Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Young Woman, Courtyard of Home, Outskirts of Dakar, Senegal, February, 2006

While having been to Africa before, this can be described as my first photographic experience on the continent. My trip to Senegal and Gambia began as a visit to my family, and ended up launching my work on the continent.

On the day we met this young woman, we decided to explore another neighborhood of the capital. Two young men accompanied me during my days, both of whom ran small businesses near my cousin's home. One young man ran a small fruit stand and the other owned a small corner store. They knew my cousin and took it upon themselves to help me with my work.

Most of the time we would walk up and down streets, looking for a moment and a face. Whenever we set up the camera, children would come running from everywhere to have their pictures made. At first it  would seem like four, then that number would multiply by six to become well over a dozen. My friends would always joke with me that we needed to set up a video camera just to record from which houses the people came.

On this day however we were coming back from a day of photography when I glanced to my left and saw this young woman's face. She and her family were standing at their doorway, and my friends were walking in front of me looking forward to going home. She however caught my attention and rather than asking my friends to inquire for me I raised my hand and made the motion of clicking the shutter of a camera. She smiled approvingly and made me want to walk across the street.

I asked my two companions for permission and they gave it. We walked across a dirt street filled with tire tracks and potholes to meet her and her family. They quickly invited us inside without hesitation. We walked past a doorway and into a courtyard. We sat down for a little bit and then asked to make her portrait. They again allowed us without hesitation and the camera was set up for such.

One year before I learned the technique of making portraits without a hint of a background while working in Cuba. In this instance, the courtyard not only had a white wall but also an open sky and access to the setting sun. She was asked to stand with her back to the white wall and her face to the sun. She did so and allowed me a few exposures before the sun began to set behind the building.

To this day my mind has a difficult time grasping the idea of being allowed into the lives of others with such ease. The number of people met, the tens of thousands of negatives exposed and the hundreds of hours spent have yet to provide me with an explanation. I can only be thankful for the trust shown to me and the kindness attached to that trust.

I know that I will never see this young woman again, unlike the others in my portfolio. I do however appreciate the image above and what it represents for me, a single moment in an afternoon of my life when the face of kindness presented itself to me.

Halim Ina Photography