Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Young Woman, Courtyard of Home, Outskirts of Dakar, Senegal, February, 2006

While having been to Africa before, this can be described as my first photographic experience on the continent. My trip to Senegal and Gambia began as a visit to my family, and ended up launching my work on the continent.

On the day we met this young woman, we decided to explore another neighborhood of the capital. Two young men accompanied me during my days, both of whom ran small businesses near my cousin's home. One young man ran a small fruit stand and the other owned a small corner store. They knew my cousin and took it upon themselves to help me with my work.

Most of the time we would walk up and down streets, looking for a moment and a face. Whenever we set up the camera, children would come running from everywhere to have their pictures made. At first it  would seem like four, then that number would multiply by six to become well over a dozen. My friends would always joke with me that we needed to set up a video camera just to record from which houses the people came.

On this day however we were coming back from a day of photography when I glanced to my left and saw this young woman's face. She and her family were standing at their doorway, and my friends were walking in front of me looking forward to going home. She however caught my attention and rather than asking my friends to inquire for me I raised my hand and made the motion of clicking the shutter of a camera. She smiled approvingly and made me want to walk across the street.

I asked my two companions for permission and they gave it. We walked across a dirt street filled with tire tracks and potholes to meet her and her family. They quickly invited us inside without hesitation. We walked past a doorway and into a courtyard. We sat down for a little bit and then asked to make her portrait. They again allowed us without hesitation and the camera was set up for such.

One year before I learned the technique of making portraits without a hint of a background while working in Cuba. In this instance, the courtyard not only had a white wall but also an open sky and access to the setting sun. She was asked to stand with her back to the white wall and her face to the sun. She did so and allowed me a few exposures before the sun began to set behind the building.

To this day my mind has a difficult time grasping the idea of being allowed into the lives of others with such ease. The number of people met, the tens of thousands of negatives exposed and the hundreds of hours spent have yet to provide me with an explanation. I can only be thankful for the trust shown to me and the kindness attached to that trust.

I know that I will never see this young woman again, unlike the others in my portfolio. I do however appreciate the image above and what it represents for me, a single moment in an afternoon of my life when the face of kindness presented itself to me.

Halim Ina Photography

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Markeya, East Coast Meets West Coast, Model, El Mirage Lake, Los Angeles, California, September 16, 2012

From her first message to the texts on the day of the session, Markeya shows nothing but respect. Point after point is presented to her and is agreed upon without resistance. Whether it is her wardrobe or the location, my suggestions are accepted with an open mind.

On the day of our session she suggests to us that her friend can bring her to the location, saving us the distance and expense of going her way. She agrees to head out a bit early and we meet on the other end of the lake, at the suggestion of the park ranger. The dry lake bed happens to be closed due to some recent storms.

On the other side of the lake bed access is possible with a public road. We drive up to a home at the perfect spot and meet a man named George. In our approach to his home there are multiple, disheartening signs regarding access, permission and so forth. Rather than turning around we continue forward and meet George. Before my door is opened he waves his finger in a negative direction and shrugs his shoulders. I almost turn around but then get out of the car to ask his permission to approach the lake bed from his territory.

His first words are actually in the form of a joke, and this makes me feel more comfortable. It seems that he is quite the jokester and is more than kind, allowing us to park in front of his home and to access the lake from his land. He tells us a bit about himself, and about other photographers that come to his place. Pieces of cars, planes, boats and so forth sit on his land, making it quite the location.

With his permission we pull up and discuss our plan for the day. We begin with the distant images, and plan on working closer as the sun begins to set. Markeya pulls out a most impressive suitcase filled with clothing, accessories and so forth, all organized in different compartments. As with our email exchanges, she listens to my suggestions and we agree upon a sequence regarding her wardrobe.

The cars are parked perhaps fifty meters from the location, and I head out to set up the equipment in advance of her appearance on the lake bed. The skies are beautifully clear and the silence is intoxicating. We work for the next two hours, and she shows me an exquisite range of movements, never once complaining about the sun or the heat.

We end the session with success and head out for a small meal. On our way to the restaurant Markeya immediately puts together a collage and posts it to her circle of friends. Her excitement is palpable, and contagious. We exchange information, she receives her images on a disc and we go our separate ways.

I look forward to the film images and to a long-term, creative relationship with this incredible woman.

Halim Ina Photography

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Eleanor, Musician, Engineer, Activist, Model, Los Angeles, California, September 16, 2012

On this beautiful morning in Los Angeles we arrive an hour before our session to look for a white wall near Eleanor's home. Bailey and I arrive before the sun has even appeared, and approximate the direction of the rising sun. We drive away from the center of the city and look for open spaces. We find three or four and make notes of their locations.

Then we send a text to Eleanor and advise her that we are ready for her. She meets us downstairs across from her building, in front of a coffee shop. We then drive to our locations and then decide on one that is both less busy and more open. Eleanor is immediately ready, and prepared herself as desired by me. Her hair has a most delicate quality to it, and flows beautifully in the wind.

We begin with close images to record her features with the rising sun. She moves from one expression to another with ease, and seems to follow my direction without ever hearing them, since they are never spoken by me. We are on the same page, she smiles then plays with the lens with sincere respect. She understand my work and has a deep respect for the people within it.

We then move onto making images with movement, and from a distance. She stands on the sidewalk and I walk into the street. Cars pass by and go around the camera without interrupting our work. People also walk by and show only respect to us.

Eleanor tells us the story behind this flag, and surprises us with the details behind her acquisition of it. It fills me with pleasure to represent her and her thoughts, and hope that people will approach these images with open minds. Rather than write for Eleanor and paraphrase her views, I will present her images and let them speak for themselves.

The images above are the work of my dear friend, Bailey, and were made at the same time as my work with the film camera.

After our session we drive back to her apartment and she treats us with her generosity. Here is a young woman being asked to spend her Sunday morning with us working for two hours and here is a young woman that gives us even more rather than expecting anything in return.

Her voice will speak for her and can be found below.

Rooftop Revolutionaries

Halim Ina Photography

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kylee, Model, Mother, Sister, El Mirage Lake, Los Angeles, California, September 14, 2012

Having just returned from Los Angeles, my focus now turns to reflection rather than production of images. The next few entries will highlight the beautiful spirits met during my time on the west coast, and documented through my photography.

Needless to say many messages are sent to various women near the Los Angeles area, yet only a small percentage respond. Out of these responses, even less continue the conversation and even fewer make it their intent to realize a collaboration.

The young woman above is named Kylee and our session almost never happens. After exchanging an incredible number of messages and happily so, she learns of a complication in her schedule that makes her unable to collaborate with me. She is palpably sad in her messages to me, and only confirms my thoughts about her, that she is a most genuine person.

As it happens the afternoon of that same day is open and this is shared with her. Pure joy is her reaction and we revise our time to meet about one hour away from the agreed-upon location of our session. From my first email correspondence through the messages exchanged this evening, this most beautiful spirit has shown me nothing but love, kindness and understanding. She loves the people in my portfolio and is kind enough to donate her time to the work. In her understanding of their stories, she confirms her status as a sister to the people in my portfolio.

Rather than complain about the distance, she drives on her own and comes along with me for the final leg of the trip. Rather than demand a stylist and a make-up artist, she offers her wardrobe and goes out of her way to purchase specific pieces for the session. Rather than worry about her hair, she allows me to wet it completely and cover her face with the very mud of the lake bed.

Needless to write, the temperature on the lake bed is difficult to take and even more so when we are working. Instead of complaining while she is performing demanding movements, she smiles and continuously exclaims: 'awesome!'

On our way to El Mirage Lake, we run across a tumbleweed and decide to bring it along with us, and it seems to fit into our session perfectly. The shape of it dances within the spaces between her limbs, and this is done spontaneously.

In her own words written tonight:

'From the moment that I saw your portfolio I knew that you were not just a photographer I wanted to work with, you were a photographer I needed to work with. I felt the passion and love in each and ever one of your photos and I could see your dedication along with your bright and righteous spirit. It shined through all of your images. I could only imagine what we could create together and I knew that working with you would bring something unique to my portfolio, it did way more than that. The images captures are beyond AWESOME and I can not wait until your next trip to L.A.'

The above words are further proof of her selfless nature, and her desire to give rather than to take. I look forward to working with Kylee in the near future and following her with my camera for life.

Halim Ina Photography

Friday, September 7, 2012

El Trabajador, On the Road to Pinar del Rio, Cuba, July of 2008

In my last few days on the island I decided to head out on my own to Pinar Del Rio. It seemed easy enough, nicely paved roads and neatly placed signs. Heading west from the hotel and without a map, the feeling was a mix of anxiety and excitement.

After getting out of the city, everything cleared up... the skies, the roads and the air. Every now and then I would stop and speak to a few men, ask their permission to make images. Without exception everyone agreed regardless of my limited Spanish at the time. On this occasion a group of workers were cutting the grass manually.

For a monthly salary equal to an average pair of pants, they are responsible for the grass on this stretch of highway. In addition to the work accomplished on their farms, they would come out in groups on certain times of the month and cut the grass. This of course is done under the grueling sun and during the hot months of the Caribbean, when the grass grows most quickly.

We went on to collaborate for perhaps thirty minutes, after which time I bid farewell to them and continued west. For me the rest of that day was easy, driving around in a car with the wind blowing, keeping me cool. I drove for a few more hours and then turned around to head back to the city.

All the time I couldn't help thinking that these men continued their work until the sun went down, then returned to their farms to do more of the same. I have a deep respect for these men and others like them, men toiling under the sun without rest and only with the hope of providing for their families.

For more of my work, please visit the newly designed website below, courtesy of Patrick Luu.

Halim Ina Photography