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6Qs with Photographer Halim Ina //

12.29.09
byRami

Dentist by day, superhero by night. Well, almost–when Halim Ina is not at his dental clinic, you can find him sharing stories and hope with fellow human beings across the globe. Born in Nicaragua to parents of Lebanese descent, Halim is a self-trained photographer on a mission to raise awareness of the plight faced by those who are often overlooked in our society. Fix yourself a cup of tea and see how this citizen of the world puts faces on the faceless…

STATS
Camera:
Hasselblad
Zoom-in or walk-up: Walk-up
Dental school–would you go back? Nope

Man in Lebanon

1. Of all the countries you’ve traveled to and photographed in, what’s your favorite?
My body as it travels across borders feels little towards one country versus another. A state does little for me. Rather, it is the people that mean something to me, something more than any amount of land surrounded by borders could ever mean.

2. You’re also a dentist – do the two skill sets overlap at all?
Yes, the two skills do overlap. For one, both skill sets can be described as technical…and creative.

Measurements, whether they are in hundreds of millimeters or in thousands of a second, require a certain personality, a certain dedication to their importance. The tones of a print are related to the value of a dental crown. Both tasks also require a certain level of communication, social interaction. In the end, in my life one skill set funds the other.

3. When and how did you become serious about photography?
I became serious about photography in the mid-1990s, in my homeland of Lebanon.  After seeing the faces of the Bedouins and Arabs, I decided to make a visit to their areas.  Their hospitality made it easy for me to photograph and after returning the next year, my mind was made up to follow people through the years with the help of a camera.  Later on, reading about the life of Pierre Verger produced a peaceful sense of purpose within me, made me realize that others before me had done so and gave me inspiration to do the same.

4. When did you decide to turn your hobby into humanitarian efforts?
One incident more than any other gave me the impetus to do so. During my stay in Delhi with the Zakat Foundation of India,

a man invited me to follow him down an alley. At the end of this alley was a market, with numerous people barely scratching a living, with men laying down in the corridor barely conscious, flies all over them, children begging all along the way. He told me to point to some faces to be photographed.

Even though I felt a sense of difficulty in doing so, I did and he brought them to me to be photographed.  We did so in this most crowded area, tripod and all, then returned to his office.  These people all knew him since he was associated with the foundation that funded the local free clinic.  He then asked me: ‘What do you plan on doing with these pictures?’  That question was the beginning of raising funds through the photography.

5. What is a current humanitarian project you are working on?
The current phase of my photography is a collaboration with Nirvanavan Foundation.  This group works in traditional villages of Rajasthan, India, where child prostitution is rampant.  They have developed schools in eight villages and hope to reach ten in 2010.  My photography last month reached all ten villages, documented the children and has given me the tools necessary to reach a wider audience.  Over the next 12 months, the task at hand will be to prepare grants and proposals for galleries on behalf of these most wonderful folks.

6. How do you feel your work represents you as an Arab-American?
The work represents the subjects and nothing else. How people see the portraits is another matter.  They are all quite aware of my background, since this is one of the most common questions asked of me. Many of them may have met an American, perhaps even an Arab.

However, meeting someone from both lands that brings to them a little of each is something new.  Some are attracted to the Arab angle, some to the American.

Then there are the people that view the work itself. For them to see images of Cubans, Indians, Kenyans, Gambians, Senegalese and others made by a Lebanese born in Nicaragua and living in the United States gives them a different perspective than the one they have become accustomed to seeing in the general media.

For more of Halim’s work and information on the Nirvanavan Foundation, visit www.halimina.org

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About the Author:
From the Midwest to the Middle East and back, Rami Mikati spends much of his time advocating for a more just world, often using art – hip hop, comedy, spoken word poetry, and film – as a medium to raise awareness. Rami believes the best way to generate compassion for a people is to humanize a people, and the best way to humanize a people is through art. He is a graduate student studying biological sciences at Kent State University, in his hometown of Kent, Ohio.



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