Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Ballerina named Irinita, Lizt Alfonso School of Ballet, Habana, Cuba, 2008

We meet in front of the famed Lizt Alfonso School of Ballet. While looking for a spot to photograph someone else, I stumble upon perhaps forty ballerinas waiting with their parents for classes to begin. The girls are standing in groups and chatting with their friends, the same with the parents. The space is a large square, surrounded by beautiful, two-story buildings with light walls. The place is one large soft box, and I decide to head back to inform the family of the location to be used for our photography.

Then the thought of photographing the ballerinas comes to me. I am by myself, without my interpreter. While I have learned quite a bit of Spanish since my first trip to Cuba, speaking with dozens of parents regarding the photography of their daughters intimidates me. I walk around a bit and hope for a friendly face. I find it in a young woman, and she speaks both Spanish and English.

I begin explaining my work to her and a few parents around us, a bit of Spanish mixed in with the English. She tells me that my Spanish is fine and to speak to the parents in Spanish. After a few minutes, a few more parents come around to hear about the work. I show the albums of my work to them, and ask them to allow their daughters to be photographed.

From the view of the parents, it must be quite a leap to allow a stranger to photograph their daughters in a public space. Regardless one girl steps forward, her name is Irina. Only after her courageous offer do others begin to line up. We decide to begin the photography since classes will begin in less than twenty minutes.

We pick the front of the school as the background, with the opposite building beautifully lit by the sun. I put the bags down, grab the tripod and begin setting up. Everyone gathers around, curious to see the work. They see a scene different than the usual perhaps, a medium format camera set up on an immense tripod, with a cable release and film to boot.

Irina steps forward, in front of her classmates and strangers alike. She is a most confident, young girl. She smiles at my fumbling, at my nervousness initially due to the fact that twelve girls with their parents are waiting all of a sudden. There is a calm about her that makes me feel quite comfortable however and a few exposures are made of her. She then walks away and stands to the side watching the rest being photographed.

Everyone writes down their names for me, and provides their addresses as well.

The doors of the school open, and the girls all walk inside to begin their lessons. Most of the parents leave, but a few wait outside for the classes to end. At this time my friend arrives and we make her portrait in front of the school a little bit away from the previous spot.

We walk away with the memory of this experience deeply stamped in my mind. In the next blog entry, the story will continue.

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Halim Ina Photography