Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Student + Original Cover, Humana People to People India, Rajasthan, India, December of 2013

She was there on my first visit, and remains today. When Humana People to People India initiated the schools for girls in her village, she was one of the first to cross the threshold and attend the classes offered. Her cousin taught those first classes and accepted our challenge to reopen the schools last year, leaving her position at the local government school with fervor.

When I first met this young student, I was enthralled by her features and even more so by her expressions. It was as if she knew me, and understood the work before I had any idea of its purpose. In her early years she exuded a most androgynous quality, deeply suited for the medium of the black and white image.

She has since matured beautifully, and allowed me this past year to make her portrait even though she was a bit older than the other students. She had just repositioned her scarf in this way, and was so surprised that it excited me so!

The school in her village is thriving, and I cannot wait to see the students again in four or so months!


Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm combination, onto Kodak TMY 400 ISO film

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Image of Perfection + Mehndi, Banganga, Rajasthan, India, December of 2013

So here she is six weeks before the video below. When we arrived to visit the family for the first time, she was lying on a bench under the family tree, just behind me in the video. She barely moved, and her sisters and cousins all sat around her for support. The families nonetheless were happy to see us and wanted the photography to continue, so we did.
Just as we finished I looked her way and caught her smile. I asked her family for permission to ask for her portrait, and she fearlessly offered herself to the camera. The strength with which she held herself up for the sake of the image was deeply moving, and clear to all watching the process. Then halfway through the roll she put her hand over her mouth, kneeled to the ground and expelled a soft sigh. She was clearly in severe pain and walked back gently to the bench… all the while making sure that I was fine by sharing a smile with me.
This was the image made immediately before the reaction described above. I admire and adore her beyond words, and am happy that Humana People to People India has decided to reopen the school in her village. As a matter of fact, the school is run by her aunt, the older woman who makes an appearance in the video below. She is the inspiration behind my work in her village, and I am proud to have been given the chance to be of service to her and her community.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Girl + Refugee, Muzaffarnagar Riots, Uttar Pradesh, India, December of 2013

Today is being spent scanning the images for the upcoming Tedx Talk next month, highlighting the schools for girls in India. Seeing the film images scanned takes me back to late last year, when these incredibly poignant spirits were less than two meters away from me.

On a cool morning we arrived at her camp. The very place was a result of the recent violence between Muslims and Hindus in Uttar Pradesh, all the families being refugees from such. It was quite cold actually, and the girls were shivering while they waited anxiously to be photographed. This young spirit's portrait was made toward the end of the photography. She impressed me deeply at that moment, and everyone around me knew it. Her head cover slipped a few times and I ran to her immediately.

I also remember her nose running, and we did our best to help. She allowed us to do so, but also was deeply shy and pulled away several times. The fine line between wanting to make a beautiful portrait for her and to also to document her as she presented was made quite clear to me during this portrait. In only a few minutes she taught me a lesson to last a lifetime.


Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm combination, onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Aspiring Dancer + Beach, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, Summer of 2014

While walking on my own the day before I met a young vendor selling vegetables and fruits out of her apartment. First I asked to photograph the products, then I asked to photograph her next to them. As we talked a neighbor joined us and asked about my work. I showed an album to them and she was fascinated by the images of ballerinas, telling me that two of the vendor's children were dancers… producing a look of comic displeasure on the vendor's face.
Nevertheless the children were called for along with one of the neighbors as well. They were shocked to see a tourist in their home, yet at a moment's notice performed a dance routine right in front of my eyes, all to music selected by their mother. It was so spontaneous that I barely had a chance to record the dancing on my small phone!
They were fabulous, just incredible! We talked right there and then about a session, and all agreed on the very next morning. I warned them that we'd be in front of their apartment by 6:20 in the morning, yet they were all in with smiles. When we arrived the very next day early at 6:00, they were already standing in the street waiting for us. It was a sign of great things to come!
While her older sister and neighbor were photographed in their ballet outfits, the youngest of the bunch put on a ballet outfit and did her best to fit in. We dedicated perhaps one or two rolls of film to her, and I only hope that the film images are half as beautiful as the digital ones.
An hour after this portrait was made, we enjoyed two hours of play in the water behind her. This happened to be her first time in the ocean, and her mother sat and watched with a smile as the tourist took her by the hand and gave her the first lessons in the water. She went from a girl barely able to walk toward the waves to one jumping in without having to hold my hand. At first she had a hard time with the water, then she dipped her hair fully in the waves, laughing the entire time.
This is the magic of photography, and what it can help accomplish in less than 24 hours.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Frances + Sky, Mentor Headlands, Ohio, September 19, 2014

Every once in a while film is exposed on this side of the pond, and such was the case this past weekend with my dear friend Frances. Over the past few weeks we threw some ideas around, from themes to wardrobe, and settled on a few of each for this session. We met at my home and drove out to Mentor Headlands on a beautiful, sunny afternoon.
When we arrived we were surprised to find so many people on the beach, and even a few photographers. Quickly we set up and started with the ideas. First we played with the lighter pieces, and made use of sunglasses with the harsh light. As the sun set her eyes took center stage, as she was able to look into the lens without hesitation.
The five images below are but a handful from over 120 film images, each with its own combination of composition and expression. I am grateful to have had this chance, and look forward to this weekend's repeat session!

Note: These images were exposed onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180mm combination.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Model + Sugar Cane Fields, Artemisa, Cuba, Summer of 2014

This is what happens when the documentary approach intertwines with the fashion aspiration of the person being documented. This young woman and her friends live in Artemisa, Cuba. They used to attend a school for models hosted by our dear friend from the capital. Since the school has closed they have remained in contact with us and have shown a genuine desire to continue with our collaboration.

We found the path below an hour or so before we met with the group. Because Artemisa was the scene for the July 26th celebrations this year, our access to locations within the city was even more limited. The young women were surprised when we shared this location with them, but were so happy to have such privacy and serenity during the photography.

They brought three changes of clothes each, and two changed while one was in front of the lens. This young woman's twin was also photographed on the same day, and the twins were a singing duo on the island as well. Toward the end of the afternoon they played their music for us while we put our equipment away. To be with such wonderful people, in the countryside, listening to pop music while putting our stuff away into our mid-century cars was an experience to remember.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Ballerina + Models, Santa Maria Del Mar, Cuba, Summer of 2014

Sitting here in the coolness of my apartment made me want to post something a bit warmer. What is almost unimaginable for me is that these images were made less than four weeks ago, in a place words apart from here. Yet these images were made in the same time zone, less than four hours flight from this very spot!
Two genres were combined here, that of modeling and that of ballet. The participants, two new and one most familiar, meshed seamlessly and without hesitation. The water was so warm, and perfectly calm allowing for such images near the surface of the sand.
Wearing shorts and sitting down in the water alongside them was magical, felt like one with these three spirits. The older models were so gentle with the young ballerina, and this moved me deeply. In some of the images all posed together, and in some two took turns to present various combinations to the lens.
The beach has come to represent endless possibilities to me, just as it does to the Cubans.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Campesino + Bicycle, San Antonio de Los Baños, Cuba, Summer of 2014

As Alejandro and I drove south from Havana and into the countryside this man was leaving his driveway to cross the street. I looked at Alejandro and asked if we could approach him. The answer was as always, 'como no!' We turned around and drove past the man a bit, then parked and waited for him to reach us.

He immediately gave us his permission to be photographed. So we walked to the front of Alejandro's car to be on the safe side, and set up the tripod. He told us a little about his life, that he had lived on the land across the street for the last 80 or so years. We were of course floored, that this man was at least 80 years old and still riding a bicycle on a daily basis. 

We made his portrait in less than five minutes, then promised to return later with his pictures. It so happened that we did return later in the day with his pictures, and he was so pleased, showing off his pictures to his grandchildren and to his sister. He invited us to the back of his house, where he proudly showed us his avocado tree while giving us a few for the ride back home.

These are the moments hidden from most while viewing this work. This event alone would fill the eight or so minutes required at the upcoming TEDx Talk next month. It was my honor to have been in his presence this past summer and my responsibility now to preserve his story along with his image for those outside of the island to witness.


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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fashion Designer + Claudia, Racquetball Court, Santa Maria de la Playa, Cuba, Summer of 2014

As defined by Wikipedia, fashion design is the art of the application of design and aesthetics or natural beauty to clothing and accessories. So what would happen when fashion meets the street?

We thought this to be an interesting scenario. We then asked a well-known fashion designer to supply some pieces for the young girls in our portfolio. He was more than willing, and provided us with such within a day or so.

The young girl in these images has been photographed over the past four years. Since the day we met in 2010, my fascination with her face has moved me to expose countless rolls of film. She is nothing short of miraculous, speaks very little normally but expresses herself without reserve through the lens.

So when we presented the thought of the fashion designer to her, she thought it to be a magical opportunity to express herself more fully. We arranged for a morning and decided on the racquetball court near the beach as our studio. From the very first exposure it was clear to me that she was ready for this chance, and embraced the moment with enthusiasm.

When asked about her hair, she told us that she visited a local hair stylist the evening before and treated herself in preparation for this morning. She was flawless, and moved from one position to another effortlessly.

When the fashion designer saw the images, he was deeply impressed. He gave of himself without expecting anything in return, as kind a man as can be hoped for in my experience.

He met her prior to these images and, while her natural beauty was more than evident, he never did imagine her as a model like those from his extensive experience. So when he saw the images he was truly floored. While the models normally gracing his pieces are certainly worthy of their professions, he recognized something special in this young girl, something undeniably pure.

As my friend Alejandro told me, 'she was born for this.'


Note: These images were made with a Sony RX100M2, edited for size and contrast only.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Magnificent One + El Malecon, La Habana, Cuba, Summer of 2014

Here she sits on the point of El Malecon with the famous strip of hotels in the background. We arrived early in the morning before sunrise, before the tourists claimed this spot for themselves. There was a street sweeper sitting on a ledge to the left, and we borrowed his broom to clean the floor on which she is sitting in this image. The local crowd got a kick out of seeing a foreigner doing such a task, and her mother snapped a few pictures of the scene.

For the next hour she went through her performance to the delight of the people passing by, and to the lens focused solely on her. We chose this location because it was the only one on El Malecon which lacked a wall separating the sidewalk from the water. The thought was to place the city behind her, and to her feet, while her body soared into the sky.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Professor + Dance, Las Canchas, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, Summer of 2014

After six years of working with her students on the island, the professor from the highly acclaimed dance company asked to be photographed like her students. She was as kind and open to being photographed as her students, allowing us two sessions with her and accompanying us as a photographer thirsty for photographic knowledge.

When her students accompanied us, they were in awe of their teacher. Rather than distancing herself from them, she embraced them during the session and then spent more than an hour in the water with the girls. Their faces were always turned towards her, giggling the entire time. I walked away deeply impressed by her demeanor, her grace.

Here we are photographing her in the courts located at the beaches of Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba. We spent many mornings on these courts, just before the athletes arrived to use them. Most of the time there were enough courts to satisfy the players, but once in a while a few couples waited patiently for us to finish. Rather than hurrying us along, they would sit on the edge of the pavement and watch the dancers perform for them to the sounds of others playing racquetball around us. This was a most magical place, pure fantasy.


Note: These images were made with a Sony RX100M2 mounted side by side with a Hasselblad analog system for duplicate, digital images. The film images are soon to be processed!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Model + Farmer, Artemisa, Cuba, Summer of 2014

One afternoon we decided to visit Artemisa, Cuba. Last year we did the same and photographed four aspiring models living in this small city. We had their prints in hand and contacted them to set up a time to meet. We made the hour and a half drive from the capital and arrived early enough to have some ice cream a block or so away. This province was chosen to formally host the July 26 celebrations for this year, while of course all of the provinces did so less formally.

When we walked to the spot of the meeting one of the young women was already waiting with her mother. It seemed odd to me at that very moment that the daughter was dressed in all white, then again perhaps she had other clothes in her bag. After ten or so minutes nobody seemed to be in a hurry to collaborate, and so the question was put forth: are we making photographs today?

The young woman was surprised, as was her mother. It was at this moment when I knew that we failed to communicate effectively our plan for the day. The look on Alejandro's face is as clear today as it was two months ago. Once again the lesson of assumption was learned, and once again we had to pick up the pieces and put a plan together for the afternoon.

Soon the second model arrived and she was as surprised as the first. We talked for a bit and hoped that they would be interested in more than collecting their photographs. The twins were yet to arrive, and so we decided to give them a call and discuss our plan before they arrive. We were still early, but by the pace of the conversation being had at that moment the sun would set before plans were realized. It was at this time that I made it clear to all that we needed to decide quickly, and that we had already located a suitable place for our photography prior to our meeting.

As we were making progress the mother of the first model decided to put forth her thoughts, which were at best unhelpful. She thought another location might be better, without having seen our choice. She spoke in Spanish thinking that perhaps none of it would be understood by me, while Alejandro knew better but kept his mouth shut.

Fortunately the others were very interested in the photography and went home to gather their clothes for the session. We then offered to put the images from last year on their flash drives, and did so while we waited for them. We even offered to do so for the troublesome mother, but she declined to leave her flash drive behind knowing that she would never come back for it.

Thirty or so minutes later the young women and their parents returned and we drove to our location little more than five minutes away. It was a dirt path perpendicular to the main road, with sugar cane fields on both sides. The young women used the cars to change and we worked for the next hour or so exposing frames for them with their chosen outfits. Farmers in the meantime rode by us as we worked, in carts and on bicycles. The scene was deeply moving, and I was in two worlds at the same time… that of fashion and that of documentation.

As we were finished the twins put their music on for us, and we enjoyed their voices as they had recorded an album earlier in the year. We returned to the city and put the pictures from the afternoon's session on their flash drives as well with smiles all around.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Amanda, Six Years Apart, La Habana & Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, 2008 & 2014

Who would have thought that a spontaneous, street portrait would have led to photographing her in the sea more than six years later? Since then her life has changed dramatically, very much like her hair. Back then she was the center of attention in her family, and deservedly so. She attended a prestigious school for ballet in front of which her first portrait was made.

Since then she has passed that most important of birthdays in Cuba, 15. She has left the school yet retained the grace and presence visible from her first portrait. Her hair is now a remarkably beautiful length, even though she is trying desperately to grow it as fast as possible. She now has a little brother who has naturally become the center of the family, yet she accepts this in a most selfless manner.

One thing has not changed in all of these years, and it is my desire to continue her photographic documentation. I continue to admire and adore her spirit, and have made this very clear to her. The latest portrait was made this past July, toward the end of our session. We entered the water together and had fun making images in the sea. Overwhelming her stare is, and I look forward to a more creative exploration of such next summer.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Laborers, Charcoal Farm, Matanzas, Cuba, Summer of 2014

One early morning we arrived to collect a family for photography and found the lights still out, triggering the sound of worry from Alejandro. He just knew that they were still asleep and that the sun would be coming out soon. He picked up the phone and dialed their number, resulting in a sleepy mother apologizing for the miscommunication.

He then looked at me and asked: what now?

Perhaps he was thinking that we'd just drive around town a bit then head to lunch early. I looked at Alejandro and asked if we could drive to Matanzas for the day, looking for individuals along the way. He was surprised at first, and slowly agreed to the plan.

So we started our way out of the city and almost immediately began to find individuals as the sun appeared over the horizon. First it was a farmer walking down the highway, allowing us to photograph him for ten or so minutes. Then Alejandro's eyes caught glimpse of a charcoal farm to our left and pulled right in. We saw these men sitting in front of a shack and asked their permission to photograph the space.

I stepped out and began making pictures of the mountains of charcoal, then the mountains of wood piled up so neatly. The men were taking a break from the work when we arrived, so we talked a bit. As was my plan, I appeared like the hapless tourist making images of the surroundings that then finds interest in the workers themselves. It seemed to work and they then allowed me to make abstract images of them, from below and with them holding various tools from the shed. Every time an individual was in front of the lens, the others poked gentle fun at him… it was truly a fun time.

This image was made with the digital camera as we packed up our bags, thinking that they would like a memory of our time together. Alejandro more than likely delivered the pictures to them this past week, and I hope that they enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed making them.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2 with available light.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Man + Shawl, San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba, Summer of 2014

So here we are driving in the countryside looking for faces to document when I see a man riding a bicycle across the street in front of us. Alejandro was looking in the other direction and missed seeing him. I asked Alejandro in an excited voice to turn to the left into the service station to look for him. As we did so he rode his bicycle to the other side of the street once again into a long driveway. We followed him up the driveway and finally caught up with him.

Alejandro was a little nervous in approaching him, but did so regardless. The man was so serene, peaceful and loving. He immediately allowed us to make his portrait, invited us to visit his family's home the same day to plan a formal visit over the weekend. He was born in India and moved to Cuba at a very young age. He practices Judaism, reads the scriptures and has incorporated aspects from other faiths into his everyday life.

We purchased two loaves of sweet bread from him, one of which we ate immediately, and then drove to his family's home to visit with his wife and children. They agreed like their father to our visit on Sunday and we planned on returning to photograph the rest of the family. The rest of the story is to come!

This image was made in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia regarding this place:

'There are 39 schools in the town, employing over 600 teachers. These schools include an academy of plastic arts, a school for training art teachers, and the International School of Cinema and Television Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión which was established in 1986. The town's library was founded in 1975, and has a collection of more than 32,000 books.'


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Nafisa's Story, Humana People to People India, Salaheri, Haryana, India, September 3, 2014

Name - Nafisa

Father's Name - Rahish Khan

Mother's Name - Farmina

Age - 12 years

Village - Salaheri

Hello, I am Nafisa from Salaheri village in Mevat. I hail from a family, which has staunch beliefs against education and freedom of girl children. My father, a bus driver by profession, heads our family of 6 people, including my mother, myself, my two younger brothers and a sister. My parents never attained any education and hence do not value the need of it. However, due to convincing of my neighbors, my parents sent me and my siblings to the Government school of Salaheri. I attended the school, but the lackadaisical attitude of teachers killed our motivation to go to school and my parents’ beliefs against education further strengthened.

We had stopped going to school and stayed at home whiling away the time. After a few months, my father returned home with a news about the Girls Bridge Education Centre in Mevat, which provided good education to the children. We were surprised to see such a thing being shared by my father, considering his beliefs. He seemed quite convinced with the school and shared that the staff has been following up with him for some months, which led to this shift in his attitude towards the need for education.

I joined the Bridge Education Centre with my younger sister and found the place full of energy. The teachers paid attention to every single student in the class and treated us in a very polite manner. Prior to joining the Centre, I used to study in the 5th class at the Government schools and could read English alphabets, Hindi Alphabets and tables up to 5. However, my progress has been significant in the last three months, where I have learned names of fruits, colors, days, months, etc.

My parents are also happy with my progress and as encouraged by my teacher, I help my mother with household work after school hours, which is a satiating feeling for them. I will always be thankful to my teachers and parents for this wonderful opportunity. 

This story was provided by my dear colleagues at Humana People to People India.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Two Models + Beach, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, Summer of 2014

Almost every other morning over the past two months we visited the beach with everyone from ballerinas to models to friends from years ago. We found it to be a place where we could work without hassle from the police, without restrictions from security guards. Here the people were free to create, to pose for the lens and to tell their stories without prying eyes… that is until families arrived a little after 8 or so in the morning. We would arrive before sunrise, set up our cameras and talk a bit before the first rays of sun hit our skin.

On this day Alejandro and Laura gifted us their presence. For the time being they model in La Habana, and attend my friend's school to improve their standing in the fashion community. We picked them up in the city and headed to the beach. We talked in advance regarding our approach, and both came prepared with clothing to contrast with their skin tones. In the beginning they were a bit shy, then they let go of themselves once we talked about positions in the abstract. These images are from the second half of our session, and all are on film awaiting processing. For the time being these are stills from the digital camera, mounted alongside the film camera and triggered at the same time with one shutter release cord.

Note: These were made with a Sony RX100M2 mounted alongside a Hasselblad analog system.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Young Girl + House, Matanzas Province, Cuba, August of 2014

Most of our afternoons on the island were filled with clouds, so we decided to scour the countryside for faces, leaving the cloudy city behind us. On our way back one afternoon the road was void of people, so we made a right turn hoping for something different. A man with his small cart happened to be on the right side of the narrow road, so we stopped for some vegetables and his portrait. We asked him about his neighborhood, bought some avocado and went our way up the road toward his home.

On the right hand side in the middle of the village appeared more carts filled with vegetables and fruits. Behind the line of carts a dozen or so boys were playing soccer in front of a forgotten, yet beautiful building. I decided to get out and photograph the structure, from the middle of the field as the children allowed me to do. When we finished we packed up and started down the road. As we turned up the road away from the field this little girl crossed the road toward the field. I was stunned by her features and let this lapse in judgement get the better of me, maintaining my eyes on her for more than a few seconds. She took it quite well actually, and returned a glance of incredible strength and curiosity my way.

This was enough for me, and we stopped in our path to go after her. We parked once again next to the field and asked an older man about her. He told us her name, and that her father was at work. I asked him if he was sure, and he told me that he knew everyone in the village, and that he was certain. He however offered to take us up the road to her home, to perhaps ask her neighbors for some guidance. We did so and were quite lucky in that the neighbors were more than happy to help. They told us that we had their permission to photograph their children, and that her father would be more than happy to have her picture as well.

We had less than thirty minutes in which to work, and set up quickly. She was the first to be photographed, and took my breath away. She seemed more than comfortable in front of the lens, her expressions were simply flawless. I was unable to believe that this young girl could be so powerful, so spontaneously. We photographed for the next twenty minutes, talked with the families for thirty minutes more, then packed up our bags and headed back to the city one and a half hours away in the dark.

All above us was a sky filled with bright stars, yet for me the brightest of them all was preparing to sleep in the home pictured below. What makes her even more incredible is that she lives alone with her father, keeps herself entertained during the day in the neighborhood, never really staying in the house but rather going from home to home in the village. She knows that we will return to her home in ten months, and that her portrait will be seen soon in Africa and Asia through my portfolio.