Monday, January 28, 2013

Young Girl, Mursi Community, Mago National Park, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March of 2010

She stood on our truck for this portrait, elevating herself above an already sublime environment. This was our last day with the Mursi Community, and we slept the night before in their midst in order to have a most perfect day.

We had some trouble early in the morning with the sun, but were rewarded soon after with pure rays. In this image she looks past her circle of houses while her entire village sits at her feet watching her being photographed. We worked with some of the men earlier, and had around us many young children waiting their turn.

One or two of the children were frightened of the truck, while most jumped up with a smile. She was of the latter group, and held her composure in the midst of chaos all around. She used a piece of fabric with a fabulous pattern to cover herself up, and only show her upper features. This was different than most of the others in that the dominant theme was the display of their beadwork, of their metal pieces. This young girl wanted to show us perhaps something different, more subtle. I appreciated this very much then and even more so now.

She lives in Mago National Park in the famed Lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia. Although the area is quite remote, she is beyond familiar with tourists since a truckload of them appears every hour or so during the busy season. During our session a truck pulled up and the local population quickly gathered themselves to walk over to the new visitors, offering their artistic creations as well as their portraits for sale.

We intended to spend the entire day in the park, photograph in the morning and then in the late afternoon as the sun set. So we had plenty of time and waited for the tourists to leave before continuing with our work. Of course I considered myself a tourist as well, and only differed in my mechanism of documentation. Women approached me as they did the others, with their plates and discs in their hands. Their trick was to put an item out in front of me and have me take that item in my hand for viewing, or so I thought. Then they would walk away quickly, in theory forcing me to purchase it.

In the end I did purchase four plates with various sizes and colors. I look at them with immense pleasure often, and think of my time amongst one of the most magnificent communities in the world, that of the Mursi of the Lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia.
Halim Ina Photography

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The World of Prostitution, Nat Community, Nirvanavan Foundation, November 15, 2009

According to R.C. Swarankar in 'Traditional Female Sex Workers of Rajasthan, India: An Ethnographic Study of Nat Community.'

'A girl in a Nat family is distinguished from an early age. Initially during socialization, a girl who is to lead a married life is prepared for domestic chores. She is made to observe social restrictions like high Hindu castes, while a girl who is to be inducted into prostitution is trained by a retired FSW (patelan) about the dhandha and its secrets. Such a girl comes in closer contact with retired FSWs and eventually with the clients and their activities. The environment and `demonstration effect' mentally prepare these immature girls. These girls either willingly accept dhandha or are brainwashed by retired FSWs to accept the same for the economic and perceived traditional reasons.'

'Nath Utrai has been a prominent ritual in the Nat community and is celebrated as a custom. Nath is the nose ring, a Nat girl wears, which is removed symbolically by her first client. Amongst the clients, one who pays the highest amount performs the custom of Nath Utrai. The needy parents' or guardians' first priority is to procure the maximum possible amount for Nath Utrai. This amount usually ranges from Rs10,000 to Rs25,000 or even more depending upon the age and beauty of the girl. The client gets the right to initiate sex with the virgin girl, who is dressed up like a Hindu high-caste bride. He is considered her husband and is given priority over other clients on future visits. Once the deal has been struck, offerings are made to a deity, followed by a feast for kith, kin and the community. After such a ritual, a girl is inducted and the community socially permits her to pursue dhandha. Dhandha, therefore, has a community sanction, and the control of Nat caste Panchayat. The norms of dhandha, amongst others, include sex as an occupation, in which a minimum time essential for intercourse should be spent with clients, sentimental attachment with clients is forbidden and no Nat male can be the client of a Nat FSW. These are part of the induction process.'

'The Nat perceive a girl to be sexually mature soon after the onset of menstruation. Tradition, economic, and family structure are the factors responsible for induction of a girl child into prostitution. Clients' preference for sex with a girl child for sexual pleasure, and curing an STD via sex with a virgin are the other reasons child prostitution is practiced in the villages in this study.'

In my limited time with the foundation and in these villages, I have seen young girls sit alongside the highway with a male family member next to them for the sake of negotiation. Usually a mirror hangs in order to help maintain appearances. In the meantime the children are running around like children everywhere do, playing games and doing what children do universally.

While the foundation did its best to shield me from the horrors associated with even one moment of this life, the signs were all around me. As I walked around to find the best spots for photography I would almost always step on a remnant of a transaction... all the while the girls would laugh at my reaction, displaying their hardened lives.

One time we asked a young girl, what do you think of your future? Without blinking nor pausing, she went on to tell us that this has been chosen for her and she is to follow in her aunt's footsteps. Her voice was without color nor emotion, understandably so in such a cruel world.

The good people of Nirvanavan Foundation are doing their best to help expand the choices available. They have initiated schools in ten of these villages, and have helped make the transition from a lack of schooling to enrollment in government schools. In spite of incredible hardships they push forward and have my sincere admiration.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Young Girl, Community of Prostitution, Nirvanavan Foundation, Near Alwar, Rajasthan, October 29, 2009

Working with Nirvana and his wonderful team at Nirvanavan Foundation has provided me insight otherwise unattainable. Through their good works I have been introduced to a world otherwise unbelievable. In these villages exists the world of the sex trade unlike any other, where the girls are sold in the open by their families... and the only crop grown is that of the flesh.

Over a span of three years we worked diligently, documenting almost every single child under their supervision in roughly a dozen villages. The foundation has done well to introduce itself and the idea of education to the adults in these villages, and the communities have come to accept them wholeheartedly. In some they have provided shelter for the classes, while in others sessions are held under the shade of a tree. 

Because of my association with Nirvanavan Foundation, the villagers allowed me to photograph their girls, risking the possibility of media exposure in the meantime. They permitted us to work at our own leisure, never once interrupting our sessions. As they became more familiar with the work, some of the older women presented themselves as well.

In this village we entered for the first time with the idea of photography. Nirvana and his team spoke with the villagers and all agreed in a kind manner to allow our work. It was the early afternoon and we needed to wait a bit before beginning. The open courtyard was perfect and contained one white wall, as well as some paneling for the color images.

As the sun set, we were about to begin when a group of officials strolled into our space. To my untrained eye they were police officers, with official uniforms. To those more familiar with the scene, they were participants in the transaction, checking out the guests and making sure that any activity is within their circle of knowledge.

They talked with the adults for a little bit, asked a few questions about the camera, and walked away as smoothly as they crept in. To my dismay they failed to notice the red light on top of the video camera, and the entire conversation was recorded.

I look back at these times and wish that I had done certain things differently, but hope that one day soon I may return to help document the work in another manner. I admire these young girls, for they are able to survive in the midst of the sex trade. They see their sisters being sold, their uncles negotiating the prices in the open. At the same time the fire within each and every single one has never been put out. 

My imagination fails to provide me with a picture of the darker times. My experiences cannot prepare me for such. I try to imagine this young girl's future, when she turns a certain age and is groomed for an endless line of men. All around me during my time with these villages were the older versions of this beautiful girl, all engaged in the world of prostitution. Never a single one of them let her guard down, nor did a single one show me one sign of weakness, of sadness.

I will never know this world from their viewpoint, but hope that one day the men of this world will wake up and realize the wrongs perpetuated over generations on the feminine half. Only when that day comes will the need for such girls be extinguished. I know that I will never see this day, and am impressed even more so by the resolute path this foundation has taken. They have seen much more than I have yet they move forward without flinching. I salute them and their good works, and hope to continue my association with Nirvanavan Foundation.
Halim Ina Photography

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monica, Daughter + Mother, Pan American Stadium, La Habana, Cuba, July 24, 2012

My friend told me about a young woman interested in being photographed and we decided to visit her at an event. She happened to be showing her modified car at a show in a suburb of the city, and we arrived in our own classic, although nobody gave us a second look. I remember feeling a bit funny when Alejandro parked his 1957 Chevy next to the pristine vehicles in the parking lot. While their cars were for show, Alejandro actually used his car as a taxi and a daily driver.

We walked up to her and introduced ourselves. She was very pleasant and introduced us to her husband as well, the owner of a well-to-do restaurant in the center of the city. It was at this time that the young woman above came over to greet us. She was a friend as well, and worked with the couple to whom we were just introduced. Her English was as perfect as her Spanish, and she was kind enough to use both to help me understand more so.

When she saw my work in the book, she was deeply touched... more so than most in my experience. She looked at each portrait with intent, continuously telling the others to see for themselves. She was impressed with the portfolio... but I was impressed with her reaction even more so. We offered to include her in our work and she jumped at the chance. We decided to meet the next day, pick them up at their respective homes, and head over to our favorite spot, the Pan American Stadium just outside of the city.

We arrived the next day near her home and waited for her on a corner. I stepped outside of the car to wait, and get an idea of her situation. She came walking down the street with a bagful of clothes. She was more than prepared, and all of her clothing was as requested by us, dark and timeless.

Our session was in the afternoon, and the sun appeared brightly for us. It was still early so we waited a little bit under the shade of a tree. The young women changed into their first pieces, and we began on the steps of the stadium. To say that Monica was a natural would be an understatement. She was a stranger the day before and now was giving of herself like a person intimately familiar with my work. She moved from one expression to another, but also paused just enough to allow me time to photograph.

She never complained about the sun, the temperature or the time needed. I worked with film and with the digital camera as well in order to give them a book of photographs later in the week. Monica would change to two more outfits by the end of our session, and allow me to make close portraits of her as well at another location perhaps 100 meters away. We worked for two hours and then headed back home, dropping Monica off at the same corner from which we found her.

Many adjectives come to mind when thinking of Monica, but the two most dominant are gentle and loving. She was drawn to the people in my portfolio and now has become one with them. I look forward to seeing her this July, and hope to further our collaboration.
Halim Ina Photography

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Boys, La Habana, Cuba, August 8, 2008

'Boys will be boys,' so the saying goes.

Yet from neighborhood to neighborhood, from continent to continent, it proves to be so true. In places where they have never seen me, it is most accentuated. They are the first to run towards the car, and certainly the most energetic in front of the lens. Always they want their pictures made before the girls, and love to be photographed in groups like in the image above.

In the familiar places they have come to understand the meaning behind my work and usually stay to the side, allowing me and the girls to work uninterrupted. Whether in Cuba or in Lebanon or in India, this has come to fruition through years of familiarity. Now when we show up to this neighborhood for example, the boys say their greetings, shake hands and then go about their routine. When asked to be photographed they will allow it, but only now when asked.

These seven boys live in a neighborhood visited by me perhaps over thirty times over the past eight or so years. We have photographed both the girls and boys, and all of them have their photographs. Some are more accustomed with the lens, the younger ones still getting used to being photographed of course. Some are shy, some are very assertive, and age at times has little to do with either. This image was made in the street in front of a friend's house, as cars go passing by frequently. It's a busy street and we stop now and then to allow the cars to pass.

The light shining on their skin comes from the building behind me, as the sun strikes it early in the morning. Up until twelve or so we have indirect light from this incredible source, and can make portraits with minimal shadows and maximum evenness of light. People often wonder how these are made, and a photographer familiar with this street asked me one time: where do you find the white background?

When I told him, he was still unable to believe it. For me this process revealed itself on this island, when photographing one day years ago. Upon returning to the States I realized that in some of the portraits the background faded away. With my preference for light printing, and subtle gradations of tone, the white walls disappeared. From that portrait forward this presentation has been an important facet of my work. So much so that I now need to consciously return to the inclusion of backgrounds, and have just acquired the necessary tool to do so upon my next visit to Cuba.

I very much look forward to returning with these images in July.
Halim Ina Photography

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Child and Strip, Banjara Community, Humana People to People, Rajasthan, India, November 21, 2009

On the morning of November 21st of 2009 we arrived at a tiny group of houses just a small distance from the main road. We set off looking to photograph the Banjara Community and thought we'd find the children playing nearby. The good people of Humana People to People India guided me to this area and helped me even though this was outside of our pre-arranged schedule.

Instead of finding the children near the homes, we saw a small bus taking the children to school. On this day it so happened that they went into the nearby town for classes, instead of working on the streets. I was of course happy to see this, even though my intent was to photograph them. We talked to the only adult in our presence for a little bit until he felt comfortable enough with our intentions.

A group of perhaps six children came along and sat on a thin strip for their portraits. The sun by this time had reached an uncomfortable angle and we did our best to get the children to laugh, the best way to get the eyes to relax in the sunlight. We photographed for less than thirty minutes and then set out to find a couple of government schools in which to work.

The Banjara Community has affected me deeply since my first visit to Rajasthan almost seven years ago. Their independence from the local communities is clearly visible even for a visitor such as myself. They keep to themselves and seem content doing so. At a local bus stop they chat amongst themselves, laughing wonderfully and presenting themselves much less formally than the others sitting around the tea shop.

Their children are incredibly beautiful, and wear the most gorgeous outfits. The patterns range from floral to space age, always abstract and colorful. The skirts are tightly pleated while the shirts fit so tightly against their small torsos. I will return year after year to photograph them, and hopefully build a larger portfolio than the one presently in my possession.
Halim Ina Photography

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My Two Hours With Helene, Just Outside of Los Angeles, California, Fall of 2010

These images, and perhaps sixty more, were made in less than five minutes at the end of our session. From one expression to another Helene moved without being instructed, took me on an incredible voyage of human expression. Here was a stranger in front of her yet she yielded the fiercest of emotions, the most gentle of feelings.

The wind was blowing endlessly and bringing with it a cold breeze. Rather than making me feel hurried and pushing the session to its end, Helene allowed me to unload and load film without stress. When asked about the cold she smiled while she shivered, pulled up her shirt while waiting then pulled it down immediately as the camera was ready.

Our session began with images of her yoga experience, and then shifted to close images in my usual style. The background was the glorious sky and her hair blew wonderfully with the wind. She never did attempt to control her hair, but rather allowed it to dance with the environment. These are some of my most memorable images from the first visit to Los Angeles, and I look forward to printing this series in the next few weeks in the darkroom. Only then will I realize their incredible potential to move me once again.
Halim Ina Photography

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Student + Teacher, Courtyard, Humana People to People India, Rajasthan, India, November 15, 2008

These images are a departure from my usual work, made in subdued lighting and including the environment. My work began this way, moved into a more minimalist viewpoint and has now returned to this form. Just as of this week a new lens was acquired to once again allow me to make images like the ones above. Portraits including the environment will now stand side by side with images lacking any signs of such.

In the above portraits a teacher sits on the same frame as her student, both associated with Humana People to People India. We arrived mid-day and needed to find a place of shade. As we talked in the narrow alley I noticed this courtyard just over a low wall. We asked the residents of the home and they welcomed us without issue. The entrance to the courtyard is to the upper right corner, and the wall is just beyond the baskets and grass/dung packets.

The residents of the house provided the small chair, and one by one the students sat down for their portraits. We would make perhaps four to six exposures of each child, then ask the next to sit down. As we were finishing our work we asked their teacher to join in the session and she did without reluctance. She even sat down in the same chair, in full view of the children and adults as well. The level of dedication always touches me, to see women and men working so diligently on behalf of the little ones.

The portrait of the young girl was made on the sixteenth roll while the latter image was made on the eighteenth roll of this session. A Hasselblad 555 ELD was used with a 120mm lens mounted on a tripod for consistency and stability. The film used was Fuji's Neopan Acros 100 ASA, and a small reflector was placed behind me and to the right with the help of a local volunteer.

Soon we hope that this school will reopen and have plans to help reopen five schools in 2013 with the gracious help of  Humana People to People India. In this way this wonderful teacher can return to her position and this student can once again learn to read and to write in between performing chores for her family.

Any reader interested in taking part of this work may contact me through the following links, input is most welcome.
Halim Ina Photography

Monday, January 7, 2013

Young Bedouin Girl, Bekaa Valley near Zahle, Lebanon, Summer of 2005

In this one alley I have made countless images of a few families, all related. Wind always plays with their hair, and the adjacent buildings act as soft boxes reflecting sunlight onto their faces. In the image above she sits at her cousin's house, with her own building acting as that reflective surface.

I have always worked alone here, even though on a few occasions the work was less than easy. Usually I arrive in the early afternoon while my own family is sleeping, sit down with their families for a little bit then arrange to work with the children. I have been photographing this young girl and her cousins for the past eight years, and have come to learn most of their names.

The neighborhood is really quiet, and next to a few small camps of migrant workers from Syria. As a matter of fact her family and all the rest in the nearby buildings are themselves migrants now married within the Lebanese community, and living in stone buildings rather than tents. However their lives are similar to those in the tent cities, they tend to their herds and work in various jobs to support their families, mostly jobs that the mainstream population refrains from performing.

I look forward to working with them again, even though my last visit was the most difficult so far. From my experience I will make the first day count, because as the excitement wears thin the photography becomes more difficult.
Halim Ina Photography

Friday, January 4, 2013

La Maestra, Escuela de Modelaje, La Habana, 26 de Julio, 2012

Three years ago I met this incredible woman through a mutual contact, one of her students. We were invited by this student, one of the subjects from my work the previous year, to attend the last day of lessons and a presentation for the parents of the students.

We arrived at the school and sat down in between the parents. The main room was arranged for a fashion show, and soon we would see our model as well as the rest from this school. The wonderful woman above allowed us to make images during the show, and we did so without the use of flash. Although we worked from a distance and without much notice, the parents were curious about our presence.

The young women and girls walked beautifully, and displayed the knowledge passed on by their incredible teacher. It was obvious to me that these students were quite proud of their performance, and deeply appreciative of attending this school. The respect shown to the teacher from the students was clearly visible, and admired by me very much.

After the show was over, we walked to the courtyard where all of the students and parents were gathered. My friend was engaged in conversations with a few of the parents and they showed serious interest in our work. We showed a few albums to them, and the level of interest increased even more. My friend asked me if we would arrange a session later in the week... and my answer to him was immediate: why not now!

The courtyard was the perfect place, with one tall white wall reflecting the sun beautifully like a giant soft box. We set up our cameras and began photographing each student, one by one, for perhaps less than one minute. We managed to photograph all of the students within one hour, and then made arrangements to return on another day for a more complete session.

We were shown incredible respect by all, and most of all by the teacher. She spoke with me like a dear old friend would speak with me, with kindness and understanding. She seemed familiar with my work, perhaps with my mindset. We returned a few days later with images from both sessions and presented such to her. She thought we were only showing them to her, until we insisted that she keep the images for her school and for the students. She was just incredible.

This past summer we visited once again the school, and made arrangements on several occasions to photograph in private a few other students. Our access to the students and to the parents was unlimited, and we managed to arrange four sessions altogether. The last of the sessions included the teacher and two of her students. We picked them up at the teacher's home, then drove out to the Pan American Stadium once again for the afternoon.

Watching her work and then the students move was enlightening. While the students did beautifully, it was obvious to all present that true talent existed only in one at that moment. Even though she had perhaps decades of experience compared to my limited time with fashion/modeling, she allowed me to suggest certain spaces and themes. We worked at the entrance to the stadium, on the grand stairs... then moved to a small white supply building for that famous white wall facing west.

We worked for almost two hours and then headed back into town. Rather than being dropped off first, she chose to drive with us while we dropped off her students... almost an hour and a half of driving due to the distance between their homes. She was so patient and never complained. Her voice was soft and sublime, always speaking with a smile.

I look forward to years of collaborations with her, and cannot imagine what we will accomplish.
Halim Ina Photography

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Camila y Leandro, Original Piece, Pan American Stadium, La Habana, Cuba, July 26, 2012

To put it simply luck was on my side this morning. I contacted Camila earlier in the week all on my own, since she spoke the clearest Spanish of anyone on the island. This was her style, rather than for my sake. We talked for a little bit and arranged a morning for our session. She then called me back and asked if her boyfriend Leandro would be able to participate as he is also a dancer.

I have always respected Camila and trusted her judgement. We collaborated the previous year and she was flawless, incredible. She heard the latter word from me so much that she would use it this past year in jest every time I would get excited about her movements. We agreed on Leandro's participation and arranged for an early time to meet.

The night before our session she called to tell me that her boyfriend was feeling ill, and offered herself for the session even though she also needed to take care of him. I of course agreed and went to sleep thinking we would be working with Camila only. As I woke up before sunrise to get ready the phone rang with Camila on the other end once again. It seemed like Leandro was feeling up to the task and would be ready to come with us.

All of the above passed and we were together finally to collaborate. We picked them up at Leandro's place, and headed out to the Pan American Stadium to work against its white wall in relative privacy. On our way they announced to me that they had a new piece that they would like to perform for the lens. I was deeply honored and quite happy, and only hoped that I would be up to the task myself. Most of my work is still, and now movement would be introduced.

Camila and Leandro were wonderful and allowed me to outline a few details before beginning, such as the general area of movement and direction of light. We worked both on film and in the digital format. Their professional approach made me feel comfortable enough to ask for a repeat of certain movements for the sake of film images, while they would be able to return to the spot from which they had rewound.

They also came prepared with darker attire as requested, and told me that this would have also been their selection regardless of request. We worked for perhaps two hours until the sun was too strong for further movement. On our way back we stopped for some juice, and the went our separate ways.

A day or so later I returned to Leandro's place to hand him a small album of photographs. In his most gentle voice he repeated the same word over and over again: preciosa. I was so happy that he enjoyed the images and was proud to have been able to hand them to him so quickly. He and Camila have the above images, and I plan to give them various silver gelatin prints from my darkroom in six months upon our next collaboration.
Halim Ina Photography