Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another Image from Collaboration with Sylvia and Praxa, Hallway, December 19, 2011

Step by step Praxa adds layers to the presentation, and allows me to document each step. While many others would only want the final product photographed, he allows the construction of the image to be shown as well as his technique.

Working with studio lighting for the first time, I make attempts to move Sylvia into positions emulating my traditional work, raising her above the camera and placing the light to her side. She is asked to look down and away from the light, allowing her eyes to relax and focus on the lens rather than the light.

With this image another world opens up for me, allowing me the possibility to work indoors and yet attain a sense of connection between this work and my work from around the world. Today I experimented with a few more options and look forward to our next session, hopefully the first week of the new year.

I share my deepest gratitude with Sylvia and Praxa for this gift.
Halim Ina Photography

Friday, December 30, 2011

Collaboration with Sylvia and Praxa, Hallway, December 19, 2011

We meet after work and arrange a session in the hallway of my building.

Within a span of three hours, perhaps four themes are presented seamlessly and a dozen rolls exposed. Even though Sylvia needs to work early the next morning, she gives of herself as she has before and allows Praxa the time necessary to bring his vision forth.

Over the next few months we will collaborate further, allowing me a chance to bring into my portfolio images unlike those already present. My hope is that my lens will do justice to Praxa's vision.
Halim Ina Photography

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Blindfold, The latest creation by John Mikhail Asfour, December 25, 2011

I have been blessed to have been surrounded by genuine people throughout my life. One such person is my dearest cousin, John Mikhail Asfour. He has always shown me an immense ability to love and to ask for little in return.

Through tragedy as a young man he found purpose. In a conversation earlier this morning, I was informed by John of his most recent publication. It is named 'Blindfold' and can be found on websites ranging from Barnes&Noble to Amazon.

The following is quoted from McGill-Queen's University Press, and includes his poem 'Silver Threads.'

'Blinded by a grenade in Lebanon as a teenager, poet John Asfour came to Canada armed with James Joyce's words, "For the eyes, they bring us nothing. I have a hundred worlds to create and I am only losing one of them." Blindfold investigates the ways in which disability influences our lives and is magnified in our minds. In a series of thematically linked poems, Asfour draws the metaphor of the blindfold across the eyes of sighted citizens who are impaired by estrangement, emotional complexity, and social pressures.

A sense of exile and belonging dominates the poems, following the journey of a blind man whose life in his new land has been hampered by prejudice and barriers to communication. Exposing the rich and surprising possibilities of a life that has undergone a frightening transformation, Blindfold relates feelings of loss, displacement, and disorientation experienced not only by the disabled but by everyone who finds themselves separated from the norm.

 Silver Threads

He recalls

the absence of sound, the impossible silence

the disappearance of light.

He is only aware of

the movement of his

mother's hand inside

her purse, looking

for her handkerchief.

He recalls her

warning not to play

with unknown objects

the type that explode on impact. Later,

he lies in the dark remembering

how she pointed out

the silver threads of the morning light

just the day before

and he sparkles

with guilt.

Review quotes

"Asfour provides readers with a deeply moving glimpse into the frustrations and disorientation of physical loss, as well as the heroic effort to find the language and metaphors that will translate his experience into poetry." Harold Heft, The Montreal Gazette

John Mikhail Asfour is a translator and former professor of literature. The editor of the landmark anthology When the Words Burn: An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry, he has written four previous books of poems.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Magdalena, Model, Sister, Mormon Rocks, Outside of Los Angeles, California, Fall of 2010

Over the past few weeks her images have been printed in the darkroom. Few other individuals are represented as much in my portfolio as Magdalena. The image above was made late last year in an area called  Mormon Rocks just outside of Los Angeles.

The location served us well, since Los Angeles for most of my stay was cloudy and unusually wet. Magdalena and her dear good friend met us early on this glorious day and followed us to the rocks. The fact that they drove through two hours of traffic to make it to our location as the sun appeared made a deep impression on me. They impressed me even more so by bringing with them an endless array of clothing, all of it dark and timeless as requested.

On our way to the location she shared with Bailey a worry: perhaps her new hairstyle would be an issue for me. The night before she and her friend had cut each other's hair and she shaved the sides of her head. Bailey assured her in my absence that the new style would be a hit. As I entered the car Bailey shared this with me in Magdalena's presence, all to my delight. We would be documenting her like nobody else, and as she will never be again. Nothing could have pleased me more.

We found a spot on top of a formation for us to work. The wind was incredibly strong yet Magdalena adapted beautifully, never complained. With the wonderful support of my dear friend Bailey, we were able to switch between outfits and work for perhaps two hours before the sun disappeared beyond the clouds. 

Magdalena likes to move while being photographed. Unlike those with preferences for static poses, her dance is a way to express her thoughts at any given time in a most fluid manner. We danced on this day, and she was sensitive enough to listen for the shutter release... almost anticipating the movement within the camera itself. As the mirror lifted out of the way and the curtains opened, the shutter clicked and Magdalena continued with her movements.

The image above is but one snapshot in the series, a series I will continue to print.
Halim Ina Photography

Monday, December 12, 2011

Raven Le Faye, Model, Friend, Parking Lot, Oakland, California, Fall of 2010

She brings with her an incomparable selection of clothing. Before we meet she sends images of her clothing for my review, all laid out neatly and numbered as well. She is the only model from the San Francisco area to allow for changes in my schedule, the only woman to truly desire inclusion in my portfolio.

Before my last day in Los Angeles, I decide to make the trip and document this most exquisite spirit. 

My experience with Raven Le Faye is nothing short of educational. In a previous posting under her name in my blog her story is told. In this posting it continues. To this day she shares the images from our collaboration through her blog, she stays in touch with me and sends messages once in a while as friends do. 

While my images of her are quite different than anything else in her portfolio, she feels comfortable enough to include them, to showcase them. She understands the role she plays and advances my work through her efforts as well. 

She is a giving and confident woman, changing from one outfit to another in this parking lot without question or resistance. The sun strikes her eyes with exuberance and yet she adapts. She learns to look in other directions, to take advantage of the black asphalt surface. The wind begins to pick up during our session and adds a sense of motion to the work. The dress begins to dance, and her hair follows.

When our session ends, we talk for a bit and go our separate ways. The drive back to Los Angeles lays ahead of me, and my flight home happens to be the very next afternoon. For innumerable reasons the task of this return is effortless. The very last roll of film from the trip is finished on this afternoon, as the sun sets behind the trees and telephone wires.

Her work can be seen below.

Raven Le Faye on Model Mayhem
Raven Le Faye on Tumblr
Halim Ina Photography

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bedouin Girl, An Alley with Wind, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Summer, 2005

In the beginning my work includes images with indirect light and darker backgrounds. This is certainly true of the early portraits from the Middle East. My inexperience at the time forces me to seek shaded areas and use any light available. Much of the time the results disappoint me, lead me to seek other avenues to produce images respectful of the subject matter.

On this one day a few children catch my attention while photographing a neighboring home. At this point my work in Lebanon is in its sixth year or so, and the people of this area have become accustomed to my camera. I talk to their parents and they allow me to make portraits of the children.

Looking up the alley from the main street, a three story apartment building is at the entrance to the left while a one story home is to the right. Further up is a small shed to the right that houses the livestock and another three story apartment building next to a home on the left. Then the alley ends in an open field. The alley is quite narrow, able to accommodate one large car at a time.

Over the years many portraits are made using the indirect light bouncing off of the larger buildings to the left. The result is a natural studio, with soft boxes to the left and various backgrounds to the right. For the portrait above the shed serves as the background. The young girl stands in front of a large window with only the bottom of the frame showing. The white shape behind her is the window to the back of the shed.

What makes this natural studio that much more incredible is the constant flow of air. On every occasion, the wind provides movement better than any fan could and is relentless. The result is that every exposure brings with it another composition.

This young girl is a Bedouin that has long since become a Lebanese citizen. Once migrants with livestock, now they live in concrete homes and tend to their sheep daily. The girls refrain from attending school and are responsible for the livestock. She and her younger sister walk the animals to graze all by themselves, and show a confidence most striking to a first-time viewer.

She is a tough, young girl... as is her sister as well. They take every bit of energy out of me when being photographed. They are extremey resilient and show remarkable fortitude. They cannot be pushed around and fend for themselves without reservation.They know that they have me at their disposal and that pleading for their portraits is most natural for me. At times it becomes a bit overwhelming... but has yet to keep me from asking. Last year I made the decision to only visit socially and allow a year to pass before asking for their portraits once again.

I hope to visit next summer and make their portraits once again. There is a slight chance that they will refuse, since they have become older and, in this most conservative Society, become less accepting of the image. Regardless they have given me more than I could have asked for already.
Halim Ina Photography

Friday, November 18, 2011

Joylyn, Model, Photographer, Friend, Near Los Angeles, California, October, 2010

She introduces herself to me through Model Mayhem and we arrange a session. During my time in Los Angeles, the climate is a bit out of character with clouds and rain in the forecast. It becomes apparent to me that my photography will take place over the mountain range, and away from the city.

We plan on meeting at Vasquez Rocks Park, a location suggested to me by another wonderful model named Vamptress. As has been the week previous, clouds are in order for the day in and around Los Angeles. I arrive at the park and cannot see the rocks, or much of the landscape around me.

We speak on the phone and decide to drive out to Palmdale where information tells me that the sky is clear. We meet on the side of the road and she follows me to a small water tower near Lake Palmdale, a location spotted by me a few days earlier. It is both secluded and higher than the surrounding landscape. On our way the clouds disappear and the sky becomes much clearer. The sun is shining on the water tower and this can be seen all the way from the highway as we descend down from the mountain.

The feeling is indescribable.

We park our cars and meet formally. Her personality is quite charming and she helps me feel comfortable straight away. She is dressed the part, and we make portraits immediately. She is a professional and brings with her the wardrobe discussed previously, dark and simple. She stands on a small hill and I position myself below her, allowing the sky to take its place behind her.

The winds are mighty and we make the best of it, allowing her hair to play around. Rather than distressing about the situation, Joylyn enjoys the circumstances. She changes between pieces of clothing easily and without stress. We work for perhaps two hours and then decide to head back to Los Angeles. Instead of separating and going her way however, she allows me to join her for a meal in a local restaurant.

We sit down and break bread over meaningful conversation. She tells me about her life, about her family and about her modeling. She is real, and genuine. My time with Joylyn teaches me that everyone has a story, that models are more than faces and that understanding can be found in a stranger. Joylyn is anything but a stranger to me on this day. She sends messages to me now and then, always asking about me.

I admire and respect this woman, and will continue to be her friend. She is a 'Rock Star' indeed.
Halim Ina Photography

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Migrant Workers, Syrians living in Lebanon, Bekaa Valley near Zahle, Lebanon, August, 2010

We make a portrait inside of their home on this day, with one flap of the tent open to the right allowing light to enter. Outside the view of the public and to the side of their mother, two sisters share expressions otherwise rare in this reserved society.

They live as migrant workers, traveling from Syria to Lebanon for work. These young girls go to the fields a few times per week to harvest vegetables for twelve hours in the hot sun, dressed in three to four layers of clothing as is customary. They return to their homes only to find more work, from collecting water to washing clothes to cleaning the home to helping their mothers with dinner.

The man in charge of this camp is my friend and finds work for these families. He keeps a detailed log of each worker and their salary. As of last year and depending on the type of work being done, an average young girl will earn perhaps $5 per day.

After fourteen years with these children,  my senses have yet to become desensitized to certain details, from the coarseness of their hands to the cracked nature of their skin to their parched lips. Whenever the hair is exposed as in the younger girls, it lacks a softness normally associated with youth and is soiled with the dust and particles from the environment.

These two sisters have been present in my work since its inception. They have distinctive personalities, sharing the trait of shyness regardless. The young girl with her arms crossed to the right of her mother is a bit more reserved and cooperative, always accepting my invitation to be photographed. Her sister has been photographed extensively by me and as such perhaps is a bit more hesitant in being photographed. She nonetheless accepts in the end, with a bit of pleading from me.

They both have light eye colors, and wonderfully full hair. I have photographed both of them with their hair uncovered and covered.

Sometimes we miss each other, and they return from the fields with a sense of sadness in having missed the fun of being photographed. We always find a time however to collaborate on a different day, and their happiness is restored at least with respect to me. The day will come when they will no longer accept my invitation to be photographed. At first it will be with a sense of pride in joining their older sisters in this reserved culture. Then it will be with a bit of nostalgic sadness, and this will lead perhaps to their acceptance as it has with some of these very same older sisters.

I miss them very much, this family of women living near my mother's hometown.
Halim Ina Photography

Monday, October 31, 2011

Samantha, Student, Model, Model Mayhem, Cuyahoga Falls, October 7, 2011

This past Friday is spent in the darkroom printing negatives from our October 7th session, including the image above. For our session we decide to meet near Samantha's home in a shopping plaza, and find our way to the end of a row of storefronts in search of a clean, white wall.

This is the first time that she has met me yet she comes on her own, without company. Her trust is palpable. She arrives with a selection of clothing that suits my style, dark and timeless. We talk for a few minutes, look through my portfolio and get a better idea of the desired vision. I then hand to her a print from my work overseas as a gift before our photography begins, in order for her to see the family that she is about to join.

She is deeply touched and expresses such to me.

We decide on our first outfit and then proceed to expose film. While she has had little experience with me, her expressions are natural and warm. She moves from one emotion to another with ease and is most professional in her responses to my direction, difficult tasks made that much more so when the sun is directly striking her eyes as is my style.

She allows her hair to flow with the wind, without hesitation or worry. A most remarkable fact is that our location is in the middle of a parking lot and next to a shopping plaza. Samantha is able to ignore such and produce images of exquisite value, all the while sharing her thoughts regarding our collaboration. Her ability to speak another language and her experiences with travel have given her insight many others lack. In this way she is able to relate to the people in my portfolio and communicate to them through the lens.

I respect and admire this young woman, and hope to improve on our collaboration with the weather improves next Spring.
Halim Ina Photography

Kittie, Photographer, Model, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, October 8, 2011

We meet on Model Mayhem, she responds to my proposal as follows:

'We can talk and I may very well accept.'

In the weeks prior to our photographic collaboration, we exchange a number of messages detailing our thoughts. From wardrobe to location, she offers creative solutions when others simply freeze. She understands my work beautifully and wants to be a part of the family.

Instead of wanting this for herself, she offers to collaborate for the sake of the project. She goes out of her way to gather the clothes necessary, adhering to my request for simple and timeless pieces. She adores vintage clothing and has a closet filled with remarkable examples.

She invites me to her neighborhood for the session, and into her home as well. Her family is present along with her wonderful boyfriend. Before we walk in to review her selection of clothing, I talk to her father and boyfriend, sharing with them the reason for my interest in her. They wonder about my work, and have seen a bit of it through the internet. During our talk I show my portfolio to them, and tell stories regarding my work.

Quite naturally they are also curious about my interest on this day. They see faces in my portfolio from Ethiopia and Cuba and India, then look at the young girl across the table from them. To me she is priceless and this much is communicated to them. She is just as beautiful and kind as the people in my book. She trusts me in the same manner, and shows a respect that many others fail to share. 

She gives me the benefit of the doubt without having ever met me prior to this day.

We then walk into her home and up to her room, without hesitation and with the parents' permission of course. On our way through the house, her younger brother is present and is as confident as any young man from my experience. He greets me with a cool demeanor, and seems to be quite the presence in the kitchen. We spend some time looking at her photography, and then at some of her artwork. She is a creative spirit and this makes me very happy.

She is proud of her artistic expressions, and shares her work with kindness and humility. We then look through her selection of clothing and all of it according to my specifications. In addition to the simple black pieces, she shows me a piece from the Victorian Age as well as a few Mid-Century pieces. We are both very excited at the prospect of this collaboration and go back downstairs with our treasure.

The drive to find a wall is next, and we pile into her car for the search. It takes us less than ten minutes and, with the help of her boyfriend, we locate a wall of a warehouse next to a local hotel. The lot is spacious and empty, just perfect actually. The sun is still pretty high and we talk a bit before the photography begins. 

The portrait above is made with the first dress worn, and the afternoon flows as beautifully as any session in my experience. We communicate effortlessly and expose a dozen or so rolls before the sun goes down. I am beyond excited at the results and this past weekend have printed four negatives from the session. In my opinion I have found a young woman with whom to collaborate locally for a lifetime. She is once again priceless and promises to continue helping me make images as the one included above.

What else can one ask for? 

I can think of nothing else, and go to sleep tonight thinking of our next time together.
Halim Ina Photography

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mentally and Physically Challenged, Chamacanga, Western Kenya, 2007

Her home is a small group of buildings resembling a school campus in Western Kenya. She lives with perhaps two dozen children and the caretakers of the facility, religious figures as well as laypeople.

All of the children are inflicted by either physical or mental challenges, often times a combination of both. The people of this wonderful home have taken it upon themselves to speak to the communities around them, gaining access to these vulnerable children. In many instances, the families of these beautiful children keep them from public view, afraid of the social stigma associated with having such children. The caretakers shared stories with me that made me reflect deeply on the human family, and wonder quite a bit about our innate goodness.

In the middle of rural Kenya and with very little other than the buildings in which the children are housed, good people tend to daily chores associated with a most difficult situation. Without access to medical personnel or basic supplies or luxuries such as the internet, they do their best. All of the children have uniforms, and rooms in which to sleep. It feels like a large family, with many of the children treating each other like sisters and brothers.

On a sunny day we make portraits of the entire population within the campus, including all of the children. In a few instances the good staff help children stand still for their portraits, and in a few other instances a wheelchair is provided for support. Some of the children laugh uncontrollably with the joy of the moment, while some take this opportunity to share with me a snapshot of unimaginable difficulty.

From this day forward, I take it upon myself to locate such a school in each country visited by me, and to tell such stories. This is the least one can do, while aspiring to do much more.

As Father Felix of the school tells me in an interview:

'What it means to me having children of this type is that I will look at them as Gods' creatures who need all of the assistance possible to live the life god meant them to live as human beings when he crated them, so that's why we struggle hard to make sure that they are helped positively, physically, mentally and even spiritually... like on Sundays they attend mass, those who can listen they listen a bit and they are just there with the hope that God blesses them as they come because our intention towards them is something very positive.'
Halim Ina Photography

Monday, October 17, 2011

A message from a new sister named Jade, Model Mayhem, United Kingdom

Just over a day ago a message arrives from a young woman named Jade. Through a mutual website she finds my work, and takes the time out of her busy university life to send an email my way.

'I love seeing your work pop up on Model Mayhem. I think it adds a sense of the real world into a very unreal world - if that makes sense. For me it makes me think... what is more important... fabricated beauty that can be transformed into icons for all women to look up to or the contrast which I think that your work shows... real people in their own situation, comfortable in their own skin in a very real world. No nonsense!'

'I wondered do you ever see or keep in contact with the people you photograph? I see it says money goes to the people. I wondered do you get to know them beforehand? Just curious as you have such a diverse range of people. It really interests me as to who each person is when I look at them so I wondered if you get to k now them in order to take the portrait?'

'I find your work very inspiring as both a model and a photographer as well. I understand you are probably very busy. I just wanted to share my thoughts.'

Besides the generosity of her words and her most insightful views, what strikes me most about this young woman is her humility. She shares her intimate thoughts with me and asks for nothing in return, ends her message with nothing but goodwill. 

Here is a young woman from a great distance with the sensitivity to ask such questions. Unlike many others from my experience, those that have looked at the portraits and then turned to have an unrelated conversation, this young woman has seen the people in my work rather than my work. She understands its purpose and wants to reach through the screen and learn the people's stories. Rather than looking at a child's face in one portrait and comparing it to perhaps the face of someone in her life, she acknowledges that each person has their own voice.

She then visits my other websites, reads the stories and watches the videos. She sends another message before I respond to her first one. She tells me that she understands my work more fully after watching the videos and reading the stories, and thanks me once again for my time, even though she has yet to receive a message from me in return.

We go on to exchange a few messages on this wonderful day, paragraphs long when the usual is a few sentences in length. She has a strong desire to follow a different path. While studying photography is a first step, she feels the need to do more perhaps in the world of nature conservancy. She goes on to ask me how my work began, how my photography relates to the people within it. She listens to my story with respect and acknowledges the difficult road ahead of her, yet another sign of her humility.

At the end of our exchange I ask to include her words in my next blog entry. Without hesitation she approves and according to my request sends a picture to go along with this entry. She will read it this morning and my hope is that she will approve yet again of my words.

I feel that I have met a brave spirit this weekend, and one to enrich my life as well as the lives of countless others in the near and distant futures. She is a sister to me now, and makes me proud to be her brother.
Halim Ina Photography

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bedouin Girl, Behind a Service Station, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Last weekend I began printing negatives from the distant past, from my early work.

Unlike my newer work, this image includes her surroundings and uses available, indirect light.

She is a young girl living behind a service station in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. This is her first and only portrait, since her family has moved on without a trace. Like many of the families living as migrants in this area, they have moved from Syria in search of work and continue to move for the same reason.

I remember her well, and the circumstance behind this portrait. The refection in her eyes confirms the place of our collaboration, and the people standing around watching this image being made. On this day I visit a tent to inquire about a group of children. The adult tells me that the children are working in the fields but that there are more children nearby.

We talk for a little bit and get noticed by these very children. They run across an uneven, dry field and make their way to us. They have heard of me and know that I am the photographer. The girl above is one of them. All of the children appear as her, with disheveled hair and skin abused by the sun. When my hands run across their hair, the feeling is of coarse wool.

We talk for a little bit and the adults consent to the photography. The front of a storage facility is perfect, with indirect light coming from behind me to the right. The children line up and wait for their photography. I am alone but the children are very cooperative. She stands in front of me and behind her is a window without glass. In the distance and to her right is a window of the same size.

It is the late afternoon and the sun is behind her. A handful of negatives are exposed, and she moves to the side to allow others to be photographed. This is the last time my eyes have witnessed her face, her incredibly poignant features. Next year I will return to the same place and ask about her, hoping to make her portrait once again.
Halim Ina Photography

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Cosette and Cousin, Old Havana, Cuba, July, 2011

She stays home these days, a result of a terrible vehicle accident just after my departure in July. In addition to her extensive medical conditions including the abnormal curvature of the spine, this young woman now has to endure a most painful recovery. We can be assured however that she will do so as she has done since a little girl, with the smile above in the portrait made by Eldo. Even with the multiple corrective surgeries, she has never lost her spirit. This is one strong, young woman.

She is selfless, and always brings the positive. She was the first girl in her street to allow her photograph to be made. Billy and I were walking around Old Havana when she crossed the street. Her freckled face and light hair caught my attention and we asked her to be photographed. She was confident even back then, and denied our request in a nice way.

We continued to walk and then heard a man calling us back. He sat on a ledge across the entrance to her home. We walked back to hear that she really did want to be photographed, was just shy because we were strangers. He explained all of this to us while she stood next to him smiling. We ended up making her portrait and portraits of her friends from the neighborhood.

Since then I have visited her neighborhood endless times over the past seven years. We are family now, sit in her home without being noticed really, watch television with her brother, listen to the local gossip, meet the boyfriends as they come and go as with any teenagers, accept their unwavering generosity and always exchange kisses upon our departure.

She lives in a small apartment, the size perhaps of a medium bedroom in the States, cut in half vertically to make a second room above for sleeping. The kitchen is little more than a ledge, and the bathroom is a cutout separated by a curtain. She lives in this home with her mother and two brothers. Yet she is the most radiant, young woman. She exemplifies to me a person showing me the best of humanity while perhaps enduring the worst.

This summer we photographed many times, once attempting to photography at Eldo's home. It ended up being cloudy so we changed our plans and went out for dinner in a small restaurant on the Malecon. The girls were beyond excited, for this was our first time together outside of photography. They ordered pizza for the most part, and had fun just trying to finish the big portions. There were a few other tables around us, and some wondered at the stranger with the Cubans, and vice versa. Unfortunately they are accustomed to seeing tourists with Cubans under a different light and seeing a stranger with perhaps a dozen Cubans, mostly children, was a break from their perceptions.

She inspires me to do more, to be better. On my last visit, I handed to her a small gift and told her so. She just smiled and told me this: 'It matters little the size of the gift Halim, I am just happy to receive it.' She is the reason for my return year after year to this enchanting island nation.
Halim Ina Photography

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mother, Friend, Sister of Teacher, Banganga Village, Rajasthan, India, 2009

She works to make tea for us, and lifts the garment for a split second.

We are looking at the front of her home, the kitchen area. She never ceases to work, moving from one task to another without pause. Four years she and her family have been in my life, and now she smiles at the thought of being photographed by me.

Her sister lives next door and is a teacher for Humana People to People India. It is through her sister that we meet. When I visit their homes they make two cups of tea for me, two meals as well. They watch me finish the first and then try to finish the second. They sit around me smiling at the amount of water going down my throat along with the food. They know that their food is a bit spicy for me, but that I love it nonetheless.

In their presence I feel at home. I can walk anywhere and photograph anyone without asking. I have been there as the sun began to rise and stayed until it set. They have been the first village in my trip and also my last. I have walked hand in hand with their girls, and sat alongside the men having conversations.

Her family owns a large portion of land, the same with her sister. They do quite well and are respected highly in their village. Rather than hiring others to help with the work, they do everything themselves. Everyone helps. The girls are always cleaning, making the home neat and comfortable. The men are constantly tending to the land, to the animals.

They recycle everything, cook extravagant meals for the oxen and always keep each other company. They are constantly together, and find happiness in this. The daughters of both families are like sisters as well, and I find it hard at times to differentiate between the families. In all of my experiences with these two families, I have always felt joy and kindness.

The girls attend school without question. Before the birth of the only boy, these two families had only daughters. Rather than seeing this as a calamity, these two families have made this small corner of the world a paradise for the girls. They have the support of their mothers and their fathers, and the love is deeply felt. 

When we leave after each visit, all of the girls and their mothers walk to the edge of their property, bidding us farewell. They continue to do so until they cannot see us, always with smiles on their faces. Perhaps one day I will return to this part of the world and stay a while longer. I can imagine waking up the next day and seeing them all around me, rather than worrying about heading back to town before the sun sets. 

I want to see them grow up and have children of their own. Then I can photograph all over again.
Halim Ina Photography

Monday, September 26, 2011

Athlete, Havana, Cuba, July, 2011

He might look prepared for the portrait above made by Eldo. He is however anything but as he watches us photographing two young dancers. He walks up without making us aware of his presence, and sits on a ledge under the shade while the young women perform in front of us.

We are using an old stadium once built for the Pan-American Games of 1991. In the history of these competitions the people of Cuba have placed second in terms of the number of medals achieved, second only to the United States. This speaks volumes of a people with a fraction of the resources available for such, both in terms of finances and population. 

A beautiful white wall stands behind the women and the sun shines beautifully. 

He seems to be more interested in watching us rather than exercising. So during one moment of relaxation I walk over to him and ask for his photograph. His smile only pushes the two dancers further. They walk over and begin to persuade him otherwise.. It takes them less than a minute to help him make his way to that beautiful white wall. 

He is a natural, completely at ease in front of the camera while two photographers make his portrait. I am working on a tripod and Eldo is working with a hand-held camera. He responds without pause to our requests, performs solo and then goes on to perform with the dancers. When we ask him to remove his shirt, he removes it immediately without question.

The dancers tease him, they flirt with him and he holds his own without once regretting his decision to be photographed.

A week or so later he receives his portraits from Eldo.
Halim Ina Photography

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Neighbor, Central Havana, July, 2011

The image above is made by Eldo, a fellow photographer and a friend.

This man is sitting on a ledge and cleaning a bowl. We approach him and strike up a conversation. He is neither surprised with our interest nor our gear. He agrees to our photography and continues with the bowl while we work from different angles. 

Rather than worrying about his neighbors or the strangers walking by, he continues talking and working at the same time. He tells us that many people bring their cookware for him to clean, and that he does so to pass the time rather than to receive payment. He is now retired and finds joy in bringing a healthy shine back to these utilitarian objects.

We talk for twenty or so minutes, and then walk on to a morning of street photography. 

A few days later on my way back from a visit to Hamely, he surprises me by calling out from the other side of the street. I learn that this is his home and that the other day he was sitting on the other side of the street to clean that bowl. Hamely only lives three blocks away from Eldo and this man lives in between both homes.

Only a few years ago such a conversation would have been impossible due to my limited knowledge of the language. Even with the advances that I have made, without this gentle man's patience such a conversation would still be difficult. He nonetheless speaks slowly with me and bids me farewell.

I promise to have his portrait delivered once it is printed and Eldo does so a few days later, after my departure from the island.
Halim Ina Photography

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Jessica, Daughter, Student, Model, Twinsburg, Ohio, August, 2011

When asked which portrait she would like to receive as a gift for her time with me, she answers: 'you choose.'

With this wish I select a portrait of a young girl from Kenya, an orphan actually. She could have selected the famous but went with an unknown. While Jessica may come from a Society graced with so much, she nonetheless makes time to give of herself for girls just like the one unknown in her possession now.

We meet in a the parking lot of a local park, and arrange to collaborate in the outfield. Children have gathered by this time and they have started to practice under their parents' supervision. Rather than being unsettled by all of this, Jessica smiles and thinks of it as playing together.

The sun is shining and the sky is blue. Working in such an environment is pretty difficult for most, but Jessica makes the best of it with grace and patience. She walks a great distance back and forth, changing from one outfit to another, without a single complaint. Instead of losing faith because of the bright sun, she closes her eyes now and then to relax. She then opens them up with resilience and purpose.

We work for over an hour and then pack up to head home. She waits for me to put everything away and then helps me carry it all back to the car. Instead of getting in her car immediately with a simple note of thanks, she makes the time to chat a bit and bid her farewell in a most genuine way. She is a sister to the girls in my portfolio, and they will see her portrait soon enough. They will feel her kindness and share their love in return.
Halim Ina Photography

Monday, September 5, 2011

Two Cousins, Hamely y Grettel, Habana, Cuba, July, 2011

We work on the roof, away from the hustle and noise of the street. For the very first time in our collaboration, we are allowed to work in comfort and privacy. Hamely's mother sits in the shade nearby, trying to stay cool. We set up a small studio consisting of a white sheet and proceed to make portraits until the heat forces us to break for the day.

I have been photographing Hamely for seven years now and she never ceases to amaze me. She knows my strengths and weaknesses, plays them to her favor but only in the sweetest of ways. A few rolls go by usually before she allows herself to shine.

In the beginning we communicated through a translator named Billy and gestures. Now Eldo helps me with the language but I am able to speak my mind to her like never before. She knows that Spanish has become my second language precisely in order to speak with her, to share my thoughts and hopes with those just like her in my Cuban work.

She wonders how I have learned to speak Spanish. I tell her that listening to language lessons in my car on the way to work each day has served me well. She smiles at the thought of me doing so, like her in class perhaps. While she is quite brave in the streets, holding her own with the boys and in the presence of tourists, she is a most gentle girl and is silent especially when the time comes to separate.

I love her so and she is quite aware of this since I have told her so many times over. She wonders about my life in the States, about my family. I tell her that she is my family, that she is the reason for my visits to the island. I could care less about the buildings, about the other tourists, about the old American cars and about the propaganda pasted all over the place.

She is the reason for my visits, she is the person for whom this work is made. She has a place in my portfolio like no other, and with my newly learned Spanish she has heard such. We speak openly and without fear of miscommunication. In the beginning I was told to be more reserved, for misunderstandings might happen. According to my experiences with the girls in my Cuban portfolio however it has served me well to communicate openly my admiration for them.

We always work with them in a respectful manner. While the men working with me like to at times smoke and drink, perhaps speak to women now and then, they do understand that while they are with me and the girls none of these activities are to be tolerated. When we have lunch, we do so without alcohol and when we work with the children any smoking to be done is in between the visits. While many of these visits include older women, our communication with them is to be completely neutral.

Hamely and her cousin understand that when I am finished for the day the only things waiting for me at the end of each day are a warm meal and a restful night. Unlike countless others visiting the island, I arrive alone and work alone and sleep alone with the exception of the good people helping me in my work. She knows she is the center of my world while we are working together and afterwards.

The smile above is the smile that she shows me every single time we meet.
Halim Ina Photography

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Friend of Emmanuel, Habana, Cuba, July, 2011

During a visit to Hamely's home, this young girl's portrait is recognized by Emmanuel. He nods in a cool manner when he sees her picture and tells us that he knows her from school, she is his classmate. He also knows her home and offers to take us there before being asked.

We arrive at her home five years after this first portrait. A young woman opens the door with a cigarette between her fingers. She greets us with a bit of unease and then goes inside to tell her mother about our search for the young girl above. She returns and invites us in without a smile, seemingly against her instinct. 

Two more people stand inside a dimly lit room, an older woman on a bed still sleeping and a teenager standing at a distance in the corner in the room. The latter is the only person with a smile and the only person with a hint of curiosity. We learn that this curious girl is the girl above, and that her mother has since died. She now lives with her aunt and her cousin. 

She speaks nothing but communicates volumes with her reactions, her expressions. Like so many before her, she communicates to me a happiness in seeing us return after so many years. Unlike the cool mannerism of her cousin, she exudes kindness and love. Her aunt however cools things down with her attitude. She wonders about our intentions and the reason for representing young girls in my portfolio. I take the portfolio to show her and display the variety of people represented. There are older men, younger girls, affluent and less privileged subjects.

She seems a bit upset at being shown so and tells us without our asking that her niece declines another portrait this year, all to the dismay of the young girl. For the sake of asking, I look to the girl above in the corner in the room and ask her if she would like her portrait. She nods with exuberance and this tells me that perhaps in the future we will make her portrait, once she has escaped her present situation.

In the meantime, I remove her print from the book and hand it to her. She receives it in her most delicate hands and then smiles in response. Regardless of surroundings, we achieve our goal and inform this young girl that we will be waiting patiently for her portrait perhaps next year.
Halim Ina Photography

Emmanuel, Brother of Hamely, Habana, Cuba, July, 2011

The older brother of Hamely, Emmanuel will assist us in any way possible during our visits. He is a quiet, young boy with a most gentle demeanor. Like many boys however he does have his way and teases us a bit with his theatrics from time to time.

Even though his sister is the center of my photographic attention in the family, he is most patient with me. During my last visit for instance, he recognized one of the faces from my portfolio and offered to take us to her. He helped carry my equipment for eight blocks and led us directly to her home. As it so happened they are classmates in the same school.

Her story will be reserved for the next entry, for she deserves her own space.

Emmanuel is well-known and liked in his neighborhood. It seems that everyone knows him when we walk around in the neighborhood. He usually salutes his friends in a cool, reserved manner very much like his expression above; the image was made directly across from his home. He will be attending a new school this year and will only need to walk perhaps twenty meters or so, for the school is right next to his home. This makes him quite happy.
Halim Ina Photography

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Drawing by Hamely, Habana, Cuba, July, 2011

This drawing is by Hamely, a young girl that lives in Central Havana. She lives in a small home, perhaps a bodega in its previous life. The rooms are separated from each other by bed sheets, and the kitchen consists of a burner and is open to the rest of the home. 

She lives in this small space with her mother, stepfather, brother, sister, aunt and two cousins. One small window the size of a milk crate brings light into the space. One side of the room is made of metal sheets, doors once used as entrances to the corner store now their home.

Our first day in her neighborhood this year yields photography without her. She is away to the countryside with her father, just like last year. We go on and photograph her siblings and cousin. The next time we meet she is yet to return, and we photograph the children at my friend's home. We decide to walk back to their home two blocks away and suddenly hear that she has returned.

As we walk up the block to the main street, we see her perhaps twenty meters away. Her face lights up and she runs all the way to us stopping only when she hits my arms. We hug for a few minutes with everyone looking, wondering about the foreigner with the Cuban princess. This surprises me so but is a most welcome development. While the people on this island are less conservative than their counterparts in my other work, such an expression of happiness is still rare.

I have been photographing Hamely for the past six years but this is the first year she has expressed herself so fully. We go on to photograph her four more times this year, any time we get a chance to do so. We spend hours in front of her home, inside as well. We make portraits of the entire family and provide them with the photographs a few days after each session.

She loves the camera, and loves to make pictures as well. She holds it like a professional, with the strap behind her neck for safety. She poses her sister, brother and cousins as she wishes. With her they feel relaxed and provide more relaxed expressions. Every time we leave a negotiation is needed to remove the camera from her hands, always with humor.

She draws the picture above and hands it to me, with her mother smiling in the background. She knows that I love the sun and includes it along with a portrait of herself above the table. She also knows that I love her so and knows that I will return to her as long as my legs carry me.

Leaving the island this year, and especially her home, takes more out of me than in any previous year.
Halim Ina Photography

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Marc Benjamin and the Children, August 18, 2011

"When I 1st discovered Halim Ina Photography I was instantly intrigued.
I am a huge fan of  B&W portraits and as I read the inside info to the images I then was deeply touched. I was compelled to paint the children. They spoke to me & inspired me. I love what Halim Ina is doing and it's really wonderful to contribute to such an selfless act of kindness"                                      

Marc Benjamin!/7sir7!/MarcBenjaminPatterson

Note: My experience with Marc Benjamin has been nothing short of enlightening. Here is a man quite busy in his life, taking the time away from his day to day activities to paint children he has never met in person. He contacted me months ago and has never let me down. He told me then that he wanted to paint the children, asked for my permission and never stopped believing. Here he is above, his face close to the children, showing them respect and sharing with the rest of us a small bit of himself. He is pure humanity.
Halim Ina Photography

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Miss Dayna, Daughter, Model, Friend, Childhood Park, Los Angeles, California, 2010

From Cuba to California, from Habana to Los Angeles the images take us.

This young woman is a model living in Los Angeles. She is kind enough to share her portrait with us, to allow her images to be published for the sake of girls from around the world.

Out of all the places in Los Angeles for us to meet, and one chosen by me near her home, we end up collaborating in the park of her childhood. Bailey is with me and is a witness to this. We begin making portraits on a hill, move onto another area and then next to the baseball field.

These images are made as the sun is setting, with the softest of lights caressing her features.

She is a remarkable, young woman. Her expressions move with ease from one mood to another. We finish our session for the afternoon and then she takes us to the local burger joint, being beyond surprised that we have yet to experience it.

For the next ten days I must admit that an addiction developed for this specific spot.

Dayna has joined the rest of her family in my portfolio, as she has welcomed them into her life.
Halim Ina Photography

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Ballerina named Irinita, Lizt Alfonso School of Ballet, Habana, Cuba, 2008

We meet in front of the famed Lizt Alfonso School of Ballet. While looking for a spot to photograph someone else, I stumble upon perhaps forty ballerinas waiting with their parents for classes to begin. The girls are standing in groups and chatting with their friends, the same with the parents. The space is a large square, surrounded by beautiful, two-story buildings with light walls. The place is one large soft box, and I decide to head back to inform the family of the location to be used for our photography.

Then the thought of photographing the ballerinas comes to me. I am by myself, without my interpreter. While I have learned quite a bit of Spanish since my first trip to Cuba, speaking with dozens of parents regarding the photography of their daughters intimidates me. I walk around a bit and hope for a friendly face. I find it in a young woman, and she speaks both Spanish and English.

I begin explaining my work to her and a few parents around us, a bit of Spanish mixed in with the English. She tells me that my Spanish is fine and to speak to the parents in Spanish. After a few minutes, a few more parents come around to hear about the work. I show the albums of my work to them, and ask them to allow their daughters to be photographed.

From the view of the parents, it must be quite a leap to allow a stranger to photograph their daughters in a public space. Regardless one girl steps forward, her name is Irina. Only after her courageous offer do others begin to line up. We decide to begin the photography since classes will begin in less than twenty minutes.

We pick the front of the school as the background, with the opposite building beautifully lit by the sun. I put the bags down, grab the tripod and begin setting up. Everyone gathers around, curious to see the work. They see a scene different than the usual perhaps, a medium format camera set up on an immense tripod, with a cable release and film to boot.

Irina steps forward, in front of her classmates and strangers alike. She is a most confident, young girl. She smiles at my fumbling, at my nervousness initially due to the fact that twelve girls with their parents are waiting all of a sudden. There is a calm about her that makes me feel quite comfortable however and a few exposures are made of her. She then walks away and stands to the side watching the rest being photographed.

Everyone writes down their names for me, and provides their addresses as well.

The doors of the school open, and the girls all walk inside to begin their lessons. Most of the parents leave, but a few wait outside for the classes to end. At this time my friend arrives and we make her portrait in front of the school a little bit away from the previous spot.

We walk away with the memory of this experience deeply stamped in my mind. In the next blog entry, the story will continue.
Halim Ina Photography

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Amanda y Vanesa, Ballerinas, Alamar, Cuba, July, 2010

This is their portrait from last year, Vanesa and Amanda. They have been friends since birth, living next to each other in a complex of apartment buildings. They are six months apart in terms of their age and without siblings, Amanda being the older girl.

In this image, Vanesa is being photographed for the first time. When we arrive on this day to photograph Amanda, I am told of a friend close by, also a ballerina. A long story short, Vanesa is collected by Amanda's mother and we make portraits of both on this incredible day. The background happens to be the white wall of an apartment building housing only artists.

From her apartment nearby Amanda's grandmother watches us as we work for over one hour. As the session nears its end, Vanesa becomes dizzy and faints. She falls backward and onto the concrete walkway one meter below the surface on which she is standing. The sound is indescribable but it seems that her hair prevents any serious injury. Everyone rushes over to her, two walk quickly to the corner store for some water and some ice cream.

We sit awaiting the water and talk with Vanesa. She seems intact and answers all of our questions. She apologizes for the incident and in our opinion has nothing to apologize for of course. Rather than waking up for breakfast on this incredibly hot day, she is rushed out of bed in the morning for photography in the sun with us without warning.

With the arrival of water and ice cream, all seems to improve and we walk over to her home. We offer to take Vanesa to the hospital but both families seem comfortable with her recovery. We bid them farewell for the day and return to the city.

Over the next five days and in between photographic sessions in the city, we return to their homes with flowers and an interest in her well-being. They are deeply touched, as are we by their kindness. We form a bond during this trip, our relationship takes on a new meaning.

On the last day, we drop by once again to bid them farewell. Rather than doing just that, we are invited by the girls to photograph once again. This time around, we find a place on the beach with only grass under their feet. We photograph for two hours with nothing but the sun over our heads and finish the last roll of film in my bag for the year.

During my most recent trip this past month, the girls have grown up by it seems a decade. They have entered their thirteenth year and have become teenagers. They show a curious interest in the boys around us, on the beach and by the apartment buildings. They have a confidence about them that is new to me, and one that makes me proud to know them. They are still the best of friends and hug each other anytime they get the chance.

We are offered the white wall next door but choose the beach once again. We photograph twice on the beach and once at the old Pan-American Stadium nearby. When I ask the girls about being photographed in their regular attire, they smile at each other and nod in the affirmative. They had wanted to do so but were afraid to ask. Our first session on the beach this time around is quite festive and one reminiscent of a fashion shoot.

Amanda and Vanesa mean the world to me, for they understand my work, our collaboration and give of themselves without asking for anything in return. I tell them so and advise them that they are the reason for my return year after year, rather than the old buildings in the city or the history of the island. It is their kindness that lures me back.
Halim Ina Photography

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Girl with the Clear Eyes, Habana, Cuba, July, 2011

I find her this year as she has graduated from High School with a degree in education. By the end of this year she will be teaching children have her age in a local school. Her mother is quite proud of her and displays her daughter's graduation and achievement certificates.

She has gone from a little girl on the side of the Malecon to a young woman poised to teach the next generation and help her family at the same time. Her eyes are as clear and filled with life as ever. She holds a smile beautifully every time we turn our attention to her.

As before, she lives with her mother, stepfather, grandfather and two siblings in a one room home. They have split the room vertically and have added a bedroom above where five people sleep on mats laid out on the floor. On the first floor is a small bed for the grandfather, a tiny kitchen area and a small television.

This time around, in addition to seeing her pictures from last year, she receives a publication on whose cover her portrait sits. When her eyes catch this she smiles even more so, remembering a time six years ago when she shared her desire to be a model with me. Here she is, equal with all women before her to grace the cover of a magazine.

With this presentation another surprise is shared with her. I tell her that people from around the world have seen her portrait, and have shared interest in having a print. Many have in fact purchased her print and wanted to share their admiration of her strength and beauty through the act of a print purchase. I then hand to her and her mother the proceeds from those print sales, for they are the fruits of her labor and love.

They are deeply surprised, even though they experienced the same last year. Instead of counting anything, her mother instructs her to go upstairs and place the funds in a safe place. The feeling in the room is one of exuberance, for after six years we have managed to forge a purpose from a simple portrait. We talk for a bit more and then head home.

A few days later we return for another portrait session. We are welcomed as always with grace. However before beginning our photography, the future school teacher wants to show something to me. She takes my hand, and with the permission of her mother, guides me upstairs to the bedroom. Her stepfather is also upstairs getting ready for work as a security guard.

She points to a new bed, one large enough for the women in the family. This is the first time she has ever had a bed in which to sleep night after night. To put words down describing the feeling inside is impossible. Suffice it to say that a great emotion came over me and we just stood there smiling, the stepfather included.

She then took my hand once again and walked downstairs with me. She pointed to the new floor-standing fans in the room. This is also the first time that she has had such ventilation in her home, enough to keep her and her family cooler during the day. A few people are also sitting inside and look pleased at my reaction.

While my partner in work has seen much reaction to our work with the families before today, this experience also leaves him with the impression that the photography has taken on a new meaning. We leave the family on this day like never before, and promise to return the next week.

Should you like to make a difference with the purchase of her print also, you may contact me at or visit my website below.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Barbarita, Habana, Cuba, July, 2011

During the last few days I decide to visit the families and share my thoughts regarding our work. Along with the discussion, photographs from the previous visits are shared as well.

During one such visit, we experience one family living in a new place. At first sight it seems to me that this is their place of work. The apartment is little more than a single, small room. When we enter the bed is to the right and the tiny kitchen is to the left, with a small aisle separating the bed from the cabinet hosting the stereo and television.

There is barely enough room for us to stand, let alone sit. We spend time with Barbarita and her mother, as well as the owner of the home who is also being attended to by our friends.

The man is an elderly man, quite friendly and open to our visit. He is missing one leg and lives alone without a family, therefore needing the assistance provided by our dearest friends. We share the photographs from the previous year and decide to make an appointment to return and make new portraits for Barbarita. We bid farewell for the time being and head out to the next family.

Once outside I ask my friend Eldo a question: 'Do they get paid well for this work?'

Hearing this, Eldo is surprised at my lack of understanding and proceeds to educate me on their situation. As it turns out, Barbarita and her mother are working for the possibility of inheriting the tiny apartment. The elderly man, lacking a family, is able to include them in his will and pass on the rights to his home in exchange for their assistance during his final years. They receive nothing in terms of payment during his lifetime. It is the promise of a future home for which they labor.

'A lesson a day' they say. On this day, it is perhaps a volume.

On my next visit to her home, I am greeted by her mother, sister and brother-in-law. Without a translator we have a conversation regarding our collaboration. A few years earlier Barbarita's mother decided that her daughter's photographs can be made but only for my personal portfolio. She was content with this and decided against the publication of the portraits and the sale of the prints.

During the second visit, Barbarita's mother seems a bit anxious and nervous at the same time. She is trying to tell me something but is having a hard time telling me so. My understanding of Spanish is acceptable but nuances cannot be understood. With the help of her son-in-law, we achieve clarity. Her mother explains to me their plight at this time, the hardships they are facing and the difficulty in even obtaining the smallest of items for her daughter. Things that can be taken for granted back home are nearly impossible to purchase for her.

With this in mind, and with the portraits we have made over five years, she asks me to present her daughter's work in order to educate the world about their life and also to perhaps help in any way possible through the sale of the portraits.

Should the readers of this entry be interested in helping in any way possible, perhaps through a purchase of her print, then I would be more than glad to have such a conversation.

In the end, the purpose of the work is as her mother desires, nothing else.