Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Young Girl + Islamic School, Uttar Pradesh, India, April of 2015

Once again from that very same day in the same Islamic School  in Uttar Pradesh another portrait is being shared. The faces that emerged from only one village near Kairana overwhelmed me, and proved once again that such beauty and resolve exist in every village.

Here were people who had never seen me before, and some who had never seen an outsider in their young lives prior to this day. Yet they stood in front of the lens without hesitation and expressed themselves with an honesty that is many times missing in parts of the world where the camera has become ubiquitous; where everyone has one and where images are made endlessly.

This little girl is without access to traditional education, lives in an area where the government schools are considered so useless that the parents would rather keep their children at home. So my host from last year has set this school up for almost 200 children, and has begun teaching the basics of the Koran to the children of this community. 

He yearns to also present a traditional curriculum to the student body and has the resolve to do so, now working on the financial end of the equation to hire more teachers. Yet he needs help regarding a curriculum, teaching materials and so on. We are working on arranging a relationship with another foundation whose strength happens to be this man's weakness, and whose presence would present a strong Hindu-Muslim unity in an area sorely missing such.

I hope to make the connection in the near future, to bring such a curriculum to this village and to see such unity flourish for the sake of all involved, especially this beautiful student.

Note: Anyone interested in helping in this matter may feel free to contact me at any time and through this forum of course.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ballerina + Sugar Cane, Guanabacoa, Cuba, Summer of 2014

On my way home tonight I received a call from her apartment. To see her name on my phone a few weeks after staying at her home for the summer brought a smile to my face. Her mother and I spoke for a little bit, then her brother took the phone to say hello and let me know that he'll be in the States for the next two weeks. He happens to be the captain of Cuba's National Soccer Team, and a handsome one at that!

I remember when this image was made, as we were walking between the sugar cane fields on our way to the next stop. I turned to her and asked if she'd get behind a few stalks, and she did so with her own flamboyant way. Everything she touches turns into gold so effortlessly.

She was at her dance school this evening, always trying to improve her technique… a perfectionist on every level. It's been less than three weeks since we were together and I am already counting the weeks until we are on the beach once again.

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

Migrants + Garbage Dump, New Delhi, India, April of 2015

]Earlier this year on my first day in India I walked from the hotel to the Humana People to People India HQ a few kilometers away. On my way I noticed a camp within a garbage dump and knew that the most amazing faces were inside. So I continued to the HQ for my first meeting with the team.

A few weeks later I returned to the city to reorganize and had a day or two to roam around. The good people at the foundation volunteered their time to be with me, and over two sessions we visited the camp. The reception we received was both warm and open. They immediately allowed us the opportunity to make portraits, and we set up to do so.

In the middle of the garbage, with the scent of waste all around, we worked with the children for over an hour. Some adults stepped forth to have their portrait made. During one session a man approached us to ask about our intentions. He happened to be working for the camp, trying to organize the families and provide them with the chance to achieve certain rights denied their community as migrants. We had a great conversation, as he approved of our work.

Some people may wonder, where is the environment in these portraits? 

My preference is to make their portraits without including the garbage strewn all about, without showing the endless stream of flies all about their faces. Perhaps it's more appropriate to do so, but this has been the way for me since the first portraits were made in Lebanon… right or wrong.

The next image will show the scene as it was.

Note: These images were taken by the team of HPPI as the portraits were be made, with a Sony RX100M2.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Young Student + Koranic School, Uttar Pradesh, India, April of 2015

This little classroom from an Islamic School has given me a truer sense of appreciation regarding available light. While photographing the boys a few rolls were exposed alongside the digital images. The light was magnificent, from one direction and with this wall as a background.

Two years ago we visited this area to document the refugees from a most recent eruption of sectarian violence. Our host family had done so much already for the camps, had signed over a portion of their considerable land so that the families could build more permanent homes.

Earlier this year I saw them doing even more. They had built this school, and were moving to present a more progressive school program to these very communities. The young man responsible for this movement shared with me that he would like to do more, to present art and the sciences as well as language courses. His views on the matter of education impressed me deeply, as we talked about the future of the school.

One needs to remember the environment in which his school existed. It is a mostly rural region, a distance away from the big cities. The community is a deeply conservative one, especially from the viewpoint of the girls. They face immense restrictions and walk with a sense of timidity through the alleys of their villages. When our eyes connect, it seems to me that every single one of them is trying to send a 'message in a bottle' through me, and through my photography.

It is my responsibility to do so, and one to be embraced fully.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2, with available light only.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Daughter of Sharecropper + Home, Guanabacoa, Cuba, Summer of 2015

Her portrait was made with a humble phone camera, as my trusted state-of-the-art camera took a turn for the worst with a few weeks left on the island. We stumbled upon her as we were leaving the neighborhood one morning, after photographing two ballerinas in the field in front of her home.

She was sitting to the right on a small bench watching us photograph the ballerinas the entire time. Even though we saw her for a few seconds only, there was something about her expression that made me want to come back immediately, after we dropped off the dancers. When we did return, she knew exactly why before we had a chance to explain.

This young girl is new to my work, and my sincerest hope is that she will allow us to photograph her next year. While she was more than eager during the first session, the following collaborations were more complicated and presented a reason to have a conversation.

We were confused, Alejandro and I. She spoke very little, but communicated much to us through her expressions. She was living with her father and relatives in this small home hundreds of miles away from her hometown. They lived as sharecroppers, waking up well before sunrise to get the produce ready for sale at the market.

Theirs is a difficult life, far from the glamour of 1950s cars and wind-beaten facades lining the capital. My friends would remind me over and over again that such families knew nothing of how a certain segment of this island lived, those in charge of the programs by which these families barely existed.

So when our sessions with this young girl took a turn towards the complicated, we decided that we needed to have a talk. She was that important to us, and deep down inside we knew that this was very important to her. We talked with the families one afternoon, presented our case and asked the families to think about it until our next visit a day or so later.

When we did return, her reaction was so sincere. She still spoke very little, but her expressions gave her away. She was truly happy with our interest, and wanted to continue with the collaboration. Her father treated us with extreme kindness, and had such patience with us. The reality was that this was his daughter, yet he gave us a chance to speak with her directly and to include her in the decision-making process.

I very much look forward to next summer already, and hope that she will be there. Otherwise it'll be time for a road trip, and gladly so!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Young Model + Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, Summer of 2015

These sessions are what make this island so incredible. We could photograph models in the morning on the beach, return to the city for a few hours of urban journalism then head to the countryside to photograph laborers in the fields. Even more incredible is that almost all make the time to learn about our project, and with enthusiasm give time from their days to produce such images. 

Earlier this summer we photographed this young model along with her friend, and were actually pointed her way by her companion. At first we were a little concerned even though her friend advised us of her experience in front of the lens. Our worries were laid to rest once we exposed the first roll of film, as we realized how calm and creative she truly was.

In addition, she had the most wonderful set of clothes picked out and changed between the various pieces with ease. We look forward to her presence once again next year, and will bring these images to her of course.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Monday, September 21, 2015

La Modelo + Las Canchas, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, 2015

Today I received a message from her, that she was truly content with our time together this past summer, and really looks forward to our future collaboration next year. This was our first time together, yet she was a natural in front of the lens.

Here, at the racquetball court near the beach, she brought her own clothes for a session... from her incredibly beautiful personal collection. She is a remarkable, young woman who believes in herself to the highest degree.

She believes in her natural hair, in remaining true to her physical features. While it is a cliche to suggest that her inner beauty is greater, this applies to her as much as anyone else in my experience. When we arrive at the modeling school, she always walks over to give us a kiss and sits down with us to chat before heading to her classes. 

When we pick her up from her home, she is ready outside and always professional. She pays attention to the conversations, and her eyes are filled with the light of youth. Consistently she shared her appreciation for our efforts, and called us on numerous occasions to check on us, to arrange our next session.

I admire her immensely, and will feature her in my work next summer as we head to the countryside to mix the world of modeling with the world of the campesino.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Two Ballerinas + Racquetball Court, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, 2015

This image showcases the word 'favorite' in many of its aspects, from the dancers to the location and to the country. It was made just a few weeks ago and features the most exquisite spirits from Cuba, and was exposed at our private studio, Las Canchas de Santa Maria del Mar.

Actually, the spot is one of eight racquetball courts arranged into a group just off of the beach. In the mornings however the spot is usually vacant, as we arrive just before sunrise.

The two young girls in this image had never met before last year, even though they attend the same school of dance in the city. As the story goes, we were searching for a younger dancer to compliment our veteran… in features and in spirit.

We had never anticipated such a collaboration, and one year later we continue to be amazed as to how they compliment each other perfectly. The older dancers loves the idea that she is the mentor to the younger, and the younger dancer enjoys being guided.

This image speaks to me personally, for it shows how the two have blossomed into genuine friends. They invite each other over to their birthday parties, which happen to occur during my time in Cuba every summer.

Note: This image was made with the Sony RX100M2.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Two Ballerinas + Photographer, Santa Maria del Mar, Summer of 2015

This past week I had a wonderful dinner with the president of my new employer, a truly enlightening affair. Instead of diving right into business, this incredible man displayed a level of interest in my photographic work which spoke volumes of his character.

We talked about the schools in India, the ballerinas in Cuba and how the two worlds can co-exist in this new collaboration. Instead of being worried about the time his new employee would be investing into this other world, he showed his complete support for these projects.

After my initial training in Denver this week, I am thinking this weekend of the girls in Cuba... of our time together at Santa Maria del Mar and of this tender moment, when we walked into the water for another photographic session. Even from behind one can sense the dedication these girls possess, the level of love they share with all of us through these images.

Note: This image was made by my friend Alejandro, on a Sony RX100M2.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Modelo + Futbolista, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, 2015

This image was seven years in the making, and was made possible through my stay at this young man's home this summer. His younger sister is perhaps the most famous of the Cuban ballerinas in my work to many of you, and they share the same facial characteristics.

How could I have ever imagined almost seven years ago that I would be staying in their home for the summer? When I first photographed his sister in front of her dance school in Havana, none of us could have envisioned what has since happened between us... the images we have created as a team.

So this year, this young man decided that he would like to be included in the photography, and asked in the most humble of ways for such. We then visited our friend's school for models in the city to find a young woman with whom he may be photographed. He happened to select one of our friends, a happy coincidence for all.
We talked briefly about the session and then left it until after our return from our week in the countryside. He never lost faith in us, and waited patiently. When we returned, we went ahead and scheduled our session at our favorite spot, the racquetball courts at Santa Maria del Mar.

Of course we talked about the wardrobe, but had to say very little. They were both quite comfortable with each other, and presented their ideas openly and with calm demeanors. It was just perfect, and we had plenty of sun for the sunglasses as well!

Note: This image was made with an 8-year-old Kodak point-and-shoot digital camera... saved the day after my state-of-the-art Sony broke down with two weeks left on the island!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ballerina + Beach, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, Summer of 2015

This image is dedicated to those contributing to our Costumes for Ballerinas in Cuba campaign a few months ago. The generosity of these individuals, along with the incredible discounts granted from our local Capezio store after learning of our project, led to a suitcase filled with outfits for the dancers on the island.

The looks on the faces of the dancers cannot be described adequately in words, but one can just imagine! None of the girls removed the tags from any of the outfits, choosing to leave them in place for all to see. They had worked so hard the previous year to produce the very images that moved so many of you to contribute… and were now experiencing the results of that hard work.

My message to them was simple, that this exchange was equal and two-way. The people on this side of the ocean were simply inspired by their images, and in exchange for such had chosen to take part in this project in order to demonstrate their gratitude. 

The images of the contributors holding pictures of the dancers in their hands, or near their faces, delighted the dancers. For the very first time they saw the faces of those inspired by their art… and gained even further inspiration to create more this past summer.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Ballerinas + Railroad Tracks, Guanabacoa, Cuba, Summer of 2015

When the girls saw the photographs of our veteran on the railroad tracks from last year, they immediately wanted to do the same. We arranged for a day of photography in the countryside, in our familiar neighborhood. We had access to the fields, to the houses and to this track.

We started with the field, a couple of horses and the familiar truck. The girls had a wonderful time as always, as they have become great friends since first meeting through the photography. They work together rather than compete against each other… a sublime relationship.

When we were almost finished, the girls reminded us of the railroad tracks and we hurried to get to them. From the field to the tracks is a short five minutes ride, five minutes because we drive as slowly as one walks due to the poor quality of the path.

When we arrived there was a man working to the left, just outside of his home. The girls performed without noticing anyone around them, as professional as always. Each listened to the other, and moved from one position to another as if they had practiced it all before this morning.

The girls were wearing the outfits made possible through our Costumes for Ballerinas in Cuba campaign from a few months ago. They were beyond happy to have received the outfits, almost in disbelief that so many were touched by their images from last year. Hats off to the contributors!

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Boy + Koranic School, Uttar Pradesh, India, April of 2015

Sometimes the boys do take center stage, and this was the case in this small Islamic school located just inside of Uttar Pradesh from Delhi. Last year we met some local families dealing with the humanitarian crisis in the area as best as they could, and formed bonds with them which led us to this school earlier this year.

We drove from Rajasthan to Uttar Pradesh one morning, and reached the school in time to see the students prior to their departure. Can any of us imagine one day sitting down in a tiny village reciting the Koran then looking up and seeing this stranger with a camera walking in?

The looks on the faces, especially the girls, was indescribable. These are the expressions which keep me going back overseas, and which drive my work. This time however the boys were equally curious, and led me to include them in the portraits more so. We of course worked digitally, for the film was reserved for the girls and a select number of boys.

However, looking back at this portrait, I do wish that I had included more boys in the film photography. That being written, I am content in having this young boy's portrait digitally. He is magnificent, his expression as haunting as any from that day. The school is just behind him, with one room reserved for the boys and one room reserved for the girls.

The landlord is my friend, the man responsible for singlehandedly bringing forth the vision for a needed school and for building the school with his family's resources, onto his family's land. The children have a place to study, and in the near future my friend aspires to expand the curriculum to include other languages, mathematics, the arts and science. He is a visionary, and knows how to work within the system while including voices from the outside.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2, with available light only.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Model + Paper Corset, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, 2015

Our last week in Cuba was spent working with a few groups, including a collaboration between two fashion designers and a school for modeling. We had worked before on many occasions with the school, yet wanted to include more formal designs from the artists of the island.

We spoke with two designers who usually stop by the school on Saturdays, and they promptly agreed to work with us... enthusiastically to our delight. This was our second session with the magnificent Rafael and his corsets made from paper. From a distance they look incredible, but up close one truly gets an appreciation for his skill.

This was also a chance for the models to improve their book, to work with the finest designers in the city. We could offer them not only the images, but the chance to present their own fantasies as well. This was our first time with this young woman, and she glittered for the lens just like her outfit.

Note: This image was made with an 8 year old Kodak point-and-shoot, loaned to me by a friend after my trusted Sony broke down on the island!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Two Dancers in the Park, Parque de Lenin, La Habana, Cuba, Summer of 2015

This was their second year with me, as they were selected to work with our veteran dancer from years ago. On this day, we visited Lenin Park just outside of La Habana, and made this image as the sun appeared from between the clouds. The sun disappeared soon after, as we drove back tot he city.

Both of these girls received outfits made possible through our Costumes for Ballerinas in Cuba campaign. In fact they are wearing the outfits in this image. The sun was only out for a minute or so, but we managed to make some digital images for the families since we drove the one hour to the park with the girls dressed up.

They did however enjoy a water ride at the park, right before this image was made. This summer a few lessons were learned, one being that a water ride is on the same footing as the photography, that spending time with the families is now as important as the images we make. We have turned that corner, and the view looks incredible.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Young Dancer + Truck + Horse, Guanabacoa, Cuba, 2015

We were reunited with the truck from last year, and the horses from the neighborhood a few weeks ago. She had changed so much since last year and has grown up into an incredible dancer, even more incredible in front of the lens.

The neighborhood is just outside of La Habana, but might as well be hours away. The homes and the people are quite different, more like the countryside than the city. Photographing in the area is quite special, as my friend's son lives in the neighborhood. When we see a spot, or a truck, we ask permission and are granted such immediately.

The girls love this spot, and making photographs of dance quite different than the norm… rather than the theater. They get to perform to a different audience, and the people in the area get to see a performance in their own backyard!

Note: This was made with a Sony RX100M2.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Profesora y Las Canchas, Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba, Summer of 2015

Back in the country after two months in Cuba… two images of my dear friend from this past Friday are being shared. All of the models we have photographed in the past on the island were from her school of modeling.

Yesterday we had the honor of documenting her immeasurable talents, and ageless spirit. In doing so, we were humbled by the opportunity and her incredible ability to move between expressions effortlessly. We spoke in between rolls and are ready to present the portraits made this past summer, along with the designs of our dear friends Rafael and Yudel… hopefully to receptive eyes at the agencies on this side of the ocean.

Note: This image was made with an eight year old point-and-shoot Kodak camera borrowed from a friend when my trusted Sony broke down on Friday.