affirmative to all of the above.
Magdalena shows up every single time, working with me on three occasions. She does as is asked of her, she offers her ideas seamlessly and moves in a most free fashion. She climbs boulders with bare feet, changes into different outfits without hesitation, loves the color black and brings emotions my camera has yet to experience.
When we have time, we talk. She shares with me a little bit about her life, one detail at a time. She learns from me that these details will be shared with the girls in my portfolio. The girls in India, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Cuba and elsewhere will learn her story, will see her portrait.
One afternoon after driving back to her neighborhood, instead of thanking me and then departing, she takes time from her busy evening to have dinner with me at a local spot. Instead of joining her friends immediately, she takes the time to have a real conversation with me over a sandwich, a conversation formed out of mutual interest.
The women from photographic sessions in Los Angeles and San Francisco are wonderful examples of humanity; they give of their time and of their talent for the sake of girls on the other side of the world. While many models drop the lines of communication and fail to show up after being confirmed, many more do show up and place their stamp upon my work beautifully.
They are admired by me and respected by the spirits in my portfolio. They prove to me the worth of the past two weeks in California.