Monday, February 29, 2016

Best of Friends, Kanjar Community, Nirvanavan Foundation, Alwar, Rajasthan, India, 2016

All it took was one suggestion and the girls took to it instantly. We thought it a good idea to ask the girls to do something different for their portraits, to show their love for each other during the photography. Two girls did so immediately and the rest was as they say history.

Two girls after two girls displayed sisterly love in their own way, from the palm of the hands against the cheeks to elbows on shoulders. It was wonderful to see such abandon, to see the young women in my India work act with such freedom. All approaches are appreciated of course, but something about this afternoon touched me deeply.

Here were girls living in a community rooted deep in the sex trade, attending classes in the school offered courageously by the team at Nirvanavan Foundation, showing the world that hope does exist, that another future will be theirs from this point forward. The girls fully understand the reality around them, yet displayed an unrivaled joy this afternoon proving to me that change is around the corner.

Nirvana and his team are doing incredible work in these villages, as they have been given unprecedented access to the children. The teachers come from nearby villages, and do so at the risk of alienating themselves from their own families.

The courage cannot be overstated, and is on all sides of this social equation. Such expressions as the ones displayed here cannot be denied, and cannot be suppressed. They are the future of these communities, and hopefully the beginning of the demise regarding the type of work demanded of the young women.

My hope is that the young boys also in class will see their sisters in a different way, and lead the revolution. This is a lesson I learned a long time ago from Nirvana, that the boys are as important and even more so should change be the desire.

So on this day we also photographed the boys in the same way, and asked them to also show their own styles. They also jumped at the chance and the mood was palpable. Let's hope that these two young women walk a different path, and that in ten years their children are being photographed in the same way, yet in a different environment... free and full of potential.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3 with natural light only.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Young Student + Corner Shop, Nirvanavan Foundation, Rajasthan, India, 2016

A few days ago as we were walking out of the village a few of the foundation's students were hanging out by the family's shop. They shared their smiles of recognition, allowing us to take a few minutes to make their spontaneous portraits. They sat down on a small stool in front of the shop, and let us snap a few images of them near their home rather than at the school. This young girl was one of three to be photographed.

The team at Nirvanavan Foundation is doing incredible work here. They have managed to build more than a school in the midst of five or so villages. The children attending these schools have an air about them, as they go through the first period of non-activity and then create art during the period of joy. The place is surreal at times to me, with geese waltzing around and birds flying through the classrooms as they bring food for their young in the nests above.

The main school is called Advaita Garden, and spans pre-school to eight grade. The children all have uniforms supplied by the foundation, and now can take the foundation's new bus to school from the villages. It is really a remarkable feat, one which impresses me continuously to this day.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3 with available light.

Young Boy + Kanjar Community, Nirvanavan Foundation, India, 2016

I present this portrait as a follow-up to the previous post, as he is a young boy from the same community as the two young woman. He will one day decide the fate of his sister, and perhaps his community.

Here he stands in front of a home locked for the season, with the family on a surreal vacation. They have gone to the big cities to present their daughters to the sex trade. They have left behind the younger children under the care of Nirvanavan Foundation, as Nirvana and his team have arranged a hostel to take care of the children daily. They provide classes as well as two meals a day for the time being.

Nirvana and his team are seeking to build a permanent structure for these children and it is my aim to help on my end to make this happen. Anyone affected by this post, and the earlier one, may also help make this happen through this collaboration... just send me a note and we'll brainstorm.

What will this boy and his brothers decide? Will they continue to place their sisters into the sex trade? Will they continue to earn their living from the services their sisters provide? Will they perhaps go another way? Will the classes held by Nirvana and his foundation have their intended effect?

My hope is that he and his brothers see another way. The obstacles are great, as seen by their lavish homes in the midst of rural India. Their earthly profits are substantial, without the men working a single day in the fields as their neighbors do on a daily basis. The temptations are almost insurmountable... yet I believe that this boy has the potential to overcome.

This is my hope, and what keeps me coming to Nirvanavan Foundation over and over again.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3 with the courageous help of Mukesh Poswal.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Friends + Embrace, Nirvanavan Foundation, Gajuki Village, Rajasthan, India, 2016

This past week we visited an old village from my collaboration with Nirvana and his team at Nirvanavan Foundation. This community is outside of the mainstream system, and the foundation has decided decades ago to embrace it. The community is known to most in the area due to their immersion in the sex trade, as they send their girls to the bigger cities to work in the hotels and bars.

The Kanjar Community is dispersed all over Rajasthan, and located many times near the highways, close to the routes of the truckers as well. Some of their girls are sent as far away as UAE, disguised as housemaids and caretakers of livestock.

The team has taken it upon itself to set up schools in a dozen of these villages, attempting to break this vicious cycle. The children see another way of life through the teachers and, while the topic of the sex trade is never brought up, the idea is that education will bring about change. The boys and girls are included in the schools, for the boys will grow up to be the ones to make the decisions for the girls

In this image perhaps we see two girls living in a village, showing sisterly affection to each other and nothing else. In fact it is exactly that, and nothing more. The fact that they come from this community or another means very little, and my mention of such is to only further the education of those outside of this system in order to help abolish it.

I hope to return to this school to make more images, for the girls were truly affectionate and kind. They welcomed us with open arms, as did the community in spite of the fact that letting us in also lets in change. My hope is that this change comes soon enough for this generation, rather than later.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Young Student + Wall, Nirvanavan Foundation, Rajasthan, India, 2016

Today we visited one of two schools for girls and were delighted to be welcomed by so many familiar faces. The past ten days have been nothing short of heaven, seeing the good work of the foundation and seeing the schools flourishing for the sake of these beautiful girls. 

Seeing the girls writing on their black tablets, and thewomen sitting down to learn sewing brings it all back home for me. Today we dropped off five sewing machines, thanks to the generosity of Farida and her beautiful family. The women were beyond delighted at the sight of the new machines, and put them to use immediately.

Tomorrow we will visit the same village and interview the women, and record their stories photographically and through video.

Later this afternoon we visited our second school in the area, and photographed the same students from last year.. and many more. For this young student my camera waited an entire year, and was nothing short of trembling when she stepped out with this smile just a few hours ago.

This was our last photograph of the day, at least featuring our students. She stood in front of her neighbor's wall, as the sun set for the evening. The light was just perfect, as was her confident smile. Seeing her do so in front of thirty people inspires me to do even more to support the schools, to ask my family and friends to do the same.

The schools are working, and this young girl's smile says it all!

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Migrant Girl, Under the Train Station, Outskirts of Delhi, India, 2015

So the search begins this week for the faces from last year's work with Humana India, including this young girl living under a train station on the outskirts of Delhi. We visited this encampment last April in order to document the good work being done by the foundation, and were immediately seized by the incredible need present.

People lived in a tent city just under an immense bridge, with flies buzzing around everywhere. The children were playing on piles of garbage, and the sound from the traffic above was deafening at times. In the midst of all of this the most angelic faces were present, including this young girl.

Her face caught my attention as we drove up to the main building. She was standing next to a bench on which her family was sitting. I tried to maintain my composure but let it be known that she needed to be photographed as this was the smile she gave me when we passed by.

After we set up for our session an hour or so later, I once again made it clear to my friends that we needed to do so... but she was never told by our team. Almost in desperation I walked over to her area and asked one of my friends to come along. We asked about her since she was now gone, and she came forth with the most beautiful expression. She and her sister walked with us to our location a few dozen meters away, and we made this portrait of her.

Few young girls have such tattoos on their faces, as such practices are fading in India and in the Middle East as well. While I have seen such with the older women, such tattoos are rarely found on the younger generation. My initial impression of her was of course much more than the tattoo, as her features spoke volumes about the spirit inside.

Later this month I will visit this spot once again, and sincerely hope that she is present to speak once again through her expressions. At the same time, I do hope that her living condition has improved, and that she has found a better place to thrive. This is the nature of the work, to wish for the best regardless of the photographic outcome.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Friends + School, Nirvanavan Foundation, Rajasthan, India, 2015

In one week I will see these two women, and stand in this very courtyard. This happens to be the location of our school with Nirvanavan Foundation, run by our dear friend Nirvana and his team. The taller woman is the teacher's daughter, and used to be a student as well.

Now she helps her mother around the home, and is a role model for the younger girls in the village. She is strong, confident and graceful. Such a stance is almost unthinkable in rural India, especially from a young girl. Here she is however, having attended school as a young girl and raised by parents with an equal view of their daughter and son.

I love this home, and the family which receives us with open arms every single time. Her mother makes everything happen for me here, gets the girls to the class early enough to be photographed, and makes sure that all men and boys remain outside of the courtyard so that the girls will comfortable enough to be documented.

It is an oasis in an often-times difficult world for the girls of rural India, and countless other countries as well unfortunately. I however always leave this space with even more hope than the previous visit, and cannot wait to be there again perhaps even this weekend!

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Primavera by Rafael San Juan, La Habana, Cuba, Summer of 2015

As I was researching the story behind this sculpture, I ran across an incredible article through Arte Por Excelencias and have included it below. The piece is located in front of the hotel we used during our early visits, the Hotel Deauville. 

This past summer was my first viewing of this incredible face, and it took my breath away truly as few sculptures have done. With Alejandro's help, we arrived to the hotel around 9:30 and waited until the sun cleared the top of the hotel and gently touched her face. The image was difficult to make, because of the adjacent buildings and the strong angle of the sun.

So here she is, 'Primavera' by Rafael San Juan.


Article in Arte Por Excelencias:

A huge woman face looks to the sea from Havana’s Malecón and its creator, Cuban sculptor Rafael San Juan, announced that he was inspired by the movements and spirit of Cuban ballet dancer Viengsay Valdés. 

Seven months ago, the first dancer of the Cuban National Ballet, helped him to define the pose and form of the neck of Primavera (Spring), as he baptized the eight-meter high sculpture built with recycled steel that is being exhibited during the 12th Havana Biennial. 

To study Valdes’ movement transmitted the spirit of the piece and then, the explanation she gave me about her idea of the Cuban women captivated me. One of her suggestions was that it won’t look down, because women here are strong; they face work, problems, told San Juan to Prensa Latina. 

Due to this suggestion made by the famous dancer, the sculptor assures that although Primavera doesn’t reflect a specific face, but the conjunction of many, the sculpture spirit comes from Valdés, restless worker and admirable Cuban woman. 

The observation and exchange with several dancers form that company made San Juan to enhance his vision about the muscular movement however he has long been interested in the human body anatomy and remembered that when he was 18 years old, while accomplishing his military service, he asked a permission to enter the cemetery and to hold a human skull. Workers there were going to throw away many human remains into a common grave and when they knew about his unusual interest, encouraged him to take the whole bones of a human body that he keeps in his house under the name of Hector. To be able to set that skeleton he requested advice in a Medical School faculty and due to his interest in the subject he was finally accepted in a human body anatomy post-graduate course. That relation with the academy later made possible for him to use human bones and organs for his arts exhibits. 

He studied at the prestigious San Alejandro National Art School and during the 90s was a stage designer for theatre plays like Electra by Teatro la luna Company and Fabio, La tempestad and Terriblemente inocente by Cuban Contemporary Dance Company. 

He considered that staging design helped him to look things from a monumental perspective and favored his decision to work with great format pieces. 

In 2002, San Juan traveled to Mexico to design the Cuban pavilion in a literary fair and there he built his first giant piece, a face of the Cuban national hero Jose Marti with books that were given to the children on the last day of the event. 

That was the artist starting point, who at present exhibits monumental steel sculptures of feet, hands and faces in public places in the United States and Mexico—five women faces at Central Park in Guadalajara, representing each continent. 

Woman is a constant in his faces, because Rafael sees that genre as a starting point of beauty, however in the case of the hands, he prefers to represent men’s hands due to the expressivity of the effect of work seen through the hard skin. 

Last Biennial, San Juan created the piece Contención, made by human organs in formol recipients, all of which were provided by the Faculty of Medicine, the help of which was also essential in the next event to set 99 real skeletons installation entitled La muerte es un proyecto. 

Primavera is the first monumental sculpture the artist can present his country with and once the 12th Biennial concludes he will donate the piece to the City Historian Office which has supported him in this effort. The piece, located in the corner of popular streets Malecón and Galeano, is a tribute to the Cuban woman: a bunch of mariposas (butterfly flower), the Cuban national flower, decorates the sculpture’s hair.

Ballerina + El Mirage Dry Lake Bed, California, November 2, 2015

While it was raining this afternoon in Los Angeles, we visited one of the most incredible spaces on the planet. Even though countless people have come before us, it remains as pure and mystical as it must have appeared to its first visitors eons ago.

This incredible spirit helped me plan the session with her utmost professionalism, her consistent questions and her attention to details. We talked about everything from the costumes to the location and transportation. She agreed to every detail, and was only interested in making beautiful images, worrying very little about the distance from the city.

The wind was dramatic, at times forcing us to stop. The sand struck her skin with such force so as to prevent us from going forward on several occasions. She was incredible however, and came back every single time with such exuberance and determination.

Just as we were about to finish she graced me with three short performances which we recorded on video. It was a wonderful ending to a memorable day!

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M3.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ballerina + Sea, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, 2014

Then we have this incredible setting, and the most perfect light. Just as we can depend on clouds forming in the afternoon on the island, we can almost depend on having the most exquisite light in the morning. While it is frustrating at times depending on the weather, it does make the photographs the much more meaningful.

So when we arrive at the beach and see clear skies and serene waters, we pinch ourselves. This young dancer has blossomed during our time with her family, and has now become one of our 'veterans' barely out of her single digits. She goes from one position to another without reservation, and almost always says 'yes' to our collaborations.

Her family lives in the city, and we pick them up thanks to Alejandro an hour before sunrise. She is always perfectly ready, and a professional in every way. She is still of course a young girl, and loves to get into the water whenever she gets the chance such as in this image. The camera purchases specifically for this image has allowed me to do the same, and come home with images almost impossible to make only a few years ago.

Note: This image was made with a Fuji GA645Wi onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Release, Syrian Migrant, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2005

While she certainly has never asked to be, for me hers is the face of the current refugee crisis. Two years before the war ravaged this land, her family lived as migrants in Lebanon, hundreds of miles away from her beloved city of Halab. In this cruel setting she is able to portray her joy to us, her sense of hope.

During my visits to these camps, the children's faces were charred from the sun and the wind, while their hair had the consistency of cotton candy. They played in the dirt paths between the tents, sometimes running dangerously close to the streets nearby. Every once in a while a child would be struck by a speeding motorist, the communities shared with me, while local authorities treated such incidents as inconsequential. These brave faces lived on the outskirts of the surrounding society, performing their duties unseen in order to help support their families back home.

For those of us with children, can we imagine for one second our child's face with such scars? Can we imagine the hair on our children's heads having such a consistency? Can we imagine the clothes on our children's backs so fragile, so stained? Can we for one moment endure the dryness of their skin, dirt near their lips?

Yet these children do more than endure, do much more than survive. While there is little doubt that the cruel world has dealt them a hard set of circumstances, they refuse to give up. The boys do what they can with the tools around them, taking for example a long wire and fixing a cylinder to its end as a toy. The girls take flowers from the gardens in front of their tents and adorn themselves, playing with stuffed pieces of cloth as others would do with dolls. While their physical world is limited, they have shown me that their imaginations cannot be restrained.

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Three Hands of Three Sisters, Rajasthan, India, 2015

Earlier this week I drove down to DC to pick up the film from last year. Long story short, the film has been sitting since last spring and is now finally being seen with only two weeks left before my visit to India once again. This is unusual for me, and has been an incredible source of anxiety over the past few months due to one detail: the person in charge of processing informed me that the numbers from the paper backing have in many instances transferred to the film itself.

So before this past Tuesday I thought the film was lost, but held out hope for the best. As I sat down to look at the 500 or so medium format rolls with loupes, a sense of relief was felt. The lower speed film had the slightest evidence of numbers, and those numbers were either lost in the white backgrounds of my portraits or in the busy background of the environmental photographs.

As that sense of relief was felt, a photograph was made of this negative and sent to my friends Shari and John. Their words of support helped make this past Tuesday a celebration, and have given me hope for the visit to India next week. Sure, perhaps 20% of the rolls have been irreversibly affected by the numbers from the paper backing. This however will make me look for those people once again even more so, and make better portraits for them and all of us to see.

The hands in this negative are the hands of three sisters, asked to hold hands against the backdrop of the sky. We have known each other for ten years now, and their village will be one of the first on my list of visits in less than two weeks!

Note: This image was made with an iPhone, of a negative made with a Hasselblad V system onto Kodak TMX film.