Saturday, April 30, 2011

Student, Al-Arqam Academy, Zakat Foundation of India, November, 2008

There are days when nothing seems to work and then there are days when everything just comes together. For the above image to happen, the students need to be in school, their families allowing them to attend classes rather than work in the fields.

For the above image to be possible, the headmaster's permission is necessary, our car must make it for the three hour drive without a flat tire or an exhausted radiator. Getting lost on the way might cost us the precious hour necessary to arrange the photography.

Before she steps forward, others must do the same. She must look around her and see her friends also willing. Always one needs to step forward and then the rest will follow. Their families expect them at home yet they give me two hours after school to make portraits.

When we arrive on this sunny day, the girls are still in class. We are introduced to them by each teacher and my mind is hoping secretly that they will remain after class to be photographed. Without exception, all of them stay. The sun is shining and we have perhaps one hour before it begins to fade. There are almost thirty girls awaiting portraits, giving me less than two minutes per person.

The work however passes without much concern because these girls work with each other, arrange themselves by age and are ready when their time comes. Each makes the most of her presence in front of the lens, wastes little time. Just an hour or so ago in the classrooms, these expressions would have seemed impossible. Yet in front of the headmaster and some of the teachers, they shine like the very star that strikes their faces so gently with light.

This session and her education is made possible with the assistance of Zakat Foundation of India. One year later, during my third visit to the school, another foundation had purchased the school and had made some incredible changes to the facility. A playground had been installed, a road and driveway have made access much easier and the building has been painted in glorious colors and patterns.

The classrooms have been remodeled and outfitted with new desks and libraries; the foundation has delivered new science and computer rooms. Bread is no longer made on an open fire but rather in a beautiful, new kitchen. One can see the pride on the cook's face as well as on the faces of the rest of the staff.

Sadly though on this day, our arranged visit seems to coincide with a trip by the children in the other direction. The headmaster informs me that the children have gone to New Delhi for a school outing, just the city from which we came. It seems that my plans have been made without his knowledge and we leave the pictures from last year with the headmaster along with a sincere apology to share with the children.

It has been three years since my last visit to this school. However, the headmaster's number is in my phone list and will be used when the time comes in the near future for a return. These children deserve more than a single visit; they deserve to be treated with respect and to have their portraits made once again with laughter ringing in the background.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Girls, Students, MADODEF, Western Kenya, 2007

Going back in time is as easy as pulling a picture out of the box. It feels remarkably in the moment.

The image above is but a few minutes ago. These three girls have perhaps finished their education in this rural school, maybe they have gone onto higher education with the help of the foundation. For the time being, they are three friends choosing to make this portrait together.

When we arrive on this overcast day, the students are surprised to see us. They choose small groups for the session when asked, and do so effortlessly. The school is to their right, their friends are standing to their left. Every few minutes it rains a little bit. We continue on, my camera covered with a hat and the girls ignoring the droplets altogether.

The foundation, MACODEF, supports more than a few students in this rural school. The main reason for the foundation's involvement in the lives of these students is the fact that HIV/AIDS has turned many of the area's children into orphans. Driving through the small towns produces images of small coffins lined up at storefronts for sale, along with their larger counterparts.

It is a stark reminder that while much of the West has almost forgotten about this virus, certain parts of the world are faced with its endless menace, with its lack of mercy for the living. Let us hope for the sake of the girls above that the present is different.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Young Girl, Student, Kanjar Community, Prostitution, Nirvanavan Foundation, Rajasthan, India, 2008

A conversation is had in a classroom this past week.

The makers of such portraits as the one above deal in a form of exploitation it seems.

This argument is made in almost every situation during my years as a photographer, from the valley of Lebanon to the villages of India. Regardless of language, the above words are expressed to me without exception.

Even though the experiences have been innumerable, a simple answer has yet to be formulated because each situation is different. Sometimes it is the mother of the child, at times it is a complete stranger from a neighboring village and sometimes it is an art student from a local university. Each suspicion of injustice deserves its own response.

Most of the time, the people closest to the person whose portrait is sought are the most understanding. Much of the time, it is that student in a classroom thousands of miles away whose opinion is most hardened. This seems irrational but has been my experience.

Even though the people in the field have encountered exactly that type of photographer, they continue to give the next photographer the benefit of the doubt. Even though that student has yet to step into the field as an artist, his mind has yet to open to the idea that many people will do for others only for the sake of doing.

This young girl has every reason to walk away from the camera. Her community looks to her for one reason only, to earn money from her future as a prostitute. She walks around the village stepping over used condoms as they lay on the dirt paths, without giving them much thought. She cannot attend school because she is deemed 'below the pollution line' by the rest in her Society, the largest democracy in the world as praised by so many. She wakes up to this reality every morning and goes to sleep in the evening with this thought in mind.

Yet she stands in front of the camera with a hope that every child possesses. She refuses to be denied this one chance to express her joy, to share her story with other children in the world, in a language without need for translation.

She does so and without hesitation, regardless of the photographer. She understands that it is the act of doing so that matters for her, rather than whether the photographer will honor her wish to be seen. The tree falling in that forest does make a sound, regardless of an audience.

Rather than falling however, she rises to a place few have ever reached.

I have witnessed this and will continue to honor her.

So does another student in that classroom, the one that raises her hand and responds to the accusation of exploitation. By doing so, she restores honor to the girl above and to our own community here.

Her name is Margaret, the other student in that classroom with her hand raised high.

She is a sister to the girl from Rajasthan.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Girl, Orphan, Student, MACODEF, Western Kenya, 2007

We arrive in the middle of the day to a small school in rural Kenya for her portrait. There is little shade and we find a grassy area for the children to tell us their stories.

We begin with the boys, allowing the girls to get accustomed to our presence. All of the children's names are noted by the good people of MACODEF, a local and international foundation working in this area. Each child is given their chance to sit in the spot chosen, given a few moments to share their expressions with the camera.

Once the boys are finished, it is time for the girls. The expressions range from bewilderment to complete ease, from shyness to brazen confidence. The foundation tells me that many of these children are orphans, some partial and some complete. They also inform me that the source of their present plight is an epidemic of HIV/AIDS.

This is the first time that the words 'partial' and 'complete' have been presented to me in this way and my mind will never see these two words in the same manner. Prior to this experience, hearing that a child is 'complete' would have given me an entirely different notion.

The girl above is one such example. My memory fails me now as to category, but remembers her to be an orphan to be photographed according to the wishes of the foundation. She, like many of the other children, left her shoes back at the entrance of her classroom.

Like all of the other children, her head is shaved to prevent the presence of lice.

She is a testament to a child's enduring spirit.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Magdalena, Model, Friend, Model Mayhem, Mormon Rocks, Los Angeles, California, 2010

Funny how things work out sometimes.

Magdalena hears about me in an anonymous manner through a mutual friend, another model. That same model tells me about Magdalena and that she will be joining us for a photographic session.

Then Magdalena sees one of my announcements and takes it upon herself to send a message to me, unaware of my identity and sharing her desire to collaborate. We enjoy the moment and then arrange to collaborate through our mutual connection, her friend.

Due to circumstances involving the weather and transportation, it seems that the session is doomed to never happen. Then Magdalena takes it upon herself again to arrange a ride with another friend, drives almost two hours to meet me and thus makes for a most spontaneous and beautiful afternoon.

We arrange to meet outside of Los Angeles and drive even further to a location called Mormon Rocks. It so happens that the sun is smiling in between clouds and we climb one rock formation in order to gain the upper hand on the surroundings.

She shines in this atmosphere, learns that my purpose at this very moment is to document her and nothing else. She is the reason for my existence on this afternoon, she is the theme. While backgrounds and clothing and statements of fashion have their place, the point of our collaboration is to present a moment for Magdalena to tell her story, to share with us her thoughts.

This is what she does above.

For more of her work, one may click on the link below.