Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banganga, Rajasthan, Humana People to People India, 2008

Just when I think that all of the faces have shown themselves to me on my third visit to this most beautiful of villages, she walks through the field to us. She is a new student, knows of my work and exudes pure happiness.

Three years ago an experience in this village endeared me to its inhabitants. On my very last day, I heard the camera make a funny noise. I looked it over and realized that the shutter in the lens was broken. My stomach sank.

Did that mean the shutter snapped on that day or that it was broken the entire time in India? Did that mean that 10,000 negatives were all exposed incorrectly?

My stomach sank. I used my second camera to finish the pictures but everyone saw it all over my face, the pain of the unknown. I then told the guide that we would be coming back to the village in the morning, staying overnight. He thought that I was mad because my flight was the very next day. We would have to drive without rest to get back to the capital in time to reach the airport, still needing to pack.

I thought that at least I would have one morning of photography to make up for twenty days of blank negatives.

We did go back and shoot the next morning, I did not sleep for one second the night before. We drove five hours back, flew twenty four hours to the States, slept overnight and then drove to the camera store with three rolls of film, one from the very first day, one from day 14 and one from the very last day.

They were all perfect.

My stomach finally rose.

After all of the negatives were processed, only one roll was half blank, at the exact moment the camera made that noise.

On this day however, all the negatives are exposed beautifully, the camera functions without trouble and we allow this young girl her day in the sun indeed.

I hope that she will be there in four weeks.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Al-Arqam Academy, Northern India, 2007

They attend school in a most remote village. The government school is a distance from their homes and their families' incomes make attending a traditional school difficult.

We arrive during their classes and hand out images from the previous year. We tell them about our desire to make more portraits today and the excitement builds even though they are still in class. In the meantime, while we wait, we decide to walk through the neighboring village in search of more faces, more stories.

We invite as many to be photographed alongside the girls from the school. However, in addition to a few shy girls that come along bravely, a few boys also come along and begin to cause trouble. It becomes evident that the photography will be most difficult with their harassment and we find a place on top of the school that will allow us a sense of peace, away from the heckling.

We set up the equipment and the girls line up for their portraits. There are perhaps about four dozen girls and they stay after school for their picture to be made. We send news of the photography to the nearby village to inform the rest of the parents in order to put them at ease. The girls are just lovely, switching articles of clothing while waiting for their turn.

These are girls that cannot afford traditional schools, some are orphans and live here, some have parents that have given the foundation permission to provide housing for their children. The following year we return only to find the children away on a field trip. Even though this saddens me very much due to the fact that the principal was misinformed about our visit, the changes evident with respect to the school brings me much happiness.

The buildings have been painted beautifully. The interiors have all been renovated, with an impressive computer room, a refined cafeteria and classrooms designed for the comfort of the students. The changes are due to the fact that a new foundation has received ownership of the school. The pride on the principal's face is clear and a sign of progress for the children. We leave him behind with the promise of returning this year.

I very much hope that these girls will be there this year.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Student, Rajasthan, India, Humana People to People India, 2008

We arrive in the middle of the day to photograph this school and have another to visit later in the afternoon.  The teacher is missing and the children are therefore unaware of our desire to photograph them.  They are nonetheless excited and we move fast to find a place for their portraits.

It's the middle of the day and my typical arrangement is impossible.  We stand in the path and look around, realizing that the house behind us has a wonderful courtyard. We are given permission and find a small chair for the children to rest upon. For the very first time, a reflector is used to direct the light of the sun onto the subjects.

It works beautifully and we make wonderful images, all the children enjoying the experience as witnessed by their smiles. The older women also want their portraits made, with their smaller children as well.

This session changes my view of photography in India and will provide me with a wider window of time on the next visit. Arriving early and photographing later in the afternoon will certainly continue. However, my hope now is that the foundations will allow me to photograph during the middle of the day while they have their lunch and get some rest. 

I hope that their respect for the guest will be secondary to their hunger and need to rest. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Orphan, Happy Home, New Delhi, India 2006

We stand on the roof of a three story building in the middle of New Delhi called 'Happy Home.' It is a place where children from various backgrounds live, boys and girls. Some are partial orphans whose single parent cannot support their schooling orliving. Some are total orphans from the violence this world has brought upon them in the name of religion.

We stand on the roof as the sun is setting. There is just enough to light her face in this image, after which it sets behind the taller building next to us.

After this portrait, she returned to her family and has since left 'Happy Home.' The children of this wonderful place have welcomed me back three more times since this portrait. We have made many photographs, had countless dinners and have even visited an amusement park and some tourist areas, renting a bus and hearing them sing songs along the way. They are my family away from home.

The call me 'Halim Uncle.'

Monday, September 21, 2009

Man Cutting Grass, East of Habana, Cuba, 2008

Here is a man whose daily job is to cut down the grass on the side of the road. He is given a certain length for maintenance. He works twelve hours a day under the hot sun and does all the work with his hands, his sweat.

We stop at the side of the road and ask him for his portrait while working. Even though we have a rental car, he allows the three of us to make his portrait while cutting the grass. He is just wonderful, never looks at us and allows us a view of his life as if we are absent.

We talk for fifteen or so minutes after the photography and get an idea of his circumstances. He lives nearby and walks to this spot. He helps support his family with this contribution to the collective society. He humbles us with a sense of peace, a sense of accomplishment.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wife of Blind Man, Old Delhi, India, 2006

So here we are sitting in a medical clinic in Old Delhi. The man next to me asks of my purpose. My answer is reflexive, having answered this question countless times just this past week and on many previous visits to other countries.

He looks puzzled and asks once again, clearly sharing with me his desire to hear something different. I then ask him his thoughts on my photography. He tells me that the photographs can be sold and money can then be sent back to the people.

To make his point, we walk outside, one block down and then down an alley into an open air market. We pass a man laying to the right of the alley covered with debris and flies. We see children walking around with nothing on their feet, covered with dirt. We see a mass of people sitting next to their produce baking in the sun.

We stop and he tells me to pick a few faces to photograph. To tell you the truth, I am a bit shocked. The scene is chaotic and in the middle of the chaos he wants me to put my tripod down and pick some faces. Regardless, I select a few faces and they are asked to be photographed, including the older woman above. Her husband is blind and they both agree to be photographed.

We spent about thirty minutes doing so and everyone cooperates graciously. It happens that all of these folks know this man and his foundation, the very foundation that runs the free medical clinic one block away. The give us their portraits because they know that the medical clinic is there for them, regardless of their inability to pay for any services. He is a good man and his foundation a blessing for them.

We walk back into the clinic and my answer has been hit by a revolution. The next time someone asks my purpose, they will hear something different.

All of these images are for sale on my website and will benefit the people involved.

Student, Private School, Virat Nagar, Rajasthan, India, 2006

She is asked to be photographed before her classes begin. A few minutes ago, she was seated on the roof of her school reciting with the rest of the children Hindu prayers. Along with a few friends, they step to my little area and we make their portraits.

Her name is Rekha.

My chance to photograph her came as a result of my friend's insistence that we do something. We were waiting for the rest of the team to arrive at the offices of Humana People to People India in Virat Nagar. We noted that a private school rested above the office and we ventured upstairs to watch. The principal welcomed us nicely and we talked for a few minutes before he gave us his permission to photograph about six girls, Rekha was one of them.

The following two years we visited the school and missed her. The first year, she was missing from the school due to her family's inability to afford the humble school fees. The second year, she was enrolled in a school just a few minutes away, with the teachers offering to take us to her.

This time around, I will seek her out, I will take the time to find her family and to make her portrait once again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

International Children's Day, Habana, Cuba, 2008

He sits on a ledge during International Children's Day, taking a break from the festivities on his block. Just an hour or so ago, he allowed me to make his portrait formally, along with the other children from his street.

The children are running around, singing songs, watching their friends stand in front of them acting out their fantasies. Every now and then a child walks over and has his/her portrait made by me. My friends and I walk around and make spontaneous portraits of them in return.

On every block there is such a scene. On this small island, the love of children is noticeable. The streets are playgrounds for the children, with everyone watching out for the children of others. On this special day, endless effort is spent gladly for the sake of the children. They take the little that they have and spend it on balloons, decorations, cakes, cookies and so on.

This is International Children's Day and it shows.

Living in the States for over thirty years has rarely given me a glimpse of this day, in one of the most affluent nations on Earth. Walking around Cuba has taught me lessons missed over those thirty years, has taught me the value of such sharing.

Writing of such brings another story to mind. When walking around Gambia one day, Spanish is heard as a man walks by talking to two guides. I turn to my friend and ask about this stranger. My friend tells me that he is a Cuban doctor taking care of villages lacking any medical facilities.

It seems that the lessons learned during International Children's Day last a lifetime.

Two Boys, Habana, Cuba, 2008

We walk past these two boys on our way to a family waiting for us. Like in so many neighborhoods in Habana during the hot summer months, they are using what they have around them instead of a bat and a ball. Sometimes the bat is nothing more than a broom stick and the ball nothing more than a bottle cap.

Regardless, their passion is only humbled by their accuracy. It never ceases to amaze me how they can consistently hit an object as small as a bottle cap flying through the air as people and cars pass by.

While the States and Cuba seem to diverge on so many fronts, from politics to economics to language, the people in the streets share a passion for this sport.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Oxford Square, New Delhi, 2007

This is the view from the roof of the school. The children who attend classes belong to families that live and work below. They belong to a caste that washes clothing for a living, live near the water and use the water as their work space.

The good people of the school invited me over from last year to photograph their students. Along with two other guests, they show me a respect that can never be returned. We watch the students line up for a session, listen to the speakers and then watch the students as they begin their lessons.

For the photography, we arrange to photograph each class, one by one, with the girls being photographed first.

The following year, I return to New Delhi only to learn that the school is perhaps closed. There is a bit of mystery and perhaps misunderstanding. It is connected to another foundation that has helped me immensely during my time in India and during one of my days with them, we decide to visit the area in spite of the possible closing.

We decide to walk down this path, to the homes of the people. As we walk, there is a feeling that some of the children recognize me from last year. They look and smile. Many of their expressions turn from that of wonder to that of recognition. At first the walk is lonely and then it is just wonderful. One of the students remembers me, my name and guides us to his home where we are welcomed, given chairs to sit down upon and an audience to accept the photographs from last year. It is a bit chaotic but just beautiful.

After we finish handing out the photographs, we decide to take a different path out of this area. As we do so, many familiar faces come out of the homes, out of the alleys to greet us. One face that has been on my mind is still missing. All of a sudden, a young boy invites us into his home. We oblige and are greeted by that exact face my mind had been seeking from last year. She is out of her uniform, tending to the family's goat. She smiles, remains silent and continues with her work.

I have always wondered how it would feel to be in their small shoes, what it would mean to see a stranger's face one year after that stranger's visit. I suppose that I will never know that feeling for certain and will just settle for that tender smile and that beautiful silence.

I will visit her this year, visit this area and photograph along the banks of the river.

Her picture is below.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Face, Metal Container, Havana, Cuba, 2008

Everywhere we walk we run across the work of this artist. He uses walls, garbage dumpsters and discarded metal containers to deposit his work.

People watch us as we arrange the tripod, they have a certain look: 'why is he interested in this?'

Most of the artist's pieces are a bit older, faded and cracking. They are nonetheless unmistakable as one person's work.

All throughout Havana, while much art exists on walls and so forth, most of it is associated with the established guidelines, celebrating the revolution and its principles.

This artist's work however sits outside.

During this capture, the temperature and humidity are almost unbearable. We spend perhaps about fifteen minutes arranging the tripod to capture different angles, since the face wraps around the sides of the container.

We are on the outskirts of Havana's Chinatown. We finish our work and head out to photograph more familiar faces.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Farm, West of Havana, Cuba, 2008

It's a sunny day and the rental car is due tomorrow. Getting in the car seems natural and driving without a map even more so. The thought is to reach the main road, drive away from the sun after getting out of Havana and continue to do so until the sun is two hours from setting, then turn around and reach Havana as the sun sets.

I am alone and begin the drive as the sun rises. Many people are already on the road, waiting for public transportation to get them to their destination.

Seeing families alongside the road, under the sun, proves very difficult for me, knowing that my car is large enough for them. Being alone in a country foreign to me forces me to continue driving.

My experiences on this island have also taught me that the notion of helping people is at times viewed by certain authorities differently. During this trip, two authorities stop to ask me questions regarding my photography, regarding my relationship with the people being photographed, which leads me to explain this image.

Seeing the formation of the clouds and the colors of the landscape made me stop, nothing else really.

A few frames were exposed and then I continued to drive down the road looking for another scene.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tree, Landscape, Car, East of Habana, Cuba

Every now and then we stop and make a landscape image, all three of us getting out of the car with our cameras and making comparative studies. After a long trip, such opportunities give us a chance to collaborate, to do so without disagreement and agitation.

Five days before, we started on this adventure thinking that three of us would drive, that people in different cities would guide us and that we would have places to stay. After perhaps fifteen minutes on the road, it became obvious that the only person to have driven among the three of us was me, that people in different cities were never contacted and that we would need to search for places to stay in each city, the least of my worries in the end.

As we near Havana, they ask me to teach them how to drive. We are now on the nicer part of the freeway and it seems possible to do so. There are few cars around and the weather is beautiful. Each one of them gets into the driver's seat with the biggest smile ever, their knuckles white from grasping the steering wheel. A few words are exchanged about manual shifting and we move along.

Surprisingly, they both learn shifting quite well and move along to the highest gear without much effort. It is at this stage that my mind begins to worry. They both seem to believe that driving faster is a good idea, without knowing much about how to come to a stop. Surprisingly again, they both do without much effort. A few times, my hand moves the gear into neutral without the aid of the clutch, to help them stop while keeping the car running.

Seeing the joy on their faces reminds me of our frivolous disagreements, shows me the importance of our friendships and helps me realize that, while photography is an integral part of my life, it is these friends that make my life happiest. These are my Cuban brothers and this experience has shown me the value of a person versus the value of a portrait.

So we step out of the car with what we have in common, our cameras and our desire to make this portrait. We photograph in black and white, in color, with different cameras, exchange cameras and look forward to a day when we can compare prints. They will need chemicals, paper and so forth, hopefully with me on my next visit.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Entertainment Industry, A Comment Regarding From Germany, 2009

'Even though I have worked in this field for some years now, I am still deeply moved by their stories and the thought that it is possible for these things to happen in today's world. Your photos are such a wonderful way to show these girls and women with their dignity despite the difficulties they had and have to face in their lives. By seeing these photos it once again becomes stunningly clear to me that what nowadays sometimes so easily is labeled as "entertainment industry" is nothing more than a continuing threat to the full realisation of woman's rights and the dignity of the women involved in this trade.'

BONO-Direkthilfe e.V. Stephan Weber Mitglied im Vorstand Overather Strae 29 51429 Bergisch Gladbach Telefon: 0 22 04 / 9 68 99 80 Fax: 0 22 04 / 9 68 99 81

Marked, Prostitute, India, Nirvanavan Foundation, 2008

So she walks up onto the roof of the school for her portrait, in the morning and before her customers arrive. In any case, customers are hard to find with strangers like us around. She has seen me before and has decided to allow us her picture.

The sun is bright and she stands in front of a white wall. We make maybe four negatives and she is flawless for all of them. While making the portraits, my eyes are drawn to a small mark on the inside of her right arm. The good people of the foundation explain to me that sometimes this tattoo is requested by the husband, a sign of his presence in her life.

Since I lack the knowledge to understand Hindi, this will be left for others to ascertain as true or false. Regardless of the person for whom this tattoo is meant, she stands independent, strong and willing to show herself in a society based on prostitution, based on keeping one's head low and hidden.

She is a hero, both to me and to her younger sisters.

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