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