Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Girl with the Clear Eyes, Habana, Cuba, July, 2011


I find her this year as she has graduated from High School with a degree in education. By the end of this year she will be teaching children have her age in a local school. Her mother is quite proud of her and displays her daughter's graduation and achievement certificates.

She has gone from a little girl on the side of the Malecon to a young woman poised to teach the next generation and help her family at the same time. Her eyes are as clear and filled with life as ever. She holds a smile beautifully every time we turn our attention to her.

As before, she lives with her mother, stepfather, grandfather and two siblings in a one room home. They have split the room vertically and have added a bedroom above where five people sleep on mats laid out on the floor. On the first floor is a small bed for the grandfather, a tiny kitchen area and a small television.

This time around, in addition to seeing her pictures from last year, she receives a publication on whose cover her portrait sits. When her eyes catch this she smiles even more so, remembering a time six years ago when she shared her desire to be a model with me. Here she is, equal with all women before her to grace the cover of a magazine.

With this presentation another surprise is shared with her. I tell her that people from around the world have seen her portrait, and have shared interest in having a print. Many have in fact purchased her print and wanted to share their admiration of her strength and beauty through the act of a print purchase. I then hand to her and her mother the proceeds from those print sales, for they are the fruits of her labor and love.

They are deeply surprised, even though they experienced the same last year. Instead of counting anything, her mother instructs her to go upstairs and place the funds in a safe place. The feeling in the room is one of exuberance, for after six years we have managed to forge a purpose from a simple portrait. We talk for a bit more and then head home.

A few days later we return for another portrait session. We are welcomed as always with grace. However before beginning our photography, the future school teacher wants to show something to me. She takes my hand, and with the permission of her mother, guides me upstairs to the bedroom. Her stepfather is also upstairs getting ready for work as a security guard.

She points to a new bed, one large enough for the women in the family. This is the first time she has ever had a bed in which to sleep night after night. To put words down describing the feeling inside is impossible. Suffice it to say that a great emotion came over me and we just stood there smiling, the stepfather included.

She then took my hand once again and walked downstairs with me. She pointed to the new floor-standing fans in the room. This is also the first time that she has had such ventilation in her home, enough to keep her and her family cooler during the day. A few people are also sitting inside and look pleased at my reaction.

While my partner in work has seen much reaction to our work with the families before today, this experience also leaves him with the impression that the photography has taken on a new meaning. We leave the family on this day like never before, and promise to return the next week.

Should you like to make a difference with the purchase of her print also, you may contact me at halim.ina@gmail.com or visit my website below.