Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Refugee + Smile, Camp, Muzaffarnagar Violence, Uttar Pradesh, India, November 29, 2013

On the same day as the portrait posted before this young girl stepped to her spot in front of the lens. While most start seriously and some end with a smile, she started with a smile that never left her face. 

Most of the time it's difficult to describe the shyness in these girls, but this image displays this most exquisite quality perfectly for me. It is as if she is about to burst out of her tiny frame, yet is able to restrain herself at least until the photograph is made. Only then do her shoulders relax and her lungs let out a sigh of relief.

For a short minute she is at the center of the stage, with all of her friends sitting nearby and watching. The mood created by the wonderful group of assistants is one of respect and privacy, although we are in the middle of a refugee camp filled with boys running around and men curious to know the purpose of the work.

She sat for at least an hour before her chance came, and was overjoyed even as her time in front of the lens lasted less than three minutes. She, like her friends, asked for nothing. To be there and to experience such humility and love is an indescribable honor. Here is a young stranger to me, yet she looks at me through the lens like she has known me her entire life.

The reality is that my eyes may never see her again, but her features are etched permanently into my memory. I will always remember arriving early in the afternoon, walking up and down the small road looking for a good spot, being told that the lush side happens to be private property, and that the more arid land belongs to the refugees at the moment. 

I remember asking the adults to tell the children that we will begin in an hour and then watching the children run our way immediately. I remember the feeling inside as four dozen or so girls sat next to me, and the expressions of wonder on each of their faces. I remember feeling like the luckiest person on this earth, and hoping that the images will produce justice on their behalf.

Etched are also the smells of the camp, the remoteness and its associated hardship… the lack of sanitation and toilets, as well as the knowledge that these children will be sleeping without beds nor blankets while we are provided both at our host's home in the evening. 

This young girl's expression brings it all flooding back.


Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2, edited for size and contrast only.


  1. Halim, you are an inspiration not only to me, but to the world! I just cried reading this because the love and humility is so real and true. This is real art, their faces touch my soul and i wasnt even there. I am beyond speechless reading these stories. You are making a difference in the lives of others every day :)

    1. You have found another avenue to impress me with your kindness and true understanding. The way with which you describe your experiences with these images is incredibly honest and tells me that you were there, that you did hear her story and that you are also making a difference every day.