We work on the roof, away from the hustle and noise of the street. For the very first time in our collaboration, we are allowed to work in comfort and privacy. Hamely's mother sits in the shade nearby, trying to stay cool. We set up a small studio consisting of a white sheet and proceed to make portraits until the heat forces us to break for the day.
I have been photographing Hamely for seven years now and she never ceases to amaze me. She knows my strengths and weaknesses, plays them to her favor but only in the sweetest of ways. A few rolls go by usually before she allows herself to shine.
In the beginning we communicated through a translator named Billy and gestures. Now Eldo helps me with the language but I am able to speak my mind to her like never before. She knows that Spanish has become my second language precisely in order to speak with her, to share my thoughts and hopes with those just like her in my Cuban work.
She wonders how I have learned to speak Spanish. I tell her that listening to language lessons in my car on the way to work each day has served me well. She smiles at the thought of me doing so, like her in class perhaps. While she is quite brave in the streets, holding her own with the boys and in the presence of tourists, she is a most gentle girl and is silent especially when the time comes to separate.
I love her so and she is quite aware of this since I have told her so many times over. She wonders about my life in the States, about my family. I tell her that she is my family, that she is the reason for my visits to the island. I could care less about the buildings, about the other tourists, about the old American cars and about the propaganda pasted all over the place.
She is the reason for my visits, she is the person for whom this work is made. She has a place in my portfolio like no other, and with my newly learned Spanish she has heard such. We speak openly and without fear of miscommunication. In the beginning I was told to be more reserved, for misunderstandings might happen. According to my experiences with the girls in my Cuban portfolio however it has served me well to communicate openly my admiration for them.
We always work with them in a respectful manner. While the men working with me like to at times smoke and drink, perhaps speak to women now and then, they do understand that while they are with me and the girls none of these activities are to be tolerated. When we have lunch, we do so without alcohol and when we work with the children any smoking to be done is in between the visits. While many of these visits include older women, our communication with them is to be completely neutral.
Hamely and her cousin understand that when I am finished for the day the only things waiting for me at the end of each day are a warm meal and a restful night. Unlike countless others visiting the island, I arrive alone and work alone and sleep alone with the exception of the good people helping me in my work. She knows she is the center of my world while we are working together and afterwards.
The smile above is the smile that she shows me every single time we meet.
Halim Ina Photography