Sunday, March 30, 2014

Refugee + Camp, Muzzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, India, December 1, 2013

This young girl's portrait was made on December 1, 2013 in a refugee camp located just inside Uttar Pradesh, India. She and her family fled sectarian violence which to this day has yet to be fully understood. 

They live within a collection of tents, without education, medicine, electricity, water, permanent toilet, etc. A thin sheet of fabric is her only protection from the harsh environment, both natural and human. With this in mind she presents herself for us to witness, for us to absorb.

Can we imagine what she has seen, what she has heard in her young life? What images flow through her young mind while she tries to sleep? Does she see one meal per day? How does she deal with the trauma inflicted upon her just a few months before?

How was she able to walk up to a stranger with the camera and present herself with such vibrancy? She looks through the lens, through the photographer and to those perhaps willing to hear her story. I share her hope and wish one day that her life at least returns to 'normal' and much more.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Campesino + Machete, La Habana, Cuba, Summer of 2013

We ran across this gentle man as Alejandro guided me through a new neighborhood. We saw very little since most were still asleep. This man however had already worked in the morning and was headed in our direction. Alejandro already knew my thoughts and asked him to be photographed. He agreed most amicably and we sat down for a few minutes to the side of the street to talk while getting the gear ready.

We began with the close images and had a feeling that perhaps direct sunlight might be a bit much for a direct portrait. Alejandro then pulled the reflector out and we made his portrait while he sat on the steps of a neighbor's house. We spent maybe thirty minutes together, packed up our gear and walked in opposite directions. By far his portrait was my favorite of the morning. Of course when we return to the area this summer he will be handed these images, and many more.

These images were made just outside of Havana, and represent a body of work recorded onto traditional film. The system used was a Hasselblad 555 ELD with a 180mm lens, along with Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Model + Hat, Pan American Stadium, Havana, Cuba, July 29, 2013

Working with young models living in Cuba is somewhat surreal, for it is like photographing the girls in the streets and working with models in a studio. Having the incredible teacher with us makes it that much more precious, since she helps with the styling and the presentations. 

On this day we went to the trusty Pan American Stadium just five or so minutes outside of the city center. We worked adjacent to the main entrance while it was cloudy a bit then found our way to the white wall as the sun appeared for a short ten minutes. We photographed each woman for one roll and then packed up to head home. Alejandro was kind enough to make two trips from the city and two trips back to the city, since the car would only fit six at a time. 

I look forward to working with La Maestra and her students once again this summer.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180mm lens onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

One with the Clear Eyes, La Habana, Cuba, 2005 + 2013

A familiar face to many of us, this is her portrait eights years after her first. She is now a mother of a beautiful boy and a teacher, helping support her family. Her eyes are still as piercing, and her expressions have become even more complicated in a wonderful way. 

She lives with her mother, stepfather and two siblings, as well as her grandfather in a small shack. All with the exception of her grandfather sleep on one bed and in the upper space of their one room home. In the summer the heat is almost unbearable, yet she greets us every single time with this expression magnified.

For those unfamiliar with the face, the original image is included at the top. She was but ten years old and had just walked from El Malecon in her red swimsuit over to her father's house. Her hair was as wild as the waves that day.

Ballerina + Pan American Stadium, La Habana, Cuba, Summer of 2013

This is the welcome she extends whenever we call on her to be photographed. At the end of every session she asks about the next time. She is less than thirteen years old yet understands the value of the work perfectly. Here she stands at the steps of the Pan American Stadium where hundreds of athletes passed almost 25 years ago on their way to compete for glory. What is left is a crumbling building and this incredible spirit, a reminder that there are those that never forget regardless of circumstances.

The decision to visit the island of Cuba is an easy one, and one made even more so with the expression below in my mind.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180mm combination onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Model + Pan American Stadium, Havana, Cuba, July 26, 2013

We met at a modeling school in Central Havana and have since then collaborated at the stadium, on the beach and in the streets. Whenever we call she responds in a positive way, always up to the challenge. In this image she stands next to the Pan American Stadium built in 1991 for the games hosted by Cuba.

She brought with her on this day a few outfits and changed while her best friend was photographed. There is a certain quality about this young woman, her eyes are always focused on the lens in spite of the strong sun. She is completely aware of herself, right down to the how her heels contact the pavement.

There is little difference in photographing a model or a girl on the street in Cuba, for their experiences are shared. Perhaps this is the same here, but it is certainly the same on the island. Her house is as humble as many of the girls photographed on the streets. I respect her dreams and hope that our images are as wonderful as any a publication would make.

The headshot is perhaps the most intimidating image to make for the person in front of the camera. In this the young model living on the island of Cuba thrives. From a distance and up close she is in command of the images produced. Rather than looking in the direction of the lens, her eyes glance into the horizon while the sunlight from the other direction produces the contrasts shown here.

I look forward to seeing her in June, giving her these images and the others scanned tonight, while setting up our next collaboration. The next images scanned of her will be the ones from the beach.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Peerless One, Santa Maria de la Playa, Cuba, Summer of 2013

This was our first day at the beach and our collaboration has never been the same afterwards. The first three days from last summer were just scanned and over 100 images of her alone were produced. Any of these images can be printed for my portfolio and make me proud. Here is just one example, and she is as perfect now as the day we met almost six years ago in Central Havana, Cuba.

Her family trusts us to the point that she comes along with me and Alejandro on her own. She needs really nothing to motivate her, is up before the sun rises, ready by the time we arrive at 6:30 in the morning and spends the day with us like she would spend the day with her friends. She is both carefree and extremely driven.

I will visit Cuba as long as she is there. 

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad, 555 ELD/180mm combination onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Claudia + Wet Hair, Pan American Stadium, La Habana, Cuba, Summer of 2013

This is the 385th negative scanned from the first three days on the island, and once again it's a face familiar to all of us. In my mind she cannot do wrong. Here she is showing me yet another expression unseen so far in our collaboration. She is only 13 years old yet exhibits a spirit decades older.

We have worked for three years now, and have become friends from strangers years ago. While many make a single image of a child in the street and walk away, the experience of going back to the same person year after year is unlike any other. She has gifted me expressions behind any measurable value.

When we met we were actually looking for her sister, then she walked into the room and changed my world. She seemed so nonchalant in her response, but it was easy to recognize true passion even at 11 years old. She took hold of the lens' attention and never turned back. 

She lives just outside of La Habana in Cuba, and is one important reason for my return year after year. The purpose of my photography lies within her.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Three Ballerinas + Beach, Santa Maria Del Mar, Cuba, July 25, 2013

This is their first time together, on the beach and in front of the camera. It was really a spontaneous decision and they performed for a small crowd as well as the lens. 

The beach is really an incredible place for the girls of Cuba. It was pointed out to me that they rarely get a chance to visit it although they are surrounded by water. Working with them so close to the water brought out their more playful side, and it was marvelous to document.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555ELD/50mm combination and onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Ballerina + Beach, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, July 23, 2013

The last one for tonight is from a moment of rest in between rolls. Even when changing rolls of film my eyes examine the possibilities, and she is undeniable. Here she is sitting on a stone at the beach taking a break. She saw me pulling the tripod closer and maintained her composure, allowing me to snap ten images with various expressions. I never asked her to do so, she just did.

She lives with her mother and two brothers in a small apartment less than fifteen minutes away from this spot. She attends school during the day and then visits Old Havana for her ballet lessons. She does the latter seven days a week. Her brothers are incredibly inspirational and accomplished, wonderful examples for her to follow.

I look forward to handing these images to her in four months.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180mm lens combination, onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dancer + Triple Image, Pan American Stadium, Havana, Cuba, Summer of 2013

It's hard to put into words my thoughts of this young girl, but perhaps the fact that she is the most photographed of all in Cuba says it all. She does more in ten seconds than many can do in an hour. 

For those unfamiliar with this series, I have photographed this young dancer since 2008 and have visited her every single year with the exception of one. We have collaborated on countless rolls, at the Pan American Stadium pictured below, at the Santa Maria beach nearby and various other places. 

She is that rarest of spirits, gives everything and asks for nothing in return. Living on the island of Cuba, she knows the realities of life around her yet pushes forward nonetheless with her dancing, her creativity and her willingness for others to see her images.

Syrian + Refugee, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Summer of 2009

She lives in the very first village photographed almost seventeen years ago. This is where my photography began, in this very spot. She is sitting in the Sheikh's tent, the very person responsible for my work in this area. We took a break from working in the sun and made images with indirect light. From this point forward I am repeating this as it was the way I photographed in the beginning anyway. Marvelous children in every tent! 

I need to visit my original homeland soon to at least see her and her Syrian sisters once again. She lives in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon and is originally from Syria. She is in Lebanon with her family as migrant workers, doing the best that they can to just survive. She lives in a tent, lacks access to school and struggles on a daily basis just to make ends meet.

This is where my photography began.

She inspires me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Claudia + Hasselblad, La Habana, Cuba, July 21, 2013

It was all her idea. In a moment of fun she grabbed the digital camera and kindly asked to be photographed with the camera in hand, and I almost did so. What stopped me was the thought of using the analog camera to photograph the digital one!

Seeing that I had two analog cameras in the bag, I asked her to hold the second while the first one was used to photograph this image.

There is nothing that Claudia can do that fails to impress me deeply. Her gentle demeanor and way with the camera, even the one in her hands, speak volumes. 

There is something about making a photograph of a stranger, a fleeting moment in the street perhaps. Much of my work has this quality, faces never again appearing in front of my lens. Then there is Claudia above, a stranger once and now someone entirely different. The gift she has given me is the permission to return year after year to make her portrait. 

This collaboration has taken on a quality all its own and really defines photography for me. While the single image is priceless, a series of images over the span of years and perhaps decades represents an entirely different perspective. The reaction upon seeing me return is one of confidence, of kindness and of love. She knows that the reason for my return to the island is to document the changes in her life, and perhaps the consistencies as well.

She is more valuable than a single exposure, she and her compatriots on the island mean the world to me… and this is beyond clear to her. She knows this enough to pick up my camera, and this shows on her face in the portrait above.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180mm combination onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film with a white wall as the background. Natural light only was used on the beautiful island of Cuba.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Refugee + Camps, Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, India, November 30, 2013

This young girl is no different than the two sisters in the previous posts. She has the same dreams all girls from around the world possess, displaying a smile as proof of this.

Her life is an extreme one with images of her surroundings included alongside her image. She and her family have been uprooted from their home by the most recent bout of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh, India. They now live in these tents, and have perhaps a single bulb at night to share among a few families. With the sun setting well before six, can we imagine her perceptions for the remaining, waking hours?

My visits to these camps was made possible by a dear brother named Asrar. He told me that their stories needed to be shared. We photographed eight camps and interviewed two dozen people telling their us about their experiences. The only blessing for me was that they spoke in a language foreign to me, the only way to maintain composure while the camera was recording.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Girl + Greeting, Rajasthan, India, Humana People to People, November 3, 2013

There are the shy ones and then there is this young girl. When she saw a stranger walking up the path leading past her home with a large camera, she stood her ground rather than retreat into her house. She agreed to be photographed even though a dozen or more of her neighbors were listening to the question. The images made on that very late afternoon were meant as an introduction, and the family obliged a visit the very next day which resulted in this face just as the sun appeared above the hilltop.

Perhaps the happiest set of girls photographed in a single house by me they were. All of them giggled the entire time, and teased the camera quite a bit before they stepped more than willingly in front of it.  We made images on the rooftop and just this past week the portrait desired of each daughter was processed to my delight. To do so on the first attempt is a fortune, and even more so considering the beauty/kindness within this family.

Three schools for girls have been reopened in their area, and we hope to do more in the near future. Humana People to People India is doing incredible work and I am proud to be considered a partner in their progression.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Refugee + Camp, Uttar Pradesh, India, November 24, 2013

This young girl greeted us every morning for the five or so days we stayed in this house. She and her other friend never spoke a word in our presence, always picked up the cups of tea once finished and were relentlessly sweeping the floor especially in the morning. 

Asking to make her portrait was natural for me, but was out of the ordinary for her. She nonetheless sat for her picture while the adults looked on. Every second or so she'd look in their direction but still managed to be herself under the circumstances. 

Our hosts were magnificent, the meals that they provided were fit for kings. The room that they had given me was their own bedroom, and they sacrificed their nights for the sake of my presence. It is these experiences, her expression being one, that tell me this is the path for me.

Note: This image was made with a hand-held Sony RX100M2 with available light only, as the morning began.

Claudia + Sunglasses, Pan American Stadium, La Habana, Cuba, July 21, 2013

Without references to publications and rarely seeing anything but government programs on a television, Claudia is still without comparison when she steps in front of the lens. She is all but 13 years old in these images, and wants the world to see her spirit! She lives just outside of La Habana with her sister and parents, and never complains bur rather smiles for what she has in her life.

Only four months stand between now and this summer's visit to Cuba. The process of preparing the pictures for the girls started last night, and with Claudia. This image shows her at thirteen, and this summer we will collaborate for the fourth straight year. The idea is to publish a piece showing the progression through the five years leading to her 'QuinceaƱera.'

Unlike most around her, she cares little for the glamour of such an event but prefers a more sublime approach to this documentation. She has grow immensely since we first began and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with in July.

Note: This image was made in the streets of Havana, with only sunlight as our light source. The camera was a Hasselblad 555 ELD, with the incredible 180mm lens. Everything else is all Claudia!