Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dancers + Casa Cultura, Regla, La Habana, Cuba, Summer of 2013

One among many benefits of a decade on the island is the chance to see from the inside. This year we were so fortunate to have increased the number of ballerinas from three to a dozen. Each of these new dancers was selected based on hours of observation in front of the dance school, watching their interactions with friends and their willingness to lead.

One such student used to dance in the group photographed below and, one day after we collaborated on the beach in a ballet theme, we returned to her home where she displayed these very costumes to me. I was amazed that the family owned them, and asked if she would be willing to be photographed in such a way.

She shrugged her shoulders in the positive and with a smile, and also offered to share her clothes with another dancer. On my very last day, we photographed the two dancers on the beach in these costumes, a fitting end to two months on the island.

The image below is a snapshot from a one and a half hour video of this group. The young dancer's father asked me to come along and bring my camera to a performance. We met at his home and went with her and her mom, only to find out that the sound team failed to show up. All of the children and their parents were there, but left as if accustomed to such shortcomings.

We agreed to meet the following week, and reserved an afternoon in our schedule for them. What was most honorable was their insistence on asking me about my schedule, having just met me. The least we could do was to reserve a spot for them on our last week.

So when we arrived this time the sound person was there, and everyone was so excited. I could never have expected what was about to occur in front of my eyes, for the next hour or so. The crowd was treated to everything from ballet to flamenco, from clowns to religious dance, from Michael Jackson to Yoruba chanting… it was truly a magical afternoon and this is just a snapshot from the event!

Note: This is a still from the video.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Guajiro + Field, San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba, Summer of 2013

He went from a plot of land in San Antonio de los Baños to the stage of Tedx Talk this past weekend. Hundreds of people watched him smiling, as he held the handle of a shovel with his left hand, the same tool he used just a few minutes ago to make sure the irrigation was taking place properly in between rows of crops behind him.

He had taken a break to speak with Alejandro, and I took advantage of the moment to get down on the ground and make photographs in the style of the Soviet era masters, placing themselves below the workers. Knowing Alejandro's propensity to converse at length with his fellow guajiros, I had plenty of time to compose the images.

What moved me most was to be in the midst of this incredible conversation, and to be unnoticed while making a visual record of the audible. We did return that same day incredibly to hand him the photographs, and were able to see his home adjacent to these fields. He worked the fields for someone else, and barely made ends meet as described in the talk. He told us that sometimes the youth come by at night and steal the crops for sale the next morning on the road, that in one hour they steal enough to make more than he does working in the hot sun all day.

He pointed out to us that almost all of the workers in his area were older men, while the younger men had fun during the day, and stole the crops by night. Only by having such conversations can I learn about such difficult lives. Only by being with Alejandro would this man have ever shared such intimate details of his life with a stranger from up north.

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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tedx Talk - Refugee, Cleveland State University, October 25, 2015

This was the face that introduced the audience to my Tedx Talk this past Friday. Her portrait was the first in a series of images shown on the big screen behind me and to my right.
'The majority in the images lack access to the most basic of necessities, and hover around the poverty line. They endure a hand to mouth existence, day to day, year after year…' were the words as the portraits bled into each other.
My hope is that the images stuck in the collective mind, more so than my words.

Frances + Rooftop, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, October 26, 2014

After a long few weeks getting ready for yesterday's talk, I was treated to a great conversation when Frances stopped by this afternoon. It was also a chance to get the camera out of the bag and the sun was just perfect!

Here is a color snapshot from the set, she truly does stand on her own. We are working on a series of sessions, allowing us to be more comfortable with the exchange. As our mutual friend Heath told me during the last session, she has that expression, one that is elusive to describe yet quite enchanting.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ballet + Horse, Countryside, La Habana, Cuba, Summer of 2013

Following the image from her previous post, this is the same dancer in a rural setting. She is of course as comfortable in a farm as she is onstage. There is nothing that she cannot envision, little that is beyond her. Have I used the word 'flawless' too often to describe her? I'll use another then, peerless!

We decided to head into the countryside and create images as we found spaces. This patch of land is near the home of Alejandro's son. It is left open for the animals of the small town to graze, and we can usually find cows and horses for example early in the morning. This image was made by Alejandro during the first hour of light, as I was photographing her with the analog system.

In order to make these images, we picked her up at 6:15 in the morning. She was of course ready, waiting for us next to the living room window. While Alejandro and I were struggling to open our eyes, she entered the car with a burst of energy. We chalked up the difference to youth on her part, rather than our age.

To write the least, I cannot wait for the film images to be finished in two weeks!

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Refugee + Pond, Uttar Pradesh, India, November of 2013

This is one face the crowd will see, this is one expression that is undeniable!

This young spirit lives in a refugee camp just outside of my host's village. Her family escaped the horrors of the sectarian violence in her home town, and they have found some solace in this region of Uttar Pradesh. The locals have given their lands for their use, and the families have done the best that they can do, made simple homes and have begun finding work.

The circumstances are dire, since even the people living in this region are quite poor and live life hand to mouth on a daily basis. So we can only imagine how hard it must be for this exquisite child, and others in the camp.

The only thing separating the family from the elements is a thin sheet of plastic covering their sleeping space. While the scene is quite beautiful naturally, schools are non-existent and the basics are luxuries.

Access to medicine is as illusionary as the safety of the water in the distance. I cannot express sufficiently with words the extent of their hardships, and hope that this image begins the conversation more clearly.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Peerless One at the Beach, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, Summer of 2013

In two weeks the film from Cuba will be ready to be collected from DC. Until then, I can only imagine the possibilities through the digital copies. For all of the sessions, a digital camera was mounted adjacent to the analog system. With this setup it was possible to duplicate the film image and see the results immediately. In addition, we were able to print albums for the families and let them see the fruits of their hard work.

Those of you familiar with my work know my thoughts regarding the young dancer in this image. She is both peerless and flawless, and accounted for more images than the next three on the island. Whatever she does she does exceptionally. She is ready for us before we arrive, as early as 6:00 in the morning. The only light on in the entire apartment building will be hers in the morning, and we normally see her from a distance peering through the curtains as she hears our car's diesel engine approaching.

She is aware of my work in India, and sends her love through her gesture below. As she enters her teenage years, I marvel at her curiosity. She is changing rapidly, yet her interest in the photography is absolute. As my friend Alejandro likes to tell it: She was born for it, as she was born for dance.

Just when I think that she needs to have some rest from the work and give her a day or so, it becomes abundantly clear to me that all she wants to do is to ride with us, to go into the countryside, to go to the beach and to just create!

When we do pick her up, this young girl less than a third of my age rides along with us without a chaperon. What a trio we are: a ballerina, a farmer and a dentist in a 1954 Chevrolet!

Any categories disappear when we are together, and it just feels as natural as any arrangement I have ever experienced. She is the reason I return to the island, and will be for the foreseeable future.

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Young Girl + Refugee Camp, Uttar Pradesh, India, December of 2013

This morning she made her debut outside of her camp, during a practice run in front of the TEDx Talk committee at CSU. While my presentation needed to be polished and extended a bit, she was flawless and clearly moved the committee as shared with me after the talk.

This young girl presently lives in a refugee camp just inside Uttar Pradesh coming from Delhi. Her family escaped the violence in their village early last year, and have found some peace in this predominantly Muslim region. The local villagers have provided their land for the construction of humble structures, and some have permanently handed over the deeds to these spaces for more permanent structures.

Below is pictured the communal bathroom shared by perhaps six homes. We can just imagine how the girls and women of this most conservative society view this option, an option that is basically closed to them during daylight hours. 

Zakat Foundation of India is making progress in these camps, has constructed bathrooms in a few of them and wells for drinking water in almost all. While there is an unimaginable long way to go, steps are being made to correct the wrongs she has experienced in her young life. Her portrait is proof enough for me that she will endure, that she will rise above the foolishness and that she will flourish.

Note: These images were made with a Hasselblad analog system, onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Banjara + Home, Rajasthan, India, November of 2013

From my first day in rural India up until my most recent visit, the Banjara Community has taken a hold of my imagination. They have enchanted me, through their incredible independence and deeply moving ability to survive. The girls wear the most beautiful, pleated skirts while the women put on magnificent bracelets and metal adornments. Here is a child sitting in front of her home, in a remote village at least an hour from any road. It took us some time to get there, and the sun was less than ideal. At least I have this portrait, and this expression!

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/120 mm lens combination, onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Student + Shawl, 2014 International Day of the Girl Child, Rajasthan, India, November of 2013

Hers is the face of girls everywhere today, International Day of the Girl Child. She lives in the beautiful state of Rajasthan, among other beautiful spirits with access to education thanks to a collaboration with Humana People to People India. This is the face of determination, this is the expression which will put to rest any doubt of the Girl Child. A revolution is underway in her village, and in countless others just like hers!

Three Students + The Sky, Haryana, India, Late 2006

Earlier this morning two young girls from Delhi asked for their photographs from six years ago, and it got me to look through the folder from that year. So many years have passed and these children have never been visited by me since that first year. My time with the foundation decreased and their school happened to be a few hours from the capital.

I wonder what has happened to them? Have they continued their education?

One year we did visit their school intending to photograph them, only to find out that they had taken a field trip to Delhi to visit a museum. It looks like we crossed paths on the road between the city and their school. A lack of communication was to blame, since the people from the foundation failed to contact the school in advance.

Now a Turkish organization has purchased the school and transformed it incredibly. There is a playground, a computer lab and the buildings have been refreshed with a wonderful color scheme. I will visit the school next year, and look for these very children.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Student + Seven Years Apart, Rajasthan, India, Humana People to People India, 2006 + 2013

In honor of this year's Nobel Peace Prize recipients this diptych is shared. Once in a while the powers that be do the right thing and have chosen wisely with Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi. By choosing these two incredibly important individuals the committee has shed much needed light on the education of girls, the plight of child laborers and the tragedy of child prostitution the world over.

The young girl below has beaten the odds in her village, and is now enrolled in a local university. She continues to help her family at home while attending classes at the same time. These two images were made seven years apart, yet one can see her irrepressible spirit even at such a tender age.

Although I met her briefly, her name has remained etched in my mind: Rekha. So I looked up its meaning this evening and smiled from ear to ear upon reading the screen.

Rekha, is a Sanskrit word, meaning line. There are various figurative meanings of the name Rekha. Some are:

The written lines of the Vedas --the visual rendering of the text itself—considered sacred and beautiful as the means by which the tradition is preserved.

Lines of light such as the radiance of the sun, moon or the halo of a deity.

She is certainly 'the visual rendering of the text itself!'

The TEDx audience will see her face in two weeks, and hear her story.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mursi Man + Ornaments, Mago National Park, Lower Omo Valley, March of 2010

His portrait was made early one morning in Mago National Park, almost four years ago in the Lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia.

The night before we slept near a stream and under a large tree. For our dinner, we had corn from the previous day and some canned tuna. While we slept, a guard from the park services department watched out for us along with some men from his tribe, the very tribe we intended to photograph the next morning.

The reason for the decision to camp was based on the amount of gas remaining for the trip. Sleeping near the tribe allowed us to eliminate the arduous trek over the mountain range and also lessened the wear and tear on the truck, as well as the driver.

Clouds, for some reason in the land of sunshine, decided to appear on the horizon just as the sun was shining most beautifully this entire week. Sleep was hard to find all night because of this. Every once in a while, I unzipped the small tent and looked up at the skies only to see stars. Then I went back to sleep only to repeat this a few times during the night.

In the morning, before the sun came up, I checked on the sky one more time, saw only stars. Excitement built and we decided to move quickly. We packed all of our gear, placed it on top of the truck and headed to the village only a minute or so away.

Opposite to what most people told us, a tribe that was supposed to be most difficult was in actuality more than gentle. We began with the girls, then the women and then the older men. During this morning's session, a large cloud appeared out of nowhere unexpectedly and seemed to be moving in the same direction and with the same speed as the sun.

With the previous five days in mind, I almost decided to put everything away and give up. The translator told me to be patient, told me that the sun will reappear in less than one hour. In the end, he was right. The sun did reappear and even though it was higher and stronger than before, the people were able to stand up and collaborate beautifully.

We finished on a high note and moved on to the next tribe, until our return next year hopefully.

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

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Timothy + Fabric + Wind, Palmdale, California, Fall of 2012

These images have remained dormant since they were made almost three years ago just outside of Los Angeles, California. I met this young man through a modeling website, yet our collaboration was completely spontaneous. After a morning session with a dear friend at Mormon Rocks, we talked to Timothy and found out that he was free for the afternoon. I turned to Magdalena and she showed serious interest in hanging out for the rest of the day with us, and so we decided to drive out to meet Timothy near his sister's home.
He had taken the time out of his day to walk up a mountain nearby and send us images of the view. We were enchanted with the images, and the fact that he did this for us. We picked him up and drove to the location, and up the mountain for the afternoon. The wind was dramatic and lent its character to the images below. This is the first time he is seeing these, and I hope that he is as thrilled as I am.