Thursday, January 30, 2014

Refugee + Shawl, Camp, Uttar Pradesh, India, December 1, 2013

The faces were as endless as the stories in the refugee camps, this being just one example. This was my last day in Uttar Pradesh, and this was the last village visited as well. Like other portraits recently posted, she and her friends have lost their homes due to the most recent violence in this region of India, violence that has up to this point failed to cease.

Depending on whom you speak with, the story is different. What is painfully consistent is that the children always seem to bear the brunt of the consequences. They had nothing to do with the initiation of the fighting and have very little to do with the final outcome. 

Being a young person is one very difficult thing in this environment, being a young girl is yet another circumstance altogether. The violence perpetrated takes on another tone, and these incredible girls stand in front of the lens after experiencing something most of us will never feel. On so many levels I am unable to process their hardships, and hope that the portraits made will be of service to them and to their communities.

We photographed the girls at the end of the afternoon, when the light was just perfect. All of us gathered in a paved spot just next to the main road, in the middle of the camp. There was a field just behind them, and tents to the right and left of the path leading to it. The platform was above the main dirt paths, and the girls sat in a large group to my right and just behind me on the paved surface.

The desire to be photographed, to take part in the process, was unmistakable. How many times has someone visited their camp and made it a point to document their stories? When was the last time they were rightfully the center of attention?

If only they knew how much longer I wanted to stay, how many times I would have photographed each and every single one of them… like the young Cubans in my portfolio!

What makes them that much more incredible is that for all of their giving they receive a little less than five minutes in front of the lens. They sit for an hour or more just for this chance, and walk away without making me feel that more was needed. This never ceases to 'get me' and I am deeply humbled by each and every one of them.

Note: This portrait was made with a Sony RX100M2, hand-held and edited for size and contrast only.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Two Friends + Refugee Camp, Uttar Pradesh, India, December 1, 2013

From my last day in the refugee camps of Uttar Pradesh this portrait of two girls comes. We were near the end of the session and still had a dozen or so girls without documentation. We moved quickly to a small spot ten or so meters away from the main stage to continue, and the girls followed two by two.

The men were incredibly helpful and arranged the photography for the afternoon. Once they knew that we'd work in the camp that afternoon they called all of the children, an hour before the work could have begun… and all of the children came running immediately. The girls sat behind me to the right while the boys sat behind me to the left.

I was overwhelmed and almost frozen in thought. While I knew that the boys would go first, saving the softer light for the girls, the thought of when to begin went through my head over and over again. The idea is to allow the work to flow without pause, and so the beginning was quite important. We began with two hours of light left and photographed the boys in 45 minutes. They walked to the camera two by two, sometimes in groups of three or four. Everyone has fun with this, especially the men sitting around the fringes of the 'stage.'

Then came time for the girls and the medium format camera was removed from the camera. Without saying much everyone knew that this was different for me, especially the girls waiting for their turn. Looking at the four dozen or so girls sitting around, my eyes glanced at their features… picking the girls with less dominant features first and reserving the latter portion of the session for the girls with deeper features so as to minimize the shadows on their faces.

Girl after incredible girl walked up to the camera, all dressed differently and in their own style. Their expressions took my breath away, for they were responding to the circumstances in which they lived at the moment. In their eyes I witnessed sadness coupled with strength, desperation balanced with hope. They were meters away from the frail tents in which they lived, yet stood in defiance of all that brought them to this point in their lives.

Tomorrow I drive to Washington, DC to collect the negatives from India, and will relive this moment… hoping that the camera has done justice to these incredible children.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2, in available light then cropped for size and edited for contrast only.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Refugee + Shawl, Camp, Uttar Pradesh, India, December 1, 2013

It's hard to believe that such beauty can exist in the most difficult of circumstances and harder to believe that such beauty can present itself with this level of joy. This young girl has endured what most of us will hopefully never have to witness, violently forced to leave her home and live in what may seem to a child as another planet.

Being invited to visit the camps by Asrar Ahmad was an honor, and being allowed to photograph their girls even more so. Incredibly the entire community brought them forth for this stranger to document, and did so with a cooperation rare in any region of the world. As everyone told me, my camera was the first one to document their story in detail. Government officials have been non-existent and only private citizens have stepped up to help.

Many, like our hosts in Uttar Pradesh, have permanently signed over land for these people to attempt new lives. One family was invited to put their grocery stand in the patio of my host's home, selling vegetables to people in the village in order to help turn their fortune around. 

The young girl in this image was one of perhaps sixty girls waiting silently to have her portrait made while a few good men went about organizing the proceedings. They sat in a semi-circle less than five meters from me, and when a girl was finished with her portrait all would look our way hoping to be called for their chance. Choosing the next girl was extremely difficult, but made easier by the logistics of the sun. As explained to the girls by Asrar, we went about selecting the girls according to their facial features… those with less pronounced features were chosen first, allowing those with more pronounced features to be photographed without shadows under their eyebrows.

This young girl came up with this piece over her head and was about to remove it when she saw me react. She realized that I loved it and left it on for her portrait. All of the other girls went about giggling, and the mood was set for her to shine.

Note: This image was made with a hand-held Sony RX100M2, and edited for size and contrast only.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Beautiful One from the House of the Beautiful, Syrian Bedouin, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Summer of 2001

Her name literally is 'Beautiful One, From the House of the Beautiful.' She has been photographed by me since 1998 and will hopefully allow me once again on my return to Lebanon soon. My hope is that the situation settles a bit for her and for all those living in the area, for she is a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon long before the present set of circumstances.

She and her community were the beginnings of my photography. They remember a young man walking into their tent city without anyone else asking to photograph their children, acting like it was nothing much to ask. The girls were and still are my primary focus and the boys have resigned themselves to just watching it all unfold in front of them.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 501CM/120mm combination and onto Kodak T-Max 100 ISO film, the scanned with an Epson V700.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Model + White Wall, Pan American Stadium, Havana, Cuba, July, 2012

She came to the session two years ago never having met us, yet presented herself without hesitation. She lives in the city and dreams of becoming a model. When I returned this past August she was nowhere to be found, but we have these images of her as proof of her spirit.

These images were made without a studio, without an assistant for the models and without preparation. Both models and their instructor went with us to the Pan American Stadium and stood in front of a white wall, a far cry from the glamour of the city. They were incredible, and gave of themselves without asking for anything in return. The experience was enough for all involved.

Making images in the streets of the world's cities, towns and villages cannot be surpassed in my experience. The people are pure, genuine and play it straight. I admire them for their perseverance in light of their most difficult lives, and their continued interest in this project.

Note: These images were made with a Hasselblad 555ELD/180mm combination, onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film and then scanned with an Epson V700 for this presentation.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Man + Refugee, Uttar Pradesh, India, November 30, 2013

When we finished the girls' portraits, we moved onto a different area to photograph the boys. The tall grass behind one tent seemed to be the spot and so we started there. The boys came in groups and took positions behind various clumps of tall grass. We did this for maybe thirty minutes and then were asked to photograph some adults.

Some women stepped up for their pictures, then a few men wanted to do the same. Some were the husbands of the women just photographed, and some were just men on their own. One memorable exception was a young man carried in a most gentle manner by a friend from the camp. The moment touched me deeply and caught me off guard. It took me a minute to recompose myself before making their portrait, and they forgave me this lapse in composure.

The man being carried had the most peaceful expression, a gaze of understanding quite rare in my work. This was the look of love as normally seen from the girls, but displayed very effectively in this beautiful man. He thanked me for his portrait with a gesture, and the two men disappeared into the camp shortly after.

I expected to be moved deeply by the plight of the children, and this was of course the case when looking at each girl sitting there patiently waiting for her portrait. Here they were with next to nothing, yet willing to give of themselves completely. This was exactly the feeling I received from this man, and was totally thrown off guard because he was an adult.

Later on as we walked through the camp making more documentary images, I walked between two tents and spotted him sitting there smiling at me. This was the smile he presented with earlier, and I asked for his portrait once again. He of course obliged and this was the portrait made. This time I was ready for him, and he knew it. This is the look of love, this represents hope.

Note: Image made with a hand-held Sony RX100M2, edited for size and contrast only.

Girl + Refugee Camp, Uttar Pradesh, India, December 1, 2013

When we visited the camps this afternoon we were given two choices, the one adjacent to the village and another less than one minute's drive. After seeing both we were forced to choose since only one could have been photographed perfectly. So we chose the one adjacent to the village, hoping that more girls would be present. This turned out to be the case, and more than could be photographed on film showed up immediately.

Once they saw the camera, they ran out of the tents and sat themselves neatly around us. There were perhaps over 120 children now waiting to have their portraits made. It was early and so I decided to begin with the boys, in groups of three to five. Even with this arrangement it took almost one hour to photograph the boys. What was most surprising was the help we received from the men in the village. Rather than sitting and watching, four to five took active part in the process and made sure that all was in order. Once a group of boys was photographed they shuffled them off back to their tents, or at least in the direction of their makeshift homes.

Then it was time for the girls and I was almost unable to control the excitement. Their eyes, attentively fixed on me and the camera, spoke volumes about their curiosity. Here was this man from another country, setting up a studio to make their portraits. The silence was almost unbearable, in the best of ways. My translator, Asrar Ahmad, explained to all of them that the entire group would be photographed this afternoon so nobody needs to worry. He also explained that we'd be choosing those with flatter facial features first, then girls with more pronounced features last to prevent the existence of unwanted shadows in their portraits. He at least told me that he explained this to them in his own way.

So one by one they were chosen, and stepped in front of the lens for their portraits. Amazingly almost all of the boys kept their distance, and the same went with the men except for the ones helping. Girls never photographed before formally now stood in front of their friends and strangers, stood their ground firmly and coaxed the lens to represent them as they wished to be represented. I for one was more than thrilled to do so, and advised those around me to follow the cues given by the girls rather than asking every single girl to smile reflexively.

The realities of their day to day lives hit me immediately, as each girl took her turn. These were girls forced out of their homes months ago and living in a foreign place. None of them attended school now and none had access to medical attention, palliative care just to ease their pain. Each and every single one of these girls more than likely exhibited some form of PTSD, yet will never receive treatment to resolve their pain, their bad dreams.

Yet here this little girl stands for her portrait, stronger than I would be under these circumstances. What has she seen? Does what she has experienced keep her up at night? Does she avoid thinking about her home and her friends lost?

Her portrait means the world to me, it is a record of this little girl as that very moment. Only she knows what was running through her mind when the shutter released, but I do hope that those viewing her portrait can at least feel her experiences through the image.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Refugee Family + Store, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2013

A refugee family standing in front of the only stand on the road alongside their camp. In the background and to the left are their tents, and the only light being supplied is the single bulb along with the various fires. Only with the guidance of Asrar and the good people of these villages could the images have been made.

My dear friend Asrar told me: 'Halim, you need to visit the camps during your time in India.'

He was more than spot on, and the images made displayed an incredible level of courage, dignity and bravery on behalf of the people photographed. Instead of pushing people away, they welcomed outsiders to listen to their stories, to share their experiences. I was humbled by this willingness, and hope that these images tell their stories effectively to those in positions to improve the lives of these communities.

Note: Image made with a hand-held Sony RX100M2, edited for size only.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Girl + Refugee, Camp, Uttar Pradesh, India, December 1, 2013

The intensity with which the girls expressed their thoughts to the lens was undeniable in these camps. Living great distances from their villages, driven away from their lands by the most recent bout of violence in Uttar Pradesh, they have survived.

One by one they took their turn in front of the camera, and almost 100 onlookers. To be provided a chance to tell their story through the photograph is almost unimaginable to them yet here they were doing so. In a most conservative community the men lent their support and made sure that the boys stepped to the side to allow the girls their chance. A half dozen men took on that responsibility with only a few minutes notice, and did so with smiles on their faces. Their gentle touch allowed the environment to be conducive for the task at hand.

What has she seen in her young life? Will those far from her understand her plight? What was going through her mind as she turned slightly to allow the light to strike her distant eye ever so gently? When she woke up this morning, did she ever think that a stranger was going to walk into her camp and wish very much to make her portrait?

I for one am in awe of her ability to express herself so and hope that my work has done justice to her eternal beauty.

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

Refugee Camp + Bulb, Uttar Pradesh, India, November, 2013

Life is unimaginably hard in these camps, protected from the cold outside only by a thin plastic sheet at times. When the sun disappears in the late afternoon, the only source of light is this single bulb. I imagine being five years old and looking around me in this land, haunted by the violence thrown upon me and my family just a few months earlier. The thought is almost impossible to possess for someone living in my shoes. Nonetheless I owe it to the people in my images to attempt to imagine their plight, and to share it with those outside of this region.

The refugees in this camp are refugees from the recent violence in Uttar Pradesh. They have fled their villages in search of calmer environments, and have been provided land by these villages in order to put the broken pieces of their lives back together again as well as can be done.

Through these images I hope the message is communicated to the outside world.

Note: Image was made with a hand-held Sony RX100M2, edited for size only here.

Hawa + Girls, Kanjar Community, Sex Trade, Nirvanavan Foundation, Alwar, Rajasthan, India, November, 2013

I returned to Alwar last November and worked with the wonderful Nirvanavan Foundation, under the leadership of my friend Nirvana. We visited four schools in total and talked about the existing hostel and the possibility of two more for the Kanjar Villages. Here my dear friend Hawa sits with the girls of one of these villages, and does what few in my experiences here have done… truly give himself to the photography… proud to have spent this time with all of these girls and the foundation.

Nirvanavan Foundation works in 12 Kanjar and Nat Villages, communities engaged in traditional prostitution. The girls are either sent off to the bigger cities or work with the outlying villages, providing their services as managed by the men in their communities. It is a hard reality to witness and an infinitely more cruel reality for them.

The young girls in this image face such a world on a daily basis, yet the foundation works with the premise that providing an education will someday soon produce the changes necessary to end such a practice for these girls. Perhaps that change will come for them, perhaps for their girls. Only time will tell.

Note: This image was made with a hand-held Sony RX100M2, edited for size only.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Girl + Refugee + Buildings, Camps, Uttar Pradesh, India, November, 2013

Among the discarded buildings they have made their homes, the refugees doing their best to recover from the most recent violence in Uttar Pradesh. I was humbled by their collective strength and the smiles shared with my lens.

We visited eight or so camps and did our best to formally document these stories. Each and every person spoke a different, visual language with the camera, each had a story to tell. This young girl was incredibly gallant, ignoring the waves of men stopping every few minutes to check on our project. She smiled in defiance and brought chills to their opposition. 

While we had the support of the elders and the leaders of these communities, there were those now and then whose voices were presented to me through their expressions. With her by my side we continued in spite of this and perhaps because of this, her story  needed to be told she demanded.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2, hand-held and edited for size and contrast only.

Three Girls + Future Students, Humana People to People India, Rajasthan, India, November, 2013

As we finished our session these little ones arrived and a spontaneous session of photography began. In a village named Goneri we spent a few hours yesterday, and managed to find many of the faces from four years ago. As with the other villages every single girl remembered our past sessions and was driven to create more this time around. The expressions on their faces as we arrived cannot be described sufficiently with words, hopefully more fully with the images made.

We hope for a school in their village, so that they and their older sisters get a chance to attend school soon. The previous school was forced to close due to funding issues. Should the readers of this image feel compelled to offer their suggestions, I am open and willing to hear them. 

Humana People to People India and I are ready to reopen the school, and have the technical knowhow to do so… all that is needed now is the funding. All suggestions are most welcome.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2, hand-held and edited for size and contrast a bit.

Boy + Grandmother, Humana People to People India, Rajasthan, India, November, 2013

While I waited for the sun to set a bit for the more formal session, I decided to walk around and photograph the surrounding homes. Within the same 100 meters or so was this older woman, accompanied by her grandson. He offered his portrait eagerly and coaxed his grandmother to do the same. The trick was to set up the tripod and make formal, architectural images while keeping an eye out for the faces… and on this day it worked.

One of three schools in this area reopened in this very village, less than twenty meters from this portrait. After walking around and make such images, we returned to the teacher's house and had a wonderful time photographing the past and future students. They were so attentive and beyond appreciative of the chance to attend classes once again. My ability to describe them stops at the images, for their reactions are beyond words.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Refugee + Store + Camp, Uttar Pradesh, India, November, 2013

This young man from the camp has done what he can do to support his family, and opened the only store in the camp. Like the rest living in this small collection of tents, he has lost his home and some of his community members to the recent bout of violence in Uttar Pradesh. Incredibly the government is nowhere to be seen, with the only good work being accomplished by the local villagers and some good people from Delhi, including the Zakat Foundation of India.

The thoughts regarding these images are quite complicated, being quite aware of my good fortune in relation to the very people living in these camps. My purpose was and is clear, to share these images and the stories that go along with them, hoping to gain assistance for this community. Sharing these images will go a long way to doing so, perhaps reaching those in power to do more.

Note: This image was made with a hand-held Sony RX100M2, edited for size and contrast a bit.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Young Refugee + Bathroom, Uttar Pradesh, India, November, 2013

Here a young woman walks by the toilet for her village. By most accounts woman are unable to use such a structure even, having to wait for the night to do what most of us take for granted at any time of the day/night. This image was made at a refugee camp located in Uttar Pradesh, hosted by an incredibly generous family. The people in this camp were removed from their villages on the basis of their faith, and in anticipation of the upcoming election season. According to many accounts, dozens were killed and many women were brutalized… such is the environment in which this young woman lives.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2, hand-held and edited for size and contrast only.

Refugee + Kitchen, Uttar Pradesh, India, November, 2013

This young girl sits in her family's open kitchen while we walked by, a refugee in her own country. Her people long to go back but also understand that going back is impossible now. For reasons never understood people have placed this community in danger, and now this young girl has nothing other than this plot of land to reclaim her life in at the moment. The good people of the surrounding villages are working hard to provide them with the basic necessities, even though the villagers themselves have little for their own families. The time spent with these refugees, and the surrounding villages, has been quite inspirational, and has given me further purpose in this land.

The street here is nothing more than a dirt path, but this family is doing their best to make it a home for their children. With the help of my dear friend Asrar we were fortunate enough to have been given access to this community in the hope that their plight may be heard outside of India. For within the country nothing has been done, very little exposure has been provided to their situation through the usual media outlets.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2, hand-held and edited for size and tones only.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Claudia + Wet Hair, Pan American Stadium, August 13, 2013

Tomorrow will be spent in the darkroom printing my session with Claudia from this past July in Cuba. We exposed almost twenty rolls of film this afternoon, and these are but two images from one roll. We had complete freedom this time around, as she was the only one in front of the lens. She played with her hair, put it up, soaked it in water and let the liquid drip down her face without hesitation. She along with her photographic sisters in Cuba are without equal, and have my undying respect.

Tomorrow and the next two weeks will be dedicated to her in the darkroom

Note: These images were made using a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm combination, and onto Fuji Neopan Acros 100 ISO film, scanned through the negative sleeve  here for review only.

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180mm combination.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Girl + Refugee, Camp, Uttar Pradesh, India, November, 2013

With the recent tension between the Hindu and Muslim Communities in Uttar Pradesh, these girls and their families have been displaced. They now live in tents and have very little to shield them from the elements. We hope for their safe return and for a brighter future.

We are attempting to open a small school for these refugees, and also to get their story out to the larger media. Should the readers of these posts be able to share some guidance regarding either task, I would be more than pleased to hear from everyone.

Note: Image made with a hand-held Sony RX100M2, edited for size and contrast only.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Refugee + Bucket + Home, Uttar Pradesh, India, November, 2013

She stood for this image in an unfinished home, in the middle of running for water. This is the camp in which she lives now, far away from her village. She was removed from her village through violence yet very little of such has made it to the media. The government has never set foot in these camps while private citizens with very little have given infinitely more.

Only the local communities have given of their lands for the refugees, in many instances signing over their land permanently for the sake of these families. They have begun humble housing projects and have in many cases also started more permanent, brick houses. Still formal action has been non-existent. Rather than depend on others, the people of this area have taken it upon themselves to do for their bothers and sisters in need. 

While I am once again shocked at the brutality handed out by one community to another, the acts of recovery witnessed by me have given me hope that one day we will think of this little girl before striking down our brothers and sisters from another community.

Girl + Refugee, Uttar Pradesh, India, November, 2013

After this image both batteries were exhausted and we were unable to make more. We tried to charge the camera using the camp's electrical system, a car battery, and I felt a jolt through the camera body and into the plan of my left hand. The children were thankful for what we were able to do however, since we photographed all with the film camera prior to having fun in this little spot. 

My time in the refugee camps was made possible through my dear friend, Asrar Ahmad. He traveled with me on several occasions, leaving his family behind in Delhi to work with the refugees. He slept away from his family in unfamiliar territory, and got up at the break of dawn just to arrive at the camps as the sunrise approached for the best light. I appreciate everything that he did on behalf of these beautiful people and hope that my images do justice to our efforts. We will soon see.

Family + Sorting Garbage, Humana People to People India, Gurgaon, India, November, 2013

Then there are the incredible people at Humana People to People India, working for example with people such as the ones in these images, ragpickers living in Gurgaon, India. Presented as an incredibly rich city filled with tech savvy individuals… this city also is home to countless people barely scraping by, collecting and sorting trash just to put food on their children's plates perhaps once per day.

According to Wikipedia:

'As of 2013, about 250 Fortune 500 companies have a base in Gurgaon. It is the most prosperous city in India based on ownership of consumer durables.'

Humana People to People India is working hard in this community, along with Dell and Nokia in presenting schools for basic education as well as computer studies. I am proud to have spent the last six weeks with this foundation and the good people at the various projects.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Claudia + Hair, Havana, Cuba, Summer of 2012

Simply put she can do no wrong.

Her images are made in the uncontrolled environment of the streets, without a formal studio and with only natural light. She lacks an assistant, someone to manage her hair, etc. In a moment's notice she is ready to be photographed and flows through a session without the need for much of a break.

She never gives me the same expression and position combinations, and finds it within herself to move without external input. This is our third year of documentation and hopefully many years lay ahead of us.

Note: this portrait was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/120 mm combination onto Fuji Neopan Acros film, then scanned with an Epson V700 for this presentation.

Boy + Paint, Humana People to People India, Virat Nagar, India, November 5, 2013

During a visit to a familiar village, we decided to walk around and find new faces to photograph. The host family was quite sweet and allowed me to walk down the road to look for some of the students from the past, as well as others from the village.

Five minutes later we ran across a young girl in front of her house, next to a water well. The magnitude of her smile brought us in to speak with her family, she was irresistible. Her family ended up being as gentle as her, and invited us in with warmth. They even allowed us to photograph her, her older cousin and the rest of the family.

We were in the middle of doing so when this young man walked into the scene. He was shocked to learn that he was as striking as the girls being photographed. He agreed to be photographed and had serious fun in the process.

After the photography we were served wonderfully sweet tea, then headed back to the host's home to bid farewell for the day. Since this afternoon the school for girls has reopened in this village and includes that wonderfully sweet girl from this house.

Humana People to People India has agreed to oversee the schools which have been funded for the next three years through the sale of these images. In four weeks the negatives from this year's visit will have been processed, and I look forward to seeing this young man on film.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Woman + Sex Trade, Kanjar Community, Nirvanavan Foundation, Alwar, Rajasthan, November, 2013

This older woman has lived within the sex trade for her entire life, and is the staunchest supporter of Nirvanavan Foundation and its important work within her village. From the first day of my visit six years ago to this past November, she was there to help with the girls and also to make sure that any objections were silenced.

In her community almost all of the girls are intended for the sex trade, as early as the age of ten. They are sent to brothels in the big cities, to far away lands like the Gulf States and are highly sought after in their own region. The foundation has done great work and continues to do so in the midst of an extremely difficult environment. There is a need as the leader of the foundation likes to tell me now and then.

A need indeed.