Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Face of Understanding, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Summer of 2008

Those of us truly understood by others will recognize this face, for this is the face of understanding. Some say that we are fortunate to meet one such person in our lifetimes, but it has been my experience that almost every single street on my travels has revealed this face to me. While every single street has also revealed much of the opposite, those of understanding are etched into my mind. The others just faded away as fast as they appeared.

This young girl has been present in my work since the first days. She is an economic refugee from Lebanon, and her family works in the fields as migrants. Her father also happens to be the Chief of the local community, and is the person to whom the Lebanese farmers go when they need workers for their fields. He is a brother to me and has always protected me from the dangers of photographing the girls. While he is traditional in his customs, he also is quite aware of my work and promotes it with his soft yet powerful guidance.

An example of this is what happened previous to this image. I had finished photographing the girls in his camp when he asked me to take his family to visit his eldest daughter. This came as a complete surprise to me, that he would put his complete trust in me and send his wife and girls with someone other than himself in a car. The shock was also evident on her face, as she loaded her younger sisters into the backseat of the car.

The entire time we drove I looked into the rearview and saw this exact expression, and had to concentrate on the road while also reveling in the moment. She never spoke a word, even as we arrived to her sister's house and she sat for this portrait. Here was a young girl living as a migrant from another land, living without running water and a toilet, showing me that she understood me perfectly, that she understood my purpose in her life with complete clarity.

Throughout the years we would play a game between us, whispering our thoughts somewhat out loud in the middle of the chaos around us, almost like we were moving in slow motion while everyone around us hurried along. These have been the most memorable for me, and tell me that it is time to visit Lebanon in 2015.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mariel - Head Piece, El Mirage Dry Lake Bed, Los Angeles, California, 2012

My last visit to California yielded one photographic session outside of my planned schedule, three hours with the exquisite Mariel. While we had never met in person prior to this session, the creative chemistry between us was evident from our first encounter, just outside of her apartment. She came out carrying this incredible head piece, along with an elegant, dark dress… both specifically for our session.

We drove almost two hours just to get to El Mirage Dry Lake Bed, and talked continuously the entire time. Her life fascinated me, as well as her attraction to the people in my portfolio. She had done everything from magazine covers to short films to advertisements, yet wanted to be next to the girls in my photographic library, girls without access to any of the above. This I admired about her then, and continue to admire to this day.

We arrived to the dry lake bed and were treated to a most peaceful scene, with very few people around. This left us to do as we wished, and photograph without interruption. She allowed me to expose over three dozen medium format rolls, and all of which yielded images of incredible beauty.

In January of next year, I hope to be in California for a benefit hosted by DiviniTree Yoga and Arts Studio in honor of Nirvanavan Foundation. I will once again reach out to Mariel and hope that we can once again collaborate at El Mirage, and be honored with the presence of her sister Marita as well.

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Helene + Yoga, Los Angeles, California, November of 2010

In advance of my collaboration with DiviniTree Yoga and Arts Studio, a triple image of my time with Helene is being shared. These images were made a few years ago just outside of Los Angeles, as we were forced to look for sunshine when the city was covered with nothing but a thick haze. With her kindness and trust, we drove an hour over the mountains and found a simple spot next to an industrial reservoir… an unlikely place for these images of serenity.

Helene however was a true professional and dealt with the cool winds coming from the valley, producing images of exquisite beauty and peace. She never complained once and only stopped when we were finished.

In January Ann and her team at DiviniTree Yoga and Arts Studio in Santa Barbara will hold a benefit featuring my work with Nirvana Bodhisattva and his foundation, Nirvanavan Foundation. We hope to raise awareness and funding for his schools, and have fun in the process. As the date nears I will post it for those near and far to come and show their support.

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Student + Nirvanavan Foundation, Alwar, Rajasthan, India, November of 2013

On this afternoon we walked through one of the villages associated with Nirvanavan Foundation in search of the students, but had some tough luck finding them. The sun was perfect, but it seemed that photographing them at the school was much easier than in the village. We made a few images in a couple of locations, and thought perhaps that we had finished for the afternoon as we were walking back to the office.

As we turned the corner to get back to the main road, this young girl caught my full attention. She was sitting in front of her house along with her mother. They were taking care of some chores when she saw me in return. She was of course quite shocked, wondered about this stranger in the middle of her out-of-the-way village. My friends from the foundation were also surprised that she caught my attention so fully, and even more so at my request to photograph her. Nonetheless they pushed forward and asked the mother's permission to do so.

Since the men were also from these villages, the family agreed readily and we set up to make her portrait. The entire time I could only think of her face and nothing else. The environment attracted me little, neither did the texture of her clothing. What engaged me were her features and how she assembled them to form the most incredible expressions.

Here was a girl never in the presence of a camera, even more so such a stranger… yet she was able to in a spontaneous instant put herself in front of the lens without any hesitation whatsoever. Rather than the usual setup, a lens extension was added to the camera to allow such a close portrait. The only subject in the viewfinder for me the entire time was her face, this was all my eyes could see as she shared her expressions.

Afterwards we made a few snapshots in front of her family's house, bid our farewell and returned to the main building five or so minutes away. What continues to amaze me with the people in these portraits is their willingness to be a part of the intangible, without asking for anything in return. They offer themselves fully and with such love, trust and kindness. One moment she's helping her mother with chores, the next she is standing in front of a complete stranger to make a photographic record of her existence for generations to come.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Young Student + Enlightenment, Humana People to People India, Banganga, Rajasthan, India, December of 2013

This young girl's face is the face that changed my mind regarding one of the schools reopened last year. On my visits to her village late last year, it seemed quite a challenge to get the girls together in order to document their stories. The teacher and her family had always been very dear to me, but something had changed over the years. They were still very fond of me, and likewise from my end. However the dynamic between the teacher's family and that of her sister's family had changed, leading to some tension almost invisible to someone like myself, someone from the outside.

This resulted in the teacher doing less than the usual to get the students together during my visits. During one such visit which also happened to be my last, we arrived early in the morning to find nobody organized, and the teacher reacting less than enthusiastically to our vision. This, in addition to the previous experiences, brought great disappointment to me, made me question my desire to help reopen the school in this village, one of my favorites in Rajasthan.

The teacher saw clearly my disappointment and realized that perhaps our relationship was slipping away as we walked back to the van. Something changed in her immediately. It was at this moment that she asked her daughters to collect the younger girls and bring them to her home. They did as their mother asked and the younger students were gathered in their school uniforms. This young girl was one of the students standing in front of me that cool morning, pure innocence and absolute love, while the teacher asked me to go back to her home.

For the sake of these beautiful girls, I put my stuff down and took the time to photograph them. This portrait was from that very morning, and helped us move forward almost immediately.

We of course spoke very little of each other's language and the teacher decided to call the leader at Humana for help. He was located in Jaipur but took the time to listen to each of us and provide us with his guidance in order for the school to be reopened according to plan. While our relationship had changed dramatically last year, it is perhaps even stronger now… or at least clearer.

I look forward to seeing this young girl in March, and to learning that the school had made a difference in her life. This alone would make up for the troubles described above, and a dozen more indeed.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm lens with a close-up attachment onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

#india   #rajasthan   #girlrising   #girlpower   #monochromeworld   #monochromephotography   #ethnographicstudies   #hasselblad   #portraitphotographer   #documentaryphotographer  +Halim Ina 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Girl + Hands on Belly, International Children's Day, Rajasthan, India

This image is being shared in honor of International Children's day, celebrated today in India. A young girl places her hands gently over her belly, embracing herself and our future as well.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

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

After we finished photographing the girls formally, we walked around and made some spontaneous images. The refugees in this camp had escaped ethnic violence just a few months earlier, and such could be felt through the expressions on the faces. In this image a young girl stood in front of her home, with this fragile fence as her protection. She lived without electricity, running water, education and medicine.

This is the face of those enduring the effects of violence the world over, she is the one that suffers while those with power wage campaigns to maintain their position. She will never understand what brought her to this place, what forced her family to abandon its home hundreds of miles away to live like refugees. We have a long way to go before we can hold our heads up high in her presence.

In My Country, John Mikhail Asfour, Montreal, Canada

In my Country
     The ash tree, the oak tree, and the cedar
     Grow together.
They live and stand strong before the storms,
Their branches touch and their roots join each other,
They cast their shade upon the land and receive the sun
     As the sun rises.
In my country
     The tiger, the lion, and the wolf
     Dwell in the same forest.
They hunt together, and in the night
They guard their young from strangers.
They drink from the same stream
     And roam the same valley.
In my country
     The eagle, the hawk, and the canary
     Fly and circle the sky together.
They build their nests on the same hill and in the same tree.
They sing, play, and they eat from the same field.
In my country
     It is my people,
     Only my people,
Who kill and murder each other.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Young Girl + Kanjar Community, Rajasthan, India, 2013

She is surrounded on a daily basis by the tentacles of the sex trade. She watches as men from the nearby villages walk through her village and with her sisters, aunts and cousins. She endures this reality every single day of her life, knows that the men in her village enable this trade, that her brothers, cousins and uncles do the bidding for their forced labor.

In the middle of all of this her portrait was made last year with Nirvana and his team at Nirvanavan Foundation. We guided the girls to the rooftop of the classroom and spent perhaps an hour making their portraits. This one struck my eyes immediately, and she knew it. Whatever she was wearing was secondary to me, it was her face that captured and never let go of my admiration. So I attached the close up tube to the camera and set my sights on her countenance.

Here was a girl whose eyes had seen the worst of humanity, yet shared nothing but its best with us on that rooftop. Her power overwhelmed me, and to have this portrait as a reminder of her presence means the world to me. I do hope that she is there next year and that the foundation will have the time to allow me one more visit to her village.

I also hope that the school has made further strides in this community, and that she has another path upon which to walk in the near future.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm lens with a close-up attachment, onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Boy + Slum, Delhi, India, November of 2013

One morning in Delhi I decided to go out on my own rather than taking anyone from the foundation with me. We visited this slum the day before, and I thought doing the same on my own the next day would be a little easier. WIthout telling anyone I walked to the slum, hesitated for a minute in front of its entrance and then started walking through its narrow alleys.

Although many believe that English is spoken by a good majority of people in India, nobody in this community spoke a word of it. What seemed to work was my willingness to come alone, gaining the trust of the inhabitants. I walked to the center of the slum where a tea shop was set up, as well as a small temple. Without exaggeration, the entrances to the homes were the height of a child. Adults would have to stoop down just to pass through the entrances.

While sitting around with the men, I noticed this young boy watching from a distance. Immediately I was moved by his appearance along with his expression. With gestures I asked his father for permission to photograph him, and his father accepted kindly. Just at this moment a young man from the previous day stepped forward. He spoke a little bit of English, and was sweet enough to translate between us.

He told me that doctors had seen this boy, and advised that the skin would heal with time. The appearance was quite severe, as this peeling was evident from head to toe. Although this young boy must have been in some physical distress, he was quite brave and stood with strength for his portrait.

Back home I did a little bit of research on this condition, and realized that his skin would never heal, that he had a form of skin disorder which lacks a cure. The only relief that the medical community can offer this young boy is a lotion to ease the cracking, to provide some sense of comfort.

Since however he lives in this slum, he lacks access to such. This week his portrait will be sent to the pharmaceutical company producing the ointment so as to solicit their support. We can only hope they will be as moved, and act.

Note: These images were made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm lens onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO Film using natural light only.

#india   #monochromeworld   #monochromephotography  #hasselblad   #neopanacros100   #slum   #portraiture  #portraitphotographer  +Halim Ina 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Idols, John Mikhail Asfour, Land of Flowers and Guns

This poem, along with many others from "Land of Flowers and Guns," affected me deeply as a young man. The subject matter was close to me, as well as the author of the works. This is yet another reminder that John remains with us.


At the beginning it was Father,
For Father was a farmer, and I grew up on a farm
     Under the shade of the magnolia tree,
     Near the ever-running spring,
And I also played with the birds and animals on the farm.

     Then it was the Church, 
     For the Church was not far from my house,
And my mother made me visit it practically every Sunday.

     Later it was my Country,
For my Country has four seasons, and trees and blue skies.

     Much later it was She,
She who touched my life and body with her fingers,
     Whose eyes came to look upon me,
     And whose hair left a scent in my nostrils.

By now I have discovered that Father is a man,
     The Church has changed,
     My Country is destroyed,
     And She has cut her hair.

by John Mikhail Asfour

PS The image chosen is of a young woman living in the Bekaa Valley, a tribute to John's childhood in Lebanon. His hometown, also that of my Father, is less than one hour's drive from where she lives now. Her hair reminds me of the woman in the piece above. My hope is that she has yet to cut hers.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Elegy, John Mikhail Asfour, Cousin + Poet

This past week a shining light in our community, in my family, was dimmed for the last time. While John may have passed away, his words remain with us. This is a piece called 'Elegy.'
Write me an elegy,
Write my country an elegy,
     For my country is dead
     And I am gone.
Stab me, that I may bleed,
Shoot me, shoot all the shame, the anger and the mockery
     I live in.
Write me an elegy,
     Write of the dead.
How they die unprepared, unaware
Of the futility of their death.
Write of the women blinded with their tears,
Of the children carrying flowers to their fathers' graves,
And write of the brides who had no time to bid their lovers farewell.
And finally, write of a man
     Sitting behind his desk,
     Holding his pen,
     Staring at his notes,
     Having a debate with his god
     About the injustice of his world.
Write me an elegy,
Write my country an elegy.
     The land is full of the dead,
     There is no place to bury more.
Write me an elegy and let me perish.
Let me die next to those who have perished.
     My blood shall nourish the earth,
     My grave shall grow a tree.
I die, and my country also dies.
The mountains fall, the stars fall,
     And the sun burns off.
by John Mikhail Asfour
Some of his accomplishment are recorded in Wikipedia as follows:
John Asfour (Arabic: جون عصفور) (born in 1945 in Aitaneat, Lebanon) (died in 2014 in Montreal, Canada) was a Lebanese-Canadian poet, writer, and teacher. At the age of 13, a grenade exploded in his face injuring his eyes during the Lebanese crisis of 1958.
He moved to Canada in 1968. He is a former professor of literature residing in Montreal, Canada.
He is the author of 5 volumes of poetry in English, and two in Arabic, he has selected, edited and translated into English the landmark anthology 'When the Words Burn: An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry' and co-authored with Alison Burch a volume of selected poems by Muhammad al-Maghut entitled 'Joy is not my Profession.'
In 2005 and 2007, he organized and held two conferences on Arab Immigrants, their rights and duties for the Ministry of Immigration of Quebec.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ballerina + Sky, Santa Maria del Mar, La Habana, Cuba, Summer of 2013

She is a goddess, and at her altar I bow with my camera in praise. 

Just today I received a second message from her mother in Cuba. In the first message gratitude was expressed for the photographs, for our time together and for the friendship formed this past summer between us. In my response, I described her daughter as a star which guides me at night, a star two which I look constantly for inspiration.

Her response is shared below, first in Spanish followed by the translation. The book to which she refers affected me deeply in my youth as well, and shows how two people in two different worlds can have such similar paths. To have photographed her daughter was an honor without compare, to have been given such a privilege is what takes me away to these places. I have in these people seen the true face of love. It is the love which eludes so many, yet is right there to be grasped.

"Halim, sus palabras me han conmovido y me han recordado un libro que guardo con mucho amor desde pequeña, "El Principito" escrito por Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Es un libro de amor y de amistad. Un libro que también habla de las estrellas que ríen como cascabeles porque nos recuerdan a un amigo, y así es, las distancia es burlada, cuando sentimos que el cielo es nuestro techo, el techo de todos y una estrella nos refleja el alma de un amigo. Entonces es dulce en las noches mirar al cielo…"

"Halim, your words have moved me and I recalled a book that I save with much love since little, "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It is a book of love and friendship. A book that speaks of the stars that laugh like bells because they remind us of a friend, and as such, the distance is overcome, when we feel that the sky is our roof, the roof of each and a star shows us the soul of a friend. So sweet at night looking at the sky…"

When someone wonders, "why do you visit the island every year?" I point to this image, and to the words above.

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

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

When we arrived to the largest camp, just so happened to be our first camp last November, my brother Asrar told me to get out of the car, walk down into the camp, set my camera up and be ready to photograph the most incredible faces. With little hesitation I did as he asked, and set my gear up while dozens and dozens of people started gathering around me. 

A few minutes later he met me in the center of the camp, and asked: 'which face would you like?' I told him that I would describe the clothes of the person without pointing, and that he would slowly look their way without much notice and then ask them to come forward. We did this so as to maintain a calm atmosphere, for this community had just a few months earlier escaped incredible hardships in their hometown.

What amazed me the most was that the men allowed us to photograph the girls. They helped us actually, and supported our work for the next hour. One by one I described the colors of their fabrics, and one by one the girls stepped up to the camera. They broke many barriers in doing so, from gender to societal. In front of dozens of men and boys, they held their own for as much as five minutes in front of the lens. This affected me almost as much as the circumstances behind their present state of life.

Just as we were almost finished photographing the young girls, the older women stepped up and wanted to be photographed. This detail Asrar shared with me, thinking that perhaps I was finished for the afternoon. I responded with much enthusiasm, thinking that the women would never allow me to photograph them. I was so wrong, and happily so.

We photographed five or six women, with this portrait being one example. Their presence in front of the camera inspired me deeply, and I hoped at the time that the younger girls were watching intently. I tried to imagine these women as young girls, how their lives must have been, what they had experienced months earlier in their villages and how they are going to put the pieces back together for the sake of their families all over again just now.

In March I look forward to visiting the camps once again with Asrar, and hope that the temporary housing has been transformed to more permanent structures, that toilets have been constructed and that a school has begun for the children.

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

#india   #uttarpradesh   #sectarianconflict   #sectarianviolence  #monochromeworld   #monochromephotography   #girlrising  #girlpower   #hasselblad   #filmphotography   #portraitphotographer +Halim Ina 

Julia + Session with Patrick, Cleveland, Ohio, October 31, 2014

After two months of talk preparations, a day of pure creativity was enjoyed with an incredibly creative team headed by my cousin Patrick. Under his leadership, a group of hairstylists, makeup artist and models was organized for today and clothing gathered from a local clothing designer/shop. We used the space next to Dominic's restaurant thanks to his generosity, and spent the day creating beautiful images in line with this one of Julia.

Note: This image was made with a Sony D750 and 85mm 1.4 lens, edited for size and contrast only.