Sunday, November 19, 2017

Charcoal Maker, Manzanillo, Cuba, 2016

His portrait comes to mind as my visit to Nicaragua nears. My hope is that rural Nicaragua is as welcoming as its counterpart in Cuba, and as beautiful. Thanks to my family in Nicaragua plans are being made to do just that, head to the countryside in search of those working with their hands. 

This beautiful man's portrait was made as we drove to the eastern part of Cuba in search of a family. We found that family, and over the span of five days made portraits of its daughter, an inspiration well worth the 14 hour drive. In the mornings we photographed her, and in the afternoons we drove to the villages on the outskirts of the town and photographed the farmers in the villages.

Our connection in this village was a cousin to the family in the larger town, and her husband was this man. The fire in the frame had lost its strength but was still strong enough to keep us at a distance. This incredible man however worked in the midst of it all, like it was nothing to him. He collected the precious bits of charcoal efficiently while we looked on and made his portrait.

It was an honor to have produced his portrait, and I can only look forward to doing the same in Nicaragua in less than two weeks!

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/100 mm combination.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Rachel in a Piece by Yudel, Guanabacoa, Cuba, 2016

Two summers ago this was the spot on so many days. Getting out of the city and heading to the countryside gave the models the space in which to be creative, and to breathe freely. On this morning we were accompanied by the magnificent Rachel Hortensia Lopez Thompson in pieces provided by the most talented Yudel R. Contreras Garcia.

It is an incredible honor to be provided fabrics by one of the premiere designers on the island, and to have such a talent on whom such pieces could be placed. This is to me the reward of being engaged for a dozen years in Cuba, to have the trust of the community in these collaborations. There is something so magical about really knowing the people being photographed. All this of course was made possible thanks to the genius of Gysleda Virginia De La Barca Vega and her modeling school at ModaEgos.

We had worked together a few times before, making this session so natural. She was always on time and always in a good mood even though we usually left for our location an hour before sunrise. For this session we drove to a neighborhood familiar to us about half an hour out of the city. We located four spots and began just as the sun came up. 

The formula is by now familiar to all of us, starting with 400 ISO film and then moving on to 100 ISO. This allowed us to take advantage of the early light and let Rachel work with a more subdued sun. By the time we arrived to this house it was perhaps 7:45 a.m. and the sun had cleared the trees across the small path. Rachel was of course ready in her third outfit and we exposed a few rolls, both in black and white and in color.

This beautiful spirit has since moved to another country, yet remains in contact with me to this day. She has my appreciation for the beautiful images she more than helped us create, and I do hope that one day we can continue this collaboration!


Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/100 mm combination.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Syrian Refugee + Fabric, Zahle, Lebanon, 2017

The men driving me to the camps have been amazed by the beauty within them, especially this young girl living just fifteen or so minutes from my grandparents' home. The men have lived in this town since birth and have driven past the camps on countless occasions. Yet they had never stopped for a minute to interact with the populations within, had never seen such beauty.

Most are offended by the intense smell, or by the mere presence of the refugees within their country. In so many ways such a presence has put a strain on the country, with the economy in distress and the already fragile security more strained.

However for me these camps are the birth of my photography, for me the children within them are as beautiful, as strong and as vibrant as any encountered in my travels. They are the flowers amidst the chaos, they are the inspiration behind my work.

This young girl's smile erases the difficulty in achieving her portrait. While men look on at times in disapproval, she stands her ground and speaks her mind through her portrait. She refuses to be silenced, refuses to be ignored. If this portrait can communicate such to the viewers, then it has done justice to her spirit.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm combination onto Ilford Delta 100 film.

Monday, November 13, 2017

My Father + Family, Managua, Nicaragua

The excitement is building as plans come together for Nicaragua. Thanks to dear Lilliam, we have this portrait of my father and uncle. The looks on their faces are priceless to me, showing a clear confidence and joy in the lives that they had built for themselves with their own hands. The search for remnants of that past will begin in three weeks!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Forest in Rajasthan, India, 2017

My last visit to India included a spontaneous trip to the deserts of Rajasthan, to the furthest west of that beautiful state. We were within miles of the Pakistani border and felt an eerie silence during our time there. My companion for this trip was my dear brother Mukesh, who sacrificed so much time away from his family for the sake of work.

Instead of pure portraiture, we decided to photograph the forests and deserts. One day we were driving around and spotted this forest on either side of the road. Mukesh decided to stay in the car and get some rest while I walked around the forest and did my thing.

The whole experience was surreal. Away from the hustle of the immense cities of India, here we were without another soul in sight. The silence was interrupted only by the sounds of the most colorful birds. Now and then a blue bull in the distance would look up, before moving on.

I walked for what seemed an eternity, but was more like an hour. The play between light and shadow made me pause on so many occasions, putting the tripod down for a few exposures. During one of these times, I heard breathing in the distance and looked up.

There was a line of camels walking just past the trees. Their size took me by surprise, for this was my first time in the presence of such large animals. Time stood still it seemed, for here we were in the wild and with only a line of trees between us. It felt right to just enjoy the moment, leaving the camera on my back, and then walk back to Mukesh to share the experience.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V system, onto Ilford Delta 100 film.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Taylor + El Mirage, Los Angeles, California, 2016

A little over a year ago El Mirage was the scene for a most incredible collaboration. Thanks to Cami's selfless spirit we were blessed to have Taylor on our team for the afternoon. From a photographer's perspective, it is deeply moving to watch two creatives want the other to succeed even more so than themselves.

Regardless of what many may presume, the photographer is the least important aspect of the equation. We may have the most perfect location, the latest gear and the best weather. All would fall flat without two such beautiful beings in front of the lens. A point-and-shoot camera with Cami and Taylor would be better than a Hasselblad and those without vision.

Suffice it to say we had that Hasselblad for the session, and thankfully so. The session started with a great drive out, as it was refreshing to have two other people in the car. The conversation was wonderful, and we arrived at El Mirage with the most beautiful sky as our backdrop. They exchanged ideas, as well as outfits, and took their turns in front of the lens. The images from that session are as beautiful as any in my work, and these two sublime women have my deepest gratitude for sharing their talents on that afternoon.

Hopefully 2018 gives us another chance to collaborate!

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm combination.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Carolina + The Stylings of Lunara, El Mirage, California, 2016

A little over a year ago it was my honor to document the creations of Lunara Love, as presented by the most talented Carolina. We met at the apartment first, where the team was getting the pieces ready for our session. We packed everything up and started the two hour drive to the dry lake bed.

The sky was a little hazy, but allowed the sun to shine for extended periods. This gave the team enough time to change, while keeping in mind the sun for the photography. Unlike other sessions earlier in the week, the wind allowed us to work without worry.

We exposed less film than usual because the changes were extensive. This however allowed us to concentrate on the presentations more so and was a needed change for me. The excitement was in the air and carried us back to Los Angeles energized.


Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M

Monday, November 6, 2017

Young Student + Home, Rajasthan, India, 2017

She lives right next to Nirvanavan Foundation's Advaita Garden. Her walk to school takes less than a few minutes, and she does so with her younger brother and sister. She is at times shy and at times outgoing. When she smiles she does so completely, and when she is noticed she will usually run away in joy. 

Her independence is remarkable, for she lives in a home without neighbors. She lives with her three siblings, parents and grandparents. Every minute of her day seems busy, from helping her mother with chores to caring for her younger siblings.

Usually when I photograph her I do so alone, without help from the foundation. We communicate with a few common words, and with hand gestures. Her parents know me well enough and allow me to interact with their children freely, quite remarkable for such a society. While this is wonderful, it makes for some very difficult photography. Child psychology would have been a smart minor to have taken in college!

There are few instances when my work demands color film, and this is certainly one of them. Everyone at the foundation has noticed her beauty, and her eyes. Whenever I mention her name, the teachers nod in agreement. Hopefully in four months she will allow me to document her once again, and color film will certainly be included in my bag in case she does!

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm combination.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Carolina + The Stylings of Lunara, El Mirage, California, 2016

A little over a year ago it was my honor to document the creations of Lunara Love, as presented by the most talented Carolina. We met at the apartment first, where the team was getting the pieces ready for our session. We packed everything up and started the two hour drive to the dry lake bed.

The sky was a little hazy, but allowed the sun to shine for extended periods. This gave the team enough time to change, while keeping in mind the sun for the photography. Unlike other sessions earlier in the week, the wind allowed us to work without worry.

We exposed less film than usual because the changes were extensive. This however allowed us to concentrate on the presentations more so and was a needed change for me. The excitement was in the air and carried us back to Los Angeles energized.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm combination.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Young Student + Window, Shamli District, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2017

This afternoon was spent with incredible Anna Discenzo and her classroom of inquisitive souls! It was a deep honor to present the school in India to her students. The questions took me by surprise in the nicest of ways, for her students were incredibly bright. The questions ranged from the political system in India to the way garbage is recycled, and everything in between. Anna and her students, with the help of  Ayman Alkayali, have raised a substantial amount to help Nirvana and his team establish the new school.... and all received a portrait of their counterpart in that very school as a physical reminder of their dedication!


Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Two Students + Classroom, Panipat, Haryana, India, 2017

Our host in Uttar Pradesh invited us to visit his school in the neighboring state of Haryana since we were visiting the region to document the local schools. We had known each other since 2013, when his family hosted us during our documentation of the Muzaffarnagar refugee crisis. 

So one morning we left his village and drove out to the school. We were received warmly and were of course offered tea to start our morning. All of the students looked at us in dismay, as they rarely received visitors from the outside. This was especially true for the girls.

Our hosts told us about the school, that it supported the local communities which were made up mainly of migrants from further east in India. They had travelled to Panipat in search of work, mainly in the local garment industry. Their children were in need of education, and our host's friend had taken it upon himself to make this happen. He organized the effort to build the school over a dozen years ago, and also put together the funding... a remarkable feat considering the socioeconomic nature of the region.

After our conversation they offered us access to photograph the children, and we immediately took it. The hours of the school made it difficult to photograph early, so we made portraits with indirect light as the children stood in front of their classrooms. My presumption was that they would be shy. However they were anything but shy, allowing themselves to smile and laugh in front of their friends.

We photographed all of the classrooms, every single one of the students. This was a testament to the trust the staff had in our host, for doing so in an islamic center of learning is anything but straightforward. We have since then photographed this school several times, and next year will be establishing a sewing center within its campus for the elder sisters of these very students through the hard work of Nirvanavan Foundation.


Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Young Student + Madrasa, Shamli District, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2017

For those of us working with this school, and for those of us looking to join, we present this young student's portrait. This was her first year with us, and she took to the camera in the most natural of ways. Her features were exquisite, and certainly without equal. She had a way about her expressions, beyond confident while being photographed for the first time in her life.

She lives in a village near a mystical river, surrounded by the most sublime fields. The village itself is quite small, yet it has a government school and a madrasa. While all of the children are registered in the government school, few actually attend. We visited the school on many occasions to see the well-meaning teachers sitting around with less than a dozen students playing in the courtyard.

This is the thought of our host from the village, and it is his intention to try and change the standing of the village's children. He runs the local madrasa and would like a formal curriculum introduced. Thanks to those involved, we have begun the search for three teachers at this time, and have also organized a list of sewing students who are more than ready to begin classes.

Later this year, guided by Nirvana and his team, the formal curriculum will be introduced and the sewing machines will start turning as well!


Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Suley + The Blue Chair, Guanabacoa, Cuba, 2017

This was the scene of many sessions over the past three years. We have fallen in love with this chair, the most beautiful blue in color. The house itself is also blue, albeit a weathered sense of this color. The neighborhood is familiar with us by now, especially when we had come so many times before with families from the city, ranging from ballerinas to models in search of a different backdrop. The people in this neighborhood are as kind as can be, allowing us always to work without hesitation.

On this morning we came with Suley and another model, a veteran of our work dating back almost a decade. The two young women brought a few changes of clothes with them, and we used my friend's 1951 Oldsmobile as a changing room. We began at a different spot just down the street, more open to the rising sun. People walked by and watched as the young women performed for the lens, in admiration and without judgement for the models in front of them were very much like them. 

We then moved to this spot and continued with our session. Both changed into new outfits and took turns in front of the lens, and then were photographed together. They were ready so quickly that it took me off guard, for usually there is a bit of time between models to make some adjustments to the cameras. At one time the tripod was knocked over with my feet, and all gasped as the cameras hit the ground with such force. Luckily the cameras came back to life after a few minutes, and we continued with the session. 

These are the moments when words fail to describe the feelings inside, the experiences of being with such grateful people. The time they made to help create such images was priceless. The families in these collaborations impress me deeply every single time with their willingness and desire to collaborate. Where else could one meet someone in the street, talk about a possible session and have that session turn into reality the very next day?

They are the reason for my return every single summer, period.


Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3 mounted adjacent to a Hasselblad V system, both triggered simultaneously.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Elder Refugee + Muzaffarnagar Riots, Shamli, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2013

Her portrait was made while in the middle of a refugee camp, a place she called home due to the riots of 2013. While the origin of the violence was up for debate, what was perfectly clear was the hardship being experienced by hundreds of thousands now without homes.

This incredible woman was forced to leave her village in the face of unimaginable violence. Thanks to the generosity of those in the neighboring district, she and her community were provided land on which they could begin rebuilding their lives.

They were doing the best that they could, building homes out of wood and fabric for the time being. Soon they would be provided bricks in order to construct better homes in which their children could sleep safely. As recent as my last visit earlier this year, most had moved back to their villages. Our hope is that they found their homes intact, even though their lives had been irreversibly damaged.

When we arrived on the morning of this portrait, my friend told me to get the camera and head to the center of the camp. He told me to put the camera together, and be ready for his arrival a few minutes later. This I did as people gathered around me, wondering about my purpose. My friend spoke with the leaders, and then we were allowed to photograph.

My friend Asrar asked me to point the ones out, even though it was impossible for me to be so direct. So we agreed on choosing the color of the fabrics in English, then he would ask each person to come forward for their portrait if they so desired. This was how we worked for an hour or so, until the sun had set.

As we visited the area of these camps this year, it was great to see only the evidence of the camps, and nothing more. To know that the people had returned home meant everything.


Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V system.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Two Refugees + Wall of Fabric, Muzaffarnagar, India, 2013

As Nirvana and his team move to establish a school in this region, memories of the crisis leading to this very movement come rushing forth. Four years ago I was invited to document the refugee crisis as a result of the Muzaffarnagar Riots of 2013. During our walks my eyes witnessed people doing the work on the ground, donating their land so that those without could begin to rebuild their lives.

We walked around tent where children had nothing more than the clothes on their bodies. The only protection between them and the world was a wall of fabric, and so we decided to make some portraits with the girls behind these walls. We did so in order to show the fragility of their circumstances. For most of us it is nearly impossible to imagine such an existence, especially in light of the fact that these very children were forced out of their villages in a most tragic manner.

Over the years the good people of this community brought to our attention the possibility of a collaboration. While public schools do exist in many of the villages, the quality of the schools are so that most parents refuse to send their children, especially their girls. This holds even more so when it comes to anything higher than primary school, since sending their girls to a secondary school further away is out of the question.

The community does however have incredible faith in their traditional, religious schools. The elders of one village advised that they would of course donate the building and the land, should Nirvanavan Foundation be able to implement a school worthy of their children within these schools. For such to work, a proper curriculum would need to be implemented, which would include the traditional classes as well as the arts, and so forth.

A sincere conversation was had earlier this year as Nirvana made it a point to visit the area personally, and with his team. He also invited the leaders of this community to Rajasthan in order for them to witness the foundation's work in person.

Long story short, the generosity of those here on FB will soon be realized on the ground, as the school begins to take shape over the next few months. My aim is to be there in February to document the changes, and of course to make portraits of the very children benefiting from this collaboration! 


Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V system.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Xtina + Lake, Cleveland, Ohio, 2017

This past weekend was my second weekend in as many weeks with Xtina, and we have continued to build on what had come before photographically. Being a film photographer as well, she comes to the table with an incredible vision, and many beautiful questions as well. 

She understands my work fully, and knows that she has been a sister to those in my work since we first collaborated years ago. The girls in India, Lebanon and Cuba have seen her portrait... and she has seen theirs as well. It is a sincere honor for me to be her photographer.

On this afternoon we decided to drive to the beach and find a spot. We tried a private beach at first, only to be turned around by the security guard. We then drove to the public beach, and were glad to be there. It was a bit cold, but Xtina was more than brave enough to enter.

We first made photographs of her hands with various objects, from a crystal to stones to a camera. So many people looked, and more than a few connected with us as this was unfolding. Xtina then stepped right into the water, and we photographed first from a distance and then together in the water. The sun was kind to us for some time, then it was blocked by the clouds which rolled in.

Nonetheless we exposed more than a few medium-format rolls, and I for one cannot wait to have them processed in a few weeks. A few weeks because the trip to DC will be made to pick up my Cuban film from the summer, and this is the only lab trusted enough to process my collaboration with Xtina. I cannot wait!


Note: These images were made with a Sony RX100M3, mounted adjacent to a Hasselblad V system.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Mursi Man + Sky, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, 2010

Before heading to Ethiopia seven years ago, my first inclination was to research the communities in the southern portion of the country. They were of course famous from the images through such publications as National Geographic, but this would be my first time in their midst. There were many which caught my eye, but there was one which struck me immediately.

This man belongs to that tribe, the Mursi of the Lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia. They are closely related to another community, the Suri. Between these two tribes exist the most incredible body art and adornments. Ranging from both painting to scarification, and including ear and lip plates, they are unlike any photographed by me over the past 20 years.

Estimates put their population at nearly 10,000, a remarkable number in relation to other communities from around the world. Their way of life is endangered as well, due to the dam being constructed by the Ethiopian government. They straddle the line of being admired by outsiders, and thought of as backward by their neighbors.

Many within Ethiopia resent the fact that many come to their nation to photograph the Mursi, and others like them in the Lower Omo Valley. Yet they know that without such tourism their lives would also be affected.

I admire this community very much and, regardless of warnings by others that this was an aggressive community, found the community to be kind and generous with their time. We stayed in a small town an hour or so away for the first two nights, then camped near their tiny village in the national park for our last night.

My stay in Ethiopia was short, less than three weeks. However I do hope that in the future my return will feature these two tribes, the Mursi and the Suri, and truly do honor to their beauty and strength.

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

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Alejandra + Local Taxi, Countryside, Cuba, 2017

While Havana is an incredible place for photography, everyone and their mother is walking around with cameras these days... literally. So whenever we had a chance to drive out to the countryside we did so with joy... and our families loved it even more!

On this day we drove out with Alejandra and another model from EGOS, the modeling school run by the incomparable Gysleda Virginia De La Barca Vega. On our way out we realized that it was cloudy, but continued heading into the countryside regardless. We thought at least we'd make digital images for the young women, while having a bit of fun as well.

We found this spot because we arrived early enough to explore. There were two cars, one outside on the grass and one inside the garage. We asked the owners for permission to photograph near their cars, and they both agreed. After we finished with our first locations, we drove back to this garage, as the owner was working on it. He allowed us to photograph while he worked on his car, and a few frames were exposed with him walking around... and those are hopefully on film being processed presently.

Because it was cloudy, we were able to photograph for almost four hours. This meant that all were pretty hungry by the time the work ended. To our surprise the young women and their chaperon allowed us to order pan con lechón for all of us, the iconic Cuban sandwich, from the side of the road... and each ate two, along with locally-made soda!

It was a wonderful morning, and I look forward to next year!

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Proud Father, Outskirts of Kisumu, Kenya, 2007

After we finished photographing a school, I was taken to this man's house where he and his son were present. It was a small, mud structure in which a full family slept. The house consisted of one room, and all slept on the floor.

His son had just been accepted into high school and held the letter of acceptance in his hands with such pride. The moment was bittersweet however, because the family was unable to afford the books and uniform needed. The heartbreak was clearly visible on both of their faces, and in their mannerisms.

For most of us this is unimaginable, yet for so many this is the reality. Education is anything but given, and is usually a luxury. This is what makes our work with Nirvana Bodhisattva and his team so important, for Nirvanavan Foundation promotes education above all else.

My hope is that his son did attend higher education however, and that the family is now in a better place. 

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V system.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Elder + Field, Outskirts of Kisumu, Kenya, 2007

She sat on a wooden chair in front of a field of grass for her portrait. One after another stepped forth to be photographed. Just when we thought all of the villagers had come and the line was at its end, more people walked up and took their place in line. 

The scene was surreal, especially in light of the fact that it was spontaneous, with nothing arranged in advance. Everyone walked at the slowest of paces, and stood in line with anticipation. What began on the spur of the moment turned into a most formal setting, like a studio had been set up in the middle of the village.

So it was that the black chair was volunteered, and each took their place perfectly. Even when the sun was getting a bit hot, we continued and raised the camera in order to minimize the shadows under the eyes, and neck. The faces were extraordinary, and make me want to get into the darkroom immediately. The fact is that these negatives have never been printed, a full decade later.

There is much to do!

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V system.