Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Missing Girl, Humana People to People India, 2007

We stop by the home of the teacher early this morning, have our tea and then drive a kilometer or so to the school. We step up to the roof of the small school building, set up the equipment. Then one by one, the girls seem to float onto the roof through the stairs in the middle, like flowers coming through a field of grass.

They sit down to my left and step up one by one for their portrait. Their names are recorded in my book and each roll of film is numbered to match their names.

All children have their place in my photography, all are equal. With that written, there are those that have a certain presence in front of the camera. She is an example of such a girl. Before she steps up, I notice her presence next to her friends. There are those that understand the purpose of my work without having met me before. She is an example of such a person.

We make her portrait, she is composed, needs very little direction. She keeps her eyes open and her smile constant, embracing the sun with her face. She then leaves with her friends only to return with a glass of fresh yogurt for me to drink. It's a bit hot and that glass goes quickly, much to their excitement. They offer another glass and are all smiles when my answer is 'yes.' That second glass disappears almost as fast as the first.

I am told that this school is now closed by the good people of Humana People to People India. This story is a familiar one to me, due to the fragile set of variables being faced by even the bravest of these foundations, anything from the understanding of the village elders to the limited resources of the foundation.

This fall I will visit her village, attempt to make contact once again and show them that regardless of foundation, they will continue to be a part of my photographic work.

Below is a portrait of the teacher's neighbor. She happened to be there early in the morning, awake and beautifully dressed. We made the portrait against a white sheet hanging to dry from the morning's wash.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Banjara Girl, Rajasthan, India, 2008

The truck stops at a crossroad, we step out and start walking across the street. This young girl, without a shirt, walks past us with some older women, all with vessels of water balanced on their heads. We continue to a small row of tents across the street, to photograph the children of a school arranged by Humana People to People India. The good people of Nirvanavan Foundation have made this day possible, driving me to Behror from Alwar, even taking along our guide from Humana for this photographic session. 

We find a place and arrange the children, girls first and then the boys, as is my custom. We begin the photography and proceed according the height, taller girls first so as to make the adjustments easier and the photography smoother. Then she walks to us, the young girl from the street, dressed in this fantastic pattern, with a broad smile and eyes glistening in the sun. She is also wearing a sweater, a far shift from my first view of her on the street. She steps up onto the chair, elevated from the surroundings. Her presence is natural, she knows why she is there. We make a few exposures, then ask her to remove the sweater. 

She does so without question and allows us to make a few more exposures with this beautiful pattern. Then she allows us to have her necklaces hidden for another series of exposures. She allows all of this, like a queen allowing her subjects their day in court. She is as elegant as when she walked by us with the vessel of water on her head. Her print as well as others are available for sale through my website. All proceeds will go to benefit the subjects of my photography. 

Advaita Garden, Nirvanavan Foundation, 2007

The photography is finished for the day, we sit and wait for our driver to return. To the side of the school, tea is being prepared with one complication however, milk is lacking. Being the end of the day, there is a good chance that a supply of milk will be walking by at any moment. Just then, a local herder and his animals walk by. The person preparing the tea runs to the road, has a very short conversation, then begins collecting the milk with the owner's permission. Just when he thinks he has enough, the supply runs out.

He then gets up and runs three to four animals forward to fill the metal container. He returns with a smile, adds the milk to the tea and serves it with everyone smiling. This image is made during our time waiting at Advaita Garden, the model school of the Nirvanavan Foundation. This small school serves the children of two villages who would otherwise lack access to a good education. As of today, the school has added another class and yet another teacher. The villagers have further made improvements by finishing the walls of the open area, placing a roof, building two new smaller classrooms distinct from the larger school building and constructing a beautiful cow shed, all with its own water supply and room for a caretaker. 

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Church, MACODEF, Western Kenya, 2007

So the plane arrives in the early part of the day, Joyce is waiting to collect me and my luggage. She takes me to my room, gives me thirty minutes to put my things down, get my gear in order and get back to her in the car.

We start on our way to the first village, straight after twenty four hours of transportation from the States. The level of energy is high and sleep is way off in the distance of my memory. We arrive at a small church, it happens to be the one that Joyce attends weekly. This is our first assignment for MACODEF.

The congregation is waiting for us. We find a location on the side of the church, at the exit door. The church is on a hill, so much so that the subjects stand near the doorway while my location is nearly six feet below them down the hill. The angle suits the subjects and allows the sun to reflect upon their faces just perfectly. We photograph the entire congregation, perhaps around sixty this day.

After the photography, we walk into the church where the choir is preparing for a recital. We listen intently and they provide us with a sample of their repertoire, a wonderful end to this first half of the first day.

All prints from my time with MACODEF are for sale for the benefit of the subjects through my website.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Prostitution, Nirvanavan Foundation, 2008

What amazes me most about this portrait, like so many others, pertains to one fact: this is her first time in front of me. Here is this young girl, she has never seen me, never been asked to stand there in front of thirty or forty people. Yet here she stands. Before this portrait, we arrive at this village as strangers. The good people of Nirvanavan Foundation have yet to arrange a presence in this town, the largest of the towns by far under their consideration. After an awkward beginning, we sit down with a few young men and share tea. 

The mood gets better when they see their aunt from another town in my photo album. All of a sudden, we have four volunteers to help arrange our photography. They tell us to find a place. We choose a temple and they begin collecting the girls. So here she is, being asked to have her picture made, by men she knows and in front of men that are strangers to her. Boys are everywhere and making a scene like boys do. There are maybe thirty to forty people in our vicinity during her portrait and perhaps that much watching from rooftops and the street. Yet here she stands. 

This is all being accomplished in a village dealing exclusively in prostitution. Most strangers that walk into this village do so for one thing only. She has perhaps rarely met strangers looking for anything else. Her aunts, sisters and so on are a part of this community as prostitutes and her uncles, brothers and so on work the other end of the sex trade, acting as pimps. Yet here she stands. Her portrait as well as the portraits of the others are being offered as prints in order to benefit the new school in their village.

Islam, Dakar, Senegal, 2006

Everywhere we walk, two figures are represented on the walls of Dakar, both figures of Islam from the past.

The paintings and drawings have a remarkable likeness to each other. As we walk the streets of this city looking for faces of the present, this painting stays with us.

After stopping to photograph a few children with the permission of their father, we begin walking up the street and find this one painting on the door of a photographic studio. It happens to be the one we've been looking for over the past two weeks, just perfect.

We talk with the photographer for a bit and he invites us into his studio. He shows us around, shows us his studio and rightfully takes much pride in sharing his craft with us.

We exchange a portrait for some film and then ask his permission to photograph this painting. He quickly gives us his permission and we arrange to expose this portrait onto film. After which we pack our equipment, say our goodbyes and walk down the street in search of more faces.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mentally Challenged, Western Kenya, 2007

We arrive so early in the morning that the girls and boys of this home are still asleep. As we walk closer, we notice movement inside, all seem to be dressing for the session. We set up behind the home in open view of the children of a public school. We are an attraction until they are called in for classes. The number of children in this home is small and so the task at hand quite attainable without moving quickly. 

The children arrange themselves with the help of the wonderful staff, take their turn to stand for their portraits. The one above represents a moment in waiting for someone else. The young girl on the right finds it very difficult to stand alone for her portrait. Her friend to her right holds her hand and calms her enough to take her turn. They stand in unison for five exposures. These children are mentally challenged individuals. Many of them come from families that find it nearly impossible to provide the special attention necessary for their care. 

The caretaker of this home describes certain children and their environment before their placement in this home, with a few of the children being locked in a room or tied down to a tree. Many of these children were hidden within the homes in order to keep them from the view of the neighbors. After the photography, the girls show their skills by singing songs, by collaborating on poems. We leave knowing that they are in wonderful hands.

The Crying Stone of Llesi, Western Kenya, 2007

This stone is situated near the town if Kakamega, Kenya and goes by the name of 'The Crying stone of Llesi. Legend has it that tears of water have endlessly flown down the facade, giving this stone its name. We take a break from our work with MACODEF and stop by the side of the road to make this image. My friend tells me that we can walk closer to the stone, asking permission from the people whose land it sits. They would also of course require a fee for the visit. He tells me also that an image from the street is permissible and free of charge, being that the land is public land. We decide to make the image from the road, wanting to make it simple. We do so and the people of that land nonetheless come to see us, requiring a fee for this portrait of 'their' stone. In the meantime, a little boy from nowhere begins to tell us the story of the stone, elegantly and without anything desired in return. He enjoys our company and we enjoy his as well. He is curious and watches us make the image. He smiles. At the end of our session, the people from the property are still standing, waiting for their payment, the boy a little distance from them. We get into the car, the older folks begin to show their disappointment while the boy just smiles. We wave the boy closer to the car, he comes. We put a payment into his hand secretively for his services as our guide, he smiles, looks slowly at the adults behind him, makes a break for the other side of the road, runs up the hill to his house, all with a smile and all while waving goodbye.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Woman, Gambia, 2006

She walks out from behind a simple fence, with two of her friends. They watch us getting ready to leave after making some portraits of the kids in the street. They wonder what we are doing and ask our translator some questions. Instead of the usual, they ask to have their pictures made. The sun is really high at this time and it is really out of my comfort zone. Nonetheless, we take our equipment out and make their portraits. They stand next to the car and face the sun. A few older men walk by and ask questions also, all of whom allow us to continue. We make less than six images each, pack our gear and head out to the next stop, a fishing village near the beach. We are on the coast of Gambia and the smell of fish is everywhere.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In a Temple, Nirvanavan Foundation, India, 2008

We arrive at this village of traditional prostitution a little after noon. Everyone from Nirvanavan Foundation seems to be a little uneasy. This is after all their first time in this area. It is located behind a busy market and the largest of the villages associated with the foundation's plan to expand. The only strangers that usually visit this collection of homes are men looking for prostitutes, strangers looking to do business. 

This is after all a village dealing specifically with the trade of sex. We are greeted immediately after unloading by a group of young men who invite us to a home for tea. While a certain amount of conversation occurs, it is definitely quiet. Everyone seems to be waiting for the strangest of the strangers to say something. Since I lack the language to do so, my album of portraits is shown to them. In one instant, their faces light up. They spot one of their aunts from Pipli Village in my book. Smiles replace the looks of reservation. 

 We now have volunteers at our service who walk around looking for children to photograph. The provide us with the grounds of a temple for the photography and bring the girls first, then the boys. As we photograph, the caretaker of the temple grounds assumes his role. He walks around with a stick and puts some order in place. However, it seems that his version of order means yelling at the girls and hitting them with this stick. While the girls' response to this treatment is within normal, my reaction to the treatment is otherwise. There are several times when the caretaker notices my agitation at his actions, mainly from my outbursts. After about fifteen minutes, I advise my dear brother Nirvana that the session is over and that we are to leave the premise without finishing with the photography, regardless of their unfinished work. 

The foundation realizes that my photography is for the good of the children and when the photography causes harm to the children, then it has done the reverse of its intention. After a few minutes of negotiation, the caretaker calms down a little bit and is removed from his responsibility of arranging order by this form of discipline. The faces of the girls light up and they line up wonderfully for their portraits, one by one.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Man living with HIV/AIDS, MACODEF, 2007

This is a man who is living with HIV/AIDS. We arrive at a house and my translator tells me that the group gathered inside is a group of women living with HIV/AIDS. We are there to make their portraits, they are there with their children.

The translator neglects to tell me that the women are planning to tell me their stories, one by one, with the rest listening intently. So it happens, one by one the women tell me their stories. Their words are translated for me while the next woman waits to tell her story.

The children sit next to their mothers listening as well. There are a couple of men also in the group, living with HIV/AIDS as well. The women tell the story of how they contracted the virus, through their husbands. These men sit and listen to these stories, knowing that such is the truth.

After the women tell their stories, as well as the men, we walk outside and make their portraits, first with the children and then on their own. The women remain positive throughout. Their cooperative gives each individual strength, their collaboration with MACODEF gives them hope, their portraits this day prove their existence to others far away.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Girl Named Yari, Havana, Cuba, 2005

At the end of our day, we return to our home base on the Malecon, near the hotel. We sit down for a few minutes and enjoy a homemade mixture of frozen fruits. When my friend's son appears, he is instructed to collect a young girl from the neighborhood. My friend's face lights up with the possibility, knowing my constant search for new faces. 

Here she walks in, in the darkness of the Havana night, into the room. Nothing prepares me for her features, lit even in the darkest of rooms. She stands there amazed at our amazement, 'why would anyone be so interested in her features' her expression seems to say. We agree on returning early the next day to photograph her. 

We search for many places and then settle on the sidewalk on the side of the Malecon facing the open sky and the waters. She sits down on the sidewalk and gives me less than a dozen images, each with its own expression. She shows a composure few else have shown me, she understands our purpose. After this first day and over the next five years, she continues to give me her portrait. 

When asked what she would like, she answers 'to be a model' without skipping a beat. Her image is included with the rest on Model Mayhem and receives more comments and views than any other in my portfolio. Behind the fame, she lives in a small one room apartment with her mother and step-father. She walks to school every day and has her 'Quince' without the pomp otherwise associated with this most special celebration, because her family has so little. 

She is educated, well-spoken, trained in dance, socially aware, respectful of her elders. She has dreams and a vision, she is at an age when she sees the world around her and understands the realities, she is at a crossroad. Her mother calls her 'Yari.' Her portrait is for sale with her knowledge, all proceeds will go to support her dreams.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Humana People to People, Banganga, India, 2007

This is my last day of 2006 in Rajasthan and India for that matter. It is seven in the morning and the village is gathered early for this photographic session. Lenses have been changed and the equipment is ready. Two hours are spent making portraits, we are treated to the customary tea and head for the airport five hours away in New Delhi, about eight hours before flight time.

The people of this small village wear smiles on their faces, they are responding to the photography and to the circumstances behind today's events, yesterday's session. Up until today, all the villages are visited once and the project moves to the next location. What makes this different is what happens the day before.

Going back one day, we arrive at the end of the day for the last village, Banganga, Rajasthan. The girls are waiting and we make their portraits during the last two hours of a beautiful afternoon. Halfway through the session, I notice that the lens makes a strange noise. Looking through the front end of the lens, it is obvious to me that the shutter is broken. My mind goes back and forth and wonders if the lens has been broken since day one in India, three weeks before. With a pit in my stomach, the rest of the images are made using the smaller camera. After we finish, I instruct the Humana team that we will be coming back in the morning.

My translator tells me that he must leave tonight and does so, leaving me with our good driver Mr. Singh. We share our plan with the village, telling them that it is more important to me to make their portraits than to get back to New Delhi the night before my flight. This short conversation proves to cement our bond and form a relationship that to this day is without parallel in India for me.

The very next day, their portraits are made, we drive back to my room in New Delhi, throw everything into the luggage and drive to the airport, two hours before my flight. Upon arriving to the States, three rolls of film are taken to the photofinishing place, one from the very first day, one from the middle of the trip and one from the last day. They are all processed in one hour and all prove that the rest of the negatives will be fine. This is perhaps the best feeling experienced in my photographic life.

The portrait above is from that last day in Rajasthan, India in December, 2006.

Humana People to People India, Boys, 2008

All the girls' schools are meeting under a tent, spending a day together sharing their experiences with the good people of Humana People to People India. They are playing games and singing songs, performing traditional dances and enjoying each others' company. Many portraits are made in between sets, while keeping a low profile so as to minimize any distraction. 

It is during one of these breaks from the photography that these boys come over to watch. 'Why not photograph them' they ask. My answer is to find a ledge and arrange them for their portraits. The girls continue with their songs while the boys compose themselves, all without a single word spoken, since all of the translators from Humana are busy with the day's activities. 

The owner of the home gives his permission for the portraits since his home has a wonderful space for the photography, with the necessary, sunlit white wall. Each boy walks over, stands next to me and then takes his place on the ledge. The sun is still pretty high and strong, testing their ability to remain calm for their portrait. The perform flawlessly and we get back to the tent to watch the girls dance. The boys have their time in front of the camera.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Gambia, North Road, 2006

It is a rough day on the road from Dakar, Senegal to the interior of Gambia. We arrive on the eastern border of Gambia the previous night and spend the night in a small town. The plan is to leave in the morning and arrive at the western coast by the end of the day. The hotel owner smiles when he sets his eyes on our transportation, a compact car. He seems to know what lay ahead of us. This is the background behind this portrait. On our way west, we stop for gas at a service station. This man and his friend are sitting on the side, waiting for the next car. He walks over to us and asks for some help. After a minute or so, we agree on an exchange, his portrait for our help. He agrees and sits down for the portrait. At first, he covers his face, then he lowers the cloth enough to show us his face more so. This is one of the few portraits made by me in exchange for something more than a print, something outside the venue of my collaborations. It works out well and his portrait is used in order to raise awareness of the others in my portfolio.

Kenya, Maasai Man, 2007

So here we were, with a day off from our photography with the Maragoli Community Development Organization, driving around Western Kenya. My good friend and trusted driver, NgaNga, advised me that we could perhaps approach a few of the Maasai that happened to work near his home. He did so with a little skepticism oddly enough because his dealings with them had been limited up until now. With a clue in advance, we were led to a landlord who happened to employ a young Maasai man as a security guard, a common practice in this area. We met young Jonathan at this man's home and he agreed to introduce us to some of his friends. The landlord was kind enough to allow Jonathan to come with us. So here we were, driving along with me in the back and Jonathan in the passenger seat giving NgaNga directions to his friends' places. We managed to gather a dozen or so men and had a wonderful session as a result. These images are the product of that session. The prints from these sessions are for sale and will benefit the Maragolo Community Development Organization, as well as the local Maasai that are the subjects of these images.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Students, MACODEF, Western Kenya, 2007

According to MACODEF:

The rapid pace of change over the past century has produced many problems in the Maragoli region. The shift from pastoralism and horticulture to partial reliance on the capitalist economy has not been easy, and the unemployment rate stands at over 70% in Western Province. Malaria and HIV/AIDS have hit this area so hard that life expectancy has fallen to 55 years, yet access toclean water and affordable health care is beyond the reach of most. Roughly a third of the population live hand-to-mouth, and half of all families cannot afford to send their children to secondary school. The daily need for firewood has had devasting effects on the local environment.

Some of these problems were inherited from a brutal colonial regime in which British rulers systematically took the best land for themselves, taxed the local people beyond their means and ridiculed "native" customs as barbaric. Many people in Maragoli still remember how certain areas in the nearby city of Kisumu were designated off-limits to non-whites, how they were not allowed to drink European beer, or how they had to stand at attention when a white man drove past them on the road. Many of the current inequities in landholdings and in access to education, health care and wage labor stem from the colonial period and from the favoritism shown by missionaries and colonial administrators to certain groups and individuals at the expense of others.

'We have

this land
from our ancestors; rather
have borrowed
from our children.'

Kenyan Proverb


Three Girls, MACODEF, Western Kenya, 2007

When we arrive at this school, the clouds are gathering. We wait for the sun to shine but wait in vain. During the first hour, it rains. We wait for the rain to stop, it finally does. We walk to a spot in the field and made group portraits. All the children wait their turns patiently and arrang themselves in groups of friends. What amazes me most is their willingness to show their love for each other in view of the adults, in view of strangers.

This school is in Western Kenya, near Kisumu. The foundation that makes my photography possible is named MACODEF (Maragoli Community Development Foundation). The foundation operates in this region and in this school, supporting the school as well as numerous orphans within. The spread of HIV/AIDS in this region is a major contributor to the increase in the number of orphans.

While the foundation is international in terms of participants, the local board of governors is directly responsible for the relationship between the foundation and the villages, for the creation of certain projects and for the implementation of these projects.

It is with hope that my work with this wonderful foundation continues. For the benefit of these good people, my work is available for sale. You may visit my website listed below for the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful movement.


Milly Essendi, MACODEF, Western Kenya, 2007

'Within a twinkle of an eyelid Milly Essendi the once quiet girl of her father had run out of her mind. She was collecting papers, shouting and tearing off her clothes. All the people termed it as witchcraft. The good counsellors at St Brians intervened and the child received medical care after 2 years. The girl recovered but no school could take her. That is when she landed at St Brians. She is 13 years yet she is still in primary 5. Her parents are ignorant peasants who survive on land.Milly has to go without meals at times. ' 

The above was prepared by Pastor Keya, along with the letter sent to me since my visit to Kenya two years ago. Good evening Sir, We do hope that you maintain your normal health. As per me I have been down with malaria and am just from recovering. The overjoyed family of St. Brians Educational Center ran here and there quite excited at getting one visitor that they could not easily comprehend from whence he came. 

The ladies accompanying the gentleman were well known as they had on many occasions assisted the school. The manager with a springy gait in his walking style walked alongside the guests. It took all the energy of all the teachers to bring the children to order and instill enough quiet to announce the purpose of the visit. 'Photo taking sessions, photo taking sessions', all the children echoed what the manager had told them. Each and every child wanted her photo taken. 

If teachers were not there to keep law and order, then most probably we would have repeated a few children several times. It took us to almost 19:30 hrs to complete the exercise. That was the time when Halim Ina visited us. Since then, the children adore and love him. They expect through him, they will have a better school and learning facility.  

Pastor Meshack Bwoyele Keya 
St. Brian's Educational Center Near Kisumu, Kenya

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Two Elders, MACODEF, Western Kenya, 2007

What do we see in these portraits?

Who do we see? Are these faces familiar to us? Do they resemble someone from down the street?

Can we imagine them living in another country? In another continent?

Can we imagine their lives? Are their dreams similar to our dreams?

Do they have the same aspirations? Do they experience the same worries?

These portrats reflect my work with MACODEF. They live near a town called Kisumu in Western Kenya. Both portraits are made outside of churches, one with the sky as a background and the other with a white wall. 'I have taken and viewed many photos of community life over the years of my association with the Maragoli people of Western Kenya, but Halim's portraits are unlike any I have witnessed. He has an extraordinary ability to capture the essence of an individual's personality in a single picture. Especially when viewed against the sensationalized Western media coverage of the ethnic violence that followed Kenya's 2007 presidential election, Halim's photos have the effect of restoring a sense of the dignity and resilience of ordinary people. This capacity to capture the best of human nature is partly due to his considerable technical skills and his patience and perseverance. But it is also a result of his uncanny knack for establishing a personal connection with those he is photographing. That Halim is willing to use his gift for photography to raise awareness and funds to improve the lives of the people he photographs is even more impressive. I am deeply grateful for his willingness to collaborate with the Maragoli Community Development Foundation.'  

David McConnell 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

When one thinks of prostitution?

When one thinks of prostitution, does one think of her?

When one hears of 10,000,000 prostitutes in one country, can one imagine her face?

When these images are made in 2007, she is a student in a Nirvanavan Foundation School.

The following year, she is forced into prostitution by a social system in place before her birth, before the time of her parents.

When asked about her, our dear brother Nirvana of the foundation has this to share with me. She has been sent to the big city, Mumbai, to one of the hundreds of brothels. She has returned for a period of time to the village. He has seen her and has seen a different person altogether. She lacks a smile, she lacks a voice, she lacks the personality that made the above images possible. She has been broken.

As with the lowest of the caste system, her spirit has been overwhelmed by a careless world.
This story can be repeated over and over again in the ten villages under the care of Nirvanavan Foundation. This young girl is the reason for the foundation's existence. Her younger sister is also presently attending classes. Our hope is that she is provided a different path than the one provided to her sister.

Should you like to learn more regarding her story as well as the story of her sisters, you may visit the websites below. For the purchase of her portraits as well as those of others, in order to place a portrait in your home and to help the subjects as well, my website is also included. The proceeds from the sale of these prints goes directly to Nirvanavan Foundation.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Humana People to People India, 2008

We are looking at a smile three years in the making. This young woman is associated with the Humana People to People movement in India. Up until last year, she attends a foundation school for girls in her village. She is married now and has begun her own family. When we arrive last year to make portraits of the girls' school, she is missing. She has graduated from her classes into a marriage at a young age. Nonetheless, she joins us for a wonderful afternoon of photography and produces this smile for us. 

 'And as always in the question of development it is about promoting and preventing. Preventing the dehumanising of society, of institutions and of you and me. Promoting the humanization of mankind, the only art form that contains the seeds to the flowers of happiness for all. From black-white to all colours at random. From the struggle for liberation to the struggle for development.' 

From the charter of Humana People to People