Monday, January 18, 2010

Banjara Girl, Outskirts of Behror, Rajasthan, India, November 6, 2009

This is her first time in front of my camera, even though her friends and family have seen me for the past four years. She belongs to the Banjara Community, a nomadic people whose women dress in colors from my dreams and wear jewelry like few others in this land. The very young girls wear less jewelry and celebrate a more complex adornment as they near adolescence. In my experience with them, the first piece of jewelry consists of a considerable neck piece, carved and silver in color. 

What follows is an arrangement of necklaces and bracelets, the latter usually thin at first. Then the bracelets gain thickness and width, white in color with small jewels. As they near marriage, the white bracelets turn into bands silver in color. During my last visit, we decide to visit a local tailor that makes clothing for the Banjara Community. It turns out, to my amazement, that this Community orders their clothing from local tailors rather than wearing pieces already made. My surprise is in part due to their difficult socioeconomic circumstances, knowing that many of their children collect rags, metal scraps and plastics in order to support their families. 

 This Community, regardless of difficulty or perhaps in spite of such, remains true to tradition. The local tailor shows us the fabrics used for their clothing. Once the word 'Banjara' is mentioned to him, he instantly knows which fabrics to show us. The pieces jump out from the other colorful fabrics on the walls. They contain small reflective circles, patterns from another world, textures rich to the touch. At first, the young Banjara girl above is shy. Then as the shutter clicks, she warms to the lens, every instant a different expression. She shows happiness in one millisecond and sorrow in the next, without difficulty.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Once a Stranger, a Sister Now, Studio, States, January 10, 2010

With Chris is Courtney.

This portrait is made during our second session, a result of happenstance.

While getting her dress together a few minutes earlier, a piece is accidentally removed by Chris, putting a look of a child in trouble on his face.

While loading my film, Courtney places this piece around her neck as natural as can be.
We end up making portraits for about an hour using this piece; the look of trouble on Chris' face is replaced with one of happiness.

This experience takes me back to the photography overseas, where the girls play with pieces of clothing while waiting for their turn. They see my reactions and then act upon them, noticing my attraction to darker pieces of clothing and exchanging between themselves those same pieces.

Courtney and Chris do the same in my studio, going back and forth. They act in the moment, share their enthusiasm with me and show me what it means to give without reservation. The afternoon turns into the evening, the evening into the night, all without notice.
We separate only to join again next weekend.

Once a Stranger, a Brother Now, Studio, States, January 10, 2010

He comes along with Courtney the first time to my studio, makes himself almost invisible for the sake of the work. When asked to be photographed, it is with the joy of a child that he accepts.
We make his portrait. The sense of respect that he shows my work is immense, for he notes it in his every word. To join his brothers and sisters from around the world gives him an tremendous sense of pride, of happiness.

This is a man who has much to share with us; the scars on his body are reminders of such.
He visits my studio on two occasions, the latter of which results in the image above. This time around, he is less reserved, less shy. He comes prepared with a change of clothing, he has put some pieces together for the session. He reminds me of the children from my work overseas, taking little for granted.
He teaches me that such humility can be found on both sides of the ocean, in every land.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mauritanian Man, Service Station, Northern Road, The Gambia, 2006

We set off from Dakar, Senegal to Banjul, Gambia. Our guide and driver tells us that we are to drive along the coast and arrive in about twelve hours, perhaps more depending on the photography.
He then hears us talking about wanting to see more and, in one split second, makes a decision to enter Gambia from the East. We look at each other and answer in the positive, thinking that surely we will see more.

Little do we know the terrain, the distance.

The plans change all of a sudden. He decides to drive much faster in order to reach a small town just inside the border between Gambia and Senegal. Photography has taken a back seat alongside me.
We arrive at a small border crossing, the men are at prayer. So we wait alone.

They come back, review our papers and chat a bit before letting us through.

It seems like every other mile someone wants to see our papers. We oblige, they stamp the passports and we move forward. The sun sets and we continue forward. Finally we arrive at this small town to find out that the driver's family has a home here. It seems a little coincidental to us but we are glad nonetheless. He drives us to the small motel nearby.

Because the sun has set, we take our gear and walk in complete darkness to our rooms. We are shown inside, given a half candle for light. Our driver then leaves to see his family and informs us that he will be back sometime tomorrow. In response, he comes to understand our need to leave before sunrise and hesitatingly answers in the affirmative.

We go back to our rooms, light the candles and hurry to wash ourselves before the candle burns down. The plan goes well, washing is accomplished and my eyes are almost closed as the light from the candle expires. The rest of the next hour before sleep my mind imagines the rest of the room with much anxiety.
We wake up the next day, have a wonderful breakfast and are treated like royalty by the host of the hotel, a young man that has inherited the place at such a young age. The driver arrives at his own pace and we all meet in front of the hotel. The young hotel owner looks at the car and asks us how we are to cross Gambia to Banjul. We point to the car and he lets off a less than reserved laugh.

We then look at each other and then at the driver who then answers that we are to take the good road, the northern one. The young hotel owner still laughs, albeit a little less knowing that he worried us with the first laugh.

We take off and realize that five to fifteen miles an hour is the pace. At this rate, we wonder how we will reach the eastern shore of the river in time for the ferry to take us to the western shore where the hotel sits. With this in mind, the driver decides to move a bit faster and without stopping for photography. We manage to convince him here and there to stop and make some images.

The above portrait is made at a service station as we stop for fuel. A man and his friend approach our car as we stop, asking us for a small donation. We decide to make it mutually beneficial and ask them for their portraits. They agree, we make the exchange and they sit down against the western wall of the service station for their portrait, the sun is still to the east.

His portrait is made first, then the portrait of his younger companion. The first few exposures are made with his lips covered. Then he pulls the fabric down to allow his lips to show, resulting in the above portrait. He gives me more today than anything that can be given in return.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Courtney, Woman, Photographer, Model, Studio, States, January 2, 2010

A friend asks me tonight, how was your session with Courtney?

My answer is simple: she reminds me of my people overseas, rather than modeling for the camera, she simply tells her story, honestly and without reservation.

On the day of the session, Courtney and Chris arrive to my studio ready to give of themselves from the first moment. We discuss a few concepts and get straight to work.

During this time, Chris takes his space in the back of the room, listening to his music and attending to his work. There is a sense of humility about him, a sense of peace, that supports the photography, that allows it to progress so beautifully.

We move from one concept to another, with Courtney providing her thoughts and absorbing mine. A smile comes across her face when she hears of the children in my portfolio, a bigger smile comes across her face in knowing that they will see her portrait. There is a serenity in this most wonderful of women, even early on in the session.

When she looks to her right or to her left, she sees portraits of girls from India and from Cuba, sees her sisters in the same room, perhaps thinks that they have already seen her.

As the session draws to an end, it is time for Chris to stand for his portrait. Earlier on, he provides his elated consent for such. He graciously removes his shirt, allows us to see his story through the lines on his body. His expressions are steady, calm.

While some tell me of the honor related to being photographed, Chris shows it to me in his mannerisms, in the tone of his voice.

We end the session and make plans for another, just like my work in other countries.

It feels right.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Maryam, Syrian living in Lebanon, Bekaa Valley, August, 2009

Here she stands, an Arab girl beyond her years. Her name is Maryam. Earlier in the week, her portrait is made as she presents herself in between chores. As she is the oldest girl of the family remaining at home, with her older sisters in the fields picking vegetables, all the duties are her responsibility. She washes clothes, she cleans the home, she collects water, she helps her mother with the cooking, she serves the family, she takes care of her little sisters and she manages the home in the absence of her mother. My photography in this collection of tents began before her birth. 

Her two older sisters were also photographed by me. One is married now with her own children and one is soon to be married; both have reached an age that excludes the possibility of photography. On this day, she decides to have some fun. She collects a pair of sunglasses and a wonderful piece of fabric. She uses a pin to hold the piece in place and stands for her portrait. She is the oldest of the girls being photographed and shows it. She stands proud, unmoved by the men watching. She is an example for the younger girls watching, balancing the fine line between independence and tradition. 

In this moment, she is free of all chains, she is beyond all walls. After the photography, we find ourselves alone, walking back to her home about fifty meters away. She is walking to my right with a continuous smile. I look at her and say: 'you are my sister, you are my daughter.' Without a single second of hesitation, Maryam responds: 'you are my father, you are my uncle, you are my brother.' If there is one moment in my photography that can be selected as my inspiration, this is it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Young Student, Humana, Banganga, Rajasthan, India, November 13, 2009

We arrive today, with clouds in the sky for the first time. The students are in class, studying under the wonderful supervision of their most remarkable teacher. While other schools watch their teachers come and go, this teacher has been present from the beginning. The excitement is palpable. They see the camera, the bag of photographs. We arrange a mat for the children and then work with what we have in terms of light. From an angle above them, portraits are made, allowing the light to gently strike their faces. Some of them smile, they know me. Some of them are more or less shy, they are new to the school. In this small village, they treat me like a son. They always serve tea, usually four times. This portrait is made while twenty or so of her friends look on. She smiles after a few exposures, her friends giggle to the side. The distance in time from when she sits down to when she makes way for her friends is perhaps about two minutes. In this time, she frowns, she smiles, she laughs, she shows me what it means to give freely, to accept without prejudice.