Thursday, 21 May 2015

Chầu Bà | Exposure

Featured on Exposure, here is the Chầu Bà gallery.

The ‘Ladies’ (chầu bà) are the most photogenic divinities of the Mother Goddesses Religion of Vietnam. There are twelve ‘ladies’ in the Mother Goddesses pantheon who are reincarnations of the mothers. The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and the youngest of the ‘ladies’ are the most frequently incarnated by the spirit mediums. While experienced mediums can incarnate up to 36 spirits over the course of a single Hầu Đồng ceremony, it is the incarnations of the ‘ladies’ that are the most atmospheric.

Mediums enjoy incarnating the ‘Ladies’ because the audiences’ participation is much more vocal when they make their appearance, and the ceremonies become more relaxed, playful and even raucous at times.

To illustrate this Chầu Bà gallery, I chose photographs of a Hầu Đồng ceremony performed by Ms Le Trang ; an attractive and experienced bà đồng (female medium) whose ceremony was held at Đền Tam Phủ, a temple near Hanoi.

Another gallery featuring the Mother Goddesses ceremonies is also on Exposure: Hầu Đồng

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Tú Trần Thanh | Ca trù

I am very pleased to feature the work of Hanoi-based photographer Tú Trần Thanh who recently published her Ca Tru: Vietnamese Traditional Music photo gallery on Exposure.

Followers of my own photography and this blog will know that Ca Tru is a complex form of sung poetry found in the north of Viet Nam using lyrics written in traditional Vietnamese poetic forms. It flourished in the 15th century when it was popular with the royal palace, and was a favorite activity of aristocrats and scholars. It was later performed in communal houses, inns and private homes.

Ca trù singing was added in 2009 on UNESCO's List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

Although Ca trù artists have made great efforts to transmit the old repertoire to younger generations, it is still under threat of being lost due to the diminishing number and age of practitioners. It is  photographers like Tú Trần Thanh who recognize the value of such cultural patrimony, and who document the photographers' performances in an effort to enhance the art's popularity amongst Vietnamese and non Vietnamese alike.

I was very fortunate to have met Tú Trần Thanh, who shares my interest in the Lên đồng and Hầu đồng rituals and who, in spite of having a demanding non-photographic full time job, assisted and facilitated my self-assignment of documenting these rituals during my trip to Hanoi in March 2015.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Vlad Sokhin | The Nyau Brotherhood

Photo © Vlad Sokhin - All Rights Reserved- Courtesy CNN
CNN occasionally features interesting photo essays and photojournalistic works on its website, and has introduced me to the initiation rituals and practices of the Nyau brotherhood, which is a secret society of the Chewa, an ethnic group of the Bantu peoples from Central and Southern Africa.

The Nyau secret society includes coded language, riddles, metaphor, and satire.

Primarily the Nyau perform their masked dances at funerals, memorial services and initiations, but prior to the dances,  the dancers observe a series of secret rituals which are associated with their a secret brotherhood. Each dancer represents a special character relating to the mask or animal constructions worn. The animals are large constructions that cover the entire body while the masks worn over the face are primarily ancestral spirits. 

Nyau masks are constructed of wood and straw. and are divided into three styles; a feathered net mask, a wooden mask and  a large basketry structure that envelops the entire body of the dancer.

CNN's Behind The Scenes of an African Society includes over a dozen photographs by Vlad Sokhin; who actually had to join the Nyau secret society, by going through the initiation rituals and thus infiltrating it.

Vlad lived in Mozambique from 2010-2011, and although the ritualistic dance in recognized by the UNESCO since 2005, it's a largely hidden and feared activity. To gain access and be allowed to photograph it, he had to befriend one of its members and go through a rough initiation ceremony.

Vlad Sokhin is a documentary photographer, videographer and multimedia producer. He covers social, cultural, environmental, health and human rights issues around the world, including post-conflict and natural disaster zones. He worked on photo, video and radio projects, collaborating with various international media and with the United Nations and international NGOs. Vlad’s work has been exhibited and published internationally, including at Visa Pour L’Image and Head On photo festivals and in the International Herald Tribune, BBC World Service, the Guardian, National Geographic Traveler, GEO, ABC, NPR, The Atlantic, Stern, Le Monde, Paris Match, Esquire, Das Magazin, WIRE Amnesty International, Sydney Morning Herald, Marie Claire, The Global Mail, Russian Reporter and others.

He is fluent in English, Russian and Portuguese and also speaks Spanish and Tok Pisin (Papua New Guinea). He is currently also learning French and Arabic.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Matjaz Krivic | Earth Temples | Maptia

Photo © Matjaz Krivic
"On my quest to find the world's silent spaces, I was drawn to places of worship and to vast natural spaces..." and so starts Matjaz Krivic's Earth Temples, a gallery of stunning panoramic photographs made almost all over the world, from the Hari Mandir in Amritsar to Christ in Corcovado, Brazil.

It is in these places or spaces that one can sometimes experience absolute and utter silence; a rare commodity in our modern world that is besieged by constant cacophony, noise 'pollution' and the like.

Matjaz's panoramas are rendered justice on MAPTIA; a wonderful storytelling platform for photographers.

Matjaz Krivic is a globe-trotting photographer from Slovenia specializing in capturing the personality of indigenous people and places. He has covered the face of the earth in his intense, personal and aesthetically moving style that has won him several awards. For 20 years, he has made the road his home and most of the time you can find him traveling with his camera somewhere between the Sahara and the Himalayan region.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

POV: A Synthesis of Ethno & Fashion Photography?

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
A recent off-the-cuff tongue-in-cheek post on my Facebook page set off quite a large number of "Like" as well as supportive commentary from other photographers, friends and followers. I was surprised that there was so many reactions to such a light-hearted post, and it made me reflect as to the reason behind the reactions.

First off, to paraphrase the well-known figure of speech referring to Helen of Troy, below is the face that launched a "thousand" reactions. It's a photograph of the South Korean model Kim Sung Heewhich I found on a random Tumblr blog. No photographer's name was given so I wasn't able to credit it properly as I always do to any photograph appearing on this blog.

Model: Kim Sung Hee-Source:
On the Facebook post, I said this: "When I Grow Up, I'm Going To Photograph Like This"...a self-deprecating comment that -in combination with the absolutely gorgeous portrait- garnered sympathetic attention.

Yes, I wouldn't mind having the opportunity of photographing models (after all, who wouldn't?) and I suppose I could if I were really serious and determined about it. There are many studios in New York City where I could get involved with in some capacity, and do some similar work.

But that's not really what I see myself doing. A controlled work environment, a studio, strobes, box diffusers, capricious models, make up artists... no, that's not my thing at all.

No, one of my visual interests is in ethno-photography, perhaps melded with a little ethnic-traditional fashion. 

I suppose the best way of defining this particular visual interest of mine is through the portrait I made of Ms Hường Đặng (top photograph) at Hanoi's Ngoc Son Temple. A Ca Tru musician, she wears the dress and headband in the style of the royals courts of Vietnam. To me, this photograph (and others of Ms Hường at the same location and elsewhere) exemplifies what I'm also interested in photographing while I travel. It's distinct from the environmental portraiture I normally do, because it relies on subjects wearing traditional and fashionable attire as fashion models do... in photogenic settings (such as temples, old houses, etc) but not at the locations where they normally live or work... or in the streets.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Having recently witnessed a number of hầu đồng ceremonies performed by attractive practitioners last month, I (unsuccessfully so far) tried to persuade some to be photographed in their costumes fashion model style. However, as these costumes are considered religious attire, and can only to be worn during ceremonies by the mediums when they are "visited' by the spirits, this will be probably impossible.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Here's another example of what I mean by ethno-photography I'm interested in. The photograph was made in the ancient Chinese Assembly Hall which was transformed into a temple dedicated to the Fujian deity named Thien Hau, the goddess of the sea, with the assistance of Ms Hiền Trang.

Is this fashion? Is it travel photography or is it ethno-photography in the classical sense? Is a synthesis of ethno and fashion photography? Perhaps. I don't know for sure, but it's a style that I certainly like doing.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Travel Photographer Asia Contest | Top Five

Photo © Sugiarto Sugiarto- Courtesy Travel Photographer Asia

Photo © Chee Keong Lim-Courtesy Travel Photographer Asia
Photo © Achmad zet Zaeni-Courtesy Travel Photographer Asia
Photo © Deba Prasad Roy-Courtesy Travel Photographer Asia
Photo © Magnus Brynestam-Courtesy of Travel Photographer Asia
Eric Beecroft, Rahman Roslan, Khaula Jamil and myself juried the Travel Photographer Asia* contest which has just announced its top five winners.

The top winner of the contest is Sugiarto Sugiarto with his monochrome image of a Pacu Jawi racer with his buffalos during a traditional bull race in Sumatra. However, the remaining 4 photographs are equally impressive, and all five are well deserved wins for their photographers.

I was glad to have been chosen to the panel of judges, and view the over 2000 submissions of travel photographs from both professional and amateur photographers who travelled in Asia. Many of the submissions were enormously inspiring and will certainly inspire many photographers to expand their geographical explorations within that unique continent, with its myriad of cultures and traditions.

My thanks to Ahsan Qureshi in Kuala Lumpur for having invited me to join the jury panel, and for his continuing involvement in enhancing photography in Asia.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Aaron Joel Santos | Christs of Cutud

Photo © Aaron Joel Santos-All Rights Reserved
Catholics around the Philippines re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus during Holy Week, and these events draw thousands of people annually who attend them to witness actual crucifixions. The Catholic Church does not approve the crucifixions, and does not endorse them. The media in the Philippines has also turned against the rites, calling them "pagan and barbaric" but still cover them to satisfy the public's interest.

One of the most graphic is the Holy Week re-enactment of Christ’s passion and death in San Pedro Cutud which includes a Passion Play culminating with the actual nailing of at least three penitents to a wooden cross. The Passion Play is a dramatic presentation depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ: his trial, suffering and death, and is a traditional part of Lent in the Catholic tradition.
Christs of Cutud is a photo gallery by Aaron Joel Santos, which depicts one of these gory events. Many of the photographs also show penitents self-flagellating; as a re-enactment of the Flagellation of Christ, an episode in the Passion of Christ prior to Jesus' crucifixion.

I was struck by the similarities with the Day of Ashura that is observed by Shi'a communities worldwide to commemorate the Battle of Karbala and the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, and who self-mortify by flogging themselves on the chest.

Aaron Joel Santos is a  documentary and travel photographer working on assignments across Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and all of Southeast Asia. He is represented by Novus Select in the United States and Noi Pictures in Vietnam. He is also part of the Wonderful Machine roster, and sells his stock photography through Aurora Photos and Glasshouse Images.

His clients include The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, The Wall Street Journal, The Globe & Mail, The Boston Globe, The Telegraph, Ink Publishing, the International Labor Organization, and numerous others. He also works for commercial and corporate clients such as Vespa, Apple, M Gallery Hotels, Six Senses Resorts, Hyatt, and Indochina Capital.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

POV: The Women Mediums of Hầu Đồng

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
During the past few months reading up on Đạo Mẫu (Mother Goddess worship), the syncretic religious tradition that mixes elements of traditional goddess worship of Vietnam, along with Hầu Đồng as one of its one of the main rituals, I realized that it's not only one of the oldest religions in Vietnamese history, but that its mediums and spiritual shamans -irrespective of their gender- were the linchpins of this divine feminine worship.

Surprisingly, the more well-known mediums are not women but males, who impersonate (or are reincarnated in) female goddesses during these lengthy rituals. These men "cross-dress" as divine female deities within the Vietnamese Buddhist pantheon of goddesses.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
For centuries, Đạo Mẫu temples have been the one place where gays and bisexual men were able to practice their religiosity, artistry and spirituality as mediums in this predominantly conservative country. In such traditional temples, they were able to express their sexuality and femininity, blurring the distinctions between genders. Consequently, male mediums (known as ông đồng) have attained a well earned reputation to be some of the best in their community.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
That said, I have witnessed many Hầu Đồng ceremonies during the weeks of my stay in Hanoi that were entirely conducted by women (female mediums are known as bà đồng). Although I expected their ceremonies would be more authentic than those by their male counterparts since they incarnated female spirits, both were equally captivating; at least to my uncritical eyes.

Setting the ceremonial and 'technical' aspects aside, I thought that the female mediums were much more photogenic than the men. However, it seemed to me the male mediums had more of a following, had more "stage" presence...and were quicker in getting the audience in the right state of mind.

I was struck at how young and attractive these bà đồng were. Very well groomed, professionally manicured, with fingers frequently covered in jewelry, these women were answering a calling to become mediums. Some were full time professionals, and earned a living from it, while others were part-timers. Most were also fortune-tellers (cô đồng) and had other careers.

For instance, Ms. Dương Trà My (middle photograph) is a 22 years old who started a career in cosmetics, but exhibited a spirituality conducive to become a medium and answered the call. Training under other male mediums, she recently conducted a ceremony and was profiled on a Vietnamese newspaper.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Chai Wallahs of India | Zach Marks & Resham Gellatly

Photo © Chai Wallahs of India-All Rights Reserved
"In Hindi, a wallah is someone makes or sells a certain good. Chai means tea. A chai wallah is person who makes or sells tea—or both! But in India, chai isn’t simply tea, a hot drink made with water and leaves."
Chai is the word for tea in many countries of the world, and is an ancient beverage which has played an important role in many cultures. The chai from India is a spiced milk tea that is increasingly popular throughout the world, and is made of black tea, milk, various spices and a sweetener. The most common spices added to it are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and pepper. 

I recall the first time I drank masala chai was while I was photographing the 2001 Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. Fourteen years ago, and I still remember the taste of my first cup. It was on the grounds of the Kumbh Mela encampments, and was served in a small clay cup which one threw away to break it when done. Nowadays, chai is usually served in small plastic cup...another sign of "modernity".

Zach Marks and Resham Gellatly are collecting stories of chai wallahs from India’s many distinct regions, highlighting the variations in chai culture and the role chai wallahs play in different communities. By documenting how chai is woven into the daily fabric of India, they seek to depict a culture that epitomizes India’s diversity and unity.

Their stories can be found on Chai Wallahs of India

Friday, 1 May 2015

Ashok Sinha | The Last Jews of Calcutta

Photo © Ashok Sinha-All Rights Reserved
Some years ago I had an interest in documenting the very few Jews still living in Egypt at that time, after many thousands of them left the country in 1956 and in subsequent years. I researched its feasibility, and determined that there were so few of them left that the project would fail. I also expected that they, mostly elderly and poor, would be hardly inclined to be photographed and talk about their lives, fearing the Egyptian government would take umbrage. So I let the project go.

While on my 2011 photo expedition-workshop The Cult of Durga in Kolkata, my group and I dropped by the Magen David Synagogue to see if there was anything worthwhile to photograph. It was coincidentally Yom Kippur (which we didn't know), but the synagogue was almost empty. The Muslim guard, who stood watch at its gate, called one of the congregants, and she agreed to let us in and photograph. With an estimated 25 Jews remaining in this city of 14 million people, the synagogue is now rarely used.

Ashok has featured 28 photographs in a photo essay titled The Last Jews of Calcutta, which showcases the synagogue and the remnants of the congregation that remain. The Jews in Kolkata were Baghdadi (Iraqi) Jews who had emigrated from Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq to large commercial Indian cities, including Mumbai and Madras as well.

Ashok Sinha was born in Kolkata, and has been living and working in New York City for the past two decades. He's been a professional photographer since 2008, shooting portraits, travel, and architecture, and traveled  to over 40 countries, photographing remote tribes, vast landscapes, local culture, food, and faces. He was educated at Columbia, NYU, and the International Center of Photography, and garnered acknowledgments from American Society of Media Photographers, Lucie Foundation, Photo District News, Association of Photographers UK, World Photographic Arts, and the BBC.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

POV: The Agony (or Ecstasy) of Choice

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The agony (or ecstasy) of choice between color or monochrome usually hits me when I start editing my images on returning from one of my photo expeditions/workshops or from a personal project/assignment. It's a feeling probably shared by a multitude of photographers at some point...but with me, it has recently become quite acute.

Not too long ago, images generally screamed 'color' at me whilst making them or when I edited them, but that's not the case any longer.

While photographing the Mother Goddess ceremonies in Vietnam last month, I was ambivalent about making that choice during my photo shoots. Despite the flamboyance of the mediums' costumes and the brilliant color of the altars, shrines and religious displays, the jury was still out as far as I was concerned.

I decided that I'd work first on squarish and simpler portraits of the mediums (see The Spirit Mediums) keeping them in vivid colors as I originally shot them...but left open the choice of monochrome vs color for another photographic series which will be more documentary in style, and have less portraiture. I am currently leaning towards monochrome, giving it a more photojournalistic style, and this means I have to process two versions of each image for the time being.

In this particular instance, it's not only an aesthetic case, or a choice of travel vs documentary... but is also one that has to take into consideration the quality of the images. The ceremonies are usually held in temples (pagodas) where the harsh sunlight (if held during the day), where the hideous tungsten lights dangling from the ceilings or walls are difficult to avoid; where votive material and gifts to the deities are stacked on one or more side, providing a busy background, and where assistants who, while doing their job, often intrude in the scenes.

Processing the images to monochrome diminishes the messy impact of these visual issues, and makes them less distracting. That said, does it reduce the 'authenticity' of the a way, seeing them not as they happened?

I haven't resolved this question yet.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Hầu Đồng | Exposure | The Power of 'So Mang'

As readers and followers of this blog probably know, I've spent about two weeks in Hà Nội on a personal assignment to document The Spirit Mediums of Vietnam, who perform the rituals of Hầu Đồng; one of the main elements of Đạo Mẫu, the Mother Goddess religion of the indigenous Vietnamese people.

My passion for photographing esoteric religious and spiritual traditions, coupled with a thrilling sense of discovering a new one in Đạo Mẫu, made these two weeks one of the most rewarding periods of my photographic career. Overall, it exceeded my results expectation.

For the genesis of this project, let me briefly backtrack. 

Leading my September 2014 photo expedition-workshop to Vietnam, I accidentally stumbled on a Đạo Mẫu rehearsal ceremony in Sapa, and an actual Hầu Đồng ritual the following evening in the northern town of Bac Ha. Serendipity (or perhaps it was what the Vietnamese call số mạng) was certainly on my side on these two days, because I was completely in the dark about this religion and its rituals. 

Returning to New York, I started to research the subject, garnered as much information as I could, established the ground contacts through social media and resolved to return to Hà Nội to document as much as I could over a period of about 2 weeks; hardly enough to do a exhaustive job of it but sufficient to give me a solid head start.

I was extremely fortunate to have Ms Trần Thị Thanh Tú, a talented Ha Noi-based photographer herself, helping me every inch of the way. She generously took time off from her regular job and was instrumental in introducing me as a trusted friend to the Hầu Đồng community. Without her, this project wouldn't have taken off an inch off the ground. Her introduction and their acceptance were key to the success of the assignment.

Treated with nothing but over-the-top hospitality by the Hầu Đồng community, I made friends with Trịnh Ngọc Minh, Ms Lê Ánh Tuyết, and Ung Anh Tuan, to name but a few. News of my interest spread amongst other contacts, to the point where I was invited to a ceremony by the gracious Ms. Nguyễn Thanh Mai; owner of the Golden Silk Boutique Hotel in Hà Nội, where I stayed for these two weeks. Even the hotel's receptionists were intrigued by my progress and would ask how it was going on my return at the end of each day. Some of them were unfamiliar with Đạo Mẫu, so I was pleased to share my knowledge of this Vietnamese ancient religious ritual.

As I put together this gallery of the mediums, I realized I had barely scratched the surface of the Hầu Đồng ritual so, for example, I confused many of the names of spirits until Ms Tu corrected them. The difference between a Chầu đệ nhị thượng ngàn (the Second Lady) and a Cô Chín Sòng Sơn (the Ninth Princess), obviously significant, didn't come easily to me, no matter how much I relied on the material I had downloaded from the internet.

Despite the best efforts of my hosts and friends, my inability to speak Vietnamese, or even understand a few words of it, did reduce my understanding of the intricacies of the rituals. For this, I naturally blame my own shortcomings.

I've added some background information on Đạo Mẫu and Hầu Đồng on The Spirit Mediums of Vietnam for those who are interested. It's a fascinating syncretic religious practice mixing a number of artistic elements, such as music, singing, dance and the use of costumes. It also happens to be a joyous religious ceremony, without the dour, morose, guilt-ridden and fearsome ambiances of some other established religions we all know about.

What next? Well, I plan to return to Vietnam in the coming months to work on another phase of this project, and I'm also toying with the idea of eventually publishing a book of these photographs.

Let's see what số mạng has in store for me.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Supranav Dash | Varanasi

Photo © Supranav Dash-All Rights Reserved
It's a little over a year that I was last photographing in Varanasi; in my view, certainly one of the most photogenic cities on earth, and I thought I'd "reconnect" visually with it through the work of Supranav Dash's Varanasi.

I miss India and its infinite layers of culture, traditions and religiosity... and photographic work such as this one rekindles the attachment.

The above photograph is of a pehlwan training area overlooking the city's ghats, where presumably a practitioner of this ancient wrestling sport is seen making puja before his training.

I posted Supranash's work Trades Portraits earlier on this blog, which I thought were lovely monochromatic images of fast disappearing occupations in India.

Supranash Dash was brought up in Kolkata, India. He started his a career in Fashion/ Advertising/ Editorial Photography in that city, and later went on to work for a magazine in Mumbai. He has a BFA in Photography (Honors) from the School of Visual Arts, NYC. He currently lives and works in Brooklyn, and has a long list of awards. His areas of interest are Fine Art and Social Documentary.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Diego Ibarra Sánchez | Children of Shah Daulah

Photo © Diego Ibarra Sanchez - All Rights Reserved
Followers of this blog and of my photography work will know of my visual and cultural affinity to South Asian Sufi shrines, and my interest in this particular branch of Islam from a historic standpoint. I have photographed at quite a number of Sufi shrines in India, but never in Pakistan, and documented a variety of its festivals, rituals and cultural phenomena.

Whether it was in Ajmer during the death anniversary of the Sufi saint Chisti or at the shrine of Mira Datar, I witnessed manifestations of mental illness by pilgrims who went into trances when nearing the tombs of the saints, and I saw first hand the venality of the shrines' keepers who exploited the visiting pilgrims, and conned them out of their meagre savings.

But I never imagined what seems to occur at the shrine of Shah Daula Shrine located in Gujrat in northern Pakistan. It is here that women wanting to bear children come - as others have done for more than 400 years- and pray at the saint's shrine. If their prayers are fulfilled, they have to donate their first-born to the caretakers of the shrine. Thousands of such children have been left here, and forced by the caretakers to wear iron caps on their skulls for the first 12 years of their lives in order to look like rats. They are called the rat children or chuhas.

Shah Daula, a beloved Sufi Muslim mystic, was said to be a kind man who surrounded himself with children born with microcephaly, and the caretakers seek to populate the shrine with such disfigured individuals since pilgrims believe that being touched by these unfortunate individuals will bless them and have them bear children.

Diego Ibarra Sánchez's gallery Children of Shah Daula features photographs made at this shrine.

Diego is a documentary photographer currently based in Lebanon. Graduating with a degree in Journalism in 2005, he has published many of his stories in numerous newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times and Der Spiegel among others.

In 2006 several grants made it possible for Diego to spend a year in South America to improve his storytelling process. Upon returning to Spain he worked for two years for the Catalan newspaper Avui, while still continuing his own photography projects. In 2009 Diego moved to Pakistan where he developed a strong visual body of work. He also continued travelling to several other countries including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Libya, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

He left Pakistan in 2014 and he is currently based in Beirut, Lebanon.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Hà Nội Color | Exposure | Leica M9 & X Pro1

I've just published Hà Nội Color on the Exposure platform, using a Color Efex Pro 4 "soup" to punch the colors up, and boost their saturation. The photographs were made with a Leica M9 with Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 and the Fuji X-Pro1 with a 18mm Fujinon f2.0. Most of the photographs were shot from the hip.

The streets and alleys of Hà Nội's Old Quarter (referred to in Vietnamese as Phố Cổ) are enormously interesting in terms of history, culture and visual vignettes of everyday life; life that is carried out in the open for all to see. Whenever I could, in between long and frenetic photo shoots of the Hầu Đồng assignment, I would wander around somewhat aimlessly...just waiting for life snippets to happen.

Perhaps because I was in Hà Nội in September 2014, and roamed these streets as well, I was a lot more discerning in what I photographed this time....principally looking for colors.

I have no idea if I actually walked all of the Old Quarter's 36 streets, but I did smell the famous grilled fish on Cha Ca, glanced at the silver trinkets on Hang Bac, ignored the endless displays of shoes and sandals on Hang Dau, the silk boutiques on Hang Gai (where my hotel was), entered one of the wonderful old houses on Ma May, passed by the bamboo products (Hang Buom), peeked in a shop selling medicinal herbs on Lan Ong, pushed my way through the female crowd on Hang Dao the "underwear" street and was tempted to drink beer on Ta Hien street but didn't.

After perusing Hà Nội Color, you may want to drop by Hà Nội Noir which is a selection of monochromatic photographs also made in the Old Quarter.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Hát Văn Singer | Trịnh Ngọc Minh

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
"My life is a calendar of memories." -Trịnh Ngọc 'Tony' Minh
Hát Văn is a form of ritual music played by musicians known as 'cung van' as an offering to the various deities pertaining to the cult of Mother Goddesses in Vietnam. The songs and musical accompaniment call the deities to attend the Hầu Đồng rituals, and create the right atmosphere for the medium to go into the requisite trances welcoming these deities.

These musicians require considerable training and stamina; often helped by various traditional concoctions, since the rituals can last as long as 8 hours with non-stop music and singing.

At the start of my two-weeks stay in Hanoi, I was fortunate to be introduced to Mr Trịnh Ngọc Minh, known to all as Tony, a very generous man, who not only is a well-known (and a very talented) Hát Văn singer, an excellent musician and expert in the two-stringed đàn nguyệt, but also one of the better Hầu Đồng practitioners I've seen during my almost daily attendance of these rituals.

During one of our many meals together, along with other friends, he also displayed his talents as a fortune-teller and palm reader, and I was quite happy to learn that I was blessed in having four lines in my palm rather than the normal three...and other stuff that has no relevance to this post.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Trịnh Ngọc Minh studied literature and theater in 2006, and since then has been singing, teaching, researching and writing songs on a daily basis. He's passionate about his chosen profession, especially as it requires a high degree of spirituality. The study of Hát Văn takes 2-3 years, and to be reasonably proficient, one has to study and practice it for at least 5 years. My understanding is that there over 2000 singers in Vietnam, but only 10 of them can write and sing this traditional style of music.

He also delighted his audience at an all-nighter Hầu Đồng ritualistic performance at the Đền Tam Phủ temple in the outskirts of Quang Ninh. Members of the audience were ecstatic despite the late hours (or early morning hours), and he -to use a Western expression- rocked the place.

At Hanoi's wonderfully atmospheric Văn Miếu (Temple of Literature), we had the opportunity of photographing Tony playing the two-stringed đàn nguyệt (top photograph), and I recorded a Hát Văn song.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Ca Trù | Vietnamese Sung Poetry

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
One of the most authentic cultural performances of Northern Vietnam has to be Ca Trù (pronounced 'Ka Tchoo'); a complex form of sung poetry using lyrics written in traditional Vietnamese poetic forms. It flourished in the 15th century when it was popular with the royal palace, and was a favorite activity of aristocrats and scholars. It was later performed in communal houses, inns and private homes.

I was first introduced to Ca Trù during my 2012 Vietnam Photo Expedition-Workshop when I spotted a pamphlet in our hotel lobby. I gathered the group, and we attended one of its evening performances in Ha Noi's Old Quarter. Due to a time conflict, I wasn't able to attend one in September 2014 during another Photo Expedition-Workshop, but I vowed I'd do so when I was next in Ha Noi...which was last fortnight.

Thanks to Ms Trần Thị Thanh Tú, a Ha Noi-based photographer, I attended two Ca Trù performances and photographed at will. Ms Phạm Thị Huệ is a virtuoso practitioner of the art, and is actively engaged in preserving, reviving and popularizing this cultural heritage.

Ca Trù singing is a traditional Vietnamese folk art, and is believed to have religious origins. It is said that it is a very noble and elegant form of art, not just singing but also for its poetry.

Not understanding a word of Vietnamese, the beauty of the sung poetry is lost on me but I was nevertheless always impressed by the overall atmosphere of these performances, by the poise and talent of the singers/musicians and by the elegance of their costumes.

For further background on Ca Trù, drop by THE ANCIENT ART OF CA TRÙ; a gallery of my  large photographs made during my recent visits to the Ca Trù Thang Long Club, at 28 Hang Buom Street, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi.

And take a listen to one of the songs performed by the group on April 2, 2015 which I recorded live.


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

France Leclerc | Nomads In Ladakh

Photo © France Leclerc-All Rights Reserved

"I have always been a traveler and a wanderer. Travel for me is not about vacations; it is my way to learn about a world that I care deeply about."
Here's the latest from a peripatetic photographer, who's unflinchingly merging ethno-photography, pictorial anthropology and travel photography together in interesting and informative blog posts and galleries.

France Leclerc has been everywhere, and puts other seasoned travel photographers to shame in terms of their geographical coverage. Let me try to list where she's been: India (including Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Assam, Nagaland, Maha Kumbh Mela, Kolkata and Varanasi of course), Philippines,  Myanmar, Ethiopia's Omo Valley, Namibia, Cambodia, and yes, even Paris.

Based in Chicago (when she's not on the road), she developed a passion for photographing the more remote regions of the world, and sharing her experiences visually and in her writings. A self-taught photographer, she describes herself as a traveler and wanderer, and is turned by photographing people...not just portraits but what she calls 'snippets' of their lives...sort of environmental portraits that tell stories about the people.

Her latest blog entry is Nomads in Ladakh; about the Changpa (also called Champa), a semi-nomadic Tibetan people she encountered whilst traveling in the Rupshu valley, a high altitude desert in the southeast of Ladakh. They are high altitude pastoralists, raising mainly yaks and goats. Though only 100 miles or so from Leh, the Rupshu valley is only accessible by driving many hours and travel over the Tangla La at an altitude of over 17, 000 feet.

Mostly a color photographer, France seems to have adopted the monochromatic look for her latest work of Ladakh. Let's see if that trend continues.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Foundry Photojournalism Workshop | Bali 2015

You'll have the time of your life. That's it...a few simple words that sums it all up.

In my view, this is the best photojournalism workshop for the advancement of emerging photographers/photojournalists, already emerging ones, established ones, mature ones and veterans.

Mind you, it's not only the phenomenal experience of working cheek to jowl with some of the best and selfless photographers-instructors in existence such as Maggie Steber, Ron Haviv, John Stanmeyer, Matt Black, Thorne Anderson, James Whitlow Delano, David Storey, Michael Robinson-Chavez, Andrea Bruce, Kael Alford, Adriana Zehbrauskas, Henrik Kastenskov, Paula Bronstein, Claire Rosen and Neal Jackson....but it's also enhancing your craft by rubbing shoulders with other participants, whether peers, or just starting their photography careers, or veterans, and with all sorts of other styles of's also about augmenting your exposure to different worlds, about exposing yourselves to divergent thought processes, to varying points of view, and in doing so... grow as human beings (and yes, as photographers too).

It was a little over 7 years ago when I received an email from Eric Beecroft inviting me to join as faculty member the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop which was still be established, and that would take place in Mexico City. It was 2008... and the workshop has been going from strength to strength since then, holding annual events in Mexico City, Manali, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Chiang Mai, Sarajevo, La Antigua...and now Ubud, Bali.

I was (and am) privileged to have been chosen among the thousands of photographers who are certainly more deserving than I am to be part of the faculty, especially as I'm a travel photographer rather than a conflict -or otherwise- photojournalist.

My involvement in the Foundry since its inception, meeting and viewing the work of my fellow instructors, as well as that of the students, has inspired a shift in my travel photography trajectory...and caused an evolutionary progress in my way of seeing...from the narrow focus on stock travel photography to a more documentary type of travel photography.

This is my take on the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop...honest, unbiased, and straight.

So join and you'll see I'm right.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Hanoi Report 6

Well, here I am at the end of a wonderful, extremely enjoyable and highly productive 12-13 days in Ha Noi. I entered a world that perhaps few non-Vietnamese are familiar with, and made friendships that I wouldn't have made otherwise had I not traveled on my own.

It was capped last night by a Ca Tru performance at the Guan Yu Temple on 28 Hang Buom Street in the Old Quarter.

I am bracing myself for the extremely long flight to New York with a stop over in Hong Kong, and for the re-entry in a much colder environment. It was in the upper 90s in Ha Noi yesterday.

All Photos © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Hanoi Report 6

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
My stay in Ha Noi is unfortunately nearing its end, but yesterday's hầu đồng was, at least in my view, truly the apex of the practice of this ritual of spirit mediumship practiced in Vietnam.

Having had to travel to Hải Phòng (approximately 60 miles from Ha Noi) was a tiny price to pay to witness such as spectacular performance by one of the leading partitioner of the craft. Less modest than the other performances I've seen before, this one was an extravanagza of costumes, flamboyant gestures, make-up worthy of Hollywood movie making and even extras to give more depth to the proceedings.

I was welcomed as a friend, and shared breakfast and lunch with all the crew and followers. Despite my utter ignorance of Vietnamese except for a few mispronounced words, we managed to communicate with sign language and smiles...and I didn't feel being an intruder. It has nothing to do with luck, but all to do with the relentless efforts of Ms Tu; who made this all possible and convinced all the practitioners of hầu đồng that I was a trusted friend who admired the traditional culture of Vietnam and its depth.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
This particular performance struck me as being quite different than those I've seen before. The Hát Tuồng Vietnamese Opera influence appeared to be very strong in the costumes, headgear and some of the mannerisms adopted by the medium. Even the elaborate make-up reminded me of it. Naturally, Hát Tuồng is influenced by Chinese Opera as well.

From a photography perspective, I wished there had been a black curtain to hide the bright sunlight or if this performance had been held at night (of course, I'd have to contend with other light issues then), but one gets what one can. 

As I mentioned before, I had some frustrating issues with the focusing for the X T-1. Principally because of the movement of the medium, flickering candles, and light extremes. I tried various techniques to compensate and redress these issues...some worked on occasion, but still frustrating. Ms Tu used a Canon dslr, and experienced more or less the same issues...but appeared more stoic about them, and captured some exquisite shots.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Hanoi Report 5

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The past few days were a maelstrom of non stop activity. I determined that traveling on my own without the responsibility of having other photographers in tow was liberating, and thought I could control my own time...wrong! I'm in Ha Noi for a purpose, and that purpose is the one that controls me.

After the exhausting Hau Dong all-nighter (see my previous post) of Friday, I attended another of these ceremonies at a nearby pagoda called Binh Nguyen in Gia Lam. I was invited there by the gracious Ms Mai; owner of the Golden Silk Boutique Hotel, who had learned of my interest in this ritual of spirit mediumship practiced in Vietnam. Not only was I invited (along with Ms Tu) to the ceremony, but we shared a lovely traditional Vietnamese dinner with Ms Mai, her husband and friends.

The ceremony was performed by a Buddhist monk who took the role of the hầu đồng; to my understanding, this is quite a departure from the norm, as the mediums are usually laymen or laywomen. In contrast to the previous ceremonies I've attended so far, this was rather more poised...more sedate, and much wealthier as evidenced by the enormous amount of offerings and by the new bottle of Chivas Regal used for the ceremony's rituals.

As a said note, I was told that the monk (or bonze) had two names; his real name is Đỗ Công Điển  while his temple name is Thích Tịnh Đức

I chose this particular photograph (above) to demonstrate the difficult lighting conditions of these ceremonies. A mix of different types of light sources, some quite harsh and suspended at different heights, make it a a tough task to photograph particularly with the limited access we have. Stomping over seated spectators to get a shot is never a good idea, so contortionist skills are mandatory.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
This afternoon, invited by Tony Trinh, a hát chầu văn singer, we dropped by another hầu đồng ceremony performed by a woman medium (Bà Đồng). Here the light situation was easier to work with, despite the harsh sunlight coming through the open doors.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

In between all these ceremonies, I'm attempting to squeeze a few moments of street photography in the Pho Co (Old Quarter) neighborhood. I still haven't found my groove, but it's slowly coming back. In any event, I still have a few days left in Ha Noi.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Hanoi Report 4

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Little did I know last September in Ha Noi that I'd return in 6 months to pursue a personal project...little did I know when I walked in Sapa, heard music originating from a temple and photographed a Đạo Mẫu ceremony that it would kindle an interest in the worship of mother goddesses in Vietnam, and little did I know when I stumbled on a Lên đồng (or hầu đồng) ceremony in Bac Ha that it was part of this cult (for lack of better word) in which followers become mediums for various deities.

I have had the incredible good fortune of meeting Ms Tú Trần Thanh, who's being photographing hầu đồng ceremonies, gaining access through her many contacts with its community, and her friendship with Ms Lê Ánh Tuyết, Mr 'Tony" Trinh, and Ung Anh Tuan to name but a few.

So here I am in Ha Noi for the past week working on this particular project, whose probable apex was yesterday.

I can't recall the last time I pulled an all-nighter (except for the 16 hours flights from NYC to Hong Kong and beyond) but last night was nothing short but incredible.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Driving from Ha Noi to a temple called Đền Tam Phủ in the outskirts of Quang Ninh was not too long, and was well worth the distance. When we arrived for the private hầu đồng ceremony, I realized that there were four of these ceremonies being held at the temple. It seemed March 27 was an auspicious day in the lunar calendar, and the whole day and night would see consecutive ceremonies. The private ceremony I was invited to would start around 11 pm and continue well in the wee hours of the morning.

Yes, hầu đồng ceremonies can last for up to 6 hours. To cut to the chase, we started photographing the ceremonies at around 4:00 pm, and ended at 5:00 am...or thereabouts. Not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination, especially as the lighting conditions at the temple were challenging (no, make that atrocious), and we had only a few clear and comfortable angles to shoot from.

Photo © Tewfic EL-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
So it was certainly not a walk in the park. The rapid movements of the mediums (sometimes unanticipated, sometimes slow...others frenetic...not really following a set pattern and perhaps capricious to a certain extent) coupled with the bad lighting make it very difficult.

I mostly used my XF 18mmf/2 R pancake lens mounted on the X-T1, which gave me the angle necessary to capture as much of the scenes that I wanted. I tried to use the XF 56mm f/1.2 R but it was struggling in the low light because of the flickering candles used by the mediums.

That said, I am disappointed that XF 56mm f/1.2 R let me down. It's a gorgeous lens for portraits but it doesn't seem suited for action (even deliberate) shots. I hardly used the XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6R LM OIS WR (too slow) or the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 (too wide).

Am I finished with the hầu đồng project? Not at all. But after the all-nighter, it'd be wiser to pass on today's ceremony in Hoa Lac, and wait for the next one on Sunday.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Hanoi Report 3

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Yesterday's photo shoots (as arranged by Ms Tu, aka "the Guardian Angel") were held at the Dinh Kim Ngan Jewellery Communal House, then at the superb Temple of Literature, and the purpose was to photograph two of my newly minted friends 'Tony' Trinh and Ms Lê Ánh Tuyết.

Ms. Lê Ánh Tuyết s a very well known Vietnamese singer, while Mr. 'Tony' Trinh is a Hau Dong singer, teacher and musician.

I was pleasantly surprised that none of the locations we chose required any prior permits or even casual permissions. We just walked in, unpacked our cameras and Ms Tuyết  and Mr Tony changed into Vietnamese traditional clothes.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I've mentioned this elsewhere, but my Hanoi experience as a solo traveler/photographer is immensely liberating. No responsibilities but my fact, I'm someone else's responsibility to a certain extent, and the feeling of not having a photographic group to take care of is a little disconcerting.

On these two photo shoots, I felt something was missing and felt they were over incredibly quickly in comparison to my previous workshops. Obviously the feeling was because there was no group photographers taking turns to shoot, and my directing the subjects on their behalf.

On a technical front, I am using the Fuji X-T1 as main camera with a whole range of fixed primes and one zoom, as well as the X-Pro1 as a second body to use when I deem it necessary. I found that my favorite lens for this type of photo shoots is the Fuji 56mm, but I occasionally experienced somewhat of a delay when the camera struggled to find the correct focus. 

These two photographs were made with minimal post processing. Perhaps at some point, I'll clone out the yellow electrical cable visible in Mr. Trinh's photograph. I used the Zeiss Touit 12mm for that one.

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.