Sunday, January 31, 2016

Two Friends + Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Summer of 2015

Alejandro and I drove West one afternoon, trying to get away from the clouds in the city. This seemed to work sometimes, as we drove in the direction of Pinar del Rio and found sunshine on many occasions. 

We drove for quite a while and were unable to find faces to document, stories to tell. The search because desperate, especially when two sets of clouds started to come together, creating a tiny sliver of space for the sun to set. Just as we almost gave up, we found this beautiful home and decided to stop.

We then stepped out of the car as we realized the people were looking our way. The women were about to walk home, but decided to remain and listen to our request. We asked permission to photograph the home first, knowing that their curiosity would get the best of them.

It was raining lightly as I exposed a few images of the home. To my immediate left a chicken was guarding her eggs carefully, making me feel a bit uneasy about the location of the tripod. Everyone eased my mind though, and saw it as quite comical.

This made it easy to ask for their portraits, and resulted in the smiles we see below. We photographed the man of the house first, a marvelously powerful farmer whose spirit transferred to film perfectly I hoped at that moment.

The women were great of course, laughing all along and helping each other along the way. My experience has always taught me that acting a clown helps very much, it lowers barriers and allows others to see a lighter side of the photographer. The smiles in this image were the result!

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Two Ballerinas + Sea, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, 2014

Last year we presented Costumes for Ballerinas in Cuba and so many generous spirits responded, making this past summer a most successful campaign. Each dancer was able to receive at least four leotards, two skirts, slippers and a few accessories. The girls of course left the tags on all of the items, so proud of the effect their images had produced on the viewers.

Just as they had moved the viewers of the images, they inspired me to always do better for them. This included a new concept: following them into the water with the camera. Being that the Hasselblad does poorly near water, it seemed that we needed another solution, thus the purchase of a new camera system, the Fuji GA645 family of cameras.

This allowed me to enter the water with the girls, to enjoy the coolness of the sea and the warmth of the sun at the same time. The girls, while of course enjoying themselves, were truly veterans of this collaboration and allowed themselves to be photographed as well. They were the consummate professionals at barely into their teens and some just out of the single digits. They knew when they were being watched, and took their positions perfectly without direction from me.

This image is in honor of my two dear friends, Angelo and David. We had an incredible dinner this evening at Ayman's Algebra Teahouse, taking us back to the days we used to hang out and dream photographically a decade or so ago. We shared stories, exchanged photographs and made plans for next month to do more of the same. I greatly admire each of these good men, and share this image as gratitude for the chance to reconnect.

Note: This image was made with a Fuji GA645Wi onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Jalha + El Mirage Dry Lake Bed, California, November 6, 2015

Last November was spent in Los Angeles making images of ballerinas and models. The idea was to create an inclusive body of work, to make images of the well known along with the less than known… to display the similarities rather than the differences.

All of the women photographed offered themselves selflessly to the work, fully understood the idea behind the project and saw the girls in my work as their sisters. This was the case with Jalha, and our session most recently.

While it was pretty damn cold for such a session even near Los Angeles, she was more than enthusiastic to meet up two hours before sunrisey. Leading up to this meeting, she shared images of her wardrobe and communicated consistently, always showing true enthusiasm.

We met two hours before sunrise and drove out to our location, talked about the sequence of our session and began a few minutes after we arrived. She ignored the coolness of the desert air, and performed flawlessly for the lens. She changed from one outfit to another quickly, and rarely presented the same pose twice.

We had a great time for two hours, and headed back to Los Angeles with the most beautifully clear skies above. I admire this young woman, and look forward to seeing the processed film this week!

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Child of Syrian Migrants, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

At the time this image was made, Syria was more stable than Lebanon. Regardless this young child and her family has migrated to the Bekaa Valley in search of better employment. Although they lived in tents and lacked anything resembling modern conveniences, they did at least have work and hope for a better future.

A decade or so later, I wonder about this young girl and her family. Where are they living now? Are they still in Lebanon or are they living in Syria? Have they migrated once again, perhaps to Europe now?

This is where my photography was born, with this young girl and her friends in the Bekaa Valley of my homeland, Lebanon. A simple taxi ride to their area and a subsequent cup of tea gave birth to this work, two decades of photography and hundreds of thousands of images.

The effects of the hot sun and dry wind can be seen on her skin, and in the texture of her hair. Most wear shirts and sweaters with words they will never understand. They play in the dirt paths in front of the tents and as soon as they reach working age, they begin walking down lanes of vegetables for a dozen hours each day for less than the price of a cup of coffee overseas.

When each of us purchases such at our local coffee shop, we are putting on the countertop the amount that this young girl works an entire day for under very difficult conditions. This applies to me of course, and makes me pause almost every single time.

I do hope that she and all children under such conditions are safer today than yesterday, and that such violence can be a thing of the past in the near future. I understand that to have this hope is to be naive, nonetheless I have it.

Note: This image was made with a Contax G system.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Young Student, Nuh, Haryana, Humana People to People India, 2015

Earlier this year we visited the new schools in this region and were more than pleasantly surprised at the reception. The classrooms were full, and the teachers were from the same villages as well. Humana People to People India had worked extremely hard in organizing these schools, for they faced as many obstacles in doing so here as they had in Rajasthan.

In many of these villages girls lack access to formal education, even though government schools exist nearby. Traditional attitudes prevent such from happening, attitudes experienced by me as well during my week or so in this area. So to see the schools up and running, with the support of the families and the elders of the communities, gave me an immense sense of happiness. Whenever a doubt comes into my mind regarding this work, I look at these images and regain my composure.

This portrait was made in the courtyard of the teacher's home, also the school. The teacher's father is quite elegant and more than understanding, allowing his daughter to attain higher education while at the same time donating a room from his own home for the classes.

This was the spot where we had tea on more than several occasions, and an oasis in a chaotic world for these beautiful girls. I look forward to visiting the schools in less than two months, and seeing the progress that has been made, from 75 girls to over 400 girls attending classes!

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Jordan + Water, El Mirage Dry Lake Bed, November, 2015

After the wonderful benefit at the Cleveland Print Room last month I finally had the chance to scan the film for Jordan, and another wonderful model from my time in California. While time could have tested their patience, they were kind enough to give me an extra month!

In this image Jordan allowed herself to be drenched in water, more than a few times since her hair dried so quickly under the late afternoon sun. She, along with her mother Vickie, were wonderful to work with under such circumstances. The wind was blowing hard, and the sun was strong. Yet they endured and allowed us to make timeless images at the same time.

She is a sister to the girls posted just an hour ago, for her image was made with the same camera, the same film and by the same photographer. She is of course a sister to them without all of these variables, but for me the bond is through photography.

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

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Two Bedouin Girls, Partial Proof, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Summer of 2015

Today was spent scanning the paper proofs from the first ten years of the work, so that all proofs can be viewed more easily. In two hours over 150 rolls were viewed, taking me back over a decade to that beautiful summer in Lebanon.

As each print was placed on the scanner, the memories came rushing back. Each and every facewas remembered, as well as some of the names such as Najwa, Maryam, Fatouma and Khawla. The names were as familiar as the locations for each portrait, from the walls of adjacent buildings to the sheets covering the tents of these communities.

I remember for example when these two girls walked in front of my as they went to collect water. Photographing them in their tiny hamlet was going to be hard, so I decided to ask for their portraits right there and then, in the alley leading to the well. We were already photographing the girls living in this alley, and all happened to be friends. They hesitated at first, but said yes as they were coming back.

A single roll was exposed for these two friends, six portraits each. We are looking at four expressions out of twelve, and two faces which have never been seen again by me.

Sometimes I need to pinch myself looking at these portraits, knowing that I was there, that I spoke to them, that they allowed me to photograph them and that I was in their divine presence for a few minutes before they walked into the distance.

Note: This proof was made using a Hasselblad V System, onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Campesino + Machete, Matanzas, Cuba, 2014

This year especially Alejandro and I will be heading out into the countryside, certainly to put as much space between us and the wave of tourists certain to flood the capital this summer. We will however search for that timeless face of the island, more prevalent in the countryside than anywhere else.

Driving into the countryside with Alejandro is so rewarding. We chat the entire time, we stop whenever we like for something to eat, we drive up dead-end paths looking for that illusive face and meet workers on the sides of the roads all of the time.

This was the case when we met this man, as we were heading deep into Matanzas. Alejandro noticed a coal farm to our left and we decided to enter. The men were working at the time, and directed us to the boss for permission. The boss happened to be a woman, and after a few minutes of conversation she allowed me to photograph the men.

The sun was high, so we decided to make abstract portraits and images rather than the directly lit portraits. These two images were the result of the encounter, and have taught me much about using whatever light is available to tell the story.

The man was great, and allowed me to both make his portrait and his hand up in the air with perhaps the most iconic symbol of the countryside on the island. Whenever a Cuban seems these images, the first thing they say is 'Cuban!'

Note: These images were made by a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm combination onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Mechanics + Engine, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2008

These young mechanics worked in a shop adjacent to the girls in my photographs. As I walked past them they began speaking to me, and asked about my camera. They wanted to be photographed, and so I did. Each had their own response to being photographed, but all were kind in their responses.

We talked for a few more minutes, I walked over to look at the engine, loved the scent of the space, then walked over to photograph the girls next door.

Note: This image was made with a Contax G2/45 mm combination onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Syrian Migrant + Animal Shed, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 1998

Her portrait goes back to the beginning, when the power of photography began to show itself to me. This was the first year I returned with prints in my hands for the people. Their reactions taught me a lot about keeping one's promises, about the importance of a photograph.

This young woman's name is etched in my mind, almost 18 years later. Her name was and is Zahia, and this was the last time she would be in my presence. Is she living in Lebanon or Syria now? Is she safe regardless?

When we made this photograph an animal shed was in place. A few years later the animal shed had been torn down and a family has erected a tent in its place. The field in the background is still there to this day.

She might have remained in the camp, but since her age prohibited me from interacting with her, I would have never known if she was one of the young women stepping down from the trucks as they returned from working in the fields, with fabrics covering their faces.

Some would smile at me in a familiar way, making me think 'is that her?'

Regardless I have this timeless portrait of her, when she was able to face the world uncovered and with such a smile. This is the image I will always remember of Zahia, and I hope she thinks of this more innocent time now and then.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 501CM/80 mm combination.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Mehndi + Two Former Students, Banganga Village, Rajasthan, India, 2015

In the 'Land of Kings' these two queens honored me with their kindness. They are sisters and former students in our school, which also happens to be run by their aunt. Both continued their studies in the local government school after their time in the foundation's school. I have known them since my first year in India, and will see them in less than two months.

Their village is a magical one for me. So much has happened in this spot, and it has led to my work with two foundations. The families have treated me like a son since day one, and I look forward to returning that kindness as this work continues on their behalf.

The young sister gifting the art of Mehndi has done so over the past three years. Now it is customary for her, and her alone, to do so for me. The sense of pride that comes over her when asked to do so is abundantly clear, as in her smile in this image. She never hides how she is feeling, and this I admire about her immensely.

This will be the exact spot where she will also be teaching the sewing classes for the school. We hope that at least a dozen girls will attend, and learn a trade which will help support their families.

Those generous spirits from last weekend's showing at the Cleveland Print Room should look at their smiles, for their collective action will help the school in this very village continue to thrive.

Note: This image is a frame from the video recorded during the Mehndi session.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Two Ballerinas + The Sea, Sky and Sun, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, 2015

As 2016 begins I share my gratitude for the generous people in my life who have contributed to the various projects in the past, who continue to do so in the present and who may in the future continue to make sure that girls around the world have their rightful place in this collective society!

Thanks to our successful Costumes for Ballerinas in Cuba Campaign for example, these exquisite dancers had the chance to perform in new outfits, and refused to take the tags off of the pieces!

Here they are, a spontaneous moment in the sea!

Note: Image made with a Sony RX100M2.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Partial Proof, Syrian Refugee, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2010

While she certainly has never asked to be, for me hers is the face of the current refugee crisis. Two years before the war ravaged this land, her family lived as migrants in Lebanon, hundreds of miles away from her beloved city of Halab. In this cruel setting she is able to portray her joy to us, her sense of hope. 

During my visits to these camps, the children's faces were charred from the sun and the wind, while their hair had the consistency of cotton candy. They played in the dirt paths between the tents, sometimes running dangerously close to the streets nearby. Every once in a while a child would be struck by a speeding motorist, the communities shared with me, while local authorities treated such incidents as inconsequential. These brave faces lived on the outskirts of the surrounding society, performing their duties unseen in order to help support their families back home.

For those of us with children, can we imagine for one second our child's face with such scars? Can we imagine the hair on our children's heads having such a consistency? Can we imagine the clothes on our children's backs so fragile, so stained? Can we for one moment endure the dryness of their skin, dirt near their lips?

Yet these children do more than endure, do much more than survive. While there is little doubt that the cruel world has dealt them a hard set of circumstances, they refuse to give up. The boys do what they can with the tools around them, taking for example a long wire and fixing a cylinder to its end as a toy. The girls take flowers from the gardens in front of their tents and adorn themselves, playing with stuffed pieces of cloth as others would do with dolls. While their physical world is limited, they have shown me that their imaginations cannot be restrained.

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

Friday, January 8, 2016

Student + Nirvanavan Foundation, Rajasthan, India, 2015

Last month she won more than a few people's hearts and went home with one! Thanks to those generous spirits showing up a the magnificent Cleveland Print Room she will continue to attend classes in a school less than a one minute sprint from her home. This young girl seems to only know one form of movement, the sprint!

When we show up, she sprints to the classroom... and when we tell her that we're going to photograph her in front of her home she sprints there! She is a remarkable girl, always a ray of sunshine in an often times difficult world. A dear friend purchased her portrait and in doing so funded an entire month of education for two dozen girls.

Note: Image was made with a Sony RX100M2. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Student + Garment, Rooftop, Nirvanavan Foundation, Rajasthan, India, 2015

For those willing to support this effort through the purchase of prints and the giving of time at the Cleveland Print Room last weekend, I present this portrait. This young woman has learned how to make such garments in our school, and now has a trade in order to help support her family. This will also allow her to have a separate income stream from her new family should she desire to do so in the future.

I am proud of her and am very touched by her sincerity. She humbled me when she put this garment into my hands for review, asking me to inspect her work. She is sitting on the rooftop of her teacher's home, as we were finished with the photography for the day.

This is what all of us worked for last weekend, and a success it was!

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Second Article, Onfilmphoto, December 3, 2016

I am honored to have been selected for an article on this esteemed page once again, and hope that the stories reach an even larger audience soon.
Onfilmphoto Article
"The children's faces were charred from the sun and the wind, while their hair had the consistency of cotton candy. They played in the dirt paths between the tents, sometimes running dangerously close to the roads nearby. Every once in a while a child would be struck by a speeding motorist, the communities shared with me, while local authorities treated such incidents as inconsequential. These brave faces lived on the outskirts of the surrounding society, performing their duties unseen in order to help support their families back home."
"For those of us with children, can we imagine for one second our children's faces with such scars? Can we imagine the hair on our children's heads having such a consistency? Can we imagine the clothes on our children's backs so fragile, so stained? Can we for one moment endure the dryness of their skin, dirt near their lips?"

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Young Student + Shawl, Nirvanavan Foundation, Rajasthan, India, 2015

This young student came out of nowhere photographically. What I mean is that we had been photographing this school and village for a few years, yet my memory seems to fail me regarding her earlier images. Somehow only this year and last year come to mind, and as such her presence earlier this year took me by pleasant surprise. 

This was her year, as she showed me what it means to be ready to express oneself. It's as if she took the lens as her bottle, into which she could place her messages. She looked through the lens, through me and beyond… as she spoke her mind.

She lives across the path from the school, and seems to appear immediately after our arrival. There are few as excited as her to be photographed, or just to be with us. She is divine, and gives me more than enough impetus to continue with this work, to find support for her school year after year.

Earlier this year we were allowed into her home to make her portrait. If only we could have read her mind as this was happening, we would have been even more enlightened by her. She was quieter, yet more intense. Her eyes focused even more so as we made her portrait in front of her uncle especially… as he was the only man from the family in the house at that time.

In eight weeks I will see her again, and hope that she will once again allow us to make her portrait.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Student + Islamic School, Kairana, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2013

Here is yet another portrait from that single day in the Islamic School located near Kairana, Uttar Pradesh. In just one day, we made photographs of over 120 students in various settings… from the subtle light of a window to the glorious rays of the sun. Most of the boys were dressed in white fabric, yet this young boy was different. He was quiet, and photographed beautifully when placed next to the window.

Our last visit in 2013 introduced us to a local family and their good works. Like a few families in the area, they have given their land for the sake of the refugees, and have even built more permanent homes for them in addition to handing over the deeds to the land. Our host for the weekend had built this school financed completely from his own pocket, and would like to go even further should funds be available to do so.

The school is in the middle of a very conservative village, without which we would have never been able to make such portraits. Even my friends in India were quiet surprised when seeing the images, thinking that such was impossible. The family in less than one year has been able to change the mindset of those around them, to include the girls in their quest for education and to show that Christians, Hindus and Muslims could work together seamlessly like in the team making this image.


Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2, using natural light only.

Refugee + Home, Uttar Pradesh, India, April of 2013

After we finished photographing the girls formally, we walked around and made some spontaneous images. The refugees in this camp had escaped ethnic violence just a few months earlier, and such could be felt through the expressions on the faces. In this image a young boy stood in front of his home, with this fragile fence as his protection. He lived without electricity, running water, education and medicine.

This is the face of those enduring the effects of violence the world over, he is the one that suffers while those with power wage campaigns to maintain their position. He will never understand what brought him to this place, what forced his family to abandon its home hundreds of miles away to live like refugees. We have a long way to go before we can hold our heads up high in his presence.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.