Sunday, July 31, 2011

Amanda y Vanesa, Ballerinas, Alamar, Cuba, July, 2010

This is their portrait from last year, Vanesa and Amanda. They have been friends since birth, living next to each other in a complex of apartment buildings. They are six months apart in terms of their age and without siblings, Amanda being the older girl.

In this image, Vanesa is being photographed for the first time. When we arrive on this day to photograph Amanda, I am told of a friend close by, also a ballerina. A long story short, Vanesa is collected by Amanda's mother and we make portraits of both on this incredible day. The background happens to be the white wall of an apartment building housing only artists.

From her apartment nearby Amanda's grandmother watches us as we work for over one hour. As the session nears its end, Vanesa becomes dizzy and faints. She falls backward and onto the concrete walkway one meter below the surface on which she is standing. The sound is indescribable but it seems that her hair prevents any serious injury. Everyone rushes over to her, two walk quickly to the corner store for some water and some ice cream.

We sit awaiting the water and talk with Vanesa. She seems intact and answers all of our questions. She apologizes for the incident and in our opinion has nothing to apologize for of course. Rather than waking up for breakfast on this incredibly hot day, she is rushed out of bed in the morning for photography in the sun with us without warning.

With the arrival of water and ice cream, all seems to improve and we walk over to her home. We offer to take Vanesa to the hospital but both families seem comfortable with her recovery. We bid them farewell for the day and return to the city.

Over the next five days and in between photographic sessions in the city, we return to their homes with flowers and an interest in her well-being. They are deeply touched, as are we by their kindness. We form a bond during this trip, our relationship takes on a new meaning.

On the last day, we drop by once again to bid them farewell. Rather than doing just that, we are invited by the girls to photograph once again. This time around, we find a place on the beach with only grass under their feet. We photograph for two hours with nothing but the sun over our heads and finish the last roll of film in my bag for the year.

During my most recent trip this past month, the girls have grown up by it seems a decade. They have entered their thirteenth year and have become teenagers. They show a curious interest in the boys around us, on the beach and by the apartment buildings. They have a confidence about them that is new to me, and one that makes me proud to know them. They are still the best of friends and hug each other anytime they get the chance.

We are offered the white wall next door but choose the beach once again. We photograph twice on the beach and once at the old Pan-American Stadium nearby. When I ask the girls about being photographed in their regular attire, they smile at each other and nod in the affirmative. They had wanted to do so but were afraid to ask. Our first session on the beach this time around is quite festive and one reminiscent of a fashion shoot.

Amanda and Vanesa mean the world to me, for they understand my work, our collaboration and give of themselves without asking for anything in return. I tell them so and advise them that they are the reason for my return year after year, rather than the old buildings in the city or the history of the island. It is their kindness that lures me back.

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Halim Ina Photography