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Forest in Rajasthan, India, 2017

My last visit to India included a spontaneous trip to the deserts of Rajasthan, to the furthest west of that beautiful state. We were within miles of the Pakistani border and felt an eerie silence during our time there. My companion for this trip was my dear brother Mukesh, who sacrificed so much time away from his family for the sake of work.

Instead of pure portraiture, we decided to photograph the forests and deserts. One day we were driving around and spotted this forest on either side of the road. Mukesh decided to stay in the car and get some rest while I walked around the forest and did my thing.

The whole experience was surreal. Away from the hustle of the immense cities of India, here we were without another soul in sight. The silence was interrupted only by the sounds of the most colorful birds. Now and then a blue bull in the distance would look up, before moving on.

I walked for what seemed an eternity, but was more like an hour. The play between light and shadow made me pause on so many occasions, putting the tripod down for a few exposures. During one of these times, I heard breathing in the distance and looked up.

There was a line of camels walking just past the trees. Their size took me by surprise, for this was my first time in the presence of such large animals. Time stood still it seemed, for here we were in the wild and with only a line of trees between us. It felt right to just enjoy the moment, leaving the camera on my back, and then walk back to Mukesh to share the experience.

www.halimina.com

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V system, onto Ilford Delta 100 film.
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Taylor + El Mirage, Los Angeles, California, 2016

A little over a year ago El Mirage was the scene for a most incredible collaboration. Thanks to Cami's selfless spirit we were blessed to have Taylor on our team for the afternoon. From a photographer's perspective, it is deeply moving to watch two creatives want the other to succeed even more so than themselves.

Regardless of what many may presume, the photographer is the least important aspect of the equation. We may have the most perfect location, the latest gear and the best weather. All would fall flat without two such beautiful beings in front of the lens. A point-and-shoot camera with Cami and Taylor would be better than a Hasselblad and those without vision.

Suffice it to say we had that Hasselblad for the session, and thankfully so. The session started with a great drive out, as it was refreshing to have two other people in the car. The conversation was wonderful, and we arrived at El Mirage with the most beautiful sky as our backdrop. They exchanged ideas, as well as outfits, and took their turns in front of the lens. The images from that session are as beautiful as any in my work, and these two sublime women have my deepest gratitude for sharing their talents on that afternoon.

Hopefully 2018 gives us another chance to collaborate!

www.halimina.com

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm combination.
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Young Student + Home, Rajasthan, India, 2017

She lives right next to Nirvanavan Foundation's Advaita Garden. Her walk to school takes less than a few minutes, and she does so with her younger brother and sister. She is at times shy and at times outgoing. When she smiles she does so completely, and when she is noticed she will usually run away in joy.

Her independence is remarkable, for she lives in a home without neighbors. She lives with her three siblings, parents and grandparents. Every minute of her day seems busy, from helping her mother with chores to caring for her younger siblings.

Usually when I photograph her I do so alone, without help from the foundation. We communicate with a few common words, and with hand gestures. Her parents know me well enough and allow me to interact with their children freely, quite remarkable for such a society. While this is wonderful, it makes for some very difficult photography. Child psychology would have been a smart minor to have taken in college!

There are few instances when my work demands color film, and this is certainly one of them. Everyone at the foundation has noticed her beauty, and her eyes. Whenever I mention her name, the teachers nod in agreement. Hopefully in four months she will allow me to document her once again, and color film will certainly be included in my bag in case she does!

www.halimina.com

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm combination.
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Carolina + The Stylings of Lunara, El Mirage, California, 2016

A little over a year ago it was my honor to document the creations of Lunara Love, as presented by the most talented Carolina. We met at the apartment first, where the team was getting the pieces ready for our session. We packed everything up and started the two hour drive to the dry lake bed.

The sky was a little hazy, but allowed the sun to shine for extended periods. This gave the team enough time to change, while keeping in mind the sun for the photography. Unlike other sessions earlier in the week, the wind allowed us to work without worry.

We exposed less film than usual because the changes were extensive. This however allowed us to concentrate on the presentations more so and was a needed change for me. The excitement was in the air and carried us back to Los Angeles energized.

www.halimina.com

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/180 mm combination.
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Elder Refugee + Muzaffarnagar Riots, Shamli, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2013

Her portrait was made while in the middle of a refugee camp, a place she called home due to the riots of 2013. While the origin of the violence was up for debate, what was perfectly clear was the hardship being experienced by hundreds of thousands now without homes.

This incredible woman was forced to leave her village in the face of unimaginable violence. Thanks to the generosity of those in the neighboring district, she and her community were provided land on which they could begin rebuilding their lives.

They were doing the best that they could, building homes out of wood and fabric for the time being. Soon they would be provided bricks in order to construct better homes in which their children could sleep safely. As recent as my last visit earlier this year, most had moved back to their villages. Our hope is that they found their homes intact, even though their lives had been irreversibly damaged.

When we arrived on the morning of this portrait, my friend told me to get the camera and head to the center of the camp. He told me to put the camera together, and be ready for his arrival a few minutes later. This I did as people gathered around me, wondering about my purpose. My friend spoke with the leaders, and then we were allowed to photograph.

My friend Asrar asked me to point the ones out, even though it was impossible for me to be so direct. So we agreed on choosing the color of the fabrics in English, then he would ask each person to come forward for their portrait if they so desired. This was how we worked for an hour or so, until the sun had set.

As we visited the area of these camps this year, it was great to see only the evidence of the camps, and nothing more. To know that the people had returned home meant everything.

www.halimina.com

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V system.

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Two Refugees + Wall of Fabric, Muzaffarnagar, India, 2017

As Nirvana Bodhisattva and his team move to establish a school in this region, memories of the crisis leading to this very movement come rushing forth. Four years ago I was invited to document the refugee crisis as a result of the Muzaffarnagar Riots of 2013. During our walks my eyes witnessed people doing the work on the ground, donating their land so that those without could begin to rebuild their lives.

We walked around tent where children had nothing more than the clothes on their bodies. The only protection between them and the world was a wall of fabric, and so we decided to make some portraits with the girls behind these walls. We did so in order to show the fragility of their circumstances. For most of us it is nearly impossible to imagine such an existence, especially in light of the fact that these very children were forced out of their villages in a most tragic manner.

Over the years the good people of this community brought to our attention the possibility of a collaboration. While public schools do exist in many of the villages, the quality of the schools are so that most parents refuse to send their children, especially their girls. This holds even more so when it comes to anything higher than primary school, since sending their girls to a secondary school further away is out of the question.

The community does however have incredible faith in their traditional, religious schools. The elders of one village advised that they would of course donate the building and the land, should Nirvanavan Foundation be able to implement a school worthy of their children within these schools. For such to work, a proper curriculum would need to be implemented, which would include the traditional classes as well as the arts, and so forth.

A sincere conversation was had earlier this year as Nirvana Bodhisattva made it a point to visit the area personally, and with his team. He also invited the leaders of this community to Rajasthan in order for them to witness the foundation's work in person.

Long story short, the generosity of those here on FB will soon be realized on the ground, as the school begins to take shape over the next few months. My aim is to be there in February to document the changes, and of course to make portraits of the very children benefiting from this collaboration!

www.halimina.com

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V system.
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Proud Father, Outskirts of Kisumu, Kenya, 2007

After we finished photographing a school, I was taken to this man's house where he and his son were present. It was a small, mud structure in which a full family slept. The house consisted of one room, and all slept on the floor.

His son had just been accepted into high school and held the letter of acceptance in his hands with such pride. The moment was bittersweet however, because the family was unable to afford the books and uniform needed. The heartbreak was clearly visible on both of their faces, and in their mannerisms.

For most of us this is unimaginable, yet for so many this is the reality. Education is anything but given, and is usually a luxury. This is what makes our work with Nirvana Bodhisattva and his team so important, for Nirvanavan Foundation promotes education above all else.

My hope is that his son did attend higher education however, and that the family is now in a better place.

www.halimina.com

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V system.
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Mother + Daughter, Kisumu, Kenya, 2006

In light of the testimonials being shared most recently through 'me too,' this portrait of mother and daughter is being shared. It was an honor to have heard their story, and a privilege to present it here.

A dozen years ago a connection was made to visit communities in western Kenya. The foundation asked me, "how many people would you like to photograph?" In my nativity, the answer was "as many as possible."

Upon landing, we immediately headed out to photograph a church and a congregation. It was clear to me that we would never run out of people to photograph. We would sometimes arrive at a school, and the teachers would have all of the students line up... well over three hundred students a few times.

So when I was told that we were going to visit a small home, I let out a sigh of relief. Then I was told that we would be visiting with a support group for individuals with HIV/AIDS. This weighed heavily on me, for my mind was on making sure the work lived up to the people being photographed.

When we arrived everyone welcomed us with such warmth, such kindness, that all anxiety melted away. There were perhaps two dozen people in the house. After introductions were made, each person courageously shared their story with us. While the people from the foundation did their best to translate, the tones of the voices as well as the expressions on their faces spoke volumes.

Each spoke while absolute silence prevailed, telling the stories of how they had been affected, of how their husbands had strayed from their marriages and brought the virus back into their beds. It was a deeply moving moment, and left me without words. Perhaps more than the stories, it was how they had told them that struck me. It was as if they had forgiven their husbands, and accepted the cards that they had been dealt. The strength in their presentations was supremely clear, a testament to their intact spirits.

All of this was happening as their children sat at their feet, a visual which stays with me to this day. My eyes moved from the mothers to their children as each spoke, and noticed the bond between them. This I will never forget.

www.halimina.com

Note: This frame was exposed with a Hasselblad V System.
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Young Student + Window, Shamli District, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2017

This will be the very first negative to be printed in the darkroom this week. For those involved in her school, her portrait is being presented with gratitude. She is one of nearly 150 new students to benefit from the new classes. The first quarter of the budget has been received this week by Nirvanavan Foundation, and plans are under way to move forward with the establishment of the school in her village.

There is something truly magical about this room, and it was discovered almost by accident. One day when we were finished with the portraits in direct sunlight, we decided to go inside and found the light to be absolutely magnificent. The girls loved it of course because they could be photographed in peace, without the prying eyes of the village. They also loved the fact that they were being photographed in subtle light, rather than under the hot sun. So it began, the love affair with window light... and the creativity of the girls just blossomed.

Portraits now included two girls at a time, some near the window, some further away. Some girls looked at the camera, while some girls looked to the window. This young girl specifically was a true natural in front of the lens, and whenever asked stepped right up. Our partners in the village have created a special place for these children, allowing them to collaborate with us and without fear of being scolded. These girls have never been allowed to interact in such a way, and now they had the freedom to do so... and truly lived in the moment.

To see this young girl so poised for her portrait, so confident, pushes me forward even more so. All of those involved have my gratitude for helping make her school possible... and my respect goes to Nirvana Bodhisattva and his team for the difficult work ahead.

www.halimina.com

Note: This frame was made with a Hasselblad V system onto Ilford film, and scanned only for preview purposes through the negative sleeve.
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Local Girl + Village Near Advaita Garden, Alwar, Rajasthan, India, 2017

This past trip to India was a revelation photographically, bringing me closer to the children than in previous years. Thanks to my dear brothers Mukesh and Tejpal, we walked through the villages near Advaita Garden with camera in hand.

Without such guidance, it is nearly impossible to walk through rural India and make meaningful portraits. We met this young girl when we searched for her cousin one day, a girl with incredibly clear eyes. It turned out that this young girl was a natural in front of the camera.

On this day she walked over to us as her cousin walked away to collect water for the family. Her hair was as seen in this photograph, and she was about to pull it back when we asked her to leave it alone. She was pleasantly surprised at the request, smiling along the way to this wall. We tried to find a spot with subdued sunlight, and chose this space. She positioned herself so that the sunlight touched her face as we released the shutter.

I look forward to printing this negative in the darkroom soon!

Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad 555 ELD/100 mm combination onto Ilford Delta film.
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