Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bedouin Woman, Syrian, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Summer, 2009

Every once in a while an older woman steps up for her portrait.

Most of the time my work deals with young girls for they are accessible in this culture. On this afternoon she walks right up to me in plain sight of everyone and makes everything that much easier.

Her row of tents was the first row photographed by me almost thirteen years ago in Lebanon. Most of the inhabitants still remember a young Lebanese man with a strange accent coming by with his camera, even my name. On this afternoon a dozen or so years later we make new images of children unborn at the time of my first visit.

This time around, digital images are also made and distributed a day later. This has proven to be a very positive step in the evolution of the work, enabling the people to see their portraits right away and in color, something almost everyone wants rather than black and white.

While we are photographing the children the woman sit down and watch. A few words are said to them in order to perhaps solicit their portraits, none of them being effective. Then for some reason she gets up, at first being somewhat shy perhaps due to the culture and perhaps due to her appearance. Her reaction draws giggles from the smaller girls but she nonetheless stands with the most beautiful, humorous and dignified manner.

The session goes on much smoother after her appearance and the younger girls feel less inhibited as a result. Did she want her portrait made or was she doing so for the sake of the younger girls? Only she knows the answer to this question.

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

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