Friday, July 31, 2009

Upside Down Tree, Gambia, 2006

On the way back from Banjul, we cross the Gambia River and visit a fort at the mouth of this body of water as it exits into the Atlantic Ocean. We happen to be the only ones and a young man approaches us to act as our guide. He tells us of its history, its transition from protecting the slave trade to helping end it.

When we first arrive, a small van is parked underneath this tree. We move along with the tour and then decide to get back on the road to Dakar. Just at that moment, I notice that the van is gone. The portrait of the 'Upside Down Tree' is made against the backdrop of history.

As our generous guide explains, the British soldiers thought this tree to be a bit odd, with its branches lacking leaves for much of the year. The named it the 'Upside Down Tree' because its branches resembled the roots of a traditional tree. Whether he is telling its history or merely entertaining us matters little, we enjoy his company.

He makes one more point, with the life of this very tree perhaps being over five hundred years old, it stands as a witness to the entire slave trade as it moved in and out of the Gambia River, from its inception to its decline centuries later.

How many lives passed by this tree? How many faces did it bear witness to over the centuries? Was this the last tree that the slaves might have been able to see as they were removed from the continent?

Only this most beautiful of life forms has the answers.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Two Girls, Humana People to People India, 2007

Two girls benefit from their parents' choice to allow them to attend classes for a few hours per day. Their teacher is their neighbor, a person that they trust immensely. In collaboration with Humana People to People India, the school is very much a success, with a mutual respect between students and teacher that is an example for schools universally.

In this portrait, one is married a year after her first portrait is made. This is her first portrait with me after her marriage. She is the one with the shorter blouse, the one with the larger nose piece.

She is now considered a graduate of the school and tends to her new family's chores and responsibilities. In great part to the foundation, she is still allowed to attend the photography and honors me with her presence, her cooperation. Like the rest, they understand that my work is made possible through the foundation. They also understand through the help of the kind translation of my words that my work will continue regardless of their status with the foundation, regardless of whether they graduate from the school. That is of course dependent on their desire to continue.

There is nothing like the face of a person when they know that we make the effort to find them even though their collaboration with the foundation is perhaps at an end. Only then do they realize the full meaning of my work: 'to follow them for life.'

Two Women, Humana People to People India, 2008

These two women are on the cutting edge of their society.

They are working with Humana People to People India, allowing their daughters to attend classes rather than working, at least for a few hours per day. Their girls still do their daily chores, still work outside the hours of their classes. However, they realize the value of an education and have made a decision to begin with the next generation.

They are proud to have their portraits made alongside their daughters, in full view of their village. These portraits represent their third time with my project. Year after year they show up, each time they allow me to continue with my work. They serve tea, sit for hours and watch the photography unfold, watch their daughters giggle and laugh.

They are beginning with the next generation, working with Humana People to People India. For more information and to learn how one can support the foundation's work, the following websites are listed:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Student, Female, Midwest, United States, 2009

'My name is Tiana “Keke” Maddox. I am a 20 year old college student from Cleveland. Although my life is surrounded by much hard work, I never let my obligations interrupt my smile and laughter! I absolutely love my spontaneous life and I embrace each day with great enthusiasm. Along with the great respect that I have for Mr. Halim Ina, I am most intrigued by the mission of his work. His photographs not only display a form of creative art, but a story, which is why I am very excited to be apart of his most recent projects. As human beings it is easy to become preoccupied with our own problems and difficulties that we forget about others less fortunate than ourselves; that despite I must live without minor wants that some are without necessities. I am happy to know that my photograph will greatly benefit the Nirvanavan Foundation and help support a great cause for many deserving villages. Much change can occur if we provide sturdy foundations for our community and great opportunity for our children. As like last year, I hope that funds are raised to provide more support for the men, women, and children of these villages.'

----"With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations." ---President Barack H. Obama, 2009 Inaugural Address.

'Now is the perfect time for the people of the world to unite, with hope everything is possible.'

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Five Faces, Four Statistics, India, 2007

1. "It takes up to fifteen years for girls held in prostitution via debt-bondage to purchase their freedom." (Robert I. Freidman, "India’s Shame" The Nation, 8 April 1996)

2. "The red light district in Bombay generates at least $400 million a year in revenue, with 100,000 prostitutes servicing men 365 days a year, averaging 6 customers a day, at $2 each." (Robert I. Freidman, "India’s Shame" The Nation, 8 April 1996)

3. "December 1997, a nine-year-old girl from Pune was found living with a 54- year- old Swiss national in a Goa hotel for over nine months. When contacted, her father said she was there with his consent. The man was released following an investigation." (Meena Menon, "Tourism and Prostitution," The Hindu, 14 February, 1998)

4. "The main frequenters of prostitutes in Goa are tourists, local men and college boys. United States "seamen" ask locals in Goa which bars to find prostitutes in. Some men have taxi drivers bring prostituted girls from Baina back to their hotels in Panjim. The next morning, the taxi drivers rape the girls before taking them home." (Taxi driver, Meena Menon, "Tourism and Prostitution,"The Hindu 1997)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Young Woman, Midwest, United States, 2009

Then there are those that give of themselves without asking for anything in return. While it is difficult for so many to give, some find it easy to give even though they have very little.

We meet one night at a happening, find it easy to trust each other and arrange to meet in the future for a portrait. Without much delay, we make her portrait over a span of a few hours, changing into many outfits and into many different skins.

We meet once again a few months later to do very much the same, even though she has now gained much visibility and her time is limited, even though this is her trade and she normally gets paid for her time.

For my work, she gives of herself without asking for anything in return, she allows her portrait to be used in order to raise funding for the children of Nirvanavan Foundation, comes to the benefit even though she lives out of state now, stays in touch even though she is on the other side of the country. She teaches us that we need not have money to do something, we need only to have the desire and all else will follow.

Here are her words:

'I am angered that girls are forced into trade for sex by their own family. Their aspirations are cut short purely because of their gender. I am grateful to live in a country where I have significantly more freedom. I still face criticism when I show my body but I can become educated and pursue all of my dreams. I am proud to have my portrait shown with these girls because I can relate to their plight. It is important that this manner of thinking be changed so that the whole world can benefit from the wisdom and beauty of women.'

For her portrait as well as those of others, you may contact me through my website:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Girl, Nat and Kanjar Communities, Rajasthan, India

The teacher asks her and her sisters what they would like to do when they grow up. Their answers vary, from teachers to police officers to doctors. One thing is certain, none of them say that they want to become prostitutes, like their mothers and aunts and sisters before them.

She, like her sisters and cousins, belong to the Nat and Kanjar Communities. These small collections of homes house a trade in sex that supplies girls to the brothels in the larger cities as well as the demand for sex overseas.

"Of the estimated 9,000,000 prostitutes working in India, some 30% or 2,700,000 are children." (ECPAT International, A Step Forward, 1999)

"Every day, about 200 girls and women in India enter prostitution, 80% of them against their will." (The Devadasi Tradition and Prostitution", Times of India, 4 December 1997)

"In Bombay, children as young as 9 are bought for up to 60,000 rupees, or US$2,000, at auctions" by "men who believe sleeping with a virgin cures gonorrhea and syphilis." (Robert I. Freidman, "India’s Shame" The Nation, 8 April 1996)

"Men who believe that AIDS and other STDs can be cured by having sex with a virgin, are forcing young girls into the sex industry; seven year old girls are neither uncommon nor the youngest."

(Tim McGirk "Nepal's Lost Daughters, 'India's soiled goods,"Nepal/India News, 27 January 1997)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Four Students, MACODEF, Western Kenya, 2007

Four students, four personalities, four attitudes, four stories stand before us for a few seconds before the next group of students replace them. They walk from building to building without shoes but with a desire to learn comparable to the best students at the best universities. The teachers are just as eager and the foundation that assists them just as willing. We make these portraits in the early hours of the day, after the portraits of the girls. According to the good people of the foundation, to photograph the girls first in this part of the country goes against policy, for it is men, then boys, then women and then girls. As with my photography elsewhere, we start from the bottom up. To my surprise, the representative from the foundation is pleased with this approach and decides to tell people that this is just my way.

For the most part, everyone respects this choice, with women waiting their turn after the girls and with men waiting until the end. The choice to photograph this way is many times a dilemma, inevitably going against every single culture and policy in every single country. In my experience unfortunately, a place that holds girls first in importance has yet to be found. So we create this place every time we set up for portraits, just as this article is about girls even though the subjects are boys. My camera adores the boys just like the girls. It is just time to give the girls their time in the sun.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Two Girls, On a Rooftop, New Delhi, India, 2008

One smiles all of the time with a sense of mischief and one rarely smiles. They live in the same home, a place that provides them with a sense of security from their past, a past that includes riots and broken homes. These girls are products of religious riots from years past in their country. The day before during our dinner, the girls are told to wear their favorite dresses. They sleep in different rooms, one slightly older than the other. We arrange for the session to be on the rooftop, away from the view of the public, with a white sheet as a background, shielding them from view as well as producing this background. This is their third year of photography. The last two dozen rolls of film from this photographic assignment are used to make portraits of this home's girls, with the boys waiting patiently below for their turn. The girls wake up pretty early for the sake of an early sun, the morning ends gloriously.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Woman + Sky, Rajasthan, India, 2007

The above woman sees much each day, she sees the younger girls being raised to become prostitutes, she watches the sons learning the trade of pimping, she sees the husbands making sure that the present cultural path is different than the past one, she sees their lives shaped by the trade of sex, nothing else. They belong to the Nat and Kanjar Communities. In front of each village, they sit in clear view of the men passing by in their cars, on their bicycles or perhaps even on their feet. They present themselves during all times of the day, with their faces painted and their expressions suited for the task at hand. The women also see something new, schools in their villages sponsored by the good people of Nirvanavan Foundation. The teachers come from other villages, giving their children exposure to strangers looking for something else from their villages, looking only to provide an education for their children in exchange for a decent, honest living. The women have lived the life of prostitutes, have been raised under the domination of the men, yet find within themselves the strength and courage to support the schools, to encourage their children to attend classes and to convince the men to allow all of this to occur in the middle of their villages. Perhaps they can find their way to their previous culture, to a time when they used to be the entertainers to everyone from royalty to everyday folks. Perhaps they can remember their past with dignity while looking for a future that has more in common with their past than with their present.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Girl, Banjara Community, Rajasthan, India 2007

We meet behind a tent along with her sisters one sunny afternoon in November of 2006. This is my first assignment with Humana People to People India. They are having an activity day that includes the varying schools in and around Behror and the staff as well.

Jumping ropes, running with vessels on their heads and other activities have their fullest attention. The cohesion between children, teachers and others from Humana is evident throughout the day, a success in every aspect.

One year later, we meet once again on the roof of her school building, only after her sister is sent to get her, she is missing when we first arrive. Until she comes, we make portraits of the others sitting on the roof, each taking their turns in front of the camera. When she arrives, it is clear that she is happy to have been called, happy to have been noticed. Her shirt is unbuttoned at first, then she fixes herself up and takes her turn.

We make perhaps about 120 negatives of her, far beyond the average even for me. We make portraits with both of her hair clips, with one of them, with none of them. She cooperates every time, albeit with the slightest of hesitation due mostly to so many people in attendance.

On the last roll, her shyness overtakes her and she runs down the stairs and out of the building. She forgets two things however, her hair clips. We call out for her, she smiles and waits for me to hand the clips to her, a smile all over her face as well as those of her sisters, seeing me running down to do something that perhaps few like me have done for her.

Up on the roof again, we decide to visit their camp which is just 100 meters or so from the building, a row of tents and nothing more, made up of plastic and cloth. We arrive at her family's tent, her mother is cooking inside and her father is standing outside. We are introduced and he asks about my intention in the most respectful and calm manner.

First he sees my album, page after page of faces from India and abroad. Then when the page of his daughter's portrait is about to be turned, I look at their faces and turn that page. The young girl's face is filled with absolute happiness and pride, turning to her father to see his reaction instantly. He is pleased and also smiles.

We speak for about twenty minutes, he hears through the gracious interpration of the good people of Humana People to People India that his daughters are always in my thoughts, that they understand my work without need for words, that their portraits are supremely natural. He is also asked for his permission to continue my photography. When he provides it straight away, he learns through the interpreters of my plan to return every year for their portraits, to follow them even if they are outside the responsibility of the foundation, even if they move further away.

He smiles, shakes my hand and invites us to dinner later that evening. We thank him and reserve that visit for another evening since my friends are unable to attend. That evening will hopefully happen this year.

The following year, with the help of the good people of Nirvanavan Foundation, we find her and her camp, having moved to a place distant from their previous encampment. Three days were spent finding them, with Nirvana never giving up the search. We arrive and to their absolute surprise, we pull out their portraits from last year and hand them to the children. We are then given permission to photograph once again.

There is someone missing once again, it is her!

So the young men head out and find her, she is tending the herd.

Girl, Rain, Church, MACODEF, 2007

We arrive at the church just in time for the rains. For the next hour, the skies unleash a storm on the tin roof of this structure, producing a noise that drowns any possibility of a conversation between even the closest in the building. We just sit and look at each other, hoping that the rains will end soon. She holds onto her sister, both of them sitting to my left. She is the calmest of children, transferring that calm to her scared, younger sister. Her face is that of peace and kindness. Everyone wants the rain to end. In an hour it does. We step outside and gather ourselves, with me looking for the source of the light and a suitable background immediately. The spot is just outside of the door, next to some tall grass. The tripod is positioned low so as to allow the sky as a canvas for the subjects. With the film used, this means that the background just disappears during the exposure. She stands straight, looking toward the sun behind a thin layer of clouds, with her head up high, as calm now as she was inside the church. We make about ten exposures, this is the third one from the last exposure, her expression is unchanged between all ten. For her portrait as well as others associated with MACODEF, you may follow the links below:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Two More Dancers, Havana, Cuba, 2008

So which one is more camera shy? Which one seems to want to hide from the camera?

When we first approach them, it seems to us that perhaps the darker gentleman is less shy, wants to be photographed more so. As the legs of the tripod dig into the sand, he begins to hide himself behind his friends. It is the dancer with the lighter skin that walks forward for his portrait first, without ever having met me before.

The camera is magical at times, a bridge across languages, cultures and borders. It allows two to speak without any of the aforementioned in common. We spend nearly two hours photographing, against the sky and on the hot sand.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A farmer and a tree, Rural, Cuba, 2008

So we continue on the road east and run across a group of farmers. They allow us a conversation and we ask for their portraits. They agree without question and give us a few minutes from their day. He stands on a small block of concrete to allow me an angle with the sky as a background. He has worked on this land for his entire life, continues to do so without hesitation. After his portrait, he calls for his sons and we make their portraits also. We say our goodbyes and promise to return the following year with his portrait. That promise will be kept even when the attempt to return proves difficult. His name and the name of his friends are noted along with their addresses. Then we come across a tree, one that all three of us want to photograph. We have different cameras and want to compare our interpretations the following year. We each make our exposures and then switch cameras with each other. We will meet next year and see. We get back into the car and head back to Havana, Cuba.

On the road, Havana, Cuba, 2008

With one day left on the rental car, after driving to the furthest eastern point of the island, a decision is made to get in the car by myself and drive to the furthest western part of the island. Getting in the car is easy and heading in the opposite direction of the morning sun easier. The road is filled with people waiting for a ride, some on public transportation and some in the cars of strangers. The thought of transporting a family further down the road enters my mind at every crossroad. Seeing a single person in a car without anyone else seems foreign to all on the road, as interpreted by me from their facial expressions. Neglecting to pick up a family is based on the need to keep my presence on the island from under the microscope of the authorities, having run into an official a bit earlier on the road. Nonetheless, every crossing proves to be a difficult experience, without exception. Billboards are everywhere, with slogans and statements supporting the movement. They stand alone, like signs frozen in time. Alongside these same roads men are seen with blades, cutting the grass. They are assigned to a certain portion of the road. They work under the hot sun, for ten hours a day, manually cutting the grass for a monthly wage of $20. A few allow me to photograph them while working. Then along comes a young made asking for my help. He tells me that his car is broken, about 100 meters from my car. He tells me that he needs a ride to the next exit. He steps away for a second to check on his car. At that moment, the men take a break from cutting the grass and warn me regarding this young man, telling me that his approach is a scam. They tell me to be careful. Here are these men, working for a wage that compares to perhaps three hours of minimum wage in the States, caring enough to warn me about their fellow comrade. They prove to me as correct my decision to drive alone to the western part of this island. We separate saying our goodbyes and they continue on the road with their work.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Collaboration: Nirvanavan Foundation and Humana People to People India

Working with two foundations, these portraits are made. Through Humana People to People India, my relationship with Nirvanavan Foundation is possible. The people in this short documentary are from the Banjara Community and from traditional, rural Indian villages in the state of Rajasthan. The parents of these children have given their permission to include their children in a new Humana school. This is their first time in front of my camera. The children with the sky as a background live in rural India, like the majority of Indians. Their village is one of over 650,000 villages that dot the landscape of this land. Their parents have also allowed them access to an education through a Humana school. These are working girls and are provided an education for a few hours per day, time they take away from their daily workload. You may see some of the portraits at my website and visit the work of the foundations as well below: All portraits are for sale and will directly benefit the subjects of the photographs. My hope is for others to become involved.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Memory, Nirvana

In my day to day chats with Nirvana, he takes the time now and then to share a story, at times from his past and at times from the present. This is one such moment. 

In Nirvana's own words: 'I remember my friend's father who used to return home everyday without a shirt or shoes or wrist watch. He had given it to someone who was in need. Everyone in their home was fed up with him. He is now retired and stays with his son in Gurgaon. I met him two years ago after many many years. He lost his arm in an accident but he had the same shine in his face which I had seen as a young boy.'

'It is 7.45am I am sitting in Advaita Garden. On the veranda children are reciting poems ever so loudly. Behind the desk in front of me is an old women who has come to me to ask for textbooks for her son who is studying in a private school. I promised her that I would surely get the books for her son. Last year her husband died of cancer. She came to me one day to ask for bus fare to Jaipur where her husband was being treated. Later-on we even gave money for his funeral. Everyday as far as I remember for the last twenty years I have been giving money for text books, school fees, medical bills, marriages, funerals, food, clothes, etc, etc. and running around in govt offices, banks and courts to get someone's work done without asking anything in return and without worrying if someone has fooled me or not. And this I could only do when I was comfortable with money. I take this opportunity to thank my friends (names included in email) for ever being so generous and kind.'

'The children in the veranda are now very quiet. Anita is telling them a story. I should now get up now and go to the other classes.'

Nirvana Bodhisattva 
Nirvanavan Foundation 

Modern Dancers, Havana, Cuba, 2008

There is a spot on the beach that these young men gather every week. We step out of the taxi and begin walking in this direction. When we arrive, they seem to be expecting us. Only six or so men are around at this time of the day, still a bit early for the rest.

We speak to them for a minute and come to learn that they are modern dancers belonging to a famous dance troupe performing in the city. They are comfortable in front of the camera and offer right away to make portraits. We put the tripod legs down into the sand and begin our work.

They tell us of their lives in Habana and of their distinction as the gay minority inside the dance company. This so happens to be an area of the beach for gay men to meet, to provide a community of support and to show their solidarity.

We make their portraits, walk over to a stand for something to drink and then catch a taxi back to the city. The sun is marvelous and the hope for glorious portraits is fulfilled this morning.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Graduate, MACODEF, Kenya, 2007

He stands in front of his family's home, proud to have visitors from the foundation. We are taken to this young man's house to photograph him and his father because he has accomplished exceptional grades in school. Under the guidance of the foundation, he has excelled and nears the possibility of going further in his studies. As explained to me, the two variables holding him back are funding for a uniform and funding for books. The foundation is prepared to help with his tuition. 

He shares with us a list of items that need to be purchased in order for him to advance, a list that many in other parts of the world take for granted. He shows us inside the home, a most traditional structure. It consists of one room with another acting as a preparation area. His entire family sleeps in this one room, a family of at least six as my memory begins to fail me as of this entry.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Maasai, Western Kenya, 2007

Working for two weeks with MACODEF, driving around the western portion of Kenya, we came across these men in bright colored garments now and then, always walking in a straight line, barely looking left or right, their eyes fixed straight ahead. My driver and friend, NgaNga, tells me that it's possible to have them as subjects, that they are open to that conversation, from his experiences with them. So we arrange to have a talk with one of them, a young Maasai by the name of John. The conversation goes well and he agrees to take us to his friends. We then meet a dozen or so of his tribe and have a conversation regarding compensation. For me, it feels different. In the past, many have asked for compensation. However, this time it feels different. This is, as my friend tells me, their way of being paid for their 'product,' a culture that many from around the world come to experience. The difference is that this 'product' would remain regardless of demand. We arrange a meeting the next day, seven in the morning. My friend comes to get me from the hotel a bit late, thinking that they will be late also, as all other Kenyans have advised me. Well, as we near the spot of our meeting, we receive a call from one of the young Maasai men, asking us where we are. Yes, they have cell phones also. My friend was embarrassed a bit, almost as much as me. We arrive and quickly begin making portraits. They are gracious and warm, even though their outward demeanor suggests something else, guarded perhaps and for good reason. Halfway through the photography, the older gentleman decides that it is time to change the terms of our previous agreement, firing up a storm with NgaNga. All is a huge issue until we hear the terms of the negotiation, then all calms down. We continue with the photography. At one point, they ask this question: 'why does he make so many pictures?' Without telling me, NgaNga tells them that I am using a very old camera and it is not very good.' That seems to calm everyone down. In between images, the sit down in a big group and tell stories, laugh and dance their traditional dance, with a circle and one person in the center. In one spontaneous moment, I hand the camera to NgaNga and go to the middle of the circle to everyone's surprise, including myself, and try to imitate their reaching for the sky, all doomed to failure of course. However, smiles are on everyone's faces, for reasons that will remain theirs. When crossing the road back to the car, one of the men takes my hand and guides me safely. This is a most gentle and kind tribe, one that has shown me the meaning of humanity on this beautiful afternoon in Western Kenya.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Physically Challenged, MACODEF, 2007

When we arrived at the school we were greeted with open arms. The wonderful caretakers of these children went about getting the children ready for their photographs. The school was very organized, with many adults in place for the children's care.

We found a soft spot under a tree and began making portraits. Some of the children came on their own, and some of the children needed the help of the adults. Some were held, and some had the use of a wheelchair, such as this young man. The entire time, the adults did their best to create a peaceful mood for the sake of the children.

This young boy had a profound presence about him, and affected me deeply. He looked through the camera and past me, a gift which few truly have. We have to imagine ourselves looking at a stranger with a camera, and understand how difficult that would be for us. What a remarkable, young boy!

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