Saturday, March 30, 2013

Young Girl, Konso Community, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, February, 2010

She sits on a stone with everyone watching her from behind me. The color of her clothing, along with her expression, made me want to photograph her immediately. She was the first one asked and the one photographed most during our first short session on this day. She was understandably nervous, and the noise around us did little to help her. Chaos perhaps is the word to use, but she held her own and gave me this portrait. I admire her so and am happy that she has joined her brothers and sisters in my portfolio.

The wooden structures behind her are typical of this community. The houses have an incredibly sturdy look to them, and keep intruders out just by their seemingly hazardous angles. I remember walking through the narrow paths and remembering my camera bag being hit from every side while all of the children flew past me carefree.

We arrived early to this small community, and made these first images with the sun up above us. After an hour, we moved to an open space to fully realize the portraits. Many people were waiting and we wanted a larger open space to lower the volume since it was clear to us the volume was going to be there. Over eighty or so people gathered for the session, and people came in from every direction while we worked.

As some approached we asked them to be photographed to their shock, and all obliged. While the work was pretty difficult, the people themselves were nothing but sweet and kind. They are of course accustomed to tourists and yet maintained an air of kindness in the face of a certain level of exploitation. After every portrait I walked over to the sitter and shook their hand, then guided the next person to the spot.

While we photographed a camera was also rolling, recording the commotion all around us. Every few minutes my friends would help maintain an open area around the person being photographed, and try very hard to make sure I had a minute or so to do the work. Looking back at it now I am amazed that we were able to do the work period. I am both thankful for the opportunity and possess a certain bittersweet feeling, perhaps a longing to return and do better next time.

At least we have the image above, and a few more like it from this wonderful place.
Halim Ina Photography

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Young Girl + Student, In the Kitchen, Banganga, Rajasthan, India, November 20, 2009

She is taking the place of her mother in the kitchen and preparing a meal for her family at the end of the day. Her village has adopted a solar lantern project in cooperation with Humana People to People India and Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL). Rather than perform her duties in the dark or next to a kerosene lantern, she does so with the efficiency and safety of this solar lantern.

Over four years I have visited this village, and perhaps four to five times during each of those years. Sometimes we would visit just to enjoy time with the families, and sometimes to make portraits. During my last visit it was possible to document more so their lives, and this gives me great inspiration to do much more of the same later this year.

This young girl lives with her family next to her aunt's house, and shares a substantial plot of farming land with her cousins. Sometimes it is hard to tell them apart, and to differentiate to which family each girl belongs. They act with such love towards each other that at least to me it is one large, extended family. She is the shyest of her sisters, and speaks mostly with smiles as in the picture above.

Over the years I have written much about this village, and a quick search above will lead the reader to other stories and images from Banganga, Rajasthan. It is one of my favorite places in the world and a place to which I will return year after year until my legs are unable to carry me.
Halim Ina Photography

Friday, March 22, 2013

Daughter of Kanjar Community, Nirvanavan Foundation, Rajasthan, India, November 19, 2008

The third exposure of the twelfth roll on this day produced the portrait above. She stood above me with the sky as her background. Turning slightly away from me and the sunlight allowed her eyes to stay open, and her head up.

Looking closely at the picture, I wonder how she received the scars on her neck, the cuts on her arms. Living a life without education is one thing, having to deal with the sex trade on a daily basis is yet another disturbing reality. Her community produces one crop, girls destined for the big cities to work in brothels and, when home, to do the same for the surrounding villages. Nirvana Bodhisattva and his team at Nirvanavan Foundation are doing their best to change this reality, and to perhaps bring this young girl the remnants of childhood that have passed her by thus far.

Years ago the foundation approached ten of these villages and asked permission to bring education to their children. Since these children are seen as outcasts within the society, attending school is quite difficult, even impossible at times. Many of the girls are of course groomed for the sex trade and must at some point end their education regardless. The foundation, rather than concentrating only on the girls, included the boys as well. The solution must involve both genders, and perhaps beginning with the boys will instill in them the ideas necessary to bring change in the hopeful future.

My work in the villages was surprisingly accepted, a sign of the respect Nirvana and his team have earned from the communities. In our second and third years many of the older women allowed us to make their portraits, an opportunity seldom offered to outsiders. The men also opened up to us a bit, and one specific man really warmed up to the work, coming with us to other villages to help us with the photography.

The stark reality is that these are villages drenched in the sex trade. Walking around the village one has to step aside often when the artifacts of sex are found on the ground. The young girls sit alongside the road under grass roofs with a mirror to help them look their best for passing customers. Many of the villages are located on truck routes so as to maximize their visibility. One glimmer of hope while we were present was that none of the customers would visit during our time, perhaps a bit camera shy I suppose.

I hope that Nirvanavan Foundation continues their good works in these villages. Their tenacity is remarkable, and admired deeply. Perhaps later this year I will visit the foundation and see once again these beautiful children, hopefully still playing children's games rather than those of the adults.
Halim Ina Photography

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Young Student, Rooftop, Oxford Square, New Delhi, India, Fall of 2007

Through a mutual contact I met this young girl and many like her attending classes on a rooftop. A generous family had taken it upon themselves to provide classes to the children of the working neighborhood nearby. The parents of these children washed the clothes of the surrounding neighborhoods, this was their place within the social framework.

From the rooftop their houses could be seen, a collection of humble structures alongside the river. Normally these children would be working alongside their older brothers and sisters rather than attending classes. With the opening of this school they have been provided a chance for an education, an opportunity to perhaps in a few years join a formal government school.

My arrival was greeted like that of an ambassador. All of the children were standing in formation, and acknowledged my presence quite formally. They paid close attention while the patron of the school spoke about my work and that of the other visitors. We were then asked to say a few words about ourselves, and about our work.

I asked whether my English would be understood. He was kind enough to humor my question, and asked me to speak nevertheless. My sense was that it was more important for the children to hear my voice than to understand the meaning of my words. To this day when I listen to a song in another language, it reminds me of his advice on that day.

After a formal presentation by all, we were allowed to relax a bit and then photograph the children. Within the city the skies were often hazy, and on this day it was certainly the case. The surface of the rooftop was light in color, and meticulous. We found a spot in the middle of the space and sat the children down one by one for their portraits. Sitting them down allowed me to photograph them from above and to let the light strike their faces more evenly.

Most wore a sweater bearing the name of the school, and the girls wore a head scarf in addition. The ages of the children roughly ranged from five to fourteen, and there were as many girls as boys. They were provided meals on their study breaks, and the materials necessary for their education. The children went about their obligations with a sincere respect for the family, and a humility that was deeply touching.

'Appreciative' would fail miserably in describing their sentiments.

On this day I felt the power of one man, of one family, and understood the capacity for change inherent in the individual. Here was one family who had taken it upon themselves to give back to the community. They had on their own arranged for the teachers, for the materials, and most importantly for a conversation with the local community. They had received the blessings of the parents and extended the hand of education to children otherwise missing such a gesture from their own Society.

I have a deep respect for this family, and hope one day to return and witness a school thriving.
Halim Ina Photography

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Incomparable, La Habana, Cuba, July of 2008

Her name has been misspelled by everyone working with me in the streets of this beautiful island. To this day I am unsure of the spelling, but feel that Cosette is most correct. When I see her this summer I will be sure to ask her to spell it for me in my notebook. Only then will I be sure.

She was one of the first photographed by me, and remains in my work until now. Just this past summer we visited with each other and made her portrait once again. She has grown up beautifully and has overcome incredible obstacles.

She lives with her two brothers and mother in the smallest of spaces, broken up into two partitions vertically so as to create space above for sleeping. The kitchen is a countertop the size of a small table, and the bathroom a small space with a curtain for privacy.

In addition to the physical limitations of her living space, this most beautiful young woman also suffers from a curvature of her spine. She has undergone multiple surgeries her lifetime, one as recent as last year. Throughout all of this her smile has never wavered, and has only grown more divine with time.

I met her one day while walking through the streets of the city, looking for faces to photograph. We noticed her walking across the street to her home and asked to photograph her. She had a serious look on her face, serious mixed with curious, and answered us with a polite refusal. As we were about twenty or so meters away she asked an older man to call for us.

Her serious look had turned into a smile like the one above, and she now wanted to be photographed. We set our bags down and proceeded to make a quick portrait of her just when all of her friends came running. We ended up photographing everyone and were in turn shown a wonderful time. From that moment to the present she and her family have treated me like one of their own.

This past year a new spirit arrived and she has become a mother. I look forward to visiting the family in July and making a portrait of a transformed woman.
Halim Ina Photography

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Young Boy, Paint, Mursi Community, Mago National Park, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2010

While most of the portraits are in black/white, a sizable minority of images from my trip to Ethiopia have color parallels. It seemed both natural and important for me to do so, since the color spectrum was already almost duotone in presentation.

When the time came to do so, the film backs of the camera were exchanged and color images made. It was pretty simple actually, and the people cooperated fully for the most part. We stayed in a small town just outside of the park system, since staying within was forbidden. Every time we entered the park system we would need to take with us an armed park ranger, usually a member of the very tribe we wished to visit.

Before visiting this community I was told about the difficulties some have faced, the aggressive nature of the park's inhabitants. Stories of trucks being approached by large groups of people, products being thrown upon the tourists for purchase without choice. The reality was much different, and the communities accepted us with kindness. While they did approach me with lip discs and baskets for sale, they did so with respect and humor. They allowed us to set up the equipment without hassle and with the simplest of negotiations.

There were times when we would ask of them something different, for example to have their children stand on the bumper of the truck. They never disagreed with us and made it a most amicable environment. The older men helped us with the children, and the women stood at a distance watching all of this unfold in front of them.

The young boy above was photographed in both color and black/white. Most of the boys wore necklaces with white and black beads. Their faces were painted in various patterns of white, and sometimes this extended to their torsos. The white of their eyes was rarely white, the environment having much to do with this. They live a most difficult life, with scars on their skin as evidence.

What struck me about the color images was the sky. While I wanted so much for it to be clear, the various cloud formations proved to be quite beautiful. This, coupled with the importance the sky plays in the religious beliefs of this community, has made these images supremely important to me.

According to Wikipedia:

Like many agro-pastoralists in East Africa, the Mursi experience a force greater than themselves, which they call Tumwi.This is usually located in the Sky, although sometimes Tumwi manifests itself as a thing of the sky (ahi a tumwin), such as a rainbow or a bird. The principal religious and ritual office in the society is that of Kômoru, or Priest. This is an inherited office, unlike the more informal political role of the Jalaba. The Priest embodies in his person the well-being of the group as a whole and acts as a means of communication between the community and God (Tumwi), especially when it is threatened by such events as drought, crop pests and disease. His role is characterized by the performance of public rituals to bring rain, to protect men, cattle and crops from disease, to ward off threatened attacks from other tribes, to safeguard the fertility of the soil, of men and of the cattle. Ideally, in order to preserve this link between the people and God, the Priest should not leave Mursiland or even his local group (bhuran). One clan in particular, Komortê, is considered to be, par excellence, the priestly clan, but there are priestly families in two other clans, namely Garikuli and Bumai.

I plan to return to this land in the near future, but need to attend to another part of Africa until then. However when I do return the work will hopefully manifest itself differently, with more sensitivity for the daily routines of the communities being photographed. A fuller picture of these incredible people is the desire.


Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad analog system.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Young Girl, Nirvanavan Foundation, Hajipur, Rajasthan, India, November 19, 2008

The portrait was made on November 19, 2008, on the 15th roll of film exposed during the day. We worked near the main school founded by Nirvanavan Foundation, and within the three villages surrounding it. The school is home to over 400 students as of this blog entry, and has official standing within the government framework of elementary schools.

The foundation is doing incredible work within this region, providing quality education to an area otherwise void of such. The children show up every morning for classes filled with enthusiasm. They walk kilometers for the opportunity and show up without breaking a sweat. Almost all have a uniform which they display proudly, and take care of meticulously.

When they return to their homes they return to their chores seamlessly. Watching girls going for water only a few hours after reciting lessons at Advaita Garden was most enlightening and demonstrated the adversity these children face on a daily basis.

Only with the grace of Nirvana and his foundation was I able to walk within these villages freely and photograph with ease. Everyone greeted me with kindness and respect. Whenever we wanted to put our tripod down and work we were allowed. Children followed us everywhere and this made me quite happy. Their enthusiasm and curiosity showed me the best of humanity and were instrumental in helping make the most genuine of portraits.

Happenstance is how this foundation was introduced to me, on my last day while working with Humana People to People just an hour or so away. While it has been a few years since my collaboration with Nirvanavan Foundation, I look forward to a visit later this year and perhaps even some photography.
Halim Ina Photography

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Young Woman, Student, Humana People to People, Rajasthan, India, November of 2006

This was our first meeting. It took place as the sun set behind the mountains adjacent to the village. While the rest of the villages gave us sufficient time to work with usually, this one dealt us a blow in that the mountains obscured the sun much earlier than anticipated due to their proximity.

We arrived and were taken to the roof of the building which also doubled as the school supported by Humana People to People India. The sun was setting quickly and we made a few images before the sun disappeared. We had to act fast and with the help of the women moved a bench to the corner of the roof with the most ambient light. In the five minutes that it took us to move things around, the girls and young women had a good time watching me and the team run around in desperation.

The sitting position would allow the most light to fall on their faces, since they would need to look up at the camera. We made portraits for perhaps thirty minutes before it was too late to do any more. We promised to return another day and certainly did so to much success. This was my first experience in this village and it infected me with an enthusiasm to return, the faces were as extraordinary as their spirits.

The girls in this village have an incredible confidence, even amongst the boys and men. This young woman is an example. She looks through the lens rather than at it, and this affected me deeply during the session. The curiosity with which they look upon my work is heartfelt and genuine.

A few years later their school would be closed and my relationship with them different. We hope to reopen the school in their village this year and regain their confidence. This year my work hopes to change, to document them as previously but also to include their lives more fully. Where it began hopefully it will continue.
Halim Ina Photography

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Young Boy, Stool in Courtyard, Humana People to People, Rajasthan, India, November 15, 2008

This is the 12th image from the 16th roll of film on this day with Humana People to People India. We were looking for a place to photograph the children after having arrived a bit late in the morning to use direct sunlight. We walked about sixty meters away from the teacher's house and found a beautiful courtyard with subdued light.

We asked the owners of this home for permission and were granted entry into the courtyard. They also provided a stool for our use and the children sat on it one by one for their portraits. A large reflector was held behind me and to the left of this child, giving us a bit more light to help shape their faces.

Behind the child is a shoulder level stone wall, and perhaps twenty or so people watching. Next to the baskets are paddies of cow dung and grass drying for use as solid cooking fuel. In my time within the rural parts of Rajasthan I was always impressed with the capacity to recycle present within each household and village. Nothing is wasted and almost everything is used to its fullest capacity. When washing dishes the water dripping from one dish is used to wet another and so on.

During this short session I really enjoyed photographing the local children, boys and girls alike. Usually my work with Humana People to People India focuses on the girls, but every now and then boys present themselves with such sweetness that they are also included. In this case a few boys made their way into the courtyard and were asked to be photographed.

Even though the young boy in this image may seem a little less than thrilled to be photographed, he was more than happy before and after his time on the stool. Many times a person changes their presentation in front of the lens, and has something completely different to offer right before and after the portrait is made. This is one reason for me to invest a roll of film at times for a single person, because it is clear to me that there is much more to be recorded. Sometimes a few rolls are dedicated, and the results are rewarding indeed.

This year we look forward to reopening five schools in collaboration with Humana People to People India, and hope that the school in this village will be included in the near future. The foundation has located the previous teachers and all but one are available for the task. In October I do look forward to visiting these schools and hearing the voices of girls reciting the alphabet from a distance.


Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V system.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Elder in Color, On the Street, La Habana, Cuba, July of 2008

He sat for his portrait without a word, following his friends. They were gathered in their usual spot on one of the busiest streets in the city. Each had their own story and had seen more than their share of hardship, had lived through the revolution and were a testament to human endurance. They caught my attention from across the street when one of them offered to have their portraits made by me, in exchange for a fee of course.

To do so one time on the island is to place myself in a peculiar situation, and so the offer was kindly rejected. For some reason he offered once again without the financial request and the offer was gladly accepted. They might have seen me before on the street and perhaps had a sense of curiosity. I certainly was curious in return. We talked for a few minutes and set up for the photography. Many people from across the street showed their disapproval, since they might have seen this as a tourist making pictures of the helpless once again for the sake of profit.

These men treated me with respect and surely had mine in return. We made photographs using the tripod and film, then switched to a hand held camera for spontaneous captures. The background was the beautiful floor beneath them, while gorgeous light struck their faces from the street behind me. The man in the portrait above had a difficult time raising his head, and was kind enough to do so in this instance. Unlike the children in my work, the men in this group sat very still and were quite easy to photograph.

After perhaps thirty or so minutes we packed up our gear and bid these men farewell. We made note of their locations and promised to return the following year with their portraits. When we did return on our next visit we learned that one of the men had since passed away. It so happened that this was the man who had approached us in the first place, and who had made these images possible.

I will always be thankful for his curiosity and for the opportunity to have met him, to have made his portrait. Being in a position to meet such a variety of people is a true fortune, one that inspires me to continue upon this path.
Halim Ina Photography