As with most of my work from India, the portrait is made from below with the bluest of skies as the background. She stands on a chair and on the roof of her school. I sit in the stairwell and move every time another girl steps onto the roof past me for her portrait.
We are very careful to make sure it is one child at a time and that the child is nowhere near the edge of the building, since the roof is flat without any walls surrounding. Her community, the Banjara, is a minority yet numbers perhaps near six million in this land of diversity.
The name of their community is derived from a Sanskrit compound word meaning 'Forest Wanderers.' One source tells of their role in the salt trade, from the Indian Ocean to the interior. Others point to them as the 'Gypsies' of Asia, dispersed as a people to the Middle East and beyond. Their tattoos might be related to the tattoos evident in my work with the Bedouin of Lebanon.
With Humana People to People in India, the children of this community have found a champion. Instead of days filled with trash picking, they have at least three hours per day in a classroom learning to read and to write. It is a remarkable accomplishment in that the surrounding communities see very little worth in these most beautiful children.
A little bit before this portrait was made, we stopped by the side of the road to get some oranges and apples. At the fruit stand a few children gathered around us asking for a donation, and were quite courageous. I knew that they would recognize the faces in my photography book and took it out of my bag to share with them. As the pages turned from faces of strangers to the faces of their friends, they turned into our guides and insisted on showing us to their community.
I asked them if they were going to be in school later. They nodded. I then told them that we will show up later to make their portraits and to tell all of the others to be there. When we arrived later they were all waiting, in their most glorious attire.
I will always follow them and hope that our efforts in the near future can support their humble schools.
For more of my work, and to contribute your thoughts regarding this project, please visit the newly designed website below, courtesy of Patrick Luu.
Halim Ina Photography