Monday, 14 April 2014

POV: The Disciples of Mehboob-Ilahi

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The Disciples of Mehboob-Ilahi is a gallery of monochrome candid photographs made at the shrine of a Sufi saint.

One of my favorite street photography haunts in Delhi is the area known as Nizzam Uddin (West) where stands the shrine of one of the world's most famous Sufi saints, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (1238 - 1325). A Sufi saint of the Chishti Order in the Indian Subcontinent; he established an order that sought to draw close to God through renunciation of the world and service to humanity.

Raza Rumi in his book "Delhi By Heart" describes the settlement of Nizzam Uddin as "the quintessential Muslim ghetto of today's India. Congested, unkempt and stinking in parts, it retains a medieval air." 

It is medieval, and perhaps it is the reason why I make it a must-stop whenever I am in his capital city. Over the years, I've seen Delhi modernize itself, with flyovers, gleaming international and national hotels, wide avenues, colorful billboards hawking the most modern of appliances...but Nizzam Uddin stubbornly resists all these. Modernity in Nizzam Uddin is measured by the number of cellphone ringtones based on the Muslim call to prayer, and the app that shows the direction of Mecca.

I imagine it's the time warp experience I feel when I first enter the area from Mathura Road...right next to the police station....that attracts me to it. It's certainly not faith or belief as I have none of either, but it's certainly a visual (and perhaps cultural) transfusion that takes over my senses. I enter a photographic "zone" during which I am totally immersed in the visual patterns that emerge in the to and fro of the people who come to pay their respects to the saint. It's not only the saint who's buried there, but it's also where the poet Amir Khusrau and princess Jahanara Begum both rest.

It is here where the essence of Sufism was postulated by one of Nizzam Uddin's disciples; Abdel Quddus Gangoh who wrote this:

"why this meaningless talk about the believer,
the kafir, the obedient, the sinner,
the rightly guided, the misdirected, the Muslim,
the pious, the infidel, the fire worshipper?
All are like beads in a rosary."*

Sheikh Gangoh wouldn't have found much acceptance for his admonishment these days.

Pity.

*Delhi By Heart. Raza Rumi

Saturday, 12 April 2014

POV: The Pehlwani | The Kushti Wrestlers

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
One of the scheduled photo shoots during my recent The Sacred Cities: Varanasi & Vrindavan Photo Expedition-Workshop was at an akhara, which is a Sanskrit word meaning training area for traditional Indian wrestlers, known as pehlwanis. This traditional Indian wrestling is known as kushti, and was developed in the Mughal era by combining native wrestling and Persian techniques.

These two pehlwanis were the most photogenic of the group that was training when we visited early in the morning. The wrestler in the top photographer is yielding a nada,  a heavy round stone attached to the end of a meter-long bamboo stick. This training implement is associated with Hanuman.

The bottom wrestler is using heavy Indian clubs, exercise clubs introduced by the Mughals and originally used in the Near East, especially in Persia and Egypt.

I wasn't thrilled about the quality of light in the akhara, as the area combined extreme harsh sunlight and deep shadows....and most of the background was of unfinished concrete walls. A difficult photo shoot. However, the wrestlers largely compensated for this, especially when they had daubed themselves with soft clay

For some of the wrestlers, the day starts as early as 4 am and their practice lasts into the day. Technically there's no age limit, but some wrestlers can begin their training when they're as young as four years old. To protect themselves from wound infections,  the wrestlers add lime, oil, milk, ghee, camphor, neem leaves, butter milk, and turmeric to the clay on which they practice daily.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Nyepi | The Atlantic's In Focus

Photo © Agung Parameswara/Getty Images-All Rights Reserved
The Atlantic's In Focus (which, in my long held view, is the best photography blog of all the major news media) has recently published a gallery featuring 27 photographs of Nyepi.

Every year, the Indonesian island of Bali celebrates Nyepi, the Balinese New Year's Day. Nyepi is a day of silence, and is dedicated to self-reflection. It's the day when people (Balinese Hindus and tourists) stay home and are not allowed to use lights, start fires, work, travel or enjoy entertainment. There is little or no noise from TVs and radios, and few signs of activity are seen even inside homes.

However, the days surrounding Nyepi are anything but silent - several rituals of offering and cleansing take place before and after New Year's Day, to rid worshipers of past evils and bestow good fortune in the year ahead.

I haven't been to Bali during Nyepi, but I attended a number of Melasti rituals which start off Nyepi, but are also frequently held all though the year.  A Melasti ritual is performed near the sea, and is intended to purify various sacred icons belonging to several temples. During the festival, sacred purifying water is obtained from the sea.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
In the above photograph, I photographed a Melasti in Bali during which a number of women (and men) lost conciousness and went into short trances. The one above was particularly interesting because it coincided when the sacred water from the sea was brought onshore in a large bottle (seen on the left under the white umbrella). 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Thaipusam | Yeo Kai Wen



Here's an interesting and compelling photo essay on Thaipusam, the Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community during January or February. It's mainly observed in countries where there is a significant presence of Tamil community such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mauritius Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar.

This particular series of monochrome photographs were made during Thaipusam at Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Singapore, by Yeo Kai Wen and was featured by Exposure.

It's unusual to see Thaipusam photographs in black and white as it's a colorful festival, with devotees shaving their heads and undertaking a pilgrimage along a set route while carrying out various acts of devotion, which may include self-mortification by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with skewers.

The photographer, Yeo Kai Wen graduated from the School of Film and Media Studies with a Diploma in Mass Communications in 2009, and is now specializing in documentary production, print and photojournalism.

Exposure is a storytelling platform specifically created for photo sets which are described as 'narratives'. It appears to have an extremely simple and easy to use editor that lets you drag and drop photos into your browser, and then add headers, body text and captions between photos. The posts feature full-bleed images and imaginative fonts and white space. Three Exposure posts are free, but for unlimited posting, custom domains, password-protected posts, and more, one has to shell out either $5 or $10/month, depending on the package chosen.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

POV: A Favorite Staged Photograph

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
It's not often that I stage a photograph, and that it also becomes one of my favorites. But it's exactly what happened during my just completed The Sacred Cities: Varanasi & Vrindavan Photo Expedition-Workshop.

Walling back from a free-for-all photo shoot on the banks of the Yamuna river in Vrindavan, I saw brilliant and powerful ultramarine colored house walls, happily clashing with the remaining drab gray concrete walls of the neighborhood; reminiscent of the houses of Jodhpur's Brahmpuri area, the houses in Chefchaouen (Morocco), or even Reckitt's Blue Laundry Bluing (a traditional laundry whitener).

An elderly widow passing by prompted me to ask her to pose for us,  and showing no hesitation whatsoever, she almost hopped on the side step and sat there...patiently waiting for us to finish taking her photograph. I didn't need to prompt as to how to sit...doing so generally results in people looking awkward, and telling aged people how to pose sometimes causes them discomfort...so I refrain from doing that. My initial thought was that the pose did seem awkward but on reflection, I realized that many elderly women in  India adopt that very pose...the hand over a hip, and the rest of the arm forming a sort of triangle...almost at right angle to the body.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Some time later, an attractive woman (presumably the lady of the house) came over to investigate the commotion outside her home, and while extremely graceful and gracious...she didn't have the photogenic ingredient that the widow had. At least, in my view.

Yes, it does happen...age trumps youth and beauty.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Patrick de Wilde | Faces

Alessandra Meniconzi, a friend and herself a fabulous photographer, introduced me to the photography of Patrick de Wilde...whose work she liked very much, and one whose type of photography counterbalanced the recent commercialism in the realm of travel and cultural photography.

Naturally, I checked the website out...and in its gallery simply titled Faces, I found brilliant portraiture of ethnic groups ranging from Omo Valley's Mursi tribals, to Kyoto's geishas, to Brazil's Amazonians, to Malian Tuaregs, and to Vietnam's Caodaists...and of course, Sadhus from India and Nagaland tribes people.

Simple ethnic portraiture has been, in some sense, maligned recently and described by some as too simple. However, portrait photographs have been made since virtually the invention of the camera, and will continue to be one of the most sought after photographic styles. Lighting, of course, is one of the main techniques in portrait photography, and these portraits have all made in the same way.

All the 265 portraits are vertical...none are in my favored landscape format, as the photographer sought to focus on nothing but the faces of his subjects. Simple, no stagecraft, and powerful.

Patrick de Wilde is a French photojournalist, and has served as editor-in-chief of several French travel photography magazines. He has contributed to international travel and wildlife publications including BBC Wildlife and Géo for over twenty years, and has photographed thousands of men and women on five continents over the past decades. He started his professional life as a photojournalist in Asia, and focused on the Buddhist and Jain religious traditions, and shared the life ways of Buddhist monks in Thailand and Burma.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Anthony Pond | Ganga Aarti



Anthony Pond was a member of my The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition-Workshop a couple of weeks ago during which we photographed the eternal city of Varanasi and the sacred city of Vrindavan during the festival of Holi, and is a second time participant in my expeditions-workshops.

He just completed his first multimedia project of the photo expedition-workshop, and titled it Ganga Aarti. The lovely photographs are of the nightly religious ceremony held on the banks of the Ganges. The aarti is a devotional ritual that uses fire as an offering. It's usually made in the form of a lit lamp, and in the case of the Ganges River, a small "boat" with a candle and flowers is floated down the river. The offering is made to the Goddess Ganga, goddess of the most holy river in India.

Rather than using Soundslides and Audacity. Tony chose to process his photographs in Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro, and built the slideshow movie using Final Cut Pro X. Setting aside the fact that Tony is an aficionado of black and white photography, converting his photographs to monochrome eliminated the difficult lighting conditions that afflicted photography during the ceremony.

Anthony Pond worked for more than two decades in the criminal courts in California as an attorney for the Public Defender’s Office. Now pursuing his passion for travel and photography, he travels repeatedly to South East Asia and India, amongst other places, to capture life, the people and the culture. He has been a frequent contributor to The Travel Photographer blog,

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

POV: Why Wasn't I Thrilled With Holi? Why No Fuji X Pro1?

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved
On my return from The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition-Workshop last week, a handful of readers asked me these questions:

1. Why wasn't I more thrilled with photographing the Holi festivities in Vrindavan and Mathura?

2. Why haven't I used the Fuji X-Pro1 more often (only an estimated 10% of the time)?

Well, I certainly was excited to photograph Holi, particularly as the pink/fuschia, yellow and neon green powders being thrown in the air, smeared on people's clothes and faces made for compelling color (and possibly monochrome) photography. However, something was missing....and I knew that that something would be missing much before traveling to India.

The large majority of my photo expeditions are event-specific; whether it's to photograph the mind-blowing annual death commemoration of Sufi saint Moin'uddin Chisti in Ajmer, the bloody rituals of Velichapadus in Kerala or large Ngaben (cremations) in Bali. These events are usually religious and spiritual, and masses of people attend them to express their devotion and faith.

The festival of Holi had little evidence of that. Holi is a festival of Spring, of reconciliation, of exuberant fun, to celebrate the advent of a new season. Its religious 'ancestry' has been largely forgotten, and secular festivities have taken it over. While the throwing of colors seem to have some original religious significance, it's now an opportunity to 'frolic' as some of my Indian friends describe it.

Avoiding excessive colored gulal being thrown directly at me prevented from entering in what I call my "deep zone".. This the frame of mind that I get into when I photograph...sort of being sucked into a different dimension where I only see what I want to photograph....a sort of complete immersion. That was generally not possible during Holi. Only for a few moments in the 'mosh pit' of Vrindavan's main temple, Bank Bihari, did I achieve that...oblivious of the chaos around me, and focusing on what I wanted to photograph.

Outside of the Banke Bihari temple's courtyard, where expressions of faith and devotion were aplenty, I saw no religiosity whatsoever...aside from tapestries depicting Krishna and Radha, and devotional songs blaring from roadside shacks.

That's why I wasn't thrilled photographing Holi as much as I was buzzed to photograph the religious events I mention earlier. As I said in an interview, "it's religious rituals and ceremonies that attract me the most for my photographic work because it’s where people are at their most authentic, where there are no artifices and no make-believe. It is at these events that one connects with humanity at its basic denominator, and with the nobility of the human spirit … and it is that that nourishes me, and I try to share that with others."

It's that simple.

As for not using the Fuji X-Pro1 more often. It's a good question. I thought about that, and conculded it was a combination of needing the speed of the DSLRs and their being better sealed. Before traveling, I fashioned a waterproof cover for the X Pro-1 out of a Zip-Lock bag, and while it seemed to be more than adequate, I was reluctant to put it to the test.

It's that simple.

What I do regret very much is that I didn't use my iPhone during Holi...I didn't want to risk it being stolen in the crowds.


Monday, 31 March 2014

In The Field Review | Wotancraft Atelier's City Explorer Scout 006

Image courtesy Wotancraft Atelier
Hello, readers of The Travel Photographer blog...let me introduce myself; my full name is City Explorer Scout 006, and I'm manufactured by Wotancraft Atelier, the maker of top quality handmade camera bags.

Why am I here on these pages? Well, I accompanied Tewfic El-Sawy, The Travel Photographer, on his The Sacred Cities: Varanasi & Vrindavan Photo Expedition-Workshop! Yes, that's right...I went to India for 20 days. I hadn't been to India before, and I'm so glad I chose to go with Tewfic, who has many trips to this phenomenal country under his belt.

Flying directly from Taipei (my home town), l met Tewfic in his home in New York City and he put me through some endurance tests, explaining that if I failed them, he wouldn't take me along. He packed me with a few of his camera lenses, and a couple of cameras...and I was really nervous.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
But he told me how he liked my vegetable tanned cowhide leather/waxed canvas exterior, and how he appreciated my leather straps, the shoulder pad and the strong buckles. My two Y-shaped fastening straps are riveted and sewn to the bag, and this gave him the feeling that his cameras would never tumble out by accident. He seemed to particularly like my two outer pockets, and tested their snaps many times. Tewfic realized that these snaps were attached to me with small leather straps, which allowed him to slip a finger behind these straps when snapping close the pockets. Easy!

He tried how I felt on his shoulder straight down, or across the chest bandolier-style, and felt comfortable in both cases. We seemed to be a match made in heaven...except when he noticed that I didn't have a short handle. He thought I ought to have one, since it would help carry me when using the shoulder strap was inconvenient. A small flaw...but who's 100% perfect?

On the eve of our flight, he removed my waterproof inner pouch MK-lI and filled me with his 13-inch MacBook Air, an iPad Mini in the interior pocket, his Fuji X Pro-1 camera and a detached Fujinon 18mm lens (in one of the outer pockets). A couple of folders with all the necessary information for his workshop, an iPhone, his passport (I didn't need mine)...and we were ready to go. The rest of his camera gear was stashed in another bag.

At check-in, the Emirates agent noticed that I looked new, despite the 'distressed' look that Wotancraft Atelier gave me, and gave me a lovely luggage tag. Boarding the flight, I was nestled comfortably in the bin, and quickly fell asleep despite my excitement.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Now let's fast forward to Varanasi...the ancient city on the Ganges where Tewfic officially started his photo expedition-workshop. I have never seen such intensely powerful colors before!

It was here that I got my first in-depth experience with India, the river Ganges and the life on the ghats. Tewfic packed me with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (boy, is that lens heavy or what?!), his Fuji X Pro-1 with the Fujinon 18mm lens, his iPhone and a small bottle of water...and we went exploring the riverside steps that are always teeming with daily life.

Photo Kaushik Ghosh-All Rights Reserved
Hanging from across Tewfic's shoulder, he had easy access to his lens when he chose to replace the one he had on his camera. He didn't even bother to zip up the compartment...he just closed one of the two Y-shaped fastening straps and that was enough to keep the contents safe.

The other group members kept looking at me...not only gauging my usefulness in the field, but also evaluating my overall style, and they obviously liked what they saw. After all, one of my sister bags would soon be won by one of these photographers in a fiercely contested photo contest sponsored by my makers Wotancraft Atelier.

Photo © Kaushik Ghosh-All Rights Reserved
Early dawn photo shoots are to be expected in Varanasi, and I was ready to go at a moment's notice. Tewfic always packed me up with whatever he needed the night before, so whether it was at 4:00 am or a little later, I was flung over his shoulder...and taken wherever he wanted. The most startling experience I had was when Tewfic and his group photographed a handful of sadhus on the banks of the river Ganges.

I attracted the attention of one of these ascetics, who kept touching my vegetable tanned cowhide leather/waxed canvas exterior and gently pulled at one of my straps. I didn't like that one bit, and neither did Tewfic. He told the sadhu to keep his hands to himself, but the man just smiled and gestured if he could have me! My heart sank...

Tewfic gently but firmly told the ascetic that I was way too useful to him to give away, and that he relied on me to carry his equipment during this photo expedition and many more to come.

He later told me that he considered me to be an excellent everyday bag, with ample room to carry a DSLR and a medium size zoom lens with ease...and perfect for those travel photographers who have opted to carry either rangefinders and/or mirrorless systems (such as the Fuji X series) on their journeys. He lauded my resiliency, my exterior water-resistance and the top-quality that went into my production.

I expect I'll be traveling the world with The Travel Photographer many years to come, and you'll be seeing photographs of me on this blog in the very near future. In fact, Tewfic let it slip that he'd take me to Guatemala and Vietnam this year! 

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Leyland Cecco | The Pilgrims

Photo © Leyland Cecco-All Rights Reserved
Leyland Cecco is a freelance photographer, writer and history teacher based in Cairo, Egypt, and has photographed in Uganda, Ethiopia, Turkey, Northern Iraq and Palestine, as well as in Iran, Syria and Egypt. His work has been featured by Al Jazeera, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, Roads and Kingdoms, The Daily Beast, Vocativ, Popular Archaeology, and other international publications.

I particularly liked Pilgrims, his work from Lalibela, where he followed pilgrims to this town in northern Ethiopia, famous for its monolithic rock-cut churches. It's one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and is a center of pilgrimage for much of the country. Its population is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. The layout and names of the major buildings in Lalibela are widely accepted, especially by the local clergy, to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem.

Larger sized photographs of this series have also been featured by Roads & Kingdoms, an independent journal of food, politics, travel and culture. It was voted the 2013 Gold Winner for Best Travel Journalism Site by the Society of American Travel Writers.




Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Sacred Cities: Varanasi & Vrindavan Photo Expedition | The Verdict

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I don't know if other photographers who lead similar tours do it, but my readers probably know, I self-grade my photo expeditions-workshops, and go public with my verdict. From experience, I'm usually more critical than group members...so for those with limited time to read all about the what worked and didn't work, here are two short paragraphs that summarizes it:

My overall grade for The Sacred Cities: Varanasi & Vrindavan Photo Expedition-Workshop is 65%. Visually, the photographs of Holi events are mouth-watering, however the festival has lost its original religiosity to a great extent. It was only within the courtyard of Banke Bihari temple that I saw -and photographed- authentic and immersive devotion, and religious fervor. Otherwise, Holi was as religious as La Tomatina festival in Valencia.

My camera usage: Canon 5DMk2 with 17-40mm (75% of the time). Canon 7D with 70-200mm (10%). Canon 5DMk2 with 24-70mm (10%) and Fuji X Pro (5%).

For the detailed review:

Yes, my overall grade is lower than my expectations by about 20 basis points. So why such a low grade? Let me start with the Vrindavan negatives first:

1) Holi as a festival: The mix of Holi as a chaotic festival that called for precautionary measures to protect (as much as possible) ourselves and gear from over-the-top color powder and water throwers, the huge unpredictable surge in crowds, and an utterly useless local guide, all contributed to lowering the grade.

Having to protect our gear with various iterations of rain cover (whether common Zip Lock bags or more sophisticated products) made it difficult to compose and choose appropriate settings....at least when we were in the midst of the activity. It was therefore frustrating to some of us to rely on "grab-shots"...which success percentage rate is understandably lower than if we had enough time and space, and weren't threatened by fiendishly accurate goswamis armed with  "military-style" water cannons or well intentioned revelers with gobs of powder color aka "gulal" smearing our faces with it.

Yes, it's what Holi is all about...but it ends up affecting the quality of the photography. While the scenes at Banke Bihari Temple, the epicenter of Holi devotional revelry in Vrindavan, provide incredibly compelling photographs of devotees covered in color (see top photograph and the raw unedited movie clip below), these were also repetitive and most of us hit the point of diminishing returns after the second or third visit.

There were occasional crowd surges which, if one was unsteady on his/her feet, could've been a problem. On two occasions, we were in the midst of these surges but survived to tell the tale.



Photographically, unless we were in what we called "the mosh pit", the photographs made from the side of the temple, or from its side balcony were uninteresting, and repetitive. How many photographs can one make of the crowds throwing pink or green "gulal" at the deity...even if using a 70-200 to capture expressions, and photogenic top of heads? Not many.

However, the groups of Asian photographers did try to monopolize the balconies and largely stayed there, merrily click away their camera like machine-guns....subsequently perhaps enlarging and cropping their resulting photographs. But we are not wired that way...and we preferred venturing in the courtyard where the frenetic activity was...where the photographs were...but also where we were most at risk from the Holi weaponry.

At one point, having secured positions (notice the military-like language) on a raised platform to the side of the courtyard, one of the priests chased us away with his high-powered color water-thrower, soaking us all. So the safety of our gear was a preoccupation, and we were somewhat restricted in how we photographed. I don't think our photography suffered that much, but it could've been better if there weren't water nor powder...but that wouldn't be Holi.

We greatly enjoyed street photography in Vrindavan during Holi, and had to remain on the alert for the young boys who ambushed us with water balloons and water guns...however, when we told them we had cameras, the large majority of them understood and let us through...dry.

2) The Local Guide: I'm not going to waste a rant about this fellow...beyond saying he was totally useless beyond getting us to where the various festivals were....and that's being charitable. We were had a couple of reliable drivers, and one of them acted as an impromptu guide when we needed support.

3) Widows: I photographed the widows inside their ashrams some years ago, but we were unsuccessful in getting access to photograph this time. The widows themselves vituperatively shooed us out when they saw us walking in with cameras. It seems that some High Court in India prohibited photography inside the ashrams...probably because of the negative coverage that circulated then.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

4) Cluster F..ks: This is slang for the clustering of photographers surrounding a subject....shooting all at once, and shouldering each other to get a better vantage point. We had many of those in various temples...especially if a spectacularly colored person or groups appeared on the scene. Asian photographers met on this trip seemed to have a different understanding of personal space...and thought nothing of taking my place if I moved an inch away from it. It also appears from my on location observations that these particular regimented Asian photographers "chimped" in unison.

The above photograph must appear in at least two dozen photographers' inventory of images from Holi. I was surrounded by that many of them, each yelling directives to these men to hold their hands is such a way, etc.

Seriously though, most of my photo expeditions-workshops are to religious or secular events that are either unknown to photographers or uninteresting to them...and that's the way I like it. Holi is such a widely known event (perhaps more so than the Kumbh Mela and Pushkar) that crossing paths with other groups of photographers was unavoidable. It doesn't mean that I like it.

5) No iPhone Photography: I regret having been unable to use my iPhone to photograph during Holi events as these were rife with pickpockets. One of my group was relieved of a small amount of money in the Lathmar Holi event in Barsana, and a friend almost lost his mobile phone in the Banke Bihari madness.



6) Multimedia Workshop Verdict: I left this for last, because it was one of the worst results I've had since I added this module to my trips. Only one participant completed the assignments given to the group. The assignments were for 1 minute audio-slideshow from Varanasi, and a 3 minute audio slideshow of Holi. Bob Newman (seen at my right in the above photograph) was the only photographer who graduated from the module with his two multimedia projects on Widows (in Varanasi) and Holi. While most of the rest of the group have produced audio slideshows already (either independently or on my other trips), the fact remains that this was not a success.

In fairness, we didn't have enough time set aside during this trip to produce such projects. I shall restructure my future itineraries keeping this flaw in mind.

7) Illness, Accidents etc. : Aside from minor Delhi bellies and colds, the trip was relatively free of illnesses. Two accidents occurred; a nasty fall in the Varanasi alleys required the attention of medical staff, and a cow or bull in Vrindavan mistook another of our members as an obstacle, and bumped it rather violently out of its way.

And now for the positives:


1) Holi Photography: Unrivaled color (and monochrome) photography is there for the taking. Indians are some of the most welcoming people for photographers, and we weren't denied whatever photographs we sought. I had read reports of inebriated hooliganism, but while there were some young men clearly having had too much, we weren't in the least bothered.

There's no question that the best of the Holi events were those in smaller venues. The Banke Bihari temple and  Krishna Janambhoomi Temple were literally war-zones, and photographers looked and acted like war photographers in a tear gas zone.



2) The 'Yatra' Trail Around Vrindavan: Every day at dawn and even earlier, dozens of devotees and pilgrims walk along the circumference of Vrindavan, muttering prayers with the help of their rosary beads. Some of those devotees are Westerners, presumably belonging to ISKCON or similar, who also take part of this daily ritual. We walked towards Vrindavan's ghats, meeting the pilgrims along the way, and it was particularly misty and foggy. The light was just glorious at this time of day. I devoted a whole gallery of black and white photographs in the gallery Vrindavan In Monochrome.

2) No Cameras Were Harmed: No one in the group suffered damage to their cameras as a result of Holi's powder or water. We were well prepared. That said, most of the alarmist feedback we received from other photographers were just that...a tad alarmist. I saw camera protection ranging from expensive casings to cellophane wrap...and occasionally, nothing at all.

3) Vrindavan Logistics: We stayed at the Nidhivan Hotel & Resort, and despite it being a vegetarian and no-alcohol establishment (Vrindavan is a vegetarian and dry town), it's new, modern...and its staff extremely amiable and friendly. The is where most of large photography tours from Taiwan, South Korea and Bahrain-Kuwait stayed. When we craved non-vegetarian food, we traipsed to the Radha Ashok Hotel in Mathura. Having two vehicles, a bus and a passenger car, gave us some flexibility during the Vrindavan stay.

As for the 4 days in Varanasi, my grade would be more like 75%.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Aside from the photogenic (but unauthentic) sadhus who grace the Varanasi ghats with their presence, this ancient city offered phenomenal street photography opportunities in its endless narrow alleys (known as gallis). Our group spread out amongst these alleys, capturing the scenes of life of the city.

Our on-site research indicated that aghori sadhus are generally reclusive, and it confirmed my suspicions that the photographs that we had seen of these so-called cannibalistic sect members were, in fact, of "actors"... regular sadhus with dreadlocks holding skulls and other macabre artifacts, and who supplement their meagre takings by posing for photographers.

In summary; would I do Holi again? No. Would I do Varanasi again? Absolutely.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Vrindavan In Monochrome

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Having been through almost two weeks of explosive over-saturated colors, I thought it time to work in monochrome.

Vrindavan In Monochrome (or Radhe Radhe) is a gallery of black and white photographs...perhaps an antithesis to the explosive colors of the Holi festival, and is of pilgrims, devotees and dwellers of this holy and sacred city…going along their daily routine.

Whether the widows near their ashrams, the Bengali pilgrims bathing in the Yamuna river and drying their clothes, the Hare Krishna devotees on their daily yatra circling Vrindavan, elderly dwellers basking in the sun or the spiritual “guides” taking the hordes of pilgrims around its thousands of temples…these photographs depict a sliver of what goes on in the holy city on a daily basis…even during Holi.

I didn't take my M9 with me to India this time, and I quite missed it whilst making this type of photography. Some of the photographs in this gallery were made using spot metering and manual settings to cast much of the subject in shadows, and with just traces of light on them. The light during the day in India can be harsh, but we were blessed with a thick fog/mist when walking along a stretch of the yatra, or pilgrim route around Vrindavan.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Radhe! Radhe! is the customary greeting exchanged in Vrindavan during Holi...or perhaps it's exchanged all the time. Radhe is Krishna's consort, his main gopi and is regarded as the incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Arindam Mukherjee | Lathmar Holi

Photo © Arindam Mukherjee- All Rights Reserved-Courtesy Al Jazeera
Yes, I know. We might all be Holi'ed out by now, however Arindam Mukherjee had sent me a link to his work while in Vrindavan, and I just couldn't get my web browser to cooperate and get the Al Jazeera In Pictures website to open.

Many of Arindam's photographs were made during Lathmar Holi in Barsana. This is where we (because of a scheduling change) arrived at its peak, instead of a few hours ahead of it which would have given us enough time to case the area and choose our shooting spots. As it happened, we had to slowly shove our way through the dense crowd (see the fourth photograph down), and one of our group members' pockets were picked, and he was relieved of a small amount of cash.

And try as hard as I could, I was never able to find any hijras (as the one shown in Arindam's lovely photograph above) celebrating Holi during our stay in Vrindavan. I did meet a group of them watching the chariot procession in Mathura, but they were waiting to perform at a wedding or some other venue later in the evening. One of these transgenders sported a lush goatee...which seemed rather incongruous.

Holi, whether in Mathura, Vrindavan or elsewhere, was very well covered by local photojournalists/photographers...some freelance, and others affiliated with news organizations...and whenever I met them, were quite helpful in sharing some information.

The dearth of accurate and reliable information (the start and end of the various events, as an example) made it very difficult for us, but there was nothing we could do about it....except hope and pray.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Final Report: The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
All good things come to an end...and so did The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition-Workshop.

I shall gather my thoughts and write up a more detailed bird's eye report of the expedition-workshop in a few days...in essence, what worked and what didn't work...what gear I used and not used...etc.

As is my habit, I dropped by Nizzam Uddin dargah on the last afternoon of my stay in Delhi, and encountered my old acquaintance Bilal, the punkawallah at the shrine who I've seen on each of my visists...as well as during the Urs of Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer last May.

I'm bracing myself for the long flight back to New York City...but it's certainly worth it.


Monday, 17 March 2014

Report X: The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
"Enough already with the colored powder and streams of liquid!"

That seemed to be the muted cri du coeur from the group on the eve of the last day of Holi. In other words, we were for the most part Holi'ed out, and as I mentioned earlier, the diminishing returns rule kicked in.

Contrary to the group of Korean photographers that we saw everywhere we went, who are still shooting their heavy cameras like machine guns at anything with color, we decided to follow the path along which the sadhus, pilgrims and Hare Krishna followers take at dawn, from the ghats to Vrindavan. It's actually a form of yatra, a holy walk around the circumference of the sacred city.

The section we followed was about 3 miles and led to the ghats, where the pilgrims took their morning dip in the Yamuna river.  Groups of Bengali women were offering flowers and lighted wicks on dried leaves, and some were ululating.

We return to Delhi on the 18th, skipping an orgy of colored water event near Mathura, and appearing in the capital reasonably color-free, dry and somewhat clean.

Report IX: The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
On the eve of the "final" Holi day, we've arrived to the point of diminishing returns.

Having braved the masses of people crowding the relative small courtyard of the Banke Bihari mandir, we've looked back and concluded that our better photographs of the festival were made during the initial days of Holi, and it was now entering a repetitive phase, where only amorphous crowds changed, and the action remained the same. The above photograph was made of the crowded courtyard of the temple.

Tomorrow is the day of the Holi maelstrom in Vrindavan, and to a lesser degree in Mathura. It's expected that the streets and alleys leading to the main temples will be jam-packed with people...some inebriated and others on bhang, and with an exuberant determination to hurl color powder and squirting water on as much people as possible.

As a side anecdote:

We were advised more than once to mind our effects, and to watch our for pickpockets and thieving monkeys. As we were waiting for the doors of Banke Bihari temple to open, a small monkey lunged at Shane Green, and swiped his sun-glasses. In a matter of a split-second, the monkey came down a grill door, and just snatched them from his face...then ran up to his perch and started taunting the delighted crowds with it.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Shane didn't care much about the sun-glasses anyway, and bid them farewell rather dispassionately. However, Mukesh (one of our loyal drivers) wasn't too happy at the monkey's lack of civility, and somehow managed to eventually return the sun-glasses (minus a lens and an arm) to their rightful owner.

As they say in India, "Everything will be all right in the end and if it's not all right, then it's not the end."

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Report IIX: The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Although we are in the midst of Holi, and Vrindavan and its neighboring towns and villages are getting to feverish point, I chose the above image to accompany this blog report on our photo expedition.

Vrindavan is home to thousands of temples and ashrams, and its buildings, houses and structures are either decorated in religious motifs, gaudy colors and just plain boring drab. We chanced on the exception to this general rule in this Jodhpur-like dwelling, whose texture, patina and color were a welcome sight to our eyes and our cameras. This is only one of the many photographs made of it, and we used it as backdrop for other scenes and environmental portraits.

In the morning, we ventured in the "mouth of the beast", and returned to Banke Bihari Mandir to witness yet another manifestation of faith, gulal-throwing and flower juice being dumped on pilgrims, devotees and tourists (with particular attention and accurate aim at photographers).

Some of us found a toe-hold in the upper galleries for quite a while, and we made some great photographs of the whole courtyard, with glorious color of the pink and yellow against the shafts of light coming into the temple. This went on undisturbed until a bunch of Korean photographers joined us, and we were promptly kicked out of this choice spot. Whether this was because the goswamis had enough of us and were concerned we were photographing the deity, or whether the Koreans irked them in some way, or there was concern that the balustrade wouldn't support our weights...I just don't know. But the fact of the matter was that we were ejected and the door was locked.

It wasn't a big deal as we had already sufficient photographs of the courtyard to last us for a lifetime, so we returned to the ground floor and continue photographing the devotees.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved


Our morning's experience was somewhat marred when one of our group got detached from us, and we spent the better part of an hour to find her amongst the little alleys of Vrindavan. It was with huge relief to be told that she had made her way back to our bus with no mishaps. So all's well that ends well.

Here, I have to say that despite being ambushed a few times by young boys wielding water guns with colored water, we are spared if we are quick to tell them we have cameras on us, and water would ruin them.

In the afternoon, we briefly attended a pantomime dance event on the ghats of the river Yamuna, which depicted Krishna and Radha...and quickly decided to give it a pass. The light was awful, crowded and the music unbearably loud. Instead, we street photographed the old alleys of Vrindavan.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Report VII: The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition-Workshop

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved
The merry band of The Travel Photographer's Expedition-Workshop went for a scouting expedition to the very epicenter of the Holi festival in Vrindavan this morning, and walked around the famed Banke Bihari Temple along with the throngs of pilgrims who were chanting Hare Krishna.

The temple's courtyard was already quite full by mid-morning, with the priests and attendants periodically throwing pink and yellow gulal powder and colored flower water at the crowds. We chose not to participate, preferring to postpone our "baptism of fire" for tomorrow when we'd arrive very early in the morning, and get choice spots (if there's such a thing). I noticed the crowds ebbed and waned...and at some point, some of us ventured to the mouth of the courtyard to take a few pictures.

Discussions were already taking place as to the merits (or lack thereof) of wearing a rain poncho, using a wide-angle lens and the rest of our accouterments.

The top photograph was made of a couple of pilgrims who just stopped in their tracks during their circumambulation of the temple asking me to take their picture. This is an interesting spot because there's a spout (above their head) jutting out of the wall, which seems to seep some sort of liquid. Pilgrims would stop and drink some of the liquid's drops.

In the afternoon, we drove to Mathura and attended a village Holi celebration which included Lathmar (women with sticks) event. This eventually devolved into complete mayhem, where youths targeted local women with warm flower water, and the infernal gulal. Some of us also got over-enthusiastically whacked by women, leaving us with welts and small bruises. I feared the women more than the colored powder!

A few of us ventured as close as possible to the focal point of the gulal throwing (see above photograph), and paid the price for it. Ruben Vicente, in particular, got technicolored and doused quite heavily. It was quite a surprise that the hotel allowed us into our rooms, seeing how we raised clouds of fuchsia powder as we walked.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Report VI: The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition-Workshop

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Exhausting...exciting...exhilarating...and certainly not easy...this is how I can describe my experience of photographing the various phases of Holi celebrations in Vrindavan and Mathura.

Yesterday, we covered a Holi event in Chhatikara, on the pilgrimage site of Garud Govind, which involved wildly rhythmic and sensuous dances by village women. There was no gulal throwing, nor any mischievous rascals throwing colored water at women and tourists, but loads of flowers were scattered over dancers and visitors.

I found a spot near the band, and more importantly, near the loudspeakers...the music was so loud that it deafened me for a couple of hours. There was a group of Asian photographers as well, and unfortunately these lost no time in trying to find ways to take our spots whenever they could. I rose up from where I was sitting to get a close up of a dancer, and found that one of the Asian women photographers had taken my place...and was now sitting quite comfortably in my spot.

Since there was no point in arguing the blatant lack of common courtesy, I just sat on her. Yes, literally sat on her. It took less than a millisecond for her to withdraw, dragging her 70-200 lens with her.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Today was another phase in the Holi festivities...and it was quite difficult to cover. It was the Keshav Dev Ki Holi near the Krishna Janambhoomi Temple...which is the birthplace of Krishna.

Gaudy chariots carrying youngsters wearing Krishna and Radha costumes and make up, incredibly loud music blaring from a battery of loudspeakers, young men throwing handfuls of pink gulal at everything that moved, especially women...and particularly Western women.

It was quite difficult to avoid being showered with the pink powder, photograph and avoid motorcycles and scooters at the same time. Many of us used wide angle lenses, which meant we had to approach our subjects rather than photograph from the safety of the small stalls lining the procession routes.

Returning to our hotel, I (as the remainder of the group) was so covered with the pink powder, that I chose to walk into the shower fully clothed. It was the quickest and easiest way to get clean.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Winner of the Wotancraft Atelier-The Travel Photographer Photo Contest Is....

Photo © Charlotte Rush Bailey-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Charlotte Rush Bailey-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Charlotte Rush Bailey-All Rights Reserved
We have a winner!

The winner of the Wotancraft Atelier-The Travel Photographer Photo Contest is Charlotte Rush Bailey with these three wonderful photographs made in Varanasi during The Sacred Cities: Varanasi & Vrindavan Photo Expedition-Worskhop.

Wotancraft Atelier generously sponsored the contest by offering the City Explorer Scout 006 camera bag which is a brand new addition to its range of exclusive high-end camera bags, and Charlotte will soon receive her very own Scout 006 camera bag.

Charlotte Rush Bailey, Winner of the Wotancraft Atelier/The Travel Photographer
Photography Contest carrying the City Explorer Scout 006

It was a hard earned win, and a very close one. Each of the remaining participants submitted sets of three wonderful photographs of Varanasi, and the judging was done completely impartially. Voting was by all the group's participants, and while very close, there were no hanging chards and the Supreme Court didn't have to get involved!

Congratulations to Charlotte, and may the Scout 006 serve her well during her future photographic trips.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Report V: The Sacred Cities Varanasi & Vrindavan



After an uneventful flight to Delhi, and a light lunch in our vehicles taking us directly to Mathura, we landed in Barasana to witness Lathmar Holi. We had secured our cameras with various styles of rain covers, zip lock bags and the like...and it was with some trepidation that we realized that we were too late at the event to secure reasonable positions to photograph the action.

A few minutes later, we also realized that it might not have mattered anyway. The throngs of people squeezed within the narrow alleys of Barsana were difficult to tackle whilst keeping an eye on our camera gear, protecting it from the colored 'gulal', trying to sense when our pockets were picked and prevent it (impossible)...and avoid the falling thick sticks wielded by women on the local men taking part in the event.

It was hard to tell wether the crowd's excitement was genuine, or assisted by various substances. We all smelt alcohol and marijuana smoke in the air. That said, with the exception of being shoved...sometimes quite hard....by the crowd of men (mostly), we were able to photograph with reasonable ease when we got to the small circles of women with the sticks.

Thankfully, there was no liquid projectiles or streams of colored water during this event...however our precautions in carefully protecting our cameras paid fruit, and apart from some minor color dustings on the lenses and bodies, we drove back to our hotel unscathed.

The hotel in Vrindavan was/is (in my view) wonderful. Brand new, with all modern amenities and working wifi (and free)....and delightful staff. This will be our base until the 18th of March. Its only drawback is that it offers only vegetarian food.


Saturday, 8 March 2014

Report IV: Till Another Year, Varanasi



Well, it's time for us to bid farewell to Varanasi; one of the two destinations on The Sacred Cities: Varanasi & Vrindavan Photo Expedition-Workshop.

After a long day of photographing dawn over the Ganges, then the pehlawan wrestlers of Varanasi and another long stretch of the ghats from Assi to Dashashwamedh and back...approximately 3-4 miles in length, we called it a day for the holiest city in India.

Along the way, some of us met a self-described Aghori sadhu sitting on one of the ghats, puffing at his chillum, with a nicely polished human skull alongside, who informed us in no uncertain terms that his name was "Black Mamba Cobra Boom-Boom".  We asked what he would charge us for a picture, he very confidently quoted Rupees 5,000 or around $80.

The photograph above shows the classroom module "Multimedia For Photographers". The participants (from the far left) are Ruben Vicente, Shane Green, Sandy Chandler, Charlotte Rush Bailey, Tony Pond, Bob Newman and myself. Not shown is Kaushik Ghosh who photographed us.

Vrindavan...brace yourself! We are coming tomorrow.


Friday, 7 March 2014

Report III: The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition-Workshop

Photo © Kaushik Ghosh-All Rights Reserved
It is said that in Varanasi one has to be cautious of four things: young and beautiful widows, cows (and their patties), holy men (ie sadhus) and irregular steps of the ghats.

Well, none of us seen young and beautiful widows (yet); we've seen cows and lots of patties; we've rubbed shoulders with unauthentic sadhus; and unfortunately one of the group's participants slipped on the irregular ghat steps and was hurt (not badly).

So if my arithmetic is correct, we've experienced 75% of the things we have to be cautious of. Naturally, it goes without saying that I'm eagerly awaiting the appearance of a young and pretty widow soon.

Yesterday, the group experienced the most intense photo shoot of the expedition-workshop so far. The atmosphere at the Bahadur Shaeed Sufi shrine was electric, with a large number of women being in trance and imploring the dead saint for favors. I was also a little surprised by the intensity of it all despite me having been there a few years ago.

In contrast, today's early morning photo shoot at a nearby kushti akahara was an abject failure. The wrestlers were beginners; most likely unemployed youths with too much time of their hands. I hope that tomorrow will bring an authentic kushti experience at another location for us to photograph.

The hotel's internet connection is somewhat fickle, so this post will suffice to bring those interested in our trip up to speed.


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Report II: The Sacred Cities: Varanasi & Vrindavan Photo Expedition

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Saying that Varanasi is a massive traffic jam is a complete understatement. It took us almost 1-1/2 hours to get from the airport to our hotel, and tempers (at least mine did) got rather frayed since we were all twitching to start photographing.

We grabbed a quick buffet lunch, and set out in two cars towards an ashram reportedly belonging to the Aghori sects of sadhus, but we were denied entry with our cameras despite Kaushik Ghosh's (who's is assisting me on this leg of the photo workshop) pleas and entreaties.

We lost no time to drive off to the Assi ghat, and encountered a funerary procession taking the deceased to the burning ghats. None of the group photographed the cremations that were already under way.

Walking on the ghats for the rest of the afternoon and evening brought us to the Dashashwamedh ghat to attend and photograph the nightly aarti, which took place for over an hour.

Exhausted from the intensity of the event, we were quite happy to return to our hotel...and revive our flagging energies with Kingfisher beer, and eventually dinner.


Monday, 3 March 2014

Report: The Sacred Cities: Varanasi & Vrindavan Photo Expedition



Here's a brief first report just a few moments before meeting the group of photographers in the lobby of our hotel in Delhi. All participants have now arrived, and although jet-lagged and tired after their respective long haul flights, they seem very excited at the prospect of starting on The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition-Workshop.

I had a couple of hours of free time yesterday, and spent them at my favorite Delhi haunt: the dargah of Hazrat Nizzam Uddin, where there were quite a crowd coming on this Sunday to pay their respect to the Sufi saint and hear qawwal from two separate performing groups.

This afternoon, we will head to Old Delhi for a few hours of street photography...just to get ourselves in the "zone". 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Holi In Mathura | Phil Gribbon | Maptia

Photo © Phil Gribbon- Courtesy Maptia
What a coincidence!

I got an email from the co-founder of Maptia inquiring whether I'd be interested in having one of my photo stories featured on this new (started in September) platform that aggregates travel stories, and founded by two young entrepreneurs with a desire to build "the most inspirational map in the world."

Realizing I was virtually on my way to India on my The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition-Workshop, and to document Holi in Mathura and Vrindavan,  the discussion was to be postponed until I returned, but in the meantime, I was guided to a photo essay-story authored by Phil Gribbon, a photographer based in Cairo (another coincidence!) titled Holi In Mathura featured on Maptia.

"My traveller friends had had enough paint-throwing (the girls especially had had enough over-enthusiastic strangers rubbing them in odd places) and so skipped the excursion."


The accompanying text as penned by the photographer is highly amusing, self deprecating in parts and very witty all through. Most of Gribbon's 43 photographs seem to have been processed as if they were passed through an Instagram-like filter, and were geographically tagged as having been made in Baldeo, a town in Mathura. These are larger sized on his own website.

I've read that he arrived in Mathura, wanting to photograph this incredibly colorful festival but was not entirely ready to face the 'exuberance' of Holi. He quickly wised up and and as he says it, he wrapped his camera in plastic and gaffer tape and went for a walk through the streets nearby.

This is my last regular blog post for a while. I will post as much as I can possibly can during the coming two+ weeks, keeping my readers appraised of developments and progress during the photo expedition-workshop.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Wayne Thomas | Myanmar (on Storehouse)

Photo © Wayne Thomas-All Rights Reserved
I'm a great fan of Storehouse, a visual storytelling application for the iPad, which is an easy way to create, share, and discover beautiful stories by combining photographs, videos clips, and text. In fact, I've produced two stories on Storehouse so far, and the number of views on one of them just blew my mind...over 5500 views in a matter of a few weeks.

And I'm glad to see that other photographers have preceded me, and have followed suit. One of these photographers is Wayne Thomas, whose Myanmar, A Nation in Transition has just been published a few days ago. I hope this post will propel his multimedia essay's readership/viewership even further.

It's a great combination of still photographs, short video clips (about 5 of them that loop continuously) and a couple of panoramic photographs of Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda and of the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda's Golden Rock.

The most arresting photograph in the essay is Wayne's photograph of a woman whose face is completely covered in thick thanakha paste, and some sort of brown-black "third eye" in the center of her forehead. I've never seen anyone with that much thanakha paste before.

Wayne Thomas describes himself as a traveler, storyteller and a grower of facial hair. He traveled to Myanmar and writes that it's a developing country sought after by opportunity seeking corporations and travelers hoping to step back in time.

He's right.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Getting Ready | Gear Porn



The time draws nigh for my departure to Delhi, where I'll stay for a couple of days before leading The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition-Workshop to Varanasi and Vrindavan.

This weekend will  see my sorting out the gear I plan to take along with me on this two weeks photographic trip, and having to plan to protect my cameras during the week-long Holi festival is an added preoccupation.

I usually place all items of my gear on a sofa, so I can visually inspect each....then clean and check the operation of each item. I also either recharge or refresh batteries.

So far, the gear list consists of:

1. Canon 5D MarkII and a Canon 7D (as back up and for video).
2. Canon lenses: 24-70mm 2.8, 70-200 2.8, 17-40 4.0.
3. Fuji X Pro-1
4. Fujinon 18mm 2.0
5. Leica M9 and the Elmarit 28mm 2.8. ***
6. Tascam DR40 Sound Recorder
7. 3 Portable Hard Drives (iomega and WD)
8. Two Black Rapid Straps
9. Gaffer Tape And Ziplock Bags
10. Rain Covers (for Holi) and spare UV Filters.
11. Spare Batteries, Memory Cards.
12. Various electronic paraphernalia, thumb-drives, chargers, etc.
13. A 13" Macbook Air, and a iPad Mini Retina.
14. An iPhone and a Blackberry (for local SIM card).

**The Leica gear may or may not make the final list. It will depend on the final configuration of my camera bags.

All this gear will have to fit in my beaten-up Domke F8 bag and in my brand new Wotancraft Atelier's Scout camera bag. I'll carry both on my flights, but the Canon 70-200 lens may have to travel in my checked luggage. Although my usage of this long lens has decreased considerably over the past few years,  I expect I'll have to rely on it a lot more on this upcoming trip.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

John Quintero | Monochromes

Photo © John Quintero - All Rights Reserved
Rather than feature a specific photo gallery or photo story of a culture or area, this post is about the lovely monochrome portraits by John Quintero.

As my readers probably know by now, I'm soon to lead The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition-Workshop to Varanasi and Vrindavan, where I hope some of my own personal photography will be in black and white. On the workshop's schedule are photo shoots documenting the ancient tradition of Indian wrestling, known as kushti, in various gyms (akaharas) that are sprinkled in the old city of Varanasi.

The monochrome portraits by Mr Quintero weren't only of traditional wrestlers, but of Ethiopian tribes people in the Omo Valley, of Ethiopian Tigray people, of Ladakhis, of Cambodians, of Chinese Opera performers, of Burmese, of Lao Akha women and many more.

Incidentally, the photograph of the wrestlers above is a Finalist entry in the Sony World Photography Awards 2014 in the Professional Sports category.

John Quintero is a freelance photographer based in London, specializing in portraiture and travel photography. Apart from assignments, he also spends part of his time traveling the world documenting remote and unique cultures and their traditional ways of life.

His work has been published in national and international newspapers and magazines including The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, National Geographic Travel UK, Photo Pro Magazine and Digital Camera Magazine. His work has also featured on a TV commercial in the UK and in several books in a number of languages. He is also a contributor to Getty for editorial and creative images, and has won numerous awards for his work.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Multimedia For Photographers



I'm a chronic procrastinator...not on everything, but on certain tasks I need the specter of looming deadlines to kick me into a frenzy of activity.

So I'm quite pleased with myself at having completed a full overhaul of my Multimedia For Photographers lecture that'll be presented during my imminent The Sacred Cities Photo Expedition-Workshop which is to take place in Varanasi and Vrindavan.

Consisting of over 50 slides (estimated length is two hours at least), the lecture will provide the group of photographers in the workshop the abstract and practical tools to make quick work of slide show production, using their own images and audio generated in the field, to produce a cogent photo story under the simulation of publishing deadlines.

Since this task is now completed, I can focus on prepping my gear, and deciding whether to add my Leica and its lenses to the other three cameras or not. The Leica is certainly allergic to "gulal", the colored powder used during Holi festivities.