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