Costumes for Cuban ballerinas

Photographer Halim Ina returns to the island of Cuba every year to photograph ballerinas. He always returns with last year’s set of portraits to give to his muses. This year he is returning with an additional gift for those who pose for him: a set of costumes for each of the ballerinas, which he used an Indiegogo campaign to fund.

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Ina was walking around a neighborhood in Old Havana one day in 2008, waiting on a family he was going to photograph. Two blocks away was a prominent school of dance, and, he said, there were countless ballerinas waiting for class to start.

“They forgave me my Spanish and looked at the images in my small album,” he said. A dozen or so agreed to let him take their portraits, and he set up the camera in the courtyard and made portraits of the girls against a white wall.

“That was the beginning, and the following year when I returned to give them their portraits, the basis for our present relationships was truly cemented,” he said.

Ina started the crowdfunding campaign as a way to ascertain the value of the work in the public domain.

“Would others be as touched by the performance of these ballerinas, by their stories? Would they go the extra step and financially support such work? The success of the project has rejuvenated my social outlook and given me reason to pursue the idea of crowdfunding in the future as well,” Ina said.

The majority of the people who contributed to his crowdfunding campaign were familiar to him he said, however, of the more than $1,500 raised were some contributions from strangers.

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Ina will return to Cuba later this month and for the majority of the ballerinas, the costumes will be an surprise, he said.

Documenting a person over for years is entirely different from taking a single portrait. Looking at the photographs, the viewer can see the progression of the relationship between photographer and subject, the look of familiarity in the facial expressions, he said.

“The people in my photographs are family to me, and visiting them over the years is as natural as the desire to see my family,” he said. “While the photographs document the progression of the photographer-subject relationship, they also document the growth of each in their respective fields. The ballerinas for example display a progression in terms of their skills, their creativity, their confidence and their art.”

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Ina’s other projects include a collaboration with two foundations in India: Humana People to People India and Nirvanavan Foundation.

“With both, the premise of my work is the education of girls through portraits of [these] very students,” he said.

He spend the early part of the year at eight schools in Haryana and Rajasthan. This collaboration began in 2006.

Spending the time there has given him even more energy to continue with the work, he said.

“The public has reacted to this project in a very positive way, and the possibilities are endless as long as we can maintain the integrity of the project and continue to do the work in a manner respectful of both the students and the supporters.”

For more information on these projects, visit Halim Ina’s website.

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Sandra Proudman
Sandra is a writer and photographer based in Northern California. She is a believer in the power of crowdfunding to move projects and people forward.

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