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.