Sunday, 8 May 2016

Alexander Khimushin | The World In Faces

Photo © Alexander Khimushin - All Rights Reserved

"While travel is my life, photography is my passion. 
And it’s never been about the money…"

It is said that, in photography, a portrait is a composed image of a person in a still position, and often shows the person looking directly at the painter or photographer, in order to most successfully engage the subject with the viewer.

Many photographers also use an optical illusion used by painters since time immemorial, by placing the person's dominant eye in the center of the frame, to give the impression that the eyes are following the viewers.

And with more than 7.3 billion people of countless cultures and traditions, portraiture is a wonderful way to demonstrate the diversity, ingenuity, and beauty of humans.

I wouldn't be wrong in assuming that most travel photographers have started their careers and craft by photographing simple portraits; perhaps setting up their subjects against attractive backgrounds, or against anything they found. I recall my own start when, a 70-200 lens on my camera, I'd roam the exotic places I traveled to in search of faces that 'spoke' to me.

My craft has evolved during the years, and I've become inclined to photograph perhaps more complex scenes, however travel portraiture is always the primary visual "magnet". And from my experience, it is always portraits that attracts the most attention amongst a wide swath of viewers.

Alexander Khimushin explored 84 nations with cameras in hand over the past two years in order to photograph portraits of people he met for “The World In Faces,” a photo project celebrating diverse cultures around the world.

There will always be critics for whom this project (and others like it) will not sit well, but insofar as I'm concerned, it's a project that brings us all together.

Alexander Khimushin is an Russian/Australian independent traveler. He tells us that 8 years ago he packed a backpack for a journey around the world. Since then he's been traveling the globe non-stop.

The Huffington Post also has an article with larger versions of his photographs.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Alessandra Meninconzi | Time For Holi!

Photo © Alessandra Meninconzi-All Rights Reserved
One of my favorite travel photographers is Alessandra Meninconzi who has recently uploaded her new work from India, which she titled It's Time For Holi. Her photographs were mostly made in Vrindavan, and its surrounding towns and villages, during the festival of Holi.

I remember Alessandra messaging me from Vrinadavan complaining that her new Canon Mark 3 was in danger of being permanently colored in pink. She is a Canon Professional, so I'm certain that Canon didn't mind. That said, by many recent accounts, in many areas Holi has devolved into a a color "slug fest" that goes beyond fun with colors, and is no longer a religious observance.

Alessandra's galleries range from the Arctic Siberia to Ethiopia, from Lapland to the Silk Road, and from Greenland to Tibet and the Himalayas. She worked extensively for more than a decade in the remote areas of Asia, documenting minority people and their traditional cultures. More recently, she focused on the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions that are threatened by climate change, development, and resource extraction.

Alessandra Meniconzi is a Swiss photographer fascinated by the lives and traditions of indigenous people in remote regions of the world.Her photographs have been published widely in magazines, as well as in four books: The Silk Road (2004), Mystic Iceland (2007), Hidden China (2008) and QTI -Alessandra Meniconzi, Il coraggio di esser paesaggio (2011). 

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Travel Photographer Asia Invalidates 2016 Original Winner

Photo © Alex Varani - All Rights Reserved
Travel Photographer Asia and its judges have taken the difficult, but unavoidable, decision to revoke its 2016 winning photograph of Malaysian photographer Yen Sin Won, and replace it with the above photograph by Alex Varani of Italy.

The new winning photograph was originally first runner-up, and with the said elimination is now the overall winner of Travel Photographer 2016 contest. It is of Indonesian fishermen battling a shark near Cenderawasih Bay. 

The updated line-up of the winners is here.

Although Yen Sin Won's monochromatic photograph (see my previous post to view it) was compelling enough to garner the admiration of the jury, it came to the attention of the judges when asking for and viewing the RAW version that it violated the rules and spirit of the contest regarding post processing restrictions on submitted images. 

As I posted earlier, Travel Photographer Asia is much more than a photographic contest. It is also a travel photography festival consisting of photo talks, an exhibition and photography master class & workshops for the professional and amateur photographer.


I shall join photography luminaries Ms Huang Wen, Mr. Che' Ahmad Azhar, Dr. Shahidul Alam and Mr. Vignes Balasingam in giving photo talks during the festival. My photo talk will focus on travel photography, and I'll touch upon its challenges and rewards, how to approach people and build trust, how to take the right photos for an article, how to build up a story with photos, and how to brand yourself. I will share how I started as a travel photographer, how I built my travel photo workshops business from scratch and how I go about developing personal projects. 


Friday, 29 April 2016

Travel Photographer Asia 2016 Contest Winners

Photo © Yen Sin Wong- Courtesy TPA 2016 
Ahsan Qureshi of Travel Photographer Asia has announced the winners (and best 50 photographs) of its 2016 contest in which more than 3000 images were submitted for consideration.

The winning photograph is "Jump Over" by Malaysian photographer Yen Sin Wong**. As a judge, I was immensely impressed by the quality of the submissions (which made the judging extremely tough), and by the fact that amongst the 50 top submissions, 6 are monochromatic. In my view, it took courage from these six photographers to submit entries in black & white to a travel photography contest. Color is frequently the instinctive choice for submissions to travel photography contests. I also noticed that the judges seemed to generally coalesce behind photographs that told a story, and that were more complex than simple portraiture. Naturally, all submissions were anonymous to the judges.

** see update.

Congratulations to all the winners and to all who submitted...you gave the judges a very difficult task to do. Well done. For those interested in the prizes, check them here.

However, Travel Photographer Asia is much more than a photographic contest. It is also a travel photography festival consisting of photo talks, an exhibition and photography master class & workshops for the professional and amateur photographer.


I shall join photography luminaries Ms Huang Wen, Mr. Che' Ahmad Azhar, Dr. Shahidul Alam and Mr. Vignes Balasingam in giving photo talks during the festival. My photo talk will focus on travel photography, and I'll touch upon its challenges and rewards, how to approach people and build trust, how to take the right photos for an article, how to build up a story with photos, and how to brand yourself. I will share how I started as a travel photographer, how I built my travel photo workshops business from scratch and how I go about developing personal projects. 





Thursday, 28 April 2016

Julie Higelin | Thisksey Gustor Festival

Photo © Julie Higelin-All Rights Reserved
Julie Higelin brings us her images of the Thiksay Gustor festival which usually takes place during the month of November in Ladakh. It is held from the 17th to 19th day of the ninth month of the Tibetan calendar. This short (two-day) festival is held at three different Ladakhi monasteries—Spituk, Thiksey and Karsha Zanskar.

The festival commemorates the assassination of the 9th Century Tibetan apostate king Lang Darma by a Buddhist monk. The assassination is re-enacted during the festival by burning effigies symbolizing evil. Morning prayers are offered to bring divine peace to those who take part in it. After the two day celebrations, there are a ritualistic events and dances by Black Hat dancers. 

Julie Higelin is a Belgian self-taught travel photographer who, rather than pursuing a full time career in physiotherapy, traveled the world and developed a passion for a nomadic existence, learning photography at the same time. She started off her photographic career by taking on an assignment for an NGO in Madagascar, and her road map was set. 

She has photographed in India, Ladakh, Madagascar, Romania and Guatemala amongst others. She generally uses a Canon 5DMark3, and a Canon 24-70mm F2.8 L and a 16-35mm F2.8 L.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Travel Photographer Asia 2016 Kuala Lumpur


I'm very pleased to be included amongst a panel of prominent individuals in the photography industry scheduled to give photo talks at the forthcoming Travel Photographer Asia 2016 event in Kuala Lumpur at the end of May.

In association with with “Fuji Film X“, Travel Photographer Asia 2016 offers a unique and ultimate travel photography festival consisting of a photo contest, photo talks and photography master class & workshops for the professional and amateur photographer.

The photo talks will be given by:

Ms. Huang Wen, currently the Secretary General of the Chinese Photojournalists Society, and one of the biggest names in Chinese photography. She is also is the director of the International Business Development Division of the News & Information Center, Xinhua News Agency

Mr. Che' Ahmad Azhar, currently a lecturer at the Faculty of Creative Multimedia, Multimedia University, Cyberjaya, Selangor, Malaysia. He taught in the field of Visual Communication and Photography for eighteen years. 

Dr. Shahidul Alam; well known for having established the  Drik Picture Library, The Bangladesh Photographic Institute, Pathshala, The South Asian Media Academy and others. A member of advisory board of National Geographic Society and the first Asian to chair the International Jury of World Press Photo. 

Mr. Vignes Balasingam is a photographer and curator based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He is the director of the OBSCURA Festival of Photography and the Monsoon Artist In-Residence program. He has curated over 40 exhibitions featuring international and Malaysian photographers.

And myself.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Kiki Xue | Ethno-Fashion

Photo © Kiki Xue - All Rights Reserved
I've written up a number of posts about the fusion of fashion and travel photography, and this is certainly not the last. It is no surprise that I am frequently influenced by fashion photographers' aesthetic, by how they set up their shoots, and by the postures and poses adopted by the models, the color schemes and the lighting. It would be an exaggeration to say that this kind of photography inspires me, but it certainly leaves a visual and and subconscious residue which I reach for when I'm photographing in the various countries I travel to.

Having spent all of 2015 and almost half of 2016 photographing hầu đồng ceremonies in Vietnam to produce my forthcoming photo book: Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Việt Nam, I've realized that much of my resulting images were instinctively influenced by fashion photography, especially those that had an Asian theme to them.

One of these influences is certainly Kiki Xue; a Chinese photographer who is currently base in Paris. Inspired by Irving Penn, Xue uses a digital Hasselblad, and creates an artistic atmosphere in his photography.

With one exception, I failed in convincing any hầu đồng practitioner to pose for me as in a fashion shoot. The exotic costumes they wear during the ceremonies are religious, and wearing them outside of temples during ceremonies is considered a sacrilege. Nevertheless, the mediums offered me ample opportunities to photograph them during their ceremonial incarnations. 

Photo © Kiki Xue - All Rights Reserved


Thursday, 14 April 2016

Dom & Liam Shaw | Vida Cubana | Fuji X Pro 2

© Dom & Liam Shaw- All Rights Reserved 
My Twitter feed is not entirely useless after all!

It brought me to a blog post by two Yorkshire-based wedding photographers who, after a street photography stint in New York City, continued their adventures to include 15 days shooting during the Easter break in the streets of Havana (and Trinidad).

Not only are the super-saturated photographs of Havana just a joy to view, but they were made with the newly released Fuji X Pro-2.

There are a number of world cities that are especially spectacular for  street photography; New York City, Kolkata, Hanoi and many others...but in my view, Havana is probably ranked amongst the top five, and these photographs certainly support my contention.

I was in Havana in 2000 (during the Elian Gonzales controversy) attending a photography workshop with Costa Manos, and it was a revelation. I was a photo novice at the time, but I immediately realized the incredible magnetic pull this city had to photographers.

To accompany this post, I chose one of the couple's photograph featuring Wilke (or Wilki), a well-known 'Habanero' to visiting photographers. He earns a living by dancing in various bars and by posing as a model on account of his elegance, white sideburns and enormous cigars. His dancing partner, Adelaide, is also a fortune teller. I met them during my week-long stay in Havana, and they introduced me to a private session of Santeria.

Traveling to Cuba for US citizens has become much easier recently, however Cuba's infrastructure hasn't yet caught up with the influx of tourists coming from its northern neighbor. Lack of hotel rooms, exacerbated by underdeveloped airport facilities, results in frustrated travelers.

As many things in life, I guess it's a trade-off. 

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Taylor Weideman | Poy Sang Long

© Taylor Weideman - Getty Images | Huffington Post
Here's another festival I would love to photograph...so in the bucket list it goes. The annual Poy Sang Long festival is a three-day long rite of passage for young Buddhists from the Shan ethnic group in Thailand.

The festival marks the initiation of 7-14 years old boys, as novices in the Buddhist community. It essentially consists of these boys taking novice monastic vows and participating in monastery life for a period of time that can vary from a week to many months or more. It's widespread in Myanmar, but the practice crossed into Thailand, where Shan immigrants have brought over their traditions.

The festival goes on for three days, as the boys are dressed like princes in imitation of the Buddha, himself a prince before setting out on the religious path, spend the entire time being carried around on the shoulders of their older male relatives.

Photographer Taylor Weidman's lovely images of the Poy Sang Long festival were featured in The Huffington Post. The accompanying article tells us that the photographer followed two youngsters, as they prepared for their initiation. The two boys are neighbors from Chiang Mai who traveled to Mae Sariang, a small town in northern Thailand near the Burmese border for the ceremony.

The festival of Poy Sang Long in Thai is called Buad Loog Gaew, which means "ordaining the beloved sons", and is held in early April when, in the city of Chiang Mai, pre-teen boys are inducted into the Buddhist novice-hood.

Taylor Weidman is a photojournalist based in northern Thailand. As photographer for Getty Images, his work has appeared in many of the world's most prestigious news outlets, including The New York Times, TIME, National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Business Week, BBC, The Guardian, GEO, Der Spiegel, and others.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Jorge Silva | Chinese Opera | Boston Globe

Photo © Jorge Silva - Courtesy The Boston Globe
A recent photo essay appearing on The Boston Globe's The Big Picture got my attention because it featured photographs of the performances of a Chinese opera in Bangkok. 

Chinese opera is a popular form of drama and musical theatre in China, and elsewhere in Asia where Chinese have established presence, with roots going back to the early periods in China. Together with Greece tragic-comedy and Indian Sanskrit Opera, it's one of the three oldest dramatic art forms in the world.

Many of the features that characterize modern Chinese Opera developed in northern China, particularly Shanxi and Gansu Provinces. These included the use of certain characters: Sheng - the man, Dan - the woman, Hua - painted face, and Chou - the clown.

Chinese opera was virtually killed off during the years of Mao Tse Tung's rule, but was revived in 1976. Since then, there are more than thirty forms of Chinese opera that are regularly performed throughout the country. The most well known are the Qinqiang Opera type, the Beijing Opera, the Shanghai Opera and the Cantonese Opera.

The reasons for my interest in Chinese opera are multifold. I've photographed a performance of Hát Tuồng in Hanoi in 2012. It is one of the oldest art forms in Vietnam, and is said to have existed since the late 12th century. It’s believed to be influenced by Chinese opera performance techniques, but subsequently evolving and changed into a new form embodying Vietnamese characteristics and nature. I wanted to photograph its performers more in depth at the time, but was constrained to do so because I was leading a photo workshop, and couldn't devote enough time to it.

Hong Kong Airport

On my return from Hanoi last month, I viewed a photographical installation in Hing Kong's airport featuring a number of images of Chinese opera performers, and thought it'd be a great forthcoming project.  It would touch all the bases I like: culture, history, music, fashion, and artistic performances. Perhaps I was subconsciously hooked to it after viewing the famous movie, Farewell My Concubine.

Although I'll be in Kuala Lumpur at the end of May, Chinese opera is only performed on certain occasions, however I'll try to do some research beforehand.


Thursday, 7 April 2016

Leonid Plotkin | Followers of The Real

Photo © Leonid Plotkin-All Rights Reserved
I've featured the work of photographer of Leonid Plotkin a few times already, and I'm glad he he has just uploaded photographs of his walking pilgrimage with Sufis from Delhi to Ajmer in Rajasthan to attend the annual Urs of Nawaz Gharib.

He and I share a passion for documenting the esoteric traditions and rituals of Sufism in the Indian sub-continent, and I'm quite certain that our paths have crossed there in May 2013. He was the only non-Indian I saw at the festival, apart from the photo workshop group that I was leading at the same time.

Sufism has a history in India evolving for over a millennia. Islam literally walked into the subcontinent since the 8th century. Sufi mystic traditions became more popular during the 10th and 11th centuries of the Delhi Sultanate, and these have existed since then. Sufism helped to build a syncretic medieval culture tolerant and appreciative of non-Muslims, and its saints contributed to a growth of stability, vernacular literature, and devotional music in the subcontinent.

Many Sufis make the pilgrimage from various Sufi dargahs in Delhi to the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti (aka Nawaz Gharib) on the anniversary of his death. Hundreds of devotees walk the distance of about 400 kilometers (250) miles over the period of ten days.

Leonid took part of this walk, and photographed its participants on Followers of The Real. Many of his captions are very interesting so read them when you view the images.

He is a freelance documentary photographer and writer. His work has appeared in publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The Economist, Penthouse Magazine, Student Traveler, Budge Travel, Discovery Magazine, MSN.com and others.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Eric Mencher | Tradition!

Photo © Eric Mencher-All Rights Reserved

I ought to feature the work of photographers who work with iPhones more often on this blog, especially if they are as talented as Eric Mencher.

Not only is he talented, but he also has a number of galleries on his website of images made with his iPhone of religious traditions in Guatemala, of Maya villages of Lake Atitlan and life around San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Most are in monochrome, but he includes brilliant color photographs made in both Guatemala and Mexico.

Having been to Antigua in 2014 and photographed in its cobblestoned streets during its annual fiesta of Santiago de los Caballeros (also in monochrome), my favorite gallery is of the religious traditions, fiestas and processions in Guatemala.

Eric frequently uses the iPhone's Hipstamatic app as well as its native camera. In the Hipstamatic mode, he uses the Lowy lens with the BlacKeys Super Grain, Blank Noir, Ina’s 1982 and Robusta films. He also likes the AO BW film with both the Akira and John S lenses, as well as the Watts lens with the D-Type Plate film.

Eric Mencher is a documentary photographer concentrating on long term projects and everyday street photography. His recent projects include life along the Lincoln Highway (the first cross-country road in the United States), contemporary life in the Maya villages of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, religious traditions in Guatemala, and life around San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

He was a photojournalist at The Philadelphia Inquirer, and covered assignments all around the world, including the post-apartheid era in South Africa, the aftermath of genocide in Rwanda, life under Fidel Castro in Cuba and the civil war in Chechnya.

You can read an interview with Eric here.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Ta-Tung | Rooe | Storehouse

Photo © Rooe | Courtesy Storehouse

I'm always intrigued by out of the mainstream religious traditions and rites, and was often able to photograph and document them wherever they occurred. This is how I have been working for the past 18 months on my forthcoming photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Việt Nam.

Cap Goh Meh is a festival celebrated in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore on the fifteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar. It officially ends the Chinese New Year celebrations. In Singkawang, Kalimantan, Tatung performers - people believed to be possessed by the spirits of ancestors – perform various ancient rituals, during the festival, the performance has similarities with Dayak rituals and is also performed by local Dayaks.

The Dayak are the native people of Borneo, and were feared for their ancient headhunting tradition.

Tatungs are mediums who exercise their craft during the Cap Go Meh ritual to ward off evil spirits, and cleanse the town and temples from evil and bad luck. During the Tatung rituals, participants enter into a trance and perform many bizzare actions, such as stepping on a sword, or piercing steel wires or nails into their cheeks or through their tongues.

The Intermediary is a photo essay by Indonesian photographer Rooe on the Tatungs published on Storehouse.


Monday, 21 March 2016

Louise Porter | Infrared Tribal

Photo © Louise Porter | All Rights Reserved
Infrared photography is a different technique that will appeal to those of us who have an adventurous streak, and seek to present an alternative vision to their audience. Infrared photography provides a new way to see what we like to photograph because our eyes cannot see infrared light as it is beyond the "visible" spectrum that humans can detect.

Using digital cameras modified to shoot infrared reveals photographs that are different from what we are used to see. Everything is different; colors, skies, clouds, faces, textures, and skin to mention just a few. The infrared "look" cannot be duplicated with post-processing software despite filters and techniques. Some photographers have converted their digital cameras by having the sensor's infrared blocking filter removed, and substituted with one that allows only infrared light to pass through.

One of those photographers is Louise Porter, whose infrared galleries Infrared Tribal Travel and Infrared Niger are lovely examples of this techniques. Readers of this blog post might be tempted to try this style of photography after viewing them.

Photo © Louise Porter | All Rights Reserved
Louise Porter has been a documentary and travel photographer for over 20 years. She trained at New York'sWorld Photography International Center of Photography, and has traveled to Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam, India, Laos, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Bhutan, Ladakh, Iceland, Cuba, Barbados, Ireland, Bali, Sulawasi, UK and other European countries. Her work was included twice in the 2013 and 2014 SONY World Photography top 10 short list for People along with another selected infrared photo in the Commended category.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Joana Chomali | Resilients

Photo © Joana Chomali-All Rights Reserved

Perhaps because of my work-in-progress documenting the spirit mediums of Vietnam, which involves colorful exotic and ethnic costumery, my appreciation of "ethno-fashion" portraiture has grown exponentially during the past few months of my travel photography path.

This explains my attraction to the portraits made by Joana Chomali, a photographer born and raised in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), of young, professional African women who -like her- were having difficulty to connect with their families' traditional past. According to The New York Times, each portrait session involved research on how the clothes, jewelry, skin and hair needed to be styled based on the specific tribe the models' families were originally from.

Resilients is a gallery of 9 wonderful portraits of women wearing their traditional dresses of colorful silk fabric; some with circular tribal markings on their skins, and wearing layers of beaded jewelry. The backdrop and the studio lights used by Ms Chomali are designed to give an Old Master feel to the portraits.

Joana Choumali is a fine art photographer based in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. She studied Graphic Arts in Casablanca (Morocco) and worked as an Art Director in an advertising agency before embarking on her photography career. Much of her work focuses on Africa, and of the myriad cultures around her.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

POV: The Fuji X-Pro2 And Red



All Photographs © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
(click on photographs for larger versions)
These are my very first photographs made with the Fuji X-Pro2 and a Fujinon 18mm f2.0 lens. I had gone for a walkabout in New York City's Chinatown, and stopped in front of a brick wall recently painted a glorious deep red color.

I planted myself there for about an hour, barely budging even when a crew of photographers arrived for a photo shoot with a male model. I waited for people and residents to walk by against this superb backdrop, and shooting from the waist so as to capture them in their natural demeanor, I managed to get a range of different frames.

Although red is also the color most commonly associated with heat, activity, passion, sexuality, anger, love and joy, it is the color of happiness in China and other Asian countries. Being in Chinatown, I though it appropriate to choose this wall.

These photographs are not SOOC, but have been post processed with some vignetting using Color Efex Pro4.

During the initial few hours I used the new X-Pro2, it performed flawlessly. That said, I haven't yet tested much of its settings but will do so in the coming few days, especially the new film simulation options. The only downside I noticed was the battery life (which was fully charged) is really short. Perhaps because I "chimped" more than usual, but it seems I need to carry another battery during future walks. That wasn't the case with my X-Pro1.


Friday, 11 March 2016

Visual Storytelling | Foundry Photojournalism Workshop



During the 2015 Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Bali, I was pleased to join seven renowned instructors who spoke with PhotoWings about the art and importance of visual storytelling.  And to add to the privilege, I open the session with a few words.

PhotoWings describes the piece as: "With a wealth of experience between them, they discuss what it means to them, how they do it, and what they are able to accomplish with it."

It was created from interviews PhotoWings made about storytelling at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop this past summer with the photographers Ron Haviv, Andrea Bruce, Kael Alford,Thorne Anderson, John Stanmeyer, James Whitlow Delano, Henrik Kastenskov and myself.

Also included are a few photographs made by these photographers which, to their minds, tell visual stories. These can be seen here.

Unfortunately, due to conflicting time demands on me,  I cannot join the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Cape Town in July as I've done since its inception in 2008. However, I shall be there in spirit.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Hà Nội Report | Đền Thờ Bà Chúa Liễu Hạnh

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Ensconced way too comfortably in the Cathay Pacific lounge in Hong Kong's airport, I have the time to write of my last few days in Hà Nội.

The final Hầu Đồng ceremony I photographed was at the temple of Princess Lieu Hanh, to which I had never been before. The medium was a Hầu Đồng practitioner named Do Thi Bich Huong, and she had quite a presence. Some of her performances were new to me, including one where her incarnated spirit wore a flat straw hat and a shoulder pole, and sold small towels to the audience that had the photograph of President Obama and Mr Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam on their wrappers!


At the end of the two weeks of photographing Hầu Đồng Ceremonies, I've amassed the princely sum of VND 960,000 (about $43). This money is given to me by the various mediums officiating at the ceremonies I attended, and represent "blessed" gifts. I could probably retire on this income if I really wanted!


I also dropped by Hanoi's Centre of the Old Quarter's Culture Exchange to view Hàng Trống wooden-block paintings which depict rituals of ancestor worship, and various saints of the Đạo Mẫu (Mother Goddess) religion. The one in the above photograph is of General (and top saint in its pantheon of gods) Trần Hưng Đạo. He led the Đại Việt armies that repelled three major Mongol invasions in the 13th century, and his fame earned him a top spot in the Mother Goddess pantheon.

I had the idea of buying a commercial reproduction of a Hàng Trống painting for my forthcoming photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Việt Nam, but I had no time to find a gallery that carried them. 


Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Hà Nội Report | Tây Thiên

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
As a break from photographing Hầu Đồng ceremonies, I thought it would be interesting to travel the 50 or so miles north of Hà Nội to visit Tây Thiên, considered to be the birthplace of Vietnamese Buddhism, and an important footnote -to say the least to my research for my forthcoming photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Việt Nam.

Leaving my hotel at 7:30 am with my favorite acolytes, helpers, interpreters and fellow photographers, we reached the temple complex by mid-morning. The temple complex of Tây Thiên is located atop of a 600 meter-high mountain in the Vinh Phuc province. It is dedicated to Mẫu Năng Thị Tiêu, one of the seven spirits dispatched to earth by the Jade Emperor to treat diseases and to save humanity. She was conferred the title of Quốc Mẫu Năng Thị Tiêu, as mother of the country.

The complex consists of many temples but the must-see one is accessible by foot (around 4 miles) or by cable car. Naturally we chose the latter despite the incredible crowds. Vietnamese women (mostly from rural areas) don't take no for an answer, don't appreciate queues and lines, and, like mice, can go through the narrowest of gaps. This talent is very useful to find openings between people standing for their turn.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Naturally, because this is Vietnam, there were hundreds of small places where pilgrims (and we were pilgrims too) can have meals. While I was busy photographing a musical troupe, my two companions ordered lunch of chicken.

The troupe was performing a pseudo Hầu Đồng in an open air setting, not in a temple and without the spirituality associated with such ceremonies. The male performer was merely acting as a medium would in a ceremony, including changing into various costumes to the tunes of a Chầu Văn band. It was stunning to see how much money pilgrims gave the performer who just kept smiling and dancing. I don't know if there was any significance to this spectacle other than to relieve the pilgrims of their hard earned cash.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
With Tây Thiên being the birthplace of Vietnamese Buddhism, it reminds me of an encounter I had the day following our trip.  Naturally, I knew that there were Vietnamese Buddhist monks and nuns, I didn't realize that some take to the streets of the capital to collect alms. I came across two of them in Hà Nội's Old Quarter, walking in small alleys and stopping at each shop or tiny restaurants...standing there for a few moments until someone gave them a few notes, or not.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved



Friday, 26 February 2016

Hà Nội Report | The Đồng Thầy

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
It was a packed temple today... and as I arrived somewhat later than I expected, the choice spots were taken by audience members who refused to budge to accommodate a foreign photographer....and understandably so because the officiating medium was Hung Hoan Tien, a đồng thầy, a master-teacher in his craft with a long list of followers and students.

With patience and some gentle insistence, I managed to insert myself in a place with a reasonably unobstructed view of Mr Hung, and able to photograph the ceremony despite the video strobes and the dangling lamps.

Mr. Hung eventually singled me out for a special "blessed" gift of a currency note rolled around a lit cigarette, and it was then the audience realized I was not a stray tourist who accidentally passed by the temple but a genuine Hầu Đồng cognoscenti, deserving of nods of appreciation and acknowledgement. 

It was my first visit to this temple on the other side of the Red River. It's a famous and well known temple, and the narrow alleys which lead to it are lined with small eateries and religious trinkets.

I am planning a lengthy interview session with Mr. Hung in the coming week, and will include it along with others in my forthcoming photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Việt Nam.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Hà Nội Report | Hầu Đồng'ed To Max

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Yesterday has been a long day in the saga of building more inventory for my forthcoming photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Việt Nam.

A morning Hầu Đồng ceremony officiated by Nguyễn Sien at her private temple took roughly four hours, then it was off by motorbike to catch a larger ceremony officiated by Phương Hin in the Gia Lam district.

Whilst the fundamentals of these ceremonies are the same, the individual personalities of each medium is reflected in the tenor of the incarnations. Some mediums are more extroverted than others, have more charisma and know how to play the already receptive audience.

During Nguyễn Sien's ceremony, the amplifier used by the chầu văn musicians malfunctioned, and they had to perform without the benefit of electronic amplification. To my ears, this was infinitely better as it did not sound "heavy metal", and was more in keeping with what must have been the sound of this devotional music years ago before the advent of electronics.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Although there were no trances as such during the morning ceremony, I noticed a member of the audience who seemed completely overtaken by Sien's "performance", and by the devotional songs that accompanied the incarnations. Completely oblivious to her surroundings, she started to slowly but surely drift into a pseudo 'trance', mirroring with her fingers the movements of the medium, and keeping time with the music. She then awoke from her dreamy condition, smiled and returned to her full consciousness. She was also amongst the audience at the larger ceremony later in the afternoon, so must be a hard-core devotee of Hầu Đồng.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The afternoon Hầu Đồng ceremony was held at one of the largest temples in Hà Nội, and was attended by about 30-40 people. It is my understanding that Ms Phương Hin is connected by marriage or by friendship to chầu văn musicians, so they joined the ceremony in force. Ms Hin has been involved in Mother Goddess ceremonies for a number of years, and is also a frequent assistant to other mediums.

The talent of the mediums who officiate these ceremonies lies primarily on their femininity  (if incarnating female spirits) and machismo (when it's male spirits). That said, their incantations and exhortations to audiences are key to their credibility as mediums. I recorded a few moments of Nguyễn Sien's incantations, and although it is a raw recording, the strength of her conviction is quite evident.


Monday, 22 February 2016

Hà Nội Report | In Phúc Yên

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
An interesting day was in the offing as I met with Ms Kim Nga to drive to her home town of Phúc Yên; about an hour and a half drive from Hà Nội this early morning. A small Hầu Đồng ceremony was scheduled to start at a private temple at 8:00, and it promised to involve rites that I hadn't witnessed before. I hoped that would turn up to be the case for my photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Việt Nam.

Ms Nga is a final year student of Economics at the Hanoi National University of Education, and although her grandmother is herself a Hầu Đồng medium, she's only interested in its cultural aspects.

After an obligatory breakfast with the chầu văn musicians (one of them is Ms Nga's uncle), the ceremony started without much fanfare. The attraction in such rural ceremonies is that they're not as pomp and circumstance as those performed in the large cities such as Hà Nội, where money and donations flow virtually unchecked.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved

I will not describe here the ceremony in details, but suffice it to say that it was the first time for me to witness a trance by an audience member during a ceremony. The woman was near me when she suddenly started to sway with the music, eyes closed in a beatific and rapturous expression until she finally collapsed. It was a joyful trance; none of the violent paroxysms that I had seen in other situations and other religious traditions. Her friends and family around her were smiling as if she had received a gift. Although there were other unusual occurrences during the ceremony, this was the most notable.

The ceremony ended at 12:30, and although we were pressed to share lunch with the 20 or so people involved in the ceremony, we had to leave to be with Ms Nga's family.

The owner of the house, upon knowing I was from the United States, proudly shared the information that he was part of the Viet Kong during the Vietnam (or American) War, and as they were barefooted, they would take the boots off the US soldiers killed during battle. I explained that I did not serve in the US Military and that I was against the war...so I would appreciate him not taking my shoes that I had taken off before entering his home. This, when translated, elicited chortles and chuckles from the audience. Phew!

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved

We were welcomed by Ms Nga's family at her grandmother's home. A family of rice farmers, deservedly proud of their daughter, they had lived here for generations. The grandmother's house had beautiful ancient wooden pillars inscribed in Chinese characters, and on the walls were photographs of the family's ancestors. We sat down to a feast, and the hospitality and generosity were truly exemplary.

Following lunch, Ms. Nga's grandmother (Ms Le Thi Teu), a septuagenarian Hầu đồng medium welcomed us to her room where she conducted her ceremonies before she retired in 2008. AlthoughMs Teu is tiny, I sensed she was made of steel. She is a woman not to be trifled with, and is probably the master of her household. The interview of around 20 questions was conducted by Ms Nga in Vietnamese, whilst I recorded it. Ms Teu's insight will be interesting as she lived through the French occupation and the Socialist government which both discouraged (and even prohibited) Hầu đồng ceremonies.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

On My Way To Hà Nội



Very early morning Friday will see me boarding a Cathay Pacific non-stop flight to Hong Kong, and onwards to Hà Nội to add to my inventory of images of Hầu Đồng ceremonies, particularly of those which are conducted in rural areas, as well as to conduct more in-depth interviews of master mediums, fortune tellers, and hát chầu văn musicians.

These will help me to complete my photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Việt Nam, or Các Cô dồng Của Việt Nam as it's called in Hà Nội. This work-in-progress has taken over my photography life, with all its ups and downs that are associated with long term projects of such nature.

My favorite hotel, The Golden Silk Boutique in the Old Quarter, is already booked and all is set for my arrival on Saturday February 20.

This time, I'll be carrying two Fuji X-T1 bodies with the latest firmware 4.30 installed, and 5 lenses. A Fuji 18mm f/2, a Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8, a Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2, a Fuji XF 18-135mm f3.5-5.6, and my absolute favorite, the XF 16-55mm f/2.8. I might include the X-Pro1 too as I hope to do some street photography.

I will occasionally post whatever is of relevance during the coming two weeks.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Kares Le Roy | Ashayer

Photo © Kares Le Roy-All Rights Reserved

The word عشایر (its English transliteration is Ashayer) is Persian for nomads, and is the title for Kares Le Roy's extensive photographic body of work on the nomads who inhabit the landscape of Persia and Central Asia.

Inspired by an initial trip to the Asian continent, Kares Le Roy returned to the East traveling on a 16-months journey driving a van, and immersed himself into a tribal world. He shared the daily life and seasonal migration of different ethnic groups who live on in Persia and Central Asia. Ashayer is the result of an expedition from France to Afghanistan via Iran, and a testimony of vibrant and remote cultures that might soon disappear. He traveled in the Wakhan Corridor, the narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan, which was arbitrarily drawn in 1895 to act as buffer between Russia and the British Empire.

Bakhtiaris, Qashqais, Turkmen, Kazakh, Kyrgyz are the evocative names of some of the nomadic tribes who were encountered by Kares on his long and arduous voyage since he left Paris in a converted Volkswagen van for Afghanistan in May 2014. He had no sponsors nor promoters, and a tiny budget. All he had were his cameras, some books and his spirit of adventure. You can follow some of this backstory on his blog.

Kares Le Roy spent the last six years traveling and photographing in Persia and Central Asia. He has already accomplished projects such as two books, one short film and a documentary. He has collaborated with Doctors Without Borders, l’Équipe Magazine and National Geographic. 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Ed Asmus | Ethiopia's Omo Valley

Photo © Ed Asmus - All Rights Reserved
The Lower Omo River in south west Ethiopia is home to eight different tribes whose population is about 200,000 and it is there that they've lived there for many centuries. The tribes such as the Daasanach, Kara (or Karo), and the Mursi live along the Omo river and depend on it for their livelihood. The annual flooding of the Omo River feeds the biodiversity of the region and guarantees the food security of the tribes especially as rainfall is low and erratic. 

In July 2006 the Ethiopian government has started to build a hydro-electric dam that will soon will block the south western part of the Omo River which runs for 760 kms from the highlands of Ethiopia to Lake Turkana in Kenya, and is designed to support vast commercial plantations that are forcing these tribes from their land.

Ed Asmus, a architectural photographer, recently photographed in Ethiopia's Omo Valley last November, and returned from what he described as as "life changing" trip with images of some of the tribes. Due to tribal tensions, he had to change his itinerary but experienced the $2 a night "hotel" and the $120 a night Murulle Omo Explorer's Lodge in Jinka. He also informs us that each photograph costs him $0.25, and if it included a baby, it would cost an extra $0.25. His trip blog is here.

Mr. Asmus' photographs remind me of those made by Hans Silvester, who over three years visited the Mursi and Surma Tribes of the Omo Valley at least nine times. Mr. Silvester was attracted by the Surma and Mursi tribes who use body paint to protect themselves from the harsh elements

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Leonid Plotkin | The Eternal Return

Photo © Leonid Plotkin - All Rights Reserved
Here is The Eternal Return, an interesting feature on the Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture, initiated around 15th century by the Assamese saint Srimanta Sankardeva and his disciple Madhavdeva. Vaishnavism is one of the major branches of Hinduism along with Shaivism, Smartism and Shaktism. It is focused on the veneration of Vishnu.

Many satras (monasteries) built by the saint still survive, and shelter Vaishnavite monks whose lives are dedicated to the complete devotion to Vishnu. Similar to many monastic traditions, young boys arrive at a satra between the ages of five and ten, and remain novices until they reach the age of majority. At that time, if they wish to continue living in the monastery, they receive full ordination as monks. Many of the larger monasteries house hundreds of celibate and non-celibate bhakats (monks), hold vast lands and are repositories of religious and cultural relics and artifacts.

Vaishnavism is rich in saints, temples and scriptures. The adherents of the sect are generally monastic and devoted to meditative practice and ecstatic chanting.

Leonid Plotkin traveled to Majuli Island on the Brahmaputra River in the Indian state of Assam, and photographed in one of these satras

He has been featured a few times on my blog, and although he photographed the Urs of Nawaz Gharib in Ajmer while I was there in 2013, we don't seem to have run into each other. He has been virtually everywhere in India as his blog attests.

Leonid is a freelance documentary photographer and writer. His work has appeared in publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The Economist, Penthouse Magazine, Student Traveler, Budget Travel, Discovery Magazine, MSN.com and others.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Psychedelic World of Sudan's Sufis

Photo © Ala Kheir- Courtesy The Guardian

‘During dhikr, we fly to the heavens’ - Ahmed Mohamed Alamin

I am glad to have had the opportunity to photographically document the religious tradition of Sufism in a few countries, and have accumulated a reasonable amount of image inventory of its rituals, ceremonies, festivals and of portraiture as well as audio recordings of its music.

However, I have never had the occasion to photograph Sudan's Sufis. It's a particular shame because in my previous career, I visited Khartoum and Omdurman a number of times on banking business but I wasn't in photography then. I can even recall driving past the site of one of their gatherings, but it never occurred to me to stop and take a look. As I said, I wasn't a photographer then and had no interest in such cultural events. Dumb.

So it's with great interest that I stumbled on The Guardian's photographic essay The Psychedelic World of Sudan's Sufis with images by the Sudanese photographer Ala Kheir.

It features photographs made at the Sheikh Hamed Al Nil mosque, which houses the tomb of a 19th century Sufi leader. The Qādirīyah Sufi order meets every Friday outside this mosque in Omdurman and its participants hold a "dhikr" or "zikr" in praise of the saint.

Dhikr is a ritual that requires the continuous recitation of God’s names to create a state of ecstatic abandon in which the adherent’s heart can communicate directly with God. 

Sheikh Hamed al-Nil was a 19th-century Sufi leader of the Qādirīyah order, and his tomb is the weekly venue for the dancing and chanting dervishes. Each Friday afternoon at around four in the afternoon, adherents of the order gather to dance and pray, attracting large crowds of observers and participants. 

The Qādirīyah is probably the oldest of the Sufi orders, founded by the Hanbali theologian Abdel Kader Al Jilani (1078–1166) in Baghdad. The order relies strongly upon adherence to the fundamentals of Islam, and is widespread in most Arab countries and others such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, the Balkans and others.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Hà Nội And A Brace of X-T1s


I'm planning to return to Hà Nội as soon as Tết, or Vietnamese New Year, hiatus is over, to continue my work on my forthcoming photo book "Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam". I'm told the periods before and after the holidays are the best times for such ceremonies, because of devotees seeking to welcome the new year with appropriate blessings.

This time around, I will be taking two Fuji X-T1 bodies with the latest firmware 4.30 installed, and 5 lenses. A Fuji 18mm f/2, a Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8, a Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2, a Fujifilm XF 18-135mm f3.5-5.6, and my absolute favorite the XF 16-55mm f/2.8.

I'll be taking a Zoom IQ7 microphone and a Shoulderpod for my iPhone, and a Sunpak LED 30 for illumination (if need be).

From past experience, I expect to use the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 and the Zeiss Touit 12mm f2.8 lenses for most of the time during the ceremonies. For the street work, I'll have the 12mm and the Fuji 18mm f/2 workhorse. For portraiture, I'll have the 56mm f/1.2 with its fabulous bokeh. The lens least used has always been 18-135mm, but I'll throw it in just in case I need its range.

I might add the X-Pro1 to the mix for monochrome street shooting, or I'll use my Leica M9 in monochrome mode, and bite the bullet in terms of cramming all these in my shoulder bag.


Monday, 25 January 2016

Robert van Koesveld | Geiko and Maiko of Kyoto


(If Video cannot play, please click on this link)

I rarely if ever, feature crowdfunding campaigns for photography projects, because I don't want to field requests to publicize them before their funding is completed. It's a principle I adhered to since I started the blog many years ago, and since then I've refused to have The Travel Photographer blog feature work in progress that require funding. There are other blogs and websites that can do that better than I can.

With Robert van Koesveld's Geiko and Maiko of Kyoto book, I waited until it overshot its stated goal of raising $3460 to have it published, and can now feature it as an exemplar of a well done job of photography, and marketing. I'm certain the 160 pages hardback book itself will be a worthwhile addition to anyone's library. This book project started about three years ago and has evolved through several iterations.

Geiko is a Kyoto term, and are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses and whose skills include performing various arts such as classical music, dance, games and conversation, mainly to entertain male customers. Maiko are young geiko, or apprentices, ranging in age from 15 to 20 or 21 years old.

According to the book's description, it starts with an essay giving context to the images and shares some of Mr van Koesveld's education in his study of the geiko and maiko, and his interviews of some key people. This is followed by photographs of eleven different maiko and geiko, with an intervening picture essay about an evening with maiko. 

With my photo book still being a work-in-progress, I easily emphasize and identify with Mr van Koesveld's intensive work on his. It's an extremely challenging task, but provided the passion is there, it's also an indescribable pleasure, from inception to completion and beyond.


Saturday, 23 January 2016

Jan Møller Hansen | The Raute of Nepal

Photo © Jan Møller Hansen-All Rights Reserved 

The Raute are the last hunter-gatherers of Nepal and are only a handful of societies that still do so around the world. It is estimated that they are less than 150, and are the last nomadic people of Nepal. The forests that were their traditional home have more or less disappeared, but they still follow their ancient way of life, staying in one place for a few weeks, then moving on.

Despite pressures of modernity, they wish to remain full-time foragers and reject assimilation into the surrounding farming population. They subsist by hunting langur and macaque monkeys, and gathering wild yams, rice and a few kinds of vegetables traded from local farmers.

The Raute are constantly on the move. They hold no jobs, or and no one goes to school. They grow no crops of any kind and have no livestock. Largely dependent on government handouts, they resist conformity, and remain intractable, secretive and deeply suspicious of outsiders. This, they believe, will preserve their identity and ensure their survival as a distinct community.

The Last Hunters and Gatherers of the Himalayas is an exhaustive photographic gallery of the Raute consisting of 253 photographs by Jan Møller Hansen.

Jan Møller Hansen is a self-taught photographer, who works in visual story telling and social documentary. He lived four years in Nepal (1991-1995), four years in Vietnam (2000-2004), five years in Bangladesh (2007-2012) and worked in short-term diplomatic and international development cooperation assignments in a number of Asian and African countries. 

He currently resides and works in Kathmandu, Nepal. When time permits, he works on various themes in Nepal and in the Himalayan region. He speaks Nepali and has in-depth knowledge about Nepal and the region. In 2015, he published the photo book "Images of Nepal" and was recognized as IPA People Photographer of the Year 2015.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Paul Levrier | Red Hmong | Visions of Asia

Photo © Paul Levrier -All Rights Reserved
This blog post features one of the most enjoyable compilations of South East Asian photographs, and a "gift" to everyone who appreciates this part of the world.

Out of the many impressive photographic galleries, I chose Paul Levrier's Portraits of the Red Hmong to showcase here for two reasons: they are in monochrome and they're square in format.

These are Red Hmong women of Dien Bien Phu province, who adopt the long standing custom of collecting and saving hair from their parents and grandparents, and weave them into enormous wigs that are worn during specific days and on special events such as anniversaries, festivals and religious rituals.

The Hmong are an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Hmong are also one of the sub-groups of the Miao ethnicity in southern China. This hair collecting tradition is also shared by these Miao women. Within the Miao, the hairstyle of one subgroup has earned them the name "Long Horns."

Paul Levrier is the founder of Visions of Asia, this magnificent digital image bank/library. He is in a perfect position to photograph all over South East Asia and in particular in Indochina. He's the managing director of a travel company specializing in Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.