Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Princess and I, Countryside, Cuba, Summer of 2015

One incredible facet of this island is the ability to make portraits of ballerinas on the beach in the morning and environmental images of the people in the countryside later on in the afternoon, with a homemade meal in between. It is such a magical place, and filled with genuine understanding of the work.

How would any of us receive a stranger and a Cuban driver walking up to us in our own homes asking to photograph our children? Would we have this conversation with someone right smack in the middle of our workday? Would we make the time to engage the strangers for a half an hour, to listen to their request and then to oblige resulting in portraits made that very afternoon?

This is what happened in this hamlet, after spotting a young girl with the most incredibly green eyes on the road. We were directed to a man inside to have that conversation, and were granted permission to photograph all of the children that same afternoon.

This image was made on our second visit, as they had invited us to document a performance held in our honor, yes, in our honor! Here they were, offering themselves to us photographically, yet going out of their way to put on a most beautiful performance complete with loudspeakers, costumes and staged acts.

Here I kneel next to one of the young girls, after all of the activities were finished. Our smiles say it all I believe.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Young Student, Near Kisumu, Kenya, 2006

Early in my work on the African Continent I was fortunate enough to have the guidance of a wonderful foundation by the name of MACODEF. These wonderful people worked on community development near the small town if Kisumu, Kenya. They chose a few villages and concentrated their considerable efforts for their development.

One day they took me to a school knowing that children are of great interest to me. They told me to set up my camera since the children would be running out immediately. They were right, a few minutes after setting up the camera the children began running out one classroom at a time.

A small bench was placed with the beautiful dirt behind the children as the backdrop. We photographed every single child, and they took great pleasure in sitting for the lens even if it was for only a minute or so. This is one portrait from that session, a young boy sitting with pride in front of his students.

Note: This image was made with a Nikon F100.

Jaedon + Rock Formation, Near Los Angeles, California, November 6, 2015

Here is another sample from my afternoon with this incredible woman, just before the previous image was made. We were on our way to El Mirage when we saw this spot on the left, and decided to stop for a short session. 

Whether we were in front of an abandoned shed or on the dry lake bed, Jaedon performed flawlessly. Although she stood on an uneven surface, she put the same effort in this spot as she put into her performances on stage. She allowed herself to be photographed in such an environment, even though she was trained at one of the most prestigious schools in the country.

She selflessly gave of herself to allow me to share her images with our dancers in Cuba. Soon they will see her portraits, and feel her performance fully. I look forward to a lifelong collaboration with Jaedon!

Note: These images were made with a Sony RX100M3.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Woman with Child, Nirvanavan Foundation, Rajasthan, India, 2015

Every time we walk past this house on our way to the teacher's home, the family asks us to make photographs, without exception. While I would like to oblige, taking the camera out of the bag means making more photographs than anticipated. Once the camera is out of the bag, it's one portrait after another… one combination of family members after another.

So in this instance we make this portrait and about three other combinations, before moving on. What is most amazing about this experience is that all they want is to be photographed, and rarely ask for their photographs even though we do provide them.

When we arrive to the teacher's home, it is like arriving to heaven. We enter the house and find the space most peaceful, as if an invisible barrier prevents anything/anyone negative from entering. The boys know better than to enter, and the brave ones who do are shown the way out once they do. This is a place for the girls, for our students… and a safe haven for their dreams.

I look forward to standing in front of this spot in four months, but even more so the destination just a dozen meters past it.

PS As a side note, after posting this image I noticed the chairs and bench behind the woman and child. In all of my visits to this village and the others hosting our schools, I have rarely seen a woman sitting in them. I learned pretty quickly that women were not allowed to sit in a chair, and that the floor was her place to sit.

Two Girls, Small Village in Matanzas, Cuba, Summer of 2015

The previous post featured a young, local spirit… while this image features two living in rural Cuba. This past summer we had the privilege of once again visiting this village, and being welcomed like never before thanks to the photographs shared with the people.

Last summer we found photographed this village thanks to the look the girl on the right gave us as she walked across the street. We had finished with an abandoned train station and were backing out of the dirt path when she crossed the street and gave us the most intense yet carefree glance.

This immediately forced me to ask Alejandro to stop, and go back. Long story short, an older man helped us find her home and ask her neighbors for permission to make her portrait. Fast forward one year, we visited her village a few times and made her portrait once again. She was enamored with the idea of it all, running back and forth between us and her house asking about her wardrobe, and her hair.

In this image she stands next to one of her neighbors, another wonderful spirit photographed. She was kind to her younger friend, and helped her remain at ease throughout the process by herself posing beautifully. This image was more of a candid image, on a day when we did little photography due to the clouds above. We had a few minutes however during our visit and decided to make some color images for the girls.

I'm glad that we did, and look forward to visiting once again next summer.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Child of Migrants, Humana People to People India, Uttar Pradesh, India March 17, 2015

Once again from that very same day in the same Islamic School  in Uttar Pradesh another portrait is being shared. The faces that emerged from only one village near Kairana overwhelmed me, and proved once again that such beauty and resolve exist in every village.

Here were people who had never seen me before, and some who had never seen an outsider in their young lives prior to this day. Yet they stood in front of the lens without hesitation and expressed themselves with an honesty that is many times missing in parts of the world where the camera has become ubiquitous; where everyone has one and where images are made endlessly.

This little girl is without access to traditional education, lives in an area where the government schools are considered so useless that the parents would rather keep their children at home. So my host from last year has set this school up for almost 200 children, and has begun teaching the basics of the Koran to the children of this community. 

He yearns to also present a traditional curriculum to the student body and has the resolve to do so, now working on the financial end of the equation to hire more teachers. Yet he needs help regarding a curriculum, teaching materials and so on. We are working on arranging a relationship with another foundation whose strength happens to be this man's weakness, and whose presence would present a strong Hindu-Muslim unity in an area sorely missing such.

I hope to make the connection in the near future, to bring such a curriculum to this village and to see such unity flourish for the sake of all involved, especially this beautiful student.

Note: Anyone interested in helping in this matter may feel free to contact me at any time and through this forum of course.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Jordan + Wet Hair, El Mirage Dry Lake Bed, California, 2015

Sometimes my work overseas spoils me, makes me see photography through the prisms of true acceptance and complete understanding. Then there are those times when such spirits here in the States also do the same for me.

This exquisite woman is one such example, as she responded to my casting call last week with incredible exuberance. Rather than letting days go between messages, she would reply very quickly and with precision. When asked to show me her wardrobe, she did so immediately and with visual examples sent.

Her beauty is only matched by her humility, a rare combination in my experience but one which has been demonstrated to me through the beautiful people in my portfolio. She is a sister to the girls in my work, and now even more so as her spirit passed the same glass elements on its way to the film plane over and over again during our session yesterday.

Jordan's Website

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Girl with the Clear Eyes, La Habana, Cuba, 2005

The first time her color portrait was shared happened to be the wonderful pop-up at the Cleveland Print Room this past weekend. It so happened that her photograph was made in monochrome and in color, both on film at the time. Every time her photograph is displayed in monochrome someone walks up to me and asks about the color of her eyes.
So here she is, and I am pleased that her photograph was purchased by a dear friend and colleague. As in the previous years, the funds will be placed in her gentle hands when we meet in July. What she has always done with the proceeds is improve the conditions under which her family lives, rather than concentrate on herself.  
She lives with her mother, stepfather, grandfather, sister and her own two children in a one room home. They have split the room vertically and have added a bedroom above where everyone sleeps 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.
Years ago I presented the idea of putting her image up for sale, since so many seemed interested. She loved the idea, as did her mother. In our conversation we talked about the making of her portrait, and that any proceeds from its success had been earned by her courage in front of the lens.
The first time I handed the funds over to her was quite an experience. She was incredibly humble, and was almost unable to accept the gesture. After a few minutes she did so, and put the proceeds away in a safe place.
A few days later we returned for another portrait session. We were welcomed as always with grace. However before beginning our photography, the future school teacher wanted to show something to me. She took my hand, and with the permission of her mother, guided me upstairs to the bedroom. Her stepfather was also upstairs getting ready for work as a security guard.
She pointed to a new bed, one large enough for the women in the family. This was the first time she 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 was also the first time that she had such ventilation in her home, enough to keep her and her family cooler during the day. A few people were also sitting inside and looked pleased at my reaction.
While my partner in work had seen much reaction to our work with the families before that day, this experience also left him with the impression that the photography had taken on a new meaning. We left the family on this day like never before, and promised to return the next week.
Should you like to make a difference with the purchase of her print also, please do get a hold of me and let's make yet another difference in her life!
Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V System.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Young Student, Nirvanavan Foundation, Banganga, Rajasthan, India, 2015

After an incredibly successful weekend at the Cleveland Print Room, another portrait is being shared with those generous spirits making it all possible. She is a student from our school in a village named Banganga, Rajasthan. In the land of kings sits this exquisite place and its beautiful inhabitants. The news of our success was shared with our brother Nirvana Bodhisattva at the foundation last night, and the excitement is building!

Note: Image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Pop-Up, Cleveland Print Room, 2015

Thanks to the generous people stopping by this weekend at the Cleveland Print Room, we had a magnificent time and raised enough funding to meet half the budget for the year. This means that three schools are fully funded for the next year and that close to 100 girl will attend classes!

What surprised me was the sale of the color images! This was my first time presenting color at a show, and people were kind with their comments and purchases.

So with a few days left before Christmas, I present the images from this weekend's show for sale. The paper size is 11 x 14, with a print size of 10" square. They are printed by me and with Epson Ultrachrome HD inks, which are rated for generations to come.

They are sold mounted on 8 Ply Museum Rag Board, with an outside dimension of 16". Anyone interested in giving such a gift for Christmas and also supporting our schools for girls, please do get in touch!


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Woman in her Kitchen, Refugee Camp, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2013

Before we began with the portraits we walked around the camp and talked with the residents. My friend Asrar guided the way, and did his best to translate their stories for me. He told me about their plight, how they had moved to this part of Uttar Pradesh in order to escape the violence back home. 

The families were doing their best to cope with the circumstances, and were granted considerable land by the surrounding villages. Most had fabric structures but many were beginning to construct more permanent housing. As in many villages, the women cooked over an open fire from an incredibly beautiful, earthen structure.

All welcomed us without hesitation and allowed us to document their stories photographically. Although they had experienced the worst of humanity, they showed to us the best.

I look forward to next weekend's benefit at the Cleveland Print Room, and to sharing these stories!
Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Young Student + Shawl, Uttar Pradesh, India, 201

Earlier this year I shared her monochrome image. For next weekend's benefit at the Cleveland Print Room I am sharing her color portrait, as well as those of a few more from Cuba and India. We look forward to the benefit, and hope to see everyone there!
Here is her story:
So we visited the school of our host, an Islamic school he had opened in his own village. The building was glorious, with a spacious courtyard and incredible fields as far as the eye could see all the way around. When we stepped inside this was the first face that greeted me, and immediately made me realize that we would be staying an extra day or so.When we arrived in Kairana, India earlier this year we were told that most of the refugee camps had been disbursed and that the refugees had returned to their homes. The people thought that perhaps this would disappoint me because they were supposed to be the subjects of my photography. This was far from the truth of course, for having less to photograph in this regard would only make me happier.
She might have been as shocked as I was, but hid her reaction better than I did. She however knew immediately that I was deeply impressed with her, and gave off this most subtle smile in return. The school had about 60 girls in attendance on that day, and perhaps 40 or so boys. .
The men were wonderful and helped us with the photography. We made portraits of the boys in a small room with a window as our source of light, then switched to the walkway outside to photograph the girls with the help of a reflector. They were magnificent, including the one pictured in this image. There was something about her, how she held her head up high even though we were strangers who had appeared suddenly and asked for her portrait. 
The features of her face are etched in my mind, and deny any categorization whatsoever. She is both timeless and of this period, perfect in every manner. 
After the morning photography, we asked their instructor about two voices which we might record regarding the reading of the Koran… and he pointed to her and her friend as the two most beautiful voices to record. Later that afternoon we did so, and were treated to the most glorious reading of the Koran in my limited experience. This is what this work is about, and such has shown me that in every corner of this world immense beauty and strength exist.
Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2, mounted and triggered adjacent to a Hasselblad V System

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Three Refugees, Uttar Pradesh, India, December of 2013

These three children were at the time escaping the violence brought upon them by an uncaring world. They were living in tents made of thin canvas, their only protection from the elements. My visits were made possible by my dear brother Asrar, as he sacrificed time with his family to be with me.

When we visited this encampment the children were beyond curious. They ran up to us immediately. I could have only imagined what they were thinking about the man with the camera, the only visitor from the outside that they had had up until that day we were told later.

They were nonetheless more than courageous when standing for these informal portraits, having fun with each other's time in front of the lens. Although they only had a minute to express themselves, all did so without exception… with such honesty.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Syrian Girl + Flower, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Summer of 2009

This is the face of the Syrian refugee crisis. Although the portrait was made over seven years ago, she was living in Lebanon along with her family as economic refugees. They were from Halab, a city now laying in ruins. When people speak of the refugee crisis, she is about whom they are speaking. The war, the violence, the hatred, the disassociation and the rejection are cruelest to her and those like her… for they have contributed nothing to any of these nouns.

My hope is that the next time someone speaks of the refugees, that they make the time to look at them as individuals rather than as a collective, and to think twice before repeating some phrase or quoting some so-called pundit.

Our show at the Cleveland Print Room in less than three weeks is dedicated to her and those like her in Rajasthan, India. My hope is that the world becomes less cruel, and more open to the simple gesture of a flower placed under the shawl of this priceless girl.

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