Friday, May 17, 2013

La Cantante, La Habana, Cuba, Morning of July 11, 2012

On the morning of July 11, 2012 we met on the rooftop of my friend's apartment and made the portrait above. She walked over with her parents as we were also photographing another young woman from my past. They were a bit late and the sun had risen. We worked for a little more but found the sunlight to be almost too strong for the girls.

We then decided to pull out the diffuser and use it for the first time on the island. It worked wonderfully and transformed the direct light into a large, translucent surface strong enough to form shadows but weak enough to allow the girls to hold their eyes open and form the expressions desired by them for their portraits. With the change of exposure, the sky disappeared as expected and provided the white background as in many of my images.

She wore the most beautiful necklace, which added a range of tones to the images. Her parents sat on chairs and under a certain amount of shade to her left, near the entrance to the rooftop. Throughout all of my time with this young girl her parents have always been there to share their support. 

Whether to lend their creativity during a photography session or to accompany her voice on a keyboard, these are the most dedicated of parents. Her father is a fine man, delicate with his manners and deeply heartfelt through his understanding of music. Her mother is a strong woman and will share her knowledge of the voice in a firm yet kind manner. She rarely sings for us but when she does one can tell that the advice she shares with her daughter has musical roots certainly within her as well.

I look forward to visiting this family once again this summer and to finding a quieter place to record her voice. We talked about a church last year, perhaps a house further away from the city. I will call her family before arriving and hope that this place can be found in time for the trip. 

In the video below she and her father perform in their own home, while the neighbors do the best that they can do in terms of noise. Perhaps the sound of the street is as essential in the recording as her voice, maybe years from now I will appreciate it more so. Her voice and her father's accompaniment have brought nothing but joy and appreciation to me since this recording was made, and have been heard around the world through their circle of friends and family as well. 

All of the recordings have been provided to them in real time and they have done their best to let her voice be heard outside of the island. I sincerely hope that this is the case and the world can come to appreciate this young woman more so.
Halim Ina Photography

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Young Girl, Neighborhood outside of La Habana, Cuba, July 22, 2012

My earlier work on the island was more spontaneous by need, and led to the circle of families now the focus of my photography. We would walk up and down the streets like surveyors and isolate certain individuals for portraits. The parents would of course be included and we would return to these families the following year with prints as gratitude.

Over the years the number of families within the circle lessened and allowed me to concentrate on each family more so. My relationships with each family deepened and this has manifested itself within the body of images. A deep sense of satisfaction has brought me back to this island almost every year since my first visit, and twice during one summer.

Nonetheless I have come to miss the spontaneity of walking up and down the streets and welcomed the chance to visit a new neighborhood when Alejandro offered to do so. He told me about his family's neighborhood and advised that it was both full of life and also intimate. When we arrived early one morning it was clear to me that both descriptions were perfectly true. Older men sat outside of their homes working on various projects, yet the foot traffic was low enough to allow personal conversations to be had right on the spot.

This young girl lived to the left of my friend's home, and caught my attention immediately after seeing her face. She was playing with her friends and all were curious about the stranger visiting their neighborhood. Tourists were rare in this area, since it was well out of the way for most. She lived with her parents and grandmother, and was an only child.

From my initial observations, she is a most fierce, young girl. The intensity of her emotions was clearly evident in her reactions to the world around her. For instance, when provoked by one of her cousins after the photography, joking about her involvement, she reacted by putting her cousin in place verbally and physically. Quite honestly I was shocked at the intensity of her reaction, but also understood it at the same time.

Then when I arrived the next day to deliver the photographs from the previous evening, I was equally shocked at her reaction to my presence. She ran down the street, was only slowed down by running into my arms and hugged me with the strength of a grown man. At this instance I fell in love with this young girl, and came to appreciate her reactions in either direction.

While everyone around me advised that she rarely let her guard down, she immediately did so in front of the lens with the slightest of coaxing. The image above shows a more tender side, and to me her real personality. For the image above I owe everything to her and am honored beyond words to have achieved this level of communication through her kindness.

I do look forward to visiting with her family in July and to moving around more so through this new neighborhood. It promises to be incredibly rewarding.
Halim Ina Photography

Monday, May 13, 2013

Campesino + Los Manos, Centro Habana, Cuba, Julio de 2012

As we were walking back home I noticed out of the corner of my eyes this gentle man sitting on a ledge. He nodded my way and shared his smile, thus making him irresistible to photograph. We walked over and had an extensive conversation, finding out that he just happened to be in the city for a few days and was visiting his family from the countryside.

He was well into his seventies yet moved like a young man. His manner of speech was filled with exuberance and his muscle tone made me feel quite happy that a shirt was covering my skin. We talked about life on his farm and noted that he was a most peaceful man. While so many in the city wore faces of sadness, understandably so, joy oozed out with this man's words.

We asked to make his portrait and he was beyond willing. He asked me my thoughts about position, and I advised him that we'd make one without the hands and one with the hands. Looking back now I am so glad that we decided to include the hands, a rarity for me.

He was sitting on a ledge at a busy crossroad. People walked past us in every direction and looked once in a while at the tourist talking with the Cuban. We used the light bouncing off of the building on the opposite side of the street, and exposed these images onto higher speed film than usual to increase the depth of field while capturing the stillness of the moment.

My bags were placed directly in front of him and underneath me in order to minimize the reflected light from beneath us. In this way we would maintain shadows from under his features and maximize the highlights from above.

He was a natural, moved his hands between exposures until the roll was finished. We exposed two rolls of film and then continued with the conversation. We bid each other farewell and continued on our way home.

I will of course visit his family's home to drop off the pictures this summer, and hope to drive out to his farm in the future to continue this collaboration. These are the moments for which my camera exists.

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

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Young Girl, Village of Prostitution, Kanjar Community, Nirvanavan Foundation, Rajasthan, India, November 3, 2009

Can anyone imagine her life? Without further environmental clues, can anyone imagine her surroundings?

How does she feel standing in front of the camera at this very instant? Is she trying to tell us something? When her uncle hold her in his arms, can she sense that one day he will speak on her behalf to a customer regarding the price for her services?

Does she understand what is happening around her? What does she think when strangers walk into her village asking for her sisters? Does she feel safe?

When children from other villages laugh, does she realize why? When her uncles talk to strangers in the dark, does she understand the purpose?

She walks around the village during the day and steps on remnants of last night's transactions, will she one day look back and wish she had realized earlier?

Men travel thousands of miles to 'cure' their illnesses, only to pass them on to her community. Do they understand the unspeakable wrongs committed on this young girl's community in the name of their well-being? When these men return to their homes, will their ability to rationalize make such a question irrelevant?

Are the questions easier to ask than answers to formulate?

Nirvanavan Foundation has asked themselves countless questions but have formulated answers at the same time, developing a curriculum for these villages and proceeding forward. They have arranged for schools in these villages, and have now made the transition to working with existing government schools in order to promote an evolution in thought.

The girls and the boys are included in this process, and we hope that this young girl can stand a chance in the midst of the flesh trade.

In the image she might seem to stand alone, but the reality is that there are good people around her attempting to balance the scales. The team at Nirvanavan Foundation happens to be part of the solution, and they will continue to be on my mind.
Halim Ina Photography

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Ballerina, Pan American Stadium, La Habana, Cuba, July 14, 2012

Five years after we met she remains interested in this collaboration, and always agrees to be photographed. She was a lean girl when we first met in front of her dance studio, with perfect hair and a luminous smile. While she has retained these features, her presence has taken on a complexity to mirror her expressions in front of the lens.

Without children of my own, working with young girls has taught me many lessons... especially when the people around me take the time to share their thoughts with me. One such person is named Alejandro, and through our conversations I have come to appreciate Amanda's life and the lives of her equals on the island. Having children of his own and understanding the realities of life on the island provide my compassionate friend a view unavailable to me regardless of my numerous visits.

I remember one such conversation when it seemed to me that my work with this young woman might be coming to an end. We arrived one afternoon and were told by her mother that Amanda would be abstaining from the session. I of course accepted the explanation at face value and continued with my day, albeit a bit sad and confused.

I wondered, what has happened to this young woman? Have we done anything to displease her? Both questions were of course selfish and from my point of view. Alejandro stepped in as he would with one of his own children, with patience and an even voice. He talked about her life from his viewpoint, that she was making difficult transitions as a teenager and that her life at home was changing dramatically.

He helped me understand that tomorrow would be another day, and that we would come back to have another conversation. Both happened to come true, and the images above are examples of the strength of this young girl's character and confirmation of my admiration of her.

I hope that she will be available this summer, and that we'll make images even more magnificent. This I owe to her and to her family. Alejandro of course will be by my side, and we will have such conversations while driving around in his 1957 Chevrolet... grabbing ice cream on our way and perhaps a hamburger during our break.

He loves a good hamburger.
Halim Ina Photography

Friday, May 10, 2013

Young Girl, Village near Advaita Garden, Nirvanavan Foundation, November 10, 2009

In between sessions we walked around and at times made images. The villages surrounding Advaita Garden send their children to this school, and are most generous with their hospitality to my collaboration with the foundation. Children surround us as we walk, and immediately offer their portraits whenever the tripod is pulled out of the bag.

We happened by this corner as we were walking from her left in between two homes. The spot had wonderful, soft light and we decided to make some images of the children following along. She was one of the girls and surprised me with her non-traditional clothes. Girl after girl sat on this corner and had so much fun doing so, all of them smiled.

Nirvanavan Foundation operates a school within walking distance of this village, and others like it. While the definition of 'walking distance' is different in rural India, all of the children walk to and from the school for their classes. The thin roads from the villages to the school are lined with children twice per day, and it is a beautiful sight to behold. There is something magical happening and it has been my privilege to have been a part of it since almost six years ago.

I look forward to visiting this village and those like it in this area, and to meeting up once again with the wonderful team at Nirvanavan Foundation. The readers of this story can learn more about the foundation and my experiences with it through the links below, as well as through a simple search within this blog.

Halim Ina Photography
Nirvanavan Foundation

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Young Girl, Banjara Community, Rajasthan, India, November 10, 2009

While working with Nirvana and his team at Nirvanavan Foundation, I stay in a local hotel which also happens to employ a young man from the Banjara Community. Like many of the young men working on the premise, his demeanor is quiet and courteous.

One evening a conversation ensued about my almost obsession with this community and the young man offered to show us his community, and others like it, near his home. While this was outside of our collaboration, Nirvana offered his team to me and access to transportation in order to get all of us to this area. We arranged a morning when the young man was free from his duties at the hotel and headed out to meet his community.

Tucked away from the main road were perhaps four or five small clusters which we were able to visit. It was so early in the morning that the young children in the first set of homes were just waking up and getting themselves ready. We went from one cluster to another photographing mostly children, always with the permission of the adults.

In the image above a few girls happened to be present and allowed me to photograph them in their casual clothing and their more formal wear. They stooped down next to a fire pit and their skin tones meshed beautifully with the surrounding hues. The camera was place higher than them in order to isolate the figures from the environment, and to also bring a more even light to their faces.

After almost every girl an older man would chime in a bit regarding the photography, and he would be assured of the purpose behind the work. The girls on the other hand only wanted us to continue and changed their outfits at the drop of a pin. For me there are few equals to this community and they have intrigued me ever since my arrival to India almost seven years ago.

According to Wikipedia:

The word "Banjara" must have evolved from Prakrit and Hindi and Rajasthani words "Bana/Ban or Vana/Van" meaning Forest or Moorlands and "Chara" meaning 'Movers'. The Banjara are (together with the Domba) sometimes called the "Gypsies of India".
The word Banjara is a deprecated, colloquial form of the word of Sanskrit origin. The Sanskrit compound-word vana chara, "forest wanderers" was given to them presumably because of their primitive role in the Indian society as forest wood collectors and distributors.
Women are known to wear colorful and beautiful costumes like phetiya (as ghagra) and kanchalli (as top) and have mehendi tattoos on their hands. They use mirror chips and often coins to decorate it. Women put on thick bangles(bandiya) on their arms (patli). Their ornaments are made up of silver rings, coins, chain and hair pleats are tied together at the end by chotla.

Their name, the manner of dress and their visible independence from the communities around them have few parallels in my experience.

It seems clear to me that I need to further study this community, devote an entirely new space to it within my portfolio and treat it more comprehensively through the photography. For my visit to India this year I intend to begin this process and hope that the foundation will lend an initial hand in providing guidance and support.
Halim Ina Photography

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Amanda + Four Years, La Habana, Cuba, 2008 - 2012

Four years stand in between these two images, yet perhaps she's lived a lifetime. We met in front of her dance studio and have since become family. My visits to the island always include her and her best friend. She lives on the top floor of a four story building, while her best friend lives on the floor level of an identical building just a minute's walk away.

They live in a small town just outside of the capital called Alamar. The beach is within walking distance of their apartments, and can be seen clearly from her balcony. Including her first image at the dance studio, all of our sessions have been within a hundred meters or so of the sea. She was the second dancer to allow me to photograph her almost five years ago now, and had the most luminous smile. 

I remember walking into this grand square and seeing all of these beautiful girls dressed in black, my absolute favorite color for photography. They happened to be ballerinas waiting for classes to begin. After a few minutes to gather my courage and twenty or so minutes speaking to a few parents, a makeshift studio was arranged against a white column and we began making portraits. Perhaps a dozen or so girls were photographed, and seventeen exposures were made of her alone.

The most beautiful light was coming from across the square, the sun was striking the white walls of an enormous building. The tones on her skin were magical, and she knew it. Her hair was perfect, and her outfit timeless.

Since that first session we have had countless more over three more visits to the island. With every year she has grown more beautiful and luminous, and has never lost interest in our work. While as a teenager she is more reserved with her affection towards the work, her mother tells me when Amanda is out of the room that she adores the images and always looks forward to the photography.

The range of her expressions has increased immensely, and taken on a more complex presentation. In one image she reminds me of that first expression, then she perhaps reflects on experiences since then and displays a most introspective countenance such as in the second image. While this may seem challenging to some, to me it is a chance to learn more about her on her emotional turf rather than the other way around.

I remember as we were finishing this last session, she seemed to be experiencing a difficult time. With my limited Spanish I walked up to her and asked of her one more roll for me, for an old friend. She shared with me the most gentle smile, and let us continue for a bit more. The result of this level of communication is the image to the right in the above set.

Amanda is admired and respected by me immensely, and I look forward to possibly improving on these portraits in eight or so weeks. She has a young brother now, and her family is growing. I wonder how she will react to me and my work this year, but can only hope for more of her kindness.
Halim Ina Photography

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Portrait of a Model, Pan American Stadium, La Habana, Cuba, July 12, 2012

At times it is beyond the reality of the moment that she truly is barely into her teenage years. She has a presence about her that is beyond her years. Then she'll sit down and play with the gravel, smile up and show me the beauty that is youth. The range of her expressions is limitless.

She sits in front of my favorite place, the Pan American Stadium just outside of the capital. The wall behind her is our backdrop and provides the most beautiful reflective surface to outline her features. It is quite early in the morning, the sun has just risen and her mother sits on a ledge under a tree for shade a dozen or so meters behind me. We are also joined by another remarkable young woman and her mother for this morning's session.

Earlier in the week we met while attending a fashion show presented by a dear friend. We were also there to watch one of our own models walking down the hallway in front of the parents. After the show we managed to mingle with the models and their parents, gaining a session with this wonderful, young woman. Rather than placing her alone in front of the lens, we decided to include another young woman so as to allow both to rest in between their portraits.

Her mother is a most understanding woman, and prepared her daughter perfectly. The fabrics chosen were dark in color, and her jewelry timeless in design. While the sun was less than strong, her clear eyes made working in direct sunlight very difficult. She however maintained her composure and did more than most would have done for the sake of the image. When it was difficult for her to keep her eyes open, she would take in a stance like in the middle image above and blend the expression into the mood of the image.

Even though these are just a sample of our morning, I for one look forward to doing much better for her and her family this year. With her dedication and her mother's attention to detail, I feel that we will do so in July.
Halim Ina Photography

Ballerina + Stairs, Pan American Stadium, La Habana, Cuba

We first met in front of her dance studio. I was waiting for a few dancers when a man on a bicycle taxi spotted me and asked about my work. One of his nieces was dancing inside and might be interested in being photographed. Earlier in the afternoon we had spoken with the parents sitting outside of the studio and some expressed interest in the project. We thought that perhaps we'd be overwhelmed but certainly welcomed his niece should she be interested.

As it turned out most of the parents walked past us without pause but his niece gave us the gift of her portrait. We photographed her and four other dancers as the sun set over the adjacent building, then took down everyone's information for a visit the following year.

When we did return one year later, we made a visit to her home. As we waited in the living room, a strange face walked into the room with excitement. Her features made me lose my concentration and I found myself studying her responses. What was she thinking? Did she want to be photographed also? Would she allow us to do so?

Before I could say anything, she smiled and nodded in approval.

The gift of her sister's portrait one year earlier yielded two incredibly gentle girls for my portraiture on the island. From this point forward the young dancer above would be accompanied by her sister and older cousin, all of whom would be photographed every single session.

In the image above she stands at the entrance of a stadium built for the Pan American Games of 1991. This has become my preferred location for its white walls, the elegant staircase and the statues on the other side. It is a most serene place and speaks of past accomplishments when life was quite different on the island. Construction of this incredible space might have had nations in mind more than two decades ago, but it now serves the people of this community for it was their sweat that contributed to its presence.

On this day the sky was cloudy, and the light diffuse. She moved from one position to another, changing her expressions accordingly. She wore her black outfits and gave two hours of her time while her friends were playing in the streets and the temperature/humidity combination was almost unbearable. Variables like these have helped me develop a deep respect for these young girls, and a dedication to their families.
Halim Ina Photography

Friday, May 3, 2013

Barbarita + Rooftop, La Habana, Cuba

Here she stands for her portrait on my friend's rooftop, early in the morning as the sun peered over the city. From the moment she spotted us walking down the street of her previous home to this morning's session, Barbarita has always shown an interest in the work. Year after year she has given of herself without hesitation and done so in a most genuine manner. 

Whenever we call she is ready, whenever we visit her home she accepts us with love. She used to live with her mother and grandmother in a humble yet comfortable house. She used to walk those streets with her friends and enjoy the social network around her. This was true the first time we met, as she was sitting on a ledge across the street from her home with a couple of her friends. She saw us passing by with our cameras and was curious enough to follow. When we stopped to talk down the street she asked to be photographed. We told her to ask her mother and she ran off to do so, returning with her cousin to be photographed.

We did so that year only to find out that she pretended to ask her mother, all at the tender age of perhaps nine. She had a mind of her own then and has a mind of her own now as well. She lives presently in a small room with her mother, caring for an older gentleman without family. They do so in order to have the opportunity one day to live in this humble room, in a busy section of the capital. She no longer runs outside with her friends, for the street is more difficult. She has also grown up a bit and sees the realities around her. She talks frankly with me and tells me about her life in a way that touches me deeply.

She never really does ask for anything in return, and laughs gently at my interest in her. Honestly, I am enamored by her features and her graceful spirit. This young girl lives in a most difficult environment yet never sheds her joy nor her hope. I hope to one day photograph her in a different setting, and hope to improve upon the portrait above this summer.
Halim Ina Photography