Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Young Girl, Habana, Cuba, Woman, Letter, States, 2010

Every once in a while, someone from the world of the internet sends a note my way. With every one of these notes, my perception of the world around me improves. The message included below arrived unsolicited and as a reaction to the images in my portfolio. It is better to refrain from analysis and present the words to you as they were presented to me.

'Your photos have reminded me that i am so privileged. Ive never traveled to India or Africa but i traveled to Mexico in the past. Of course there was the beautiful tourist spots but then there were the areas where it was shocking to me to see what some have to live through and go through everyday when i am just handed everything Ive ever needed.' 'Modeling is new to me and is inspirational, two weeks ago i was unable to walk. For a year i had to deal with horrible debilitating pain. The last few months i had to start using a wheelchair. thanks to a surgeon and for having medical insurance i am now walking again and once again feeling beautiful. I feel like my life has just begun.' 'Not meaning to tell you my life story, i just wanted to let you know that photos really did touch me, i wasn't just saying that to be kind.' 'I now know to appreciate what you have, because you never know how important it is until its gone. Including being able to walk.'

When asked to select an image to go along with her words, she responded with a most humble request, that this image be chosen by me. This in my opinion speaks volumes of this young woman, speaks of her overall love of all people and her preference to leave that selection to the person that made the portraits himself.

Hopefully in the near future an opportunity presents itself for us to collaborate in making her portrait. Then the young girl in the picture above can see the woman whose life has been affected by her story.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Man, Beard, Jacket, Church, MACODEF, Rural Kenya, March, 2007

When we first arrive to the area, nobody is standing around. A few men with tools walk by as part of an environmental group organized by the foundation. The sun is still high and we decide to spend some time in the pastor's home until people start to come by. They have been told of our planned photographic visit in advance.

We sit inside the home, being watched by the children intently. Spoken word is unnecessary, expressions are the norm. The children express to me the desire to go outside. There, they carry on with their games and are content with the new audience. The girls take up the game as well and play with the boys. The game consists of a small bag that is a substitute for a ball. They try to keep it away from each other, in a game of tag.

An hour or so later, people start to line up. We are provided with a table and a bench. The representative from the foundation takes a seat behind the table and begins to write names down. All is so organized. The women are allowed to be photographed first, with some resistance from a few men, very little resistance though in comparison to the other countries visited by me in the past and since then as well.

The line extends perhaps fifteen meters at first. Each person takes their place in front of the camera and give me a minute of their time, then move on to tell the representative their name. We use a local church as the backdrop, the wall is pure white. We photograph the women first, then the girls and then the men and boys.

The man above walks up with a wonderful jacket. We make a few portraits and then decide to make some changes, his styling is just wonderful. We make more portraits and then he walks away back to his village.
As we finish our work, a wedding commences inside; song and celebration can be hear clearly since windows are lacking. The thought of documenting the event crosses my mind, then fades away along with the sounds of the singing as we walk away in peace.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Conversation With Athena, September 18, 2010

There are times when this most limited form of communication breeds understanding. Such is tonight, when a young woman named Athena sends me a note regarding the above portrait.

In her message, she speaks of being inspired by the young Mursi girl, of seeing her as a female even before clicking on the tiny thumbnail, of seeing strength and beauty through her portrait. Finding new inspiration in her, she calls her 'mi Reina.'

We exchange a few messages, each one longer than the one prior.

She is humbled by the portraits, spends much time going through them. In her words:

'Thank you so much. Your kind words have filled my painful day with light and happiness... thank you again for considering working with me. It is truly an honor to stand beside them, knowing all our hardships and days of pain are not forgotten but which memories bring strength to shine through our gleaming eyes and bright faces.'

She responds beautifully to my desire to photograph her and to place her next to her new inspiration. Her humility, obvious through her words and through her immediate responses, is an example to be respected and admired. Instead of writing a few empty words in her responses, she shares a flourish of thoughts, of graceful comments.

Often times when responding to one's comments on ModelMayhem or elsewhere, a response from the sender fails to appear. For some reason, it seems to be more the rule than the exception. For gentle Althea, responding to my messages is as natural as responding to an old friend. She writes with a fluidity that comes with familiarity. The astonishing variable here is that we have just met.

She defines love for me.

She shares her trust without asking for anything in return. When asked for permission to use her words, she responds with 'yes you may.'

For a closer look at this marvelous young woman, click here and see for yourself.

In closing, she takes the time to send me a thank you as noted below:

'thank you. Zikomo kwambiri 
thank you. Gracias 
thank you. Yewo chomene 
thank you. Barka 
thank you. Dua Netjer en ek 
thank you. Alla magah 
thank you. Gaza yagabzal yushen 
thank you. Danko 
thank you. Imena 
thank you. Tamemmirt 
thank you. Kazaare 
thank you. Mwebare 
thank you. Asante sana 
thank you. Nandee 
thank you. Sabkaa 
thank you. Dhanyawaatha 
thank you. Abhari ahi 
thank you. Galatoomii 
thank you. Tampi asiq 
thank you. Nitumezi 
thank you. Rumba nandri 
thank you. Nangreeih 
thank you. Tamara krutagntha 
thank you. Siyabonga 
a million times thank you. in all languages to all people. thank you.'

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Karo Man, Headrest, Paint, Feather, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2010

On the eve of this image, we camp an hour away from this village. The hour can be attributed to the fact that a road is lacking. A rough path is what guides us to this man's home. He belongs to the Karo Community and lives on the east bank of the Omo River. With a population ranging between 1,000 to 1,500, the survive growing sorghum, beans and maize. They are well-known for beautifying themselves with chalk, charcoal and other materials.

The women in this community produce scars on their body in order to augment this beautification process while the men do the same thing but for a different reason, the killing of an enemy or a dangerous animal. The women also prepare their hair with a mixture of clay and organic material, giving it a most beautiful appearance.

This man carries a headrest, one that he uses when lying down so as to keep his head from touching the ground. This headrest also doubles as a small chair.

We arrive on this hot day after camping out nearby. After this morning, my friends decide that seven days without a meal for me is enough and decide to take me to a hospital four hours away. Before the drive however, we make magnificent portraits, both in color and in black and white. Due to a physical weakness this morning, the truck is parked right behind me, protecting me from the sun. A seat is also provided for me to sit upon, allowing me to manage the still and video cameras with ease and without exhaustion.
The portrait above is a still from the video camera.

We have a short discussion with the men and begin the photography after agreeing on a price for the portraits. In the Lower Omo Valley, negotiations are always necessary and a price is to be fixed prior to the photography. This community, like the rest, are used to tourists and requires an amount for each portrait, as well as an entrance fee for their village.

They are unsure of my work since it requires a dozen exposures for each person at times. We agree that a higher price is to be paid in exchange for the possibility that more is needed by me. We advise them that, for most, the payment will actually be higher. This is the balance that is struck.

We photograph the men first, followed by the elders and then the younger men. In this village, the children seem missing and we walk away without any younger portraits. We drive to the next location, four hours away and with the thought that a good doctor will be waiting on the other end of this drive to improve my condition for the remainder of my time in Ethiopia.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Shannon, Daughter, Student, Model, Cleveland, Ohio, States, July, 2010

Her profile states her location as being Cleveland. In the end, the drive to her family's home takes over one hour, a most refreshing one hour. Upon arriving, her family welcomes me as they would welcome a family member. They take me on a tour of the property to find a location for our session, then hand me a cool glass of freshly-made grapefruit juice, by far the most delicious version of this juice in my life.

Four generations of women are present, with Shannon being the youngest. A most conservative and humble family, they open themselves up to my work without hesitation. Her grandmother walks around with a large bowl of popcorn, something she just adores they tell me.

They are most supportive during the session, offering to me multiple glasses of juice and water. They help me carry the equipment in the beginning and at the end of our evening. Their support is also evident in Shannon's ease with the camera. For this young woman to present herself so to a stranger shows how confident she is with her family.

We begin photographing when the sun is weak, believing that this is all we will have. Slowly over an hour's time, the clouds disappear and the sun shines brightly. We move quickly to make portraits with different pieces of clothing. We then move a table to an open area and she takes her place on its top for the remainder of the portraits.

The images above are from the end of the session. The poses, the expressions are all her own. She is a most creative spirit, taking on a new position with almost every single shutter release. We work until the sun is almost down, giving us enough time to sit down for a wonderful chat, to a most delicious watermelon and locally made ice cream. All this is offered without hesitation and with a kindness natural to this family.

We talk about my travels, about their community, for perhaps an hour.

The people in my portraits never get to see such an American family. Their view of the States filters through the television, through the newspapers. With Shannon's portrait, they will experience people just like them, people connected to the land, communities that work with their hands and understand the value of a day's hard labor.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sene'a, Friend, Model, Daughter, Cleveland, Ohio, States, July, 2010

We meet through ModelMayhem and arrange to collaborate at the end of the day. The sun is shining and we drive around looking for a place to make portraits. After a few detours, we find a spot and walk to the end of an open, abandoned space to arrange our equipment.

Her equipment consists of a black sheet she has purchased for our collaboration. This to me is refreshing, for at times choices hamper rather than aid the session. She arranges the sheet on herself beautifully and we go on to make a series of portraits with the sheet in different positions.

Sene'a is quite comfortable with herself, posing in an open space with little more than this black sheet. This is our first meeting and the trust she shares with me mirrors the trust that the people overseas show me. She understands the project and its intentions, giving of herself without asking for anything in return, even waiting until my return from two overseas trips before receiving her portraits.

During these overseas visits, the people of my projects witness her portraits, commenting on her grace and her beauty. They marvel at seeing a darker American, one of such beautiful features. They are normally subjected to a different version of Western beauty and find something refreshing in seeing Sene'a.
She is a sister to them now, for they have come to adore her.