The past two months have been a truly enlightening experience for me in India. As in the past ten years, each visit resulted in countless opportunities to make portraits and in as many chances to learn something new.
There were a few highlights this year, including my visit to Uttar Pradesh. In 2013 I had the honor of visiting this area and documenting the numerous refugee camps resulting from the Muzaffarnagar riots earlier in that same year. Our hosts for that visit were so memorable that visits were made every year since.
Their hospitality is without equal, allowing us to stay at their home and treating us like dignitaries the entire time. We are never allowed to lift a finger, from preparing our meals to getting ready for the day. With these incredible men by our side, we are allowed access to the madrases of the region, to the mosques of the villages and to the government schools as well.
This was the case with this beautiful student, and her school. The founder of this school is a friend of our hosts, and quickly became one of my best friends in India. The value that he placed on education was truly exceptional, and he spoke with actions rather than with words. Seeing that his village lacked a good school for the children, he built a beautiful one on his own land and began classes on his own dime.
When we met, he shared his desire to transform his 'simple' madrasa into a formal school for the village's children. He wanted to include Hindi, English, the sciences as well as the arts. This impressed me deeply then, and stayed on my mind until this year's visit.
Speaking with Nirvana earlier this visit turned into a group visit to the area. The possibility of an inter-faith collaboration was discussed, and the enthusiasm grew on all sides. Our visit was embraced by all parties, from the students to the Islamic scholars to the teachers and to the community.
Her portrait was the result of our visit to the same school three years after my first visit. The trust that the leader of the school had in us allowed this portrait to be made. Rather than treating the girls as invisible, he treats the girls as equals and understands our need to photograph them as we photograph the boys.
Such an image can only be produced with gentle persuasion, and kind understanding. This is the case with our host from this school, and has convinced me that we do indeed need to do something here. Soon we will begin our drive to raise funding for this school and our project in the area and hope that those on all sides will be interested.
Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3 with available light.