Sunday, March 29, 2015

Young Girl + Slum Community, Rural ConneXtion Foundation, Jaipur, India, March 29, 2015

As we pulled into the slum yesterday with Sombeer Singh Summy and parked the car in order to talk with some of the families, a thin girl appeared and walked past the front of the car. She caught my eye for less than a second, but from her form I immediately knew that she was the one… immediately asked Sombeer to speak with her regarding a portrait.

We went ahead and walked to his students' homes and spoke with the families first, then asked the mother of the students to inquire regarding this young girl. On our way back to the car she did so as a few of the girls gathered around her to hear about the stranger's request. It is unimaginable for me, to be asked for my portrait by someone just driving into my neighborhood. It is even more so under the circumstances, as this young girl lives across from a concrete factory under the worst possible conditions.

This is what made her family's reaction to our request that much more remarkable. When we arrived this morning she was ready at sunrise, and walked with the rest of us to an abandoned temple for her portrait. We waited for the clouds to disappear, and then started with her incredibly poignant expressions. She never wavered, allowed me to expose two rolls, waited for two others to be photographed, and walked back to the front of the camera for another roll… all without a single word.

She allowed me to arrange her hair, to guide her regarding her body position without flinching once. I was and am now in awe of her, and am proud to have made her portrait this morning… even more so after being informed by Sombeer that Rural ConneXtion Foundation wants to open a school in the center of her neighborhood and will do so should funding be organized.

Anyone interested? This is the real face of girl education… this is the true story of a girl and a community in need and we as a community can make a sincere difference in her life.

As we finished our work, she walked back to her home and we packed up our things. As we drove out of the area, we noticed another girl and I asked Sombeer once again for a portrait. Without hesitating we walked out of the car to ask, and it o happened that the young girl was this one's sister. She agreed as did her friends, and we set up for a quick fifteen minute session. This time though this young girl was smiling so much, proud of being photographed before and recognizing us as perhaps less than strangers.

We have arranged to photograph her again this morning, and I cannot wait to see the difference!

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2 just yesterday.

Young Student + Home, Humana People to People India, Jaipur, India, 2015

Yesterday we are here with Ashook and his wonderful team at Humana People to People India near the slums of Jaipur, where they do incredible work with and for the communities nearby. They have been working in this area for the past six years and have had great success with children otherwise lacking a chance for an education.
Rather than making photographs in the school, we ventured into the neighborhood for some photography, and were greeted by the most beautiful students in their own homes. This is an honor I have otherwise lacked during my previous visits, and feels just right.
Who says that a girl in a slum needs to be photographed with garbage all around her? Who says that she wants to be photographed in such a way?
Here, the girls chose their outfits and their positions, as well as their expressions. This young girl was a natural, truly a vibrant example of what it means to be human in the most difficult of circumstances.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Migrant + Slum, Humana People to People India, Gurgaon, India, March of 2015

Today we spent the morning with the Humana People to People India team in the Amar Colony of Gurgaon, India. The team was incredibly dedicated, met me in front of the slum as the sun appeared over the horizon, then walked with me through a field of garbage as far as the eye can see until we arrived to the center of the slum. The families were more than receptive, offered a bench for our tools and organized the girls first for the morning of photography.

Humana People to People India is running a Step Up Center in this colony for its children, and after the images were made I witnessed first-hand the children in their classes. A local has offered the space without charge, and it also happens to be a temple with the kindest of holy men present. As the children recited their lessons, his facial expressions were worthy of his status in the society.

She was one of the last to be photographed, as we put our gear away to move onto the temple. She was magnificent, truly powerful in her presentation. I look forward to seeing her images later, and to presenting her story to the corporation in charge of the funding to continue this incredible work.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Young Boy + Home, Gurgaon, Haryana, March 18, 2015

Yesterday was spent with Humana People to People India once again in Gurgaon, India. We visited a slum just outside the city and witnessed the lives of that 'other half.' They lived under the most difficult circumstances like the boy in this image, three walls to his house and a dirt floor without access to the most basic of human rights.

They allowed us to make portraits of their children, first the boys in their homes and then the girls just next to the neighborhood. Every step we made through their extremely polluted alley produced hundred of flies into the air. The children were covered with them, and seemed to almost ignore the constant attacks. The smell was yet another sensation that overwhelmed me at first, then made me feel quite embarrassed since these children deal with such on a daily basis.

I admire the work being done by Humana People to People and its teams all around the world on behalf of these beautiful, strong people.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Young Woman + Migrant, Humana People to People India, Gurgaon, India, March 17, 2015

This morning we thought that we'd never find her, then experienced yet another magical moment when she was revealed to us once again. For a few of you she might be familiar, for the rest this is her first time in front of you. Yesterday the teachers from her local school were shown her photograph and believed almost for certain that she had moved on since her family has been displaced for economic reasons from West Bengal, India.

I however just believed that she was still there, and when the other students were in front of us I showed an album with her photograph included. Immediately about five little hands went up and pointed to the left, just where I had insisted she was two years ago.

One of them was sent to call for her and she returned knowing full well that I was looking for her. Her expression was priceless as she remembered the moment her portrait was made at the end of 2013.

Well this morning we had our chance to remake her portrait, as the heavy fog lifted to show a beautiful, blue sky. She was as magnificent this year as she was one and a half years ago, even more so. Her family belongs to a community of laborers working in the Gurgaon area, right under the skyscrapers housing the richest of corporations. They struggle day in and day out to support themselves, and have had some help over the past three years thanks to Humana People to People India and the academy for working children in their neighborhood.


Note: This image was made just this morning with a Sony RX100M2.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Two Boys + Migrants, West Bengal to Haryana, India, March 16, 2015

Today was my first day of photography with Humana People to People India for this year. Although we've worked together since 2006, the first time is often a rough one and today was along this line. Having barely slept since my arrival, the equipment was still in chaos, and the well-meaning team has other thoughts regarding my arrival. In the end we arrived to the same page and have organized a plan for the rest of this week.

We however exposed two rolls today, a good start. For our first expedition we returned to Gurgaon and my work with the migrants from the eastern portions of India. This specific community is from West Bengal and have moved to Gurgaon in search of work and opportunity. They live in a small shantytown under the shadows of some of the wealthiest corporations in the country. They are the faces of those laboring to put the skyscrapers up, and to wash the clothes of the newly arrived middle-class.

For some time now the Humana People to People movement in India, in collaboration with Nokia, has supported a center of learning along with five satellites specifically tailored for these communities. While the children do toil away as ragpickers, they have had, at least through this program, a chance to gain an education otherwise well out of reach under the circumstances. The buildings are supplied with computer rooms, while the teachers are as enthusiastic as any from my experience.

As a side note, I went to this spot first looking for a specific face… and after much misunderstanding and disappointment, she was found and will be shown tomorrow I do hope!

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Refugee + Wall of Fabric, Uttar Pradesh, India, November of 2013

Through the generosity of my friends Shari and John, this young girl found a new home this past weekend. In contrast to the peaceful environment in which her portrait will hang, she lives in a refugee camp located planets away from her original village. She and her community were forced to move out of their homes due to a storm of violence falsely perpetrated by some in the name of religion.

She now lives without running water, without electricity, without a school, without a bathroom, without medicine and without privacy as this image illustrates. We were walking within the camp as the sun rose to an almost unbearable height for portraits. This young girl and her friends were following us around, and we happened to be in their part of the camp when we thought about doing something different.

We asked her to stand behind the 'wall' of the tent, and she accepted without hesitation. We exposed a few frames as she listened to her friends' giggles, then thanked her and moved further up the camp. In this image, as in her life, the fabric is the only barrier between her and the environment, her only protection against a world often times cruel in nature.

The camps are located in Uttar Pradesh, and I look forward to visiting them once again with my dear friend Asrar. When asked about when we could visit these camps, this good man only responds in this way: we are working for humanity. This is the same answer he gives whenever I ask to go anywhere with him. So I have accepted this with humility and hope to do as he says in a week or so.

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

Young Girl + Necklace, Banganga, Rajasthan, India, November of 2013

There is a village in India in which I can see spending much of my time. It is called Banganga and is situated in the beautiful state of Rajasthan. It has been the site of countless memories since 2006 and the families trust me enough to hang out with the children unsupervised… quite a remarkable thing in rural India or anywhere else actually.

Presently we have one school for around thirty girls, and the teacher happens to be this little girl's aunt. As her uncle likes to say, she is a 'naughty' girl, and is always getting into trouble. She is however a most gentle spirit and always sits by my side whenever we get a chance to relax. This is the smile she displays almost all of the time, and it was her cousin who had decorated my arm with mehndi in the most recent TEDx Talk.

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

Monday, March 9, 2015

Model + Singer, 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.

Note: Image made with a Sony RX100M2, edited for size and color only.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Young Student + Chalkboard, Humana People to People India, Haryana, India, 2014

After a successful weekend at Ten Thousand Villages with Laura Potter-Sadowski and team, here is a fitting testimonial from a student in one of our schools in Haryana, as supplied with a portrait from Humana People to People India. For those generous enough to contribute this weekend, you have my sincerest gratitude and that of this beautiful girl.

Pinky, a bright eyed, cheerful and carefree girl, from Ghasera village is 13 years old, and when asked the reason for not attending school, she cited distance as a major hindrance. On talking to her parents, they affirmed that distance is an issue, coupled with Pinky’s disinterest in studies. When the Centre staff coaxed her parents to send her to the Girls Bridge Education Centre, they were unsure of Pinky’s willingness to attend and continue. However, they took a chance by enticing her about the prospective friends and fun at the Centre and enrolled her.

Her previous education has helped her remember some number counting and the English alphabets. The teachers have been very tactful with her, as they kept her involved in drawings and games initially and when she started liking the place, they started with the teaching. Her inherent notoriousness comes at the forefront during the breaks, but she has grown sensible enough to be her decent self during teaching sessions. She is not a very quick learner but an otherwise creative child, who likes
to interact with all the children.

She has been attending the Centre for close to 9 months now, and her parents are happy that she hasn’t complained much about not attending the Centre and is spending her time in a constructive activity. They hope that she gradually becomes sincere in studies, which can help transform her life for better.

Note: Image and story courtesy of Humana People to People India.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Benefit + Ten Thousand Villages, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, March 6, 2015

Tonight this young girl received one of the best gift a child can ask for, a chance at a quality education. So many of my good friends, and family, came through this evening at Ten Thousand Villages and through their generosity one school is now funded for an entire year. We hope that many more will show up tomorrow and make this event even more successful!
To those present tonight, and your humble selves know your identities, I send my deepest gratitude through this portrait of a student presently attending classes near Virat Nagar, Rajasthan. This is the face that will be in my dreams tonight as I sleep well knowing we succeeded in making a difference in her world.
Thank you Laura at Ten Thousand Villages for allowing the images to be shown in your beautiful space!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Parmeena + Girls Bridge School, Mewat, Haryana, India, 2015

In time for this weekend's benefit for the girls' schools, Humana People to People India just sent this testimonial. She attends a Girls Education Centre in Mewat, Haryana… a predominantly Muslim region. This is her story, and I look forward to seeing her in less than two weeks.
Parmeena, the twelve year old daughter of Akhtar and Rahisan, lives in Ghasera village of Mewat. The belief that she has been brought up in a conservative environment was strengthened when the staff of Girls Bridge Education centre approached her parents and they flatly denied the need to educate her. However, with consistent efforts and support of other satisfied parents in the community, the staff could gradually convince them to enrol Parmeena at the Centre. She used to attend the Centre for half a day and then used to leave for her Urdu classes. It was tough with her as the teachers had to start from the scratch in every subject.
The staff started with the basics in every subject and she started catching up at a slower pace. Her parents paid regular visits to the Centre, to ensure whether she is really studying and is able to learn! It has been eleven months that she has been attending the Centre and has started doing basic arithmetic like addition/subtraction and is able to read small words in Hindi. The progress so far, has been able to convince her parents that their decision to send her to the centre was not wrong. She has also started devoting proper time to the Centre and has tweaked the timings of the Urdu classes, which is a fair indicator of her progress and the changed perception of the parents.