Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Hanoi Report 2

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The gods of good fortune continue to grace me with their benevolence, and the past few days have been exceptionally fruitful in terms of adding to my self-assigned project.

In Ha Noi, I favor staying at the Golden Silk Boutique Hotel, which I consider my home away from home. I came to know most of its staff by name, and they are exceptionally helpful whenever I need. Its location is perfect as it sits right in the Old Quarter; known here as Pho Co. Around the corner from it is Ly Quoc Su, where the small and inexpensive Pho 10 restaurant offers one of the best pho bo I've ever consumed.

Since my last post, my daily calendar has been filled with photo shoots. Along with the indefatigable Ms Tu, I attended another Lên đồng ceremony performed by quite a famous medium (Ống Đồng)  called Phung Minh Tri and an exceptionally pretty female medium (Bà Đồng).

Bà Đồng
This morning, I was expecting to fill the day with some street photography but I had to re-arrange my priorities when advised that Ms Tu and I were expected to photograph a Ca Tru musician in Hoan Kiem. Naturally, the streets of Ha Noi will wait for me....and we drove off to the lake.

We spent couple of hours photographing Ms Hường Đặng, a Ca Tru musician that I met when attending one her performances a few nights ago. In my Facebook post recording this photo shoot, I wrote that I had gone to Heaven for an hour or so. The backdrop of the Ngoc Son Temple in the middle of the lake was just perfect, and the cloudy weather fully cooperated with us.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Hanoi Report 1

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

I scarcely know where to begin this brief post. From the moment of my arrival at Ha Noi airport this past Saturday, I've experienced the most wonderful of assistance, unstinting help and undeserved generosity from so many people that I am still awestruck.

In a recent Facebook post, I wrote that I must have done something really good in my life because from the moment my feet touched Ha Noi's ground, I've already been warmly welcomed to two incredibly intense religious ceremonies (known as Hau Dong) and treated with the utmost courtesy and friendship.

Much of the credit for all this is owed to Ms Tu; an accomplished photographer herself, she developed significant expertise and established strong contacts in the Hau Dong and Ca Tru communities. A fearless motorbike driver, she navigates the streets of Ha Noi (totally ignoring my freaking out on the back of her machine, and giving me pitying looks if I overdo the freak outs) with aplomb and care...and ferries me where and when she sees fit.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

David Yarrow | South Sudan

I'm not in the PR business, so I normally don't advertise gallery openings, but I received a rather floridly-written email announcing that David Yarrow was about to show one of his South Sudanese photographs in full color.

I had never heard of Mr. Yarrow before, so I didn't really know what the big PR fuss is all about, but it intrigued me and I found a video interview with him including a number of his monochromatic photographs made in South Sudan, which are truly splendid and are certainly worth your viewing.

David Yarrow is based in London, and after being named Young Scottish Photographer of the Year, he has since specialized on the natural world to capture its harsh and endangered beauty.

He is the author of two fine-art photography books: Nowhere and Encounter. Many of the monochrome shots that feature in Encounter were captured in East Africa. His photographic travels have given him insights into environmental and geopolitical issues which he has put to use into the leading African conservation charity, for which he is the affiliated photographer.

I particularly enjoyed by Mr Yarrow's Indigenous Communities galleries, which include monochromatic photographs of the Dinka, the Inuit and Omo Valley tribes.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Nour El-Rifai | The Nubians

Photo © Nour El-Rifai - All Rights Reserved
The Nubians are a distinct ethnic grouping of people of southern Egypt and northern Sudan, settling along the banks of the Nile from Aswan. They have a long history dating back to dynastic Egypt, and  founded a dynasty that ruled Upper and Lower Egypt during the 8th century BCE. It is estimated that they number about 300,000.

For many years, many Nubians found employment in the wealthier households of the main Egyptian cities, where their work ethics, and honesty were highly valued. However, for many years after the building of dams and the High Dam in Aswan, many were marginalized and unsuccessful in their efforts to return to their original homeland.

That Nubian displacement began early in the 20th century, when a series of dams built by the British along the Nile engulfed swathes of Nubia and uprooted thousands of Nubian farmers and fishermen from the banks of the Nile.

Egypt's new constitution  pledges "to bring back the residents of Nubia to their original areas and develop them within a decade." Now, tens of thousands of Egyptian Nubians feel they might have their chance.

Nour El Rifai's The Nubians is a collection of photographs of Nubians who live on Seheil island  about 2 miles (3.2 km) southwest of Aswan.

While Nour El Refai is a self-taught photographer, he also obtained a degree in architecture at Cairo University and is working as an Architectural photographer. His interest in travel made him explore documentary and cultural photography. He worked as a documentary photographer on stories and assignments in Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, India, and Turkey. He taught architectural photography within the academic field in various Egyptian universities; and is currently teaching photography in many cultural and art centers.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

My Reasons To Love The World | #1

BBC Travel recently had a brilliant feature titled 50 Reasons #To Love The World in which it asked a range of people, from writers and chefs to musicians and photographers, to share one experience from the last year that truly inspired them. A travel experience that reminded them why they love the world.

It provided me with the inspiration to do my own Reasons to Love The World series, which will consist of photographs of my travel experiences over the past decade or so, that left an indelible impression on me, and that made me love the world we live in.

In no particular order, I started the series with a photograph made in a tango milonga in Buenos Aires during the 2011 Foundry Photojournalism Workshop. I sought to produce a multimedia project of the tango culture in the capital of Argentina, and was fortunate to meet generous people (one was a student of mine) who helped me in understanding the intricacies of the dance rituals.

Whilst photographing in the milonga halls, I imbibed the rhythm and melodies of this incredibly complex and sensuous dance, and although my Spanish is imperfect, I understood the sadness of many of its songs. The rituals followed by both men and women; often strangers, were fascinating...a sort of theater scene in which the protagonists had to follow the rules.

The experience, albeit not profound, filled me with a sense of wonderment, and an absolute love for this world.

More photographs of my Reasons To Love The World will periodically be posted.

The Seduction of Tango multimedia project:

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Smithsonian | 12th Annual Photo Contest Finalists announced the finalists of its 12th Annual Photo Contest. These photographs were selected from over 26,500 entries, and were submitted by photographers from 93 different countries.

There are ten finalists per category—Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile—and it is up to the public to determine the Readers’ Choice winner.

I decided to self-appoint myself as a member of a jury for the entries in the Travel section, and selected two photographs which, in my view, ought to win.

One is by Pham Ty of women in a village near Vinh Hy Bay in Vietnam, busily fixing fishing nets while their husbands are out at sea. The other is by Jorge Fernandez of priests celebrating Orthodox Easter in Lalibela, Ethiopia, in May 2013.

Both Pham Ty and Jorge Fernandez have their work on websites, and very much worth a stop over.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

POV | Shortlisted Gear For Hanoi Project

In less than two weeks, I'll be in Ha Noi working on a personal project, and the feedback so far is that the necessary scouting has been done, strong contacts within that special community have been made, and the vital groundwork has been set very I'm very lucky to have been assisted so ably and so reliably by wonderful Vietnamese people.

I have researched all I could find on this project, and also spent -quite enjoyable- hours using the Google Translate tool to understand Vietnamese websites. I have a thick notebook filled with handwritten information, which should be useful if and when I interview people involved with this project.

Naturally, the fearsome Murphy's Law hovers over all arrangements... but crossing fingers, all systems are go.

I don't want to divulge the project details at this stage, but photographing it will occur in different venues and at different times. Consequently, I have to give a lot of thought as to the equipment I will take with me...more so than usual because, as I haven't been to these venues before, I'm literally "flying" almost blind at this juncture.

My choice of equipment at this stage is this:

1.  Fujifilm X-T1, along with the XF 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 zoom, the Zeiss Touit 12mm f2.8, the XF 56mm f1.2 and possibly (not shown here) the XF 18mm f2.0.

2. Leica M9, along with Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 and possibly the Elmarit 28mm f2.8 (mostly for the street photography days).

3. A film Mamiya 645 Super with a Mamiya-Sekor 80mm f2.8 as I am toying with the idea of making formal portraits of the project's protagonists.

4. Tascam Field Audio Recorder.

I might swap the Mamiya 645 for a Canon 5D Mark II (and a 24mm f1.4 Canon lens) since I may produce some multimedia, and will need its video capabilities. If so, I'll also include a SONY shotgun microphone.

I will probably change my mind a few times before departure, and regret the choices once I'm there....but that's the upside and downside of such projects.

Friday, 6 March 2015

All of Asia Photo Contest | Winner

All of Asia's Second International Photo Competition has recently announced its winner.

Roberto Fenanti won the “All of Asia”, the second international travel photography competition organised by with his monochromatic photograph of Bagan in Myanmar, which in the opinion of the judges, captured the perfect moment under a unique light.

Photo © Roberto Fenanti- Courtesy
In an email, Matteo Vegetti (a photographer himself, and one of the founders/organizers of the contest) graciously asked me whether I concurred with the choice...and having had the chance of viewing the other submissions, I do. It wasn't an easy task though because of the quantity of wonderful photographs, but this one stood out.

The judges also agreed to award four honorable mentions to photographers Jakub Rybicki, Chee Keong Lim, Neil Herbert and Muhammad Mostafigur Rahman.

These submitted photographs aptly convey the sense of Asia, with two scenes of Myanmar, one of Afghanistan and from Bangladesh.

The three members of the jury (aka the judges) were Matteo Vegetti, a travel and documentary photographer, Javier Arcenillas, a humanist freelance photographer and Johnny Miller, the cofounder of Maptia.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Jeremy Suyker | House of Strength

Photo © Jeremy Suyker - All Rights Reserved
I was introduced to this extremely interesting work recently featured as Editor's Choice on Maptia, and it's from a region I have rarely covered on this blog: Iran.

House of Strength is the body of monochromatic work by photographer Jeremy Suyker, and is about the pahlevani; the traditional Persian system of athletics originally used to train warriors that combines martial arts, calisthenics, strength training and music.

Wikipedia describes it as also merging elements of pre-Islamic Persian culture (particularly Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Gnosticism) with the spirituality of Shia Islam and Sufism. The traditional gymnasium in which this type of wrestling is practiced is known as the zurkhaneh, or house of strength.

The implements used by the pahlevani are a pair of wooden clubs, a bow, a shield and a bar.

The Persian pahlevani influenced the virtual identical traditional wrestling practiced in India known as Pehlwani or Kusti. This wrestling style was developed during the Mughal Empire by combining native wrestling techniques and the Persian pahlevani. I've photographed the pehlwan wrestlers in Delhi, Varanasi and Kolkata, and the styles seem very similar.

Jeremy Suyker is a French photographer and reporter specialized in sociocultural issues. He reported on the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war, and on the historical changes in Myanmar.

He has been to Iran on several occasions since 2013, and is pursuing personal projects around the Black Sea region, Central Asia and Istanbul. His works can be found in publications like Geo, Washington Post, Newsweek Japan, Der Spiegel, L’Equipe magazine, Le Temps, Figaro, 6Mois, l’Actualité, A/R magazine and Vice.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Khari Baoli | Exposure | Leica M9

I've just published Khari Baoli on the Exposure platform, using a post processing workflow on the photographs by combining Alien Skin Exposure 6 and Color Efex Pro 4. The photographs were made with a Leica M9 with an Elmarit 28mm 2.8.

Old Delhi's Khari Baoli is the largest wholesale spice market of Asia, but it's the small and medieval-looking Gadodia Market that is the subject of this gallery. This small circular courtyard is perpetually crowded with traders, and wholesalers looking for the best and cheapest spices, such as turmeric, ginger, saffron, and pepper. Few people can enter the area without sneezing, coughing and tearing up. The laborers who load the heavy sacks of turmeric and ginger seem immune to the pungent smells that assail the senses.

The market is also up on the first floor, but the dark stairs are sometimes slippery with phlegm spat by the laborers and porters who continually walk up and down carrying the heavy sacks of spices.

The larger Khari Baoli market was established at the time when Fatehpuri Masjid was built in 1650 with the patronage of Fatehpuri Begum, who was one of the wives of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.

As a footnote; my Leica M9 is not artificially weathered. It's weathered for real. See my previous post  regarding the newly announced Leica.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

POV: Is That For Real, Leica?

I've mentioned this on my Facebook page, but I thought I just had to mention it (for posterity, you know) on my blog.

Here's what it's all about: "Leica has officially announced a new limited edition “Correspondent” version of the Leica M-P digital rangefinder, designed by Lenny Kravitz. The musician, actor, and designer came up with a styling for the camera that offers a luxury product in an artificially aged package."

But easy things first. I have no idea who Mr Kravitz is; I never heard of him nor have I seen his his input insofar as a camera is concerned is totally lost on me.

Reading the press release, I stopped at this gem of prose: "The Leica M-P ‘Correspondent’, a desirable collector’s piece in the style of legendary reportage cameras, was created in collaboration with the artist. Thanks to deliberate, carefully executed wearing by hand, it appears as if it had been in constant use for decades and would have countless stories to tell."

I am pretty much convinced that no self-respecting photographer (even those able to fork out the $24,000 price tag on this baby) would want to be seen with this "artificially aged camera." They'd be the brunt of endless jokes and jibes.

I wonder what type of person would buy the LEICA M-P ‘CORRESPONDENT’? The legend is that orthodontists are the main buyers of high-priced Leicas, but I think in this case it'd be collectors with money to burn. Possibly Russian oligarchs, Chinese real estate tycoons, oil sheikhs...and the like.

That said, if these characters are interested in buying a well-used naturally aged M9, I have mine to sell at a price a little less than the $24,000 price tag of the Kravitz' model.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Ken Hermann | Beauty of Omo Valley

Photo © Ken Hermann - All Rights Reserved
I'm certainly glad to have photographed the Omo Valley in 2004 at a time when the influx of tourists and thrill-seeking photographers was considerable less than what it is now. What I've often seen coming out of the cradle of humankind (as the Omo Valley is often called) has been overworked photographs, with its tribespeople over made-up and fetishized by having them wear incongruous head gear and unnatural accessories.

So a trace of skepticism accompanied my initial look at Ken Hermann's Beauty of Omo Valley; fully expecting to see the same style of photography...but I was pleasantly surprised. No fetishized or Disney-fied versions of these handsome people in this gallery...just beautiful photographs made of equally beautiful people. While obviously staged with care, using paraphernalia such as umbrellas, reflectors and flashes, and photographed with digital Phase One 654 camera, the photographs are simple, and reflect Omo Valley people without the overbearing artifices used by other photographers.

Ken Hermann is based in Copenhagen, and works for a diverse range of clients including leading brands, agencies and media corporations. With a degree in advertising photography, Ken's work was published by a number of magazines and exhibited around the world. One of his projects made him the winner of Hasselblad Masters 2012.

According to an interview with the German GEO magazine, Ken describes that tourism to the Omo Valley has significantly increased over the past few years, and with the improved infrastructure comes the constant tour buses to villages with people jumping out, making photos, jumping back, and driving to the next villages.

For a back story kind of look into Ken Hermann's Omo Valley photo shoots, view the short video below:

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Jan Møller Hansen | The Sadhus (Monochrome)

Photo © Jan Møller Hansen - All Rights Reserved
I missed this year's Maha Shivaratri (or just Shivratri) in Kathmandu! Celebrated on February 17, 2015 by Hindus all over the world, it glorifies the Hindu god Shiva, believed to be the lord of cosmic destruction and dance.

It's described as starting with a night vigil leading up to the day of the festival during which many Shiva devotees fast and offer special prayers. Shiva is worshiped in the form of a lingam, a vertical, rounded column, representing the male creative force and the infinite, indescribable nature of God, and the yoni which represents female creative energy. Together they represent the union of organs, and the totality of creation.

And listen to this: flowers, incense and other offerings are made, while prayers are chanted. Bhang, an intoxicant made from the cannabis plant is consumed by many on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri.

How could I have missed it?

Anyway, to partially redress the disappointment is Jan Moeller Hansen's The Sadhus,  a monochrome gallery of about 50 portraits of these itinerant ascetics in Kathmandu; some of who attend the Maha Shivaratri festival with considerable zeal. After all, Nepalese authorities are said to have spent almost Rs 900,000 in cash, food and blanket donations to the 5000 sadhus who had come from various parts of Nepal and India to celebrate the festival at the Pashupatinath Temple premises.

It was estimated by the Nepali newspapers that around a million devotees from India and Nepal thronged the ancient Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu on Maha Shivratri festival on February 17.

Jan Møller Hansen is a self-taught photographer interested in social documentary and street photography. A senior diplomat working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Jan is presently based in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Around 24 galleries of his photographs (some color and others in monochrome) are of Nepal. Jan also photographed the Rana Tharus who live in the Tarai, a narrow strip of land which extends across 550 miles of the southern border of Nepal, next to northeast India, and whose ethnic origin are said to be  Rajput, members of a high caste in Rajasthan.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Vedic Disciples | "Wet Plate" | Exposure

I've just published The Vedic Disciples on the Exposure platform, using a digital wet plate preset to give the monochromatic photographs an ancient appearance which befits the location.

The photographs (originally in color) were made at the Vadakke Madham Brahmaswam Vedic Institute in Thrissur, and is of the activities at an ancient Vedic 'gurukul' (or training/boarding school; very similar to the Buddhist monasteries for novitiates), where the young students follow this way of teaching sacred Vedic scriptures.

There are four Vedas: Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda. The Vedas include more than 100,000 verses and additional prose.

It is an ancient Indian educational system; currently being rejuvenated with the assistance of the Indian government. The young boys who populate the Vedic school belong to a caste of Keralan Brahmins, and are responsible to carry on the age-old tradition of chanting Vedas during religious rituals or functions. The chanting is learned by practice, and nothing is written down. 

The rhythm of the Vedic chants is followed by the young boys' moving their bodies in cadence to the verses, which reminded me how the Buddhist novices recite their mantras, or how the Islamic students recite the Qur'an at their madrasas...and how Jewish worshipers sway during their prayers. 

The tradition of Vedic chanting is often considered the oldest unbroken oral tradition in existence, while the Vedic texts date to roughly the time of Homer. It is said that the Vedas -as they are called- are a vast collection of hymns that were heard by ancient Indian sages when they were in a deep meditative state.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Kurt William Kamka | Plain Manila

Photo © Kurt William Kamka - All Rights Reserved
There are some photographers who espouse the notion that they must be invisible when shooting in the streets for their images to be successful, candid and "in the moment"...but there are also others who have no such compunctions. To me, I've got my feet firmly planted on both sides of the "aisle" provided the photograph tells a story.

Plain Manila is a collection of over 50 monochromes of the daily life in this gigantic Asian metropolis by Kurt William Kamka who, through these images, shows the people and provides us with a sense of the place, as if we roamed its back streets. As the photographer himself puts it, he sought to document "the day-to-day complexities of community life in the barrios of Manila".

Despite my frequent travels in Southeast Asia, I confess not knowing much of Manila, other than it's one of the most high-density cities in the world; even denser than Kolkata...which is a surprise. Perhaps I ought to remedy this shortcoming, and extend the trajectory of my travels to include the Philippines.

Kurt William Kamka is a commercial, documentary, street, non-profit and NGO photographer who relocated to Asia in 2011. Currently based in Manila, he document his view on the human condition.
His photos have been shown in the Leica gallery in Singapore, multiple locations in Manila and in Chicago. He has worked in advertising for some of the largest global brands including P&G, US Bank, Firestone, Bayer, McDonalds, Nikon, Samsung, UCB, Delta Airlines and others. 

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Eugeni Gay Marin | Vietnam

Photo © Eugeni Gay Marin- All Rights Reserved
I just love this gem of a photograph. The melancholic expression of both the musician and his muse (?) are so expressive that I can construct so many stories by just looking at this photograph for a few seconds....and that's what storytelling is all about. Is it a story of unrequited love? Is she remembering an old flame? The musician's overly dyed and carefully coifed hair tells me he could be a washed-up performer, now playing his instrument in cheap joints...still clinging to his youth.

To my mind, this is a Vietnamese fado scene;  the Portuguese music genre characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics.

Eugeni Gay Marin's Vietnam gallery has a few more of his photographs in this lovely country, but unfortunately too few.

However, his photographic project of documenting Punjabi Sikhs is also very interesting, and I've enjoyed viewing it, especially as I haven't had the opportunity of visiting Amritsar or Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) yet.

Eugeni Gay Marín is a Spanish photographer whose images were published in various media such as El País Semanal and Lonely Planet. He participated in two collective books and has been selected to show his work in several festivals. He co-founded El Observatrio project, specialized in monitoring photographic student work and in 2014 he began Fotoholica, a digital retouching company for photographers. In 2014 he won the photography FNAC New Talent in Spain for the work “From Quantum Island”. This project was exposed in the Voices Off festival in Arles and won the “Le prix Révèlation SAIF 2014”.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Tewfic El-Sawy | Interview | Langly

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
"I’ve visited India over twenty times over the past 16 years, and every time I visit I discover a new layer. Discovering India is like peeling an onion, one layer at a time reveals another layer, and there are probably millions of layers." 

I was recently interviewed by a staff member of Langly; a manufacturer of camera bags started by Evan Lane, a working photographer and director based out of Los Angeles. The camera bags are said to have been inspired by the life of the freelance photographer, nomadic professionals looking for something to protect their gear and look good doing it.

You can read the full text of the interview here.

I gather the Langly people saw my Exposure website, and liked what they saw...especially the photo essay on the Northwest India, and suggested an India-centric interview.

Langly camera bags was funded through a Kickstarter campaign, and successfully raised $88,000 from the public in summer of 2012. Although Langly bags appear to be fine products, I was not asked to endorse them nor was it suggested that I get remunerated in any way for this interview to appear on its website.

The photograph on this post of this unblinking girl is probably one of my many favorites of India. These three girls were part of a nomadic family in the Rann of Kutch, and sold tribal jewelry. 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Monique Jaques | Miss Muslimah

Photo © Monique Jaques - All Rights Reserved
To counter the gory headlines of the recent current events in the Middle East, the photo essay on Miss Muslimah may be a relief. It's an award competition that seeks to be the opposite of a beauty pageant, and which took place in Yogakarta, Indonesia in 2014. It's for young Muslim women who are judged to have shown dedication, reputation and concern for Islamic values and community development.

With Indonesia being the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, the event is popular and is attracting an increasingly international lineup. Entrants from Trinidad, Nigeria, Iran, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and many Southeast Asian countries take part. 

The hijab is a controversial topic amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike. While the Qur'an requests Muslim women to dress modestly, it does not specifically institute a dress code. However, most Islamic legal systems define modest dressing as covering everything except the face and hands in public. Wives of the Prophet Muhammad are said to have been hidden behind curtains from the rest of the Muslim congregation because his home was constantly visited by people. Muslim women started then to emulate this tradition by wearing veils and face covers.

For more background information and other images, drop by Al Jazeerah America 's High Heels & Hijabs.

Monique Jaques is a photojournalist based in Istanbul, who spent the past four years focused on documenting issues in the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and India. She graduated from New York University's Photography and Imaging program, and was nominated for the Prix Bayeux- Calvados ‘Young Reporter’ award. Her project ‘Growing Up on The Gaza Strip’, was first published in the New York Times. She was selected as one of the recipients of the PROOF Award for the Emerging Photojournalist for her work in Post-War Libya and featured in the Bursa Photography Festival. She was also featured in the Ian Parry Scholarship show in 2009 and received an Honorable Mention for the 2008 New York Photo Awards. Her work has been published by The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, GEO, The Guardian, and CNN, among others.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

It's Thaipusam Time...!

Photo © AP Phots/Joshua Paul - All Rights Reserved
A few days ago, the festival of Thaipusam was celebrated in various Hindu (mostly Tamil) communities in Asia, but its epicenter was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as it has been for the past 125 years. It's a highly symbolic festival celebrated annually with a procession by devotees seeking blessings, fulfilling vows, offering thanks, celebrating Lord Subrahmanya or Lord Murugan, who represents virtue, youth and power to Hindus and is the destroyer of evil.

In Asia, more than a million Hindus thronged temples to celebrate this festival,  during which many display their devotion by piercing their bodies with hooks and skewers. On the day of the festival, devotees shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of heavy burdens, while others may carry out acts of self mortification by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with skewers and sharp hooks.

The devotees perform “Kavadi”, an act of faith where they suffer the pain of dozens of hooks and spears piercing their body during the 272 steps that bring them to the cave temple.

Yahoo News has featured a collection of photographs taken a various photographers (some photographs are rather gruesome) on its News webpage. These are arranged in a slideshow format.

It is said that there an incredible amount of photographers and photojournalists during the processions and at the Batu Caves; and it takes a lot of doing to avoid taking photographs with other photographers in them. I haven't noticed photographers in the slideshow...but I know full well the amount of effort (and frustration) it takes to do so.

Self mortification rituals are performed in a number of religious traditions; the Shi'a mataam on the day of Ashura is one of them. And I photographed the Kodungallur Bharani, a wild and unusual localized religious festival near Kochi, during which devotees symbolically strike their foreheads with swords till blood trickles down their faces.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Shah Zaman Baloch | Shrine of Abdul Latif Bhittai

Photo © Shah Zaman Baloch - All Rights Reserved
Eons ago, I worked for a US international bank that saw it appropriate to send me to Karachi for about 9 months; an internship kind of thing to learn the tools of the trade. Whilst I enjoyed it (and probably learned absolutely nothing of value), I had no interest at the time in photography nor did I seek to immerse myself in a foreign culture. I was just out of was my first job, and rather myopically, I was only focused on being a banker.

Foolishly, I didn't travel to Lahore or to Peshawar...I stayed put in Karachi and its surrounding region. I regret not having the intellectual and visual curiosity at the time to explore the immensity of what Pakistan has to offer...especially what has become one of my photographic obsessions: Sufism.

One of Pakistan's premier Sufi saints is Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, whose Urs (death anniversary) is widely observed, and is said to be attended by half a million pilgrims. But through of the talented work of photographer Shah Zaman Baloch, I've come across this wonderful image of the shrine of the Sufi Abdul Latif Bhittai.

Abdul Latif Bhittai was Sindhi Sufi scholar, mystic, saint, and poet,  and is considered to be greatest poet of the Sindhi language. His death anniversary is held in a small village not far from Hyderabad, and about 200 kilometers from Karachi.

Shah Zaman Baloch's website portfolio consists mostly of single frames of his native Pakistan. Although he originally wanted to be a painter, he saw a newspaper advertisement of admission for Bachelors in Film and TV at the National College of Arts in 2005, and started his career. While his website has a photography gallery, his main area of expertise are in the fields of Direction and Cinematographer. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Niqita Gupta | Baiga: The Vanishing Tribe

Photo © Niqita Gupta - All Rights Reserved

I came across some members of the Baiga tribals in Chhattisgarh, but they're mostly found in Madhya Pradesh, as well as Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand.

The Baiga are known for an almost reclusive culture, as they don't interact with other related tribals in the region, such as the Gonds.  They are totally dependent of the jungle for their survival, believe in a hand-to-mouth existence, have no interest in education, rarely eat outside their community, or associate with others. Following a death in the family, the Baiga just leave the house and build another. The Baiga consider themselves as people of the forest, who can only live on the produce of the forest.

A distinguishing feature of the Baiga tribals is that the women are famous for having tattoos on almost all parts of their body. Both men and women get their hair cut only once in a life time, as they take immense pride in their long hair as a tradition.

Photographer Niqita Gupta features a gallery Baiga: The Vanishing Tribe, and provides us with a brief glimpse into their simple life.

Niqita is based in India and can work worldwide. From the dense tropical forests of Kanha where the Baiga tribe lives, to the private lives of drag queens in London, she strives to work with communities and examine their relationship with each individual. 

Friday, 30 January 2015

Felipe Jácome | The Last Amazonas

Photo © Felipe Jacome- All Rights Reserved

The series of beautiful monochrome portraits of The Last Amazonas by Felipe Jacome is to document the struggle of indigenous women defending the Ecuadorian Amazon from oil exploitation by large oil exploration companies, backed by the government.

The portraits are accompanied by statements from the women themselves, explaining their history, culture and traditions. The color decorations are drawn using the same natural dyes used by the tribes to decorate their faces.

Faced by relentless exploitation, the Amazonian indigenous people have taken their case to their country's government, and have started muscular actions against oil companies operating in the region. These native indigenous groups accuse oil production for river pollution and soil contamination.

Felipe Jácome is a documentary photographer born in Ecuador, whose work has focused on issues of human mobility and human rights. He won the Young Reporter Competition of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and his photos have appeared in publications such as Foreign Policy Magazine, The Guardian, Vice Magazine, CNN Photo Blog and the Miami Herald. His photographs have also been exhibited in London, Geneva, Amsterdam, Quito, and Washington DC.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Theyyam | Tewfic El-Sawy

Being stuck indoors because of a 'monstrous' snowstorm in NYC has some advantages, after all. I pulled some of my photographs made in 2009 at various Theyyam performances in the region of Kasargode in northern Kerala, picked those that appealed to me and published "Theyyam: When Men Become Gods" on Exposure .

These performances were some of the most unusual I've ever witnessed...not in terms of violence (real or manufactured) because there was none of that (except for chicken sacrifices), but because of the sudden metamorphose of essentially what are human actors into weird creatures that adopt eerie mannerisms and surreal voices. These were not trances...just a morphing into weird beings.

The term Theyyam is derived from the Malayalam “daivam”, or deity. It is a religious event practiced only in India’s North Kerala, observed by its rural inhabitants, and follows a cult consisting of several thousand-year-old traditions, rituals, and customs. Virtually all castes and classes of Hindus in the region are involved in the cult, and its adherents consider Theyyam performers as incarnations of local deities. During these performances, they are granted the power to foretell the future, to give counsel, and to resolve minor communal disputes.

The amount of care and meticulous artistry that produces the face-painting, the costumes and the building of the headdresses are nothing short of breathtaking...mostly everything is made at the location of the performances a few hours before.

Theyam performances are only held during the early months of the year, and are indigenous to the rural regions of north Malabar.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Amer Kapetanovic | Whirling Dervishes

Photo © Amer Kapetanovic -All Rights Reserved
The Whirling Dervishes is one of the many branches of the Islamic Sufi tradition, and is generally associated with the Mevlevi order in Turkey. The most well known Mehlevi Sufi ceremony is the Sema, which is one of many different Sufi ceremonies performed in order to achieve religious ecstasy.

Sema means listening in Arabic, and is performed as "zikr", which means the devotional remembrance of glorifying God and the Prophet Muhammad. The use of music and song can range from somewhat raucous and repetitive (as the Egyptian zikr) to the more subtle (musically-speaking) of the Sema in Turkey. In the same vein, the Gnaoua (or Gnawa) of Morocco perform their characteristic African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms.

It is said that performing the Sema is a way to spiritually meditate through melodies and dancing. It brings out a person's love of God, purifies the soul, and is a way of finding God. It represents the mystical journey of individuals on their ascent through mind and love to union with God.

Although I photographed the Gnawa Sufis in Morocco, the Badawi Sufis in Egypt and various Sufi manifestations and ceremonies in India, I was only able to photograph the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul along with hundreds of tourists; a delightful experience but not one that I found particularly intense at all . Due to time constraints, I wasn't able to visit Konya; the city where the Sufi saint Jalaluddin Rumi is buried. 

Until I do visit Konya, the wonderful (and large) monochromatic photographs of a Whirling Dervishes sema by Amer Kapetanovic will suffice. 

Amer Kapetanovic is based in Sarajevo (Bosnia & Herzegovina), who's been photographing for over twelve years. Apart from commercial work, his personal photography gallery featured work from India, Turkey, France and Sweden.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Travel Photographer Blog is 8 Years Old!

I suddenly realized The Travel Photographer blog is 8 years old today...approximately 2929 days have gone by since I decided to start a blog. It was the 24th of January 2007 in London and on a whim, I thought it'd be a great idea to have one.

3213 posts later, The Travel Photographer blog is still going strong...has attracted millions of views, and has 2262 Google followers. My Google+ page has been viewed 543,584,919 times ( I don't believe it, but it's sounds cool), and I've been recognized in the streets of New York City by strangers who ask me "You're The Travel Photographer, aren't you?".

Through my posts on this blog, I've come to know the work of fantastic photographers and photojournalists; through it, I made new friends in that industry; I've used it as a marketing platform to launch my photo expeditions-workshops; it expanded my visual, intellectual and cultural horizons; and influenced my own photographic direction.

So with a well-deserved pat on my back, I thank my readers and all those who contributed directly and indirectly to make The Travel Photographer blog what it is.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Mosa’ab El Shamy | Egypt's Mawlid |TIME LightBox

Photo © Mosa’ab El Shamy- Courtesy Time LightBox
"Mawlid" is the Arabic word for birthday, and in the context of this feature, is a religious birthday. The most celebrated in the Muslim world is the birthday of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. However, there are many others religious birthdays that are observed in some countries, such as Egypt.

Although the majority of Muslim scholars favor the observance of Muhammad's birthday, the more orthodox do not. In some countries, such as Egypt and Sudan, Mawlid is used as a generic term for the celebration of birthdays of local Sufi saints as well. Around 3,000 Mawlid celebrations are held each year and attended by tens of thousands of people.

The largest Mawlid in Egypt attracts up to three million people, and honors Ahmad al-Badawi, a local 13th-century Sufi saint. It is easy to forget that Egypt was once the seat of the Fatimid Caliphate, a Shia Islamic caliphate, which left exquisite examples of Islamic architecture such as the Al Azhar University, the Al Hakim mosque and the El Hussein mosque (Masjid El Imam Hussein).

The largest Mawlid is that of Ahmad Al-Badawi, the founder of the Badawiyyah Sufi order, a Moroccan Sufi who fought the Crusaders in the 13th century.

Exploring The Mawlids of Egypt is the work of Egyptian photographer Mosa’ab El Shamy, a Cairo-based independent photographer who covers daily news stories, as well as in-depth cultural and social documentary projects. In 2013, TIME picked one of Mosa'ab's photographs among its best 10 photos of the year. He won an Award of Excellence from Pictures of the Year International competition and then selected by PDN among its 30 Emerging Photographers in 2014, as well as one of the Guardian’s Top 10 Youth in Digital Media.  

He also won the Egypt International Photography Contest and Arab Union of Photographers competition and was shortlisted for numerous awards including the Terry O’Neil award, Hasselblad and Professional Photographer of The Year.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Travel Photographer Asia | Contest

I'm very pleased to introduce the Travel Photographer Asia Contest to my readers.

As I've always evangelized, travel photography is a complex and varied discipline that includes a wide range of genres and subjects, from cultural events to food, from architecture to people and from reportage to wildlife. Travel photographers must be able to capture these diverse genres using all sorts of techniques, and resources.

Spearheaded by Ahsan Quraishi, the Travel Photographer Asia is a travel photography contest aimed at professional and amateur travel photographers who have travelled in Asia. Through the submitted photographs, it seeks to highlight the undeniable vibrancy of the people, places, food and festivals in Asia.

The best 50 photographs will be chosen by a panel of judges, and will be exhibited for a week at one of Kuala Lumpur's best exhibition venue, MapKL@Publika and the winners will be unveiled in a gala prize giving ceremony on the opening night.

I am also very glad to have been chosen as one of the 4 judges on the Travel Photographer Asia panel, which includes photography heavyweights Khaula Jamil, Eric Beecroft and Rahman Roslan. The winning entries will be first shortlisted by the judges, then chosen via social media.

The rules governing the contest are simple and straightforward. Submissions to the contest start on January 21, 2015 and all entries must be submitted on or before midnight on 20 April 2015. The winners will be announced on May 29, 2015.

The prizes are very generous, but I would be remiss if I didn't highlight that both the Winner and First Runner-Up will be each awarded a spot in the fantastic Foundry Photojournalism Workshop (held on 19 -25 July in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia) inclusive of tuition fees, 7 days 6 nights accommodation and return flights (ex KL).

There's no question there is an incredible amount of photography talent amongst Asian and non-Asian photographers who make images in Asian countries, of cultures, people, its food, festivals, religious events and its landscapes. I am certain that this contest will brings phenomenal imagery to the forefront, and will introduce new names to the multitude of people who love photography.

So if you traveled to and photographed the Asian continent, participate in this inaugural photo contest, and let us see your photographs!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Rickshaw Wallahs | Tewfic El-Sawy

I've just published Rickshaw Wallahs on the Exposure platform, with some of the photographs I made during the Kolkata’s Cult of Durga Photo~Expedition & Workshop which I organized and led in late 2011.

Since the end of the 19th century, hand-pulled rickshaws have been transporting Kolkata residents in its crowded streets. These ‘vehicles’ have remained an integral part of Kolkata’s fabric for more than 100 years. The word ‘rickshaw’ originates from the Japanese word jinrikisha. They were invented in Japan in 1860, and appeared in India a few years later.

Despite protestations, this archaic form of transport continues to be popular, despite ongoing debates regarding ethics and traffic-flow efficiency. During Kolkata's monsoon, the streets flood regularly, and only hand pulled rickshaws can carry people where they need to go. It is also regularly used by housewives for shopping, by small businessmen to carry merchandise, and by families to get their children safely to and from school.

Whilst in Kolkata, I photographed Muhammed, a rickshaw puller and to capture a few frames of him pulling it from a passenger's perspective, I sat on it. 

The sight of Muhammed straining to pull me these few meters upset me, and I asked him to stop, and got down. I suppose there is a difference between the hand-pulled rickshaws such as those in Kolkata and elsewhere, and the bicycle rickshaws in Old Delhi. I have ridden the latter; grudgingly perhaps, but I haven't felt the same way.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Omo Child | Mingi

"I am one of the victims of mingi. Last year my daughter was declared teeth mingi because her teeth showed from the top first instead of the bottom. In my mind it was unthinkable to drown my own child in the river. I swore to God no one would kill my own flesh and blood. I will be the first Kara man to stand up to the elders." -Hylo Ari 

Mingi is the traditional belief among the Karo and Hamar tribes in southern Ethiopia that adults and children with physical abnormalities are ritually impure, and some of them believe evil spirits or a “curse” will bring ill fortune to their villages if Mingi children are not killed. Mandated by the tribes' elders, the afflicted child will be left alone in the bush without food and water, or will be drowned in  rivers.

Filmed over a five year period, the film makers of Omo Child followed Lale Labuko, a young educated man from the Karo tribe and his relentless journey with the people of his tribe as they attempt to change an ancient practice. Labuko, a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, learned about the practice of Mingi and how he made it his life mission to end ritual infanticide in his tribe's culture.

Omo Child: The River and the Bush has been selected for the DC Independent Film Festival and will premiere February 25th, opening night of the festival.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Terri Gold | The Nomads of Niger

Photo © Terri Gold-All Rights Reserved
Infrared photography and off-the-beaten path nomadic people...this is exactly what photographer Terri Gold features in her new Nomads in Niger gallery.

She photographed the Wodaabe; nomadic cattle-herders and traders in the Sahel, who periodically migrate from southern Niger, through northern Nigeria, northeastern Cameroon, southwestern Chad, and the western region of the Central African Republic. The number of Wodaabe is estimated to be 100,000 and are widely known for their beauty, elaborate attire and rich cultural ceremonies.

Terri tells me there has been no tourism in Niger for 6 years now, and her photography group numbered less than five. The Wodaabe festival she attended had no fixed date, so it was a matter of crossing fingers and being patient. Her group had to have 18 guards armed with Kalashnikovs and a 50 mm machine gun on each truck. 

The Guérewol festival is an annual courtship ritual competition among the Wodaabes, when young men dressed in elaborate ornamentation and made up in traditional face painting gather in lines to dance and sing, vying for the attentions of marriageable young women.

Terri Gold is an award-winning photographer and artist based in New York City, and has built an impressive reputation for her infrared imagery of rituals, rites of passage, festivals, celebrations and portraits from all over the world.

Her artistic creativity and energy were patently obvious during my Tribes of South Rajasthan & Kutch Photo~Expedition™which she had joined in January 2010, as she moved from one photo shoot in a village to the next photographing with her two cameras; one "normal" like those used by the rest of us, and the second professionally modified to shoot infrared.

Friday, 9 January 2015

POV: No, I Can't....

"If you take a picture of a human that does not make him noble, there is no reason to take this picture. That is my way of seeing things." - Sebastiao Salgado.
And that is my way too.

I've waited until the murderers of Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists were done with to express my personal view on this blog.

Readers of this blog, people who know me either personally or through social media, know of my interest in documenting world religions, unusual religious ceremonies and cults....the more esoteric the better.

 I am completely irreligious, and yet I'm profoundly interested -from a visual, intellectual and cultural standpoint- in these manifestations of faith. And it's for these exact reasons that I am not going to join the "I Am Charlie" flood.

I respect all manifestations of faith...whether I agree with them or not. How can I not, if I photograph them every chance I get?

During the horrible events in Paris, the concept of freedom of expression and of the press have been bandied about in the media, and many individuals have understandably been quick to express their support by commenting and displaying various avatars in support.

I'm one of the many who believe that freedom of expression ought to apply to all faiths, religions, beliefs...spiritual or secular. To select one and not the others is -to me- a form of discrimination and racism. 

But I also believe that scatologically smearing a group’s race, identity and beliefs (whether Muslim, Catholic, Jew or Hindu, etc) is an unreasonable thing to do, and is not the mark of a civil society.  I don't care if Charlie Hebdo's satire is a French "tradition" that even precedes Voltaire, the satirical polemicist who, by the way, was a strident anti Semite. If wielded with a heavy hand, it leads to hate.

And while I'm on Voltaire, he is incorrectly credited in having said "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." These were the words of his biographer. Check this to make sure.

Criticism of any religion can (and ought to) be done using intellectual and thoughtful discourse...rather than using pornographic/crass lampooning as was done by Charlie Hebdo. 

That is -in simple terms- why I am not, and will never be Charlie.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Northwest India | Tewfic El-Sawy

I've recently published Northwest India on the Exposure platform, with some of the photographs I made during one of my photo expeditions-workshops in a corner of northwest India; a region that is rife with tribal communities.

The Dungarpur-Poshina- Baneshwar-Bhuj region of Southern Rajasthan and of Gujarat‘s Rann of Kutch is sufficiently distant from the mainstream tourist circuit that compelling photographs and great photo-opportunities can be made in the small rural villages scattered in that geographical quadrangle.

I've chosen to feature portraits more than anything else in this gallery; portraits of members of tribal communities such as the Bhils, Banjara,  Gowdia and Garacia, and Rabaris.

I've also chosen to process the digital images using Nik Collection's Analog Efex Pro 2 filters, which gave them an analog look.

The photographs I made in the tiny village of Madhwa (midway between Bhuj and Bhachau) are those that stayed with me the most. The village is home to charcoal makers, living in abject poverty and were rather reclusive... however, when seeing cameras the women of the village quickly changed into their finest and cleanest, and stood with the poise of experienced models the minute when lenses were pointed their way.  Handsome people, with beautiful dark eyes...and yet dealt the harshest of cards in the desolate shrubs of the Kutch.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Andrew Stanbridge | Taungbyone Nat Festival

Photo © Andrew Stanbridge- All Rights Reserved
As readers of this blog know well by now, I'm attracted, photographically and culturally, to the especially unusual religious ceremonies and festivals in Asia and elsewhere. The French language has a word that's better suited than 'unusual', and it's insolite, and it is these that are pure catnip for me.

One of these unusual events is the Taungbyone Nat Festival, which is held near Mandalay every August (or thereabouts ).  This festival is known as the major gathering spot for spiritual mediums based on an ancient legend involving two Indian brothers. The cult of the nats is Myanmar's ancient animist religion.

Hundreds of mediums ( known as Nat-Kadaw) and thousands of pilgrims come once a year to Taung Byone, to commemorate the brothers' spirits. It is the most impressive Nat (spirits) festival in Myanmar. The Nats are spirits worshipped in Myanmar in conjunction with Buddhism. There are 37 spirits of  human beings who met violent deaths according to the legends.

It's certainly one of the festivals I plan photographing at some point (it has been on my bucket list for quite some time), especially as it's similar (as far as the involvement of transgender mediums) to the worship of Mother Goddess (Đạo Mẫu) that I'm hopeful to be soon photographing in Vietnam.

On Roads & Kingdoms, which is a popular and independent journal of food, politics, travel and culture, I chanced on the work of photographer Andrew Stanbridge on the Taungbyone Nat Festival, and which is titled Sauced Spirits; a remarkable and an in-your-face photo essay on this event, and on the people who attend it.

Andrew Stanbridge has been traveling and photographing throughout Southeast Asia for the past ten years. He documented the continuing modernization of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, and he has more recently concentrated on addressing the physical, emotional and cultural scars left from various wars fought in these countries. He has also started to photograph postcolonial communities on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe as well as creating a visual survey of Ethiopia beyond the well-known images of drought and starvation. Most recently, he was involved with image making in Syria. 

His work has been exhibited and published internationally and is held in several prominent collections. It has been supported by many grants and he frequently visits colleges and universities in America lecturing on the aftermath of war. 

PS. A couple of minor quibbles about the captioning: I'm not sure Burmese ladyboys are called kaoteys ; a term used in Thailand, and the popular stimulant used in Myanmar is betel nut, not beetle nut.)

Friday, 2 January 2015

Carlos Esteves | Bhaktapur

Photographs © Carlos Esteves (CE-TOP Photography)- All Rights Reserved
I start the new year with photographic work from Carlos Esteves, a Portuguese photographer who, in some of his galleries, merges travel photography with an aesthetic akin to fashion photography.

I particularly liked Carlos' work from Bhaktapur in Nepal, where he not only photographed in the streets of this ancient city, not far from Kathmandu, but also photographed what I presume are dancers in traditional Nepali court costumes. At first glance, and seeing some of these dancers looking out of ornate windows, I thought that they might have been Kumari Devi (the "living goddess" who are pre-pubescent girls considered to be the earthly incarnations of the goddess known as Taleju in Nepal), but they were dressed as such.

Bhaktapur is known as the 'City of Devotees' and is considered as Nepal's cultural gem. It is one of the three royal cities in the Kathmandu Valley. The others are Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and Patan.

Carlos Esteves has a degree in Computer Science and a Master in Business Administration, and is  mainly a self-taught photographer. His portfolio is certified by the Associação Portuguesa dos Profissionais da Imagem. He's passionate about traveling, and travel photography is a large component of his portfolio, and photographic interests.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Canang Sari | Tewfic El-Sawy

This might be the my last post for 2014, and I chose to feature a few of the photographs I made during a handful of photo expeditions-workshops I led on the island of Bali.

These photographs represent a sampling over the course of the past few years, and some are purely stock travel images in style, whilst others have a somewhat more documentary flavor to them. This is in a way intentional, to show the evolution in my style of shooting during these past years.

Once again, I chose the Exposure platform to feature Canang Sari; a collection of 15 full sized color photographs.  Canang Sari is one of the many daily offerings made by Balinese Hindus to thank and praise the supreme deity. We have all seen these offerings in the Balinese temples, on small shrines in houses, and on the ground or as a part of larger offerings.

I look forward to 2015. A new year marks a new beginnings, new people to meet, new adventures to enjoy and new memories to create.

The Travel Photographer wishes you all a Happy New Year!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Sara Hylton | Holy Town

Photo © Sara Hylton-All Rights Reserved
Vrindavan; the holy little town not far from from Mathura, Krishna's birthplace, and a refuge for Bengali widows, which earned it the nickname of 'city of widows. I visited it some years ago, and -against the odds- was able to photograph at the ashrams where these impoverished 'cast-offs' congregate to earn a few rupees by singing devotional verses for visiting pilgrims. I called them White Shadows because widows in India have to wear plain white saris, with no adornments whatsoever.

During my March 2014 photo expedition-workshop to Varanasi and Vrindavan, my group and I were not allowed to photograph there due to stricter regulations, possibly triggered by bad publicity. It is estimated there are about 20,000 widows living on the streets of Vrindavan, many of whom have spent over 30 years there.

Sara Hylton spent about a year documenting a small community of these widows in Vrindavan, and produced Holy Town, a gallery of 15 large color photographs of these women, achieving a remarkable degree of intimacy with them. As Sara tells us, their story is one of perseverance, resilience and humanity in an environment of poverty and neglect.

Sara is a Canadian documentary and portrait photographer based between Brooklyn, New York and New Delhi, India. She first became interested in photography in 2011 while working with an international humanitarian organization in Uganda. She began taking photographs to document the organization’s work in the field, and discovered a love of visual storytelling. She's especially drawn to portrait photography as a way to share people’s stories.

She holds a Master of Arts in International Conflict Studies from Kings College London, and also recently completed a post-graduate certificate in Photojournalism and Documentary from the International Center of Photography (ICP).

I normally don't include my work on blog posts about other photographers, but I make an exception here since the more exposure given to the plight of these widows the quicker their circumstances might improve. "White Shadows" on my Vimeo channel.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

POV | 2014's Highlights | The Travel Photographer

Your Year In Review (or something like that) is a new trend on Facebook that allows it to pull any user's 2014 activities, and create a personalised timeline of the highlights of the year complete with photos and statuses.  Users can customise their  timelines as well, with Facebook allowing users to add up to four photos for each month in the year.

Since I have no intention of letting Facebook getting involved any more than necessary in my timeline, I thought it to be an idea to do my own...briefly listing some the highlights of my photographic timeline of 2014.

From a technical standpoint, I think my decision to reduce my reliance on the heavy Canon DSLR system I have been using for over 15 years to the lightweight mirrorless system in the form of the Fuji X Series (X-Pro1 and X-T1) and the Leica M9 is one that's at the top of the list.  I was particularly impressed by the X-T1's performance during my September photo expedition to Vietnam.

The two photography expedition-workshop that I led to India (to cover Holi festival) and to Vietnam were by and large very interesting but very different. The former was very technically challenging, while the latter was not.

On a personal level, teaching at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop is always a phenomenal experience. This year in Antigua, I had the pleasure of working with 8 talented photographers of diverse backgrounds and experience.

The memory of getting literally hosed with cold and colored water during Holi was one that will remain in my subconscious for quite a while, but the pleasure in meeting lovely people in Ha Noi's Hoan Kiem lake will remain for far longer.

Finally, discovering, and then researching and documenting, obscure religious rituals performed in Northern Vietnam's Red Delta region which will hopefully be included in my 2015 photo expeditions.

So I hope I was prophetic in my earlier message...may the next year be filled with superb light, exotic travel, colorful festivals and new (and even better) photo-taking devices!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Season's Greetings!

I wish my readers a very merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

May our next year be filled with superb light, exotic travel, colorful festivals and new (and even better) photo-taking devices!

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Dancing Monks of Bhutan |Tewfic El-Sawy

My first photo expedition to the Kingdom of Bhutan was in 1999, and was coincidentally the very first formal photo expedition I organized and led. The trip was over 20 days or so, and included India (Delhi, Dharmasala and Varanasi), Kathmandu in Nepal and finally Paro and Thimpu in Bhutan.

I returned to Bhutan in 2006, 2008 and 2009 and during these years, I witnessed the immense change (sometimes known as progress) that affected the country. In 1999, there were only a handful of hotels; two of the better ones were owned by Druk Air, the Kingdom's airline. And there was no television, no easy access to the internet and the Bhutanese women in the two main cities still wore their hair in page boy cuts, and hadn't yet been influenced by the daily Bollywood movies.

In 2009, in the small town of Jakar I had the pleasure of having cups of very good espresso and cappuccino, and had a wonderful Tibetan dinner of momos. That was 5 years ago, and I gather that more "progress" has invaded Bhutan...but at least, it has been at a slower pace than in other countries in the region.

Over these four trips, I gathered quite a large inventory of photographs and I recently decided to showcase a color selection focusing on The Dancing Monks of Bhutan on the Exposure platform, joining 8 other galleries of photographs from India, and Vietnam.

As many of my readers know, tshechus are annual religious Bhutanese festivals held in each district of Bhutan. They are also large social gatherings, and include large commercial markets as well. I've attended the large Thimpu tshechu in 1999, and even at that time, it was a tourist destination. Over my last three trips, I was fortunate to photograph a tshechu in the small village of Prakhar, and the interesting  Jambhay Lakhang.

I recall seeing a GEO magazine photographer at the Thimpu tshechu, who had gone to great lengths to set up a portable studio in a small corner of the grounds...and was photographing some of the dancers. I thought nothing of just standing behind him, and essentially 'poaching' some of the shots. I wasn't being surreptitious at all, and the German photographer didn't seem to mind...even waiting for me to finish a shot or two before asking for another dancer to pose.

It was a different world then.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Scott Irvine & Kim Meinelt | Vietnam

The cover of Scott Irvine & Kim Meinelt's book had me fooled for a moment because I thought it was an ancient collodion processed photograph; but then I noticed the modern plastic chairs.

I chanced on Vietnam, the self-published book by this husband-wife team, on my Facebook feed and because of its wonderful aesthetics, I wanted to have it featured on my blog. Although I've been to Vietnam leading my photo expedition-workshop just this past September, I still miss it and this book eased the itch a little bit.

Vietnam consists of over 90 photographs in that country and neighboring Laos, and these are made entirely with an iPhone.

I settled back, adjusted my monitor and "flipped" through the book's pages, savoring each one...a combination of street photography as well as travel photographs (markets, ethnic markets, etc), and tried to pinpoint where they were made. Perhaps my imagination is on overdrive but I thought I recognized one of the two young women in white on the book's page 6. I photographed her -or someone like her- wearing an identical outfit in a coffee shop in Ha Noi's Old Quarter.

Scott Irvine and Kim Meinelt live in Brooklyn, and have been photographing as a husband wife team for about 4 years under the name "Waxenvine". Both photographers for over 20 years, they've been using film cameras and traditional darkroom techniques. They have both recently been featured on Instagram,  on The Selby, and have self published 3 photography books together from past trips.

Scott graduated with a BFA in photography and sculpture from RIT in Rochester NY. He currently works as a freelance photographer in NYC.

Kim attended the North Carolina School of Arts with a degree in set design, scenic painting and photography. She works at Eileen Fisher and holds the tittle of Creative Concept Director in NYC.