In my midst all of a sudden were perhaps two dozen ballerinas. All of them of course were dressed in ballet outfits with various designs, dark and simple. Their hair was perfectly in place, and they were waiting for their classes to begin. Most of the girls were grouped in smaller circles chatting with their friends, while the parents did the same with each other.
Long story short, I found the courage to talk to a few of the parents and gain their trust. In a very public space they then allowed me to arrange their daughters against a white wall and photograph them for a few minutes each. A dozen girls agreed to be photographed, including the young ballerina in the above image. I think that many more would have agreed, but they soon disappeared inside the school to attend classes.
Over the next four years the original ballerinas were discovered once again and multiple sessions undertaken to document their stories. The young girl in the above image is one such person, and this past July was my fourth summer with her and her family since that very first one. Every year has brought me closer to her, and she has opened up more and more with each session.
In July we collaborated over six times, including the very last afternoon of my visit to the island. On this day we were handing out the photographs to all of the families, including hers. We still had a few families to visit when she asked if we were going to work with her later in the afternoon. Alejandro and I looked at each other and told her that we would if we were finished delivering the photographs and if the sun was shining.
I still had perhaps twenty rolls of film and was hungry to expose them in Cuba, rather than bringing unexposed film back to the States. So when we finished with delivering the photographs and looked up to see sunny skies, we called her immediately and made our way to the Pan American Stadium for our final session. She was incredible, moving from one location to another, allowing me to photograph her hair in its natural state.
Working with this young spirit is incredibly uplifting, she is consistently happy and immensely creative. While some models have a hard time coming up with ideas, this young pre-teenager's concepts are only as limited as my ability to document them. She allows the hair to cover her face, to blow with the wind without submitting to the reflex of fixing it.
In one instance I was changing rolls of film when I watched my camera/tripod tumble over and hit the concrete with a terrible sound. The lens struck the surface straight on, denting the filter. Any other time I would have lost my mind, since only two lenses are with me during my trips. This afternoon it only affected me for a second, the filter was changed and we continued with the photography. The camera body had a vibration while transporting the film to its next frame, but my only thought was with the images yet to be made.
Nothing else mattered except this young girl in front of me, performing like no other for the sake of our collaboration. We worked until the sun set, and managed to finish the last roll of film. It would be impossible to describe a more perfect ending to this past summer in Cuba.
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