Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Charles Fourtree | Papua New Guinea

Photo © Charles Fourtree-All Rights Reserved
Papua New Guinea seems to be the end of the earth. It almost is. And it offers intrepid travel photographers some incredible opportunities to document its indigenous culture and traditions.

The Goroka festival is probably the best known tribal gathering and cultural event in Papua New Guinea. It's held every year close to the country's Independence Day on 16 September in the town of Goroka, the capital of the Eastern Highlands Province. About 100 tribes arrive to show their music, dance and culture. This traditional festival is called a sing-sing, and is the biggest of its kind in the world.

Charles Fourtree's gallery of his work in Papua New Guinea offers us to admire his photographs of this event's participants up close and personal. As you will see, feathers of birds of paradise are heavily featured in the festival, either used for decorative head gear or ceremonial dress, and it is often noted how extraordinary that so many feathers can be squeezed on a traditional headdress. The dances and songs during the festival reflect the behavior of the birds of paradise in the wild, which represent beauty and seduction to the tribes.

Charles Fourtree is a travel photographer focussing on portraits and wildlife. He has a special interest in Asia with its great cultural diversity, and he connects with local people in order to see countries through their eyes. 

I gather Charles is currently traveling in the Kutch region of Gujarat. I expect he will return with equally admirable photographs.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

POV: This Thing Called 'Vision'

In an interview about my photography a few weeks ago, I was asked what my vision was, and after figuratively scratching my head for a few seconds, I replied candidly and honestly (and possibly disconcertingly to the interviewer) as follows:

"Vision? What vision? I have no vision. I am a documentarian. I see something I'm interested in and I photograph it. That's my vision." 

I posted my quote on my Facebook page, and from the comments by the community of friends, it seems it had struck a funny bone. The comments were interesting... some serious; others tongue in cheek. 

So I thought I'd also write a POV for the readers of this blog who are not on my Facebook feed..

It's really simple. Being a documentary travel photographer frees me from having to espouse a noble purpose or a visionary concept. I never claimed to be an artist not have had any aspirations to be one. Artists may have a vision; fine art photographers, fashion photographers, glamour photographers, and even social issues photographers, and possibly photojournalists, may have artistic vision. Not me. I could pretend to have a lofty vision, a calling if you will...some do, but that's not what I do.

It's certainly a question of semantics, and how we define vision. I wrote in one of my comments that it was a matter of terminology and a question of context. When I was asked the question, I construed "vision" to be shorthand for "artistic vision" or "humanitarian vision", none of which I'm blessed with. Naturally, one can argue that a documentarian captures what he sees based on his or her own biases and that's "vision", but I prefer to describe that as "focus".

In other words, my focus on what interests me aesthetically and intellectually is derived from a mindset and plans that are tangible, rather than an abstract "vision". As examples, when I photograph Sufi events or Hau Dong ceremonies, it's to document what's happening in front of me...the colors, the forms, the expressions, the body movements...as well as imbibing the surrounding aural elements. Sometimes I  know what I'm looking for ahead of time, but that can hardly be called 'vision'. 

And like many other photographers, many of my favorite images were made because I was right there at the right moment, and clicked at the right instant. No vision there.

One of my Facebook interlocutors provided me with quote from Dorothea Lange:

"To know ahead of time what you're looking for means you're then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting and also false. I wouldn't criticize a photographer who works completely without plan and photographs that to which he instinctively responds." 

So I'm in good company, it seems. Yes, an instinctive response is so much more my kind of thing. I see something I like, and I instinctively click the shutter. That's my kind of vision.

NB: My thanks to Ms. Nguyễn Vi (appearing as Bà Chúa Cafe) whose permission I obtained to use one of the frames I made of her with her eyes closed during our photo shoot in Hanoi last July.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Blank Lands | In Search of Zhuang Xueben

A friend, Matteo Vegetti referred this very interesting project to me a few weeks ago and whilst, I don't feature crowd funding projects on this blog, this particular one captured my imagination for its novelty, difficulty and exoticism.

Zhuang Xueben (1909-1984) was a young photographer from Shanghai, who was the first to photographically describe China's blank lands; its territories that in the 1930s were not yet plotted on publicly available maps. He did so with thousands of photographs and detailed diaries, collected over 10 years of travel from 1934 onwards.

His pioneering work opened a window on a little-known parts of China, often unexplored and yet regarded with great prejudice. He was able to reveal the richness of local cultures and ethnic groups such as the Tibetans, Yi, Qiang, Tu and Salar.

Photo ©Zhuang Xueben-All Rights Reserved
The project seeks to trace the history of this pioneering Chinese photographer Zhuang Xueben who, because of the Cultural Revolution, faded into undeserved oblivion.

His name and work have only recently resurfaced. After the chance discovery of his first book of photographs, reprinted decades later, the Blank Lands project came to life and has been developed collectively by Alessandro Galluzzi, Ralph Kronauer, Federico Peliti and Luca Tommasini, who make up the Blank Lands Collective and are co-producers of the project with Nacne, HLJTV and ICTV Solferino.

Should readers of this blog be interested in supporting (or reading more about) this project, its crowd funding page is Blank Lands - Searching for Zhuang Xueben.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Marylise Vigneau | Havana | About Time 1 & 2

Photo © Marylise Vigneau-All Rights Reserved
"In Havana, time is an unavoidable character. Destructive or facetious, sardonic or nostalgic, political or imaginary, irreverent in any case, time sprawls its texture and shadow all over the city." -Marylise Vigneau
It's absolutely 'about time'... Cuba's embargo by the United States has been in place since 1960, and the restoration of its full diplomatic relations and the opening of our embassy in Havana only occurred very recently.

Marylise Vigneau's work returns to the pages of this blog with her updated Havana galleries, which she has titled About Time I  (color) and About Time II (monochrome).

I envy her her photographic style, which -to me- defies an easy characterization. Is it street photography, urban photography, environmental portraiture? I end up deciding to make it easier to myself,, and accepting it's a mix of many styles and that it represents a multi-faceted eye that defies pigeon holing, and categorization.

What better photograph represents Havana's exhaustion and faded grandeur than the aging woman in her gilded bed, reading a local newspaper (news? gossip column?) with a knowing smile on her lips? Or its poverty and its famous 'can-do' attitude of its people than the decrepit legless armchair resting on cinder blocks, and a Mother's Day kitschy graffiti on the wall?

Photo © Marylise Vigneau-All Rights Reserved

These are Marylise's glimpses of Havana...one of the best cities in the world for street photography, and where my fondness for this style was probably born more almost 14 years ago. Life in Havana happens outside of its dilapidated buildings, and I don't have to tell my readers that its people are incredibly photogenic; the mix of African, Carib Indian, and European has created a melting pot of handsome people, endowed with wonderful hospitality, remarkable musical talent and exuberance.

Marylise Vigneau is a French photographer who traveled to and lived in a number of countries as her galleries attest. These include work from Cambodia to Uzbekistan, from Mongolia to Myanmar, from China to Sarajevo including powerful and compelling images made at a mental hospital in Lahore.

Her work has been shown in Angkor Photo Festival, Foto Istanbul, Yangon Photo Festival, Nairang Gallery in Lahore and Focus Photography Festival in Mumbai. It has also been published in Pix Quarterly (India), Asia Life and Milk (Cambodia). She is also an alum of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop (Sarajevo).

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Charles Fréger | Queens of Cebu (Sinulog)

Photo © Charles Fréger-All Rights Reserved
I chanced on the work of photographer Charles Fréger whose series of various ethnographic exotic (and not so exotic) communities, rituals and festivals are incredibly colorful. 

Choosing a single portfolio from 55 galleries to feature on this blog was not an easy task, but I finally decided on the Queens of Cebu, since it combines a religious tradition with superb fashion in the Philippines. The photographer describes the Sinulong festival as a mix of Christian and pagan traditions, and a fusion of a Latin carnival and a religious procession. 

The Queens of this annual cultural and religious festival, which is held on the third Sunday of January in Cebu City, hold small replicas of the “Santo Nino de Cebu”.  

The Santo Nino de Cebu is a statue of the infant Child Jesus venerated by many Filipino Catholics who believe it to be miraculous. The original is the oldest religious Christian image in the Philippines, and was originally given in 1521 as a baptismal gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon, the sovereign of Cebu of that time.

One of the main highlights of the festival is the large street parade which lasts for 9 to 12 hours with participants coming from the different towns and cities across the Philippines.  It is these participants that Charles Fréger photographed during a visit to the country.

Charles Fréger is a French based photographer with a Fine Arts photography background. His work is a mixture of contemporary and traditional elements.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

POV | Bali's Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2015

Presenting My Photo Essays on Balinese Ceremonies/Photo © Neal Jackson-All Rights Reserved
Because of reasons beyond my control, as well as having to be in Hanoi for a few days on my personal assignment, I barely made it to Foundry Photojournalism Workshop (FPW) this year. But I did, and I was -as always- pleased and privileged to have attended it.

The Bali event was my seventh workshop as a faculty member; having only missed the Sarajevo event out of the workshops held in Mexico City, Manali, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Chiang Mai and La Antigua.

Firstly, let me reiterate what I've consistently said and wrote about FPW; enormous credit is owed to Eric Beecroft, the visionary behind the Foundry Workshops. He had the brilliant idea of creating these workshops some 8 years ago, and made it a reality despite enormous obstacles.

But it's also the unsung heroes of the Foundry's staff, its administrators and the local volunteers who consistently make them such wonderful successes. The Bali event's logistics, venue, intrustors' hotel, class location and other requirements were very well organized, and everything worked quite smoothly (at least from my perspective) but I am certain that there was a phenomenal amount of work going on behind the scenes.

Ubud's Betelnut Cafe. Venue for the Bali FPW. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I would be remiss if I did not mention the generous support given to FPW by Photo Wings, a nonprofit organization dedicated to utilizing the power of photography to further deep thinking, communication, and action.

Much to my regret, I was not able to attend all of FPW's final ceremony as I had to catch my night flight to Hong Kong and NYC, but I've experienced first hand how rewarding it was to rub shoulders with some of the best photographers/photojournalists in the business, to exchange ideas with enthusiastic participants, whether these were peers, or just starting their photography careers, or veterans, and talking about other styles of image-making.

To my delight, my class members quickly grasped the mechanics and software requirements of my Travel Documentary storytelling class, and produced commendable multimedia photo essays.

Portfolio Review with Hassanoor Hussain. Photo © Neal Jackson-All Rights Reserved
I was chuffed to present three short photo essays of Balinese ceremonies during one of the evening sessions at the Betelnut Cafe. Pulau Dewata: The Island of Gods was a collection of images made during my many trips to the island. My presentation's duration was roughly 15 minutes long.

As I wrote on a previous blog post, some students thought it ought to have been shown on the first night of the workshop, helping them to choose their self-assigned photo essays. I was the only instructor to show work directly relating to Bali. A sensible observation, but the timing choice of the presentation was not mine to make.

I thought some (as in not all) of the presentations by the remaining instructors, while interesting and containing compelling imagery, went on for far too long. Perhaps future FPWs will address this issue since many of the students are, at the end of the day, exhausted. Fifteen minutes for each instructor's presentation seems adequate, and instructors can always present their work at whatever length they want to their respective classes and others.

Another thought I have is to offer the students more access to all instructors. Every time I attend a FPW, I sense the same thing...a strong desire by all students to have one-on-one meetings with the members of the faculty. The portfolio reviews (as much as they are exhausting for the instructors) are one of such options. These often evolve into career and personal advice, and are universally appreciated by students. Perhaps instead of only one evening of portfolio reviews, FPW could offer two evenings of such one-on-one interfaces. After all, limiting the instructors presentations to a shorter duration may allow the time to incorporate this additional face-time. 

Till the next Foundry Photojournalism Workshop!!!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Chin-Pao Chen | Betel Nut Girls

Photo © Chin-Pao Chen-All Rights Reserved
In my travels to South and Southeast Asia, I've frequently come across the ubiquitous betel nut, and the people who are addicted to chewing it. Whether in India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Cambodia and Vietnam, betel nut chewing is a habit that unfortunately many take up as a stimulant, and which can cause oral cancer.

In Taiwan, the betel nut is the second largest agricultural crop, and its seed, when chewed, is nicknamed “Taiwan Chewing Gum”. This, along with other economic reasons, has created the phenomenon of the "Betel Nut Girl" known locally as "bin lang xishi".

These are young attractive women (usually not well educated, and prone to exploitation) usually wearing skimpy dresses or small bikinis in clear glass booths whose only purpose is to attract clients to buy their small packages of betel nuts. These booths are found all many of the main avenues and streets, where traffic is high.

Working on the streets since the 1990s when this trend started in earnest, these women have been shedding more and more clothes to lure customers as competition intensifies among betel nut sellers.
An estimated 100,000 brightly decorated kiosks can be found on the island, though they are banned in the city limits of the capital Taipei.

Chin-Pao Chen's Betel Nut Girls is a collection of photographs of such young women, who are controversial in Taiwan. Conservative politicans in Taiwan see the provocatively dressed women as morally reprehensible, while women's rights groups see the work as degrading. 

Chin-Pao Chen attended the Department of Photography of School of Visual Arts in New York in 1996, and earned his degree of BFA with an award for outstanding Achievement three years later. He holds a MFA degree from School of Fine Arts, Taipei National University of the Arts and was awarded The Overseas Photographer Award of The 26th Higashikawa award at 2008.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Soegee Sugiarto | Tari Kecak


Here is Tari Kecak, a multimedia project produced in its entirety by Soegee Sugiarto during my The Travel Documentary : Sound & Image class at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Bali. The project was produced in class using Soundslides software, and the audio editing program Audacity.

The Tari Kecak dance was created in the early 1930s, and is now internationally recognized as one of Bali’s top-three signature dances, along with Barong and Legong.

Kecak has no musical background but for the chanting of a male capella chorus intoning a “keh-chack” polyrhythmic sound during most of the performance. Kecak’s storyline is taken from the Ramayana Hindu epic which it depicts in summary form. The men wear black-and-white sarongs and are seated in tight, concentric circles with a central space reserved for the protagonists.

According to Wikipedia, Kecak has roots in sanghyang, a trance-inducing exorcism dance.

In the 1930s, Walter Spies, a Russian-German painter and musician, became deeply interested in the ritual while living in Bali, and adapted the epic drama to a dance.

Sugiarto "Soegee" Sugiarto is a sales manager and a photographer from Jawa Barat, Indonesia who describes himself as a "hobbyist". However, this "hobbyist" won first prize in the Travel Photographer Asia contest with his monochrome image of a Pacu Jawi racer with his buffalos during a traditional bull race in Sumatra.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Fuji X-T1 | Fuji 56mm f/1.2 | Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8

Photo © 2015 Tewfic El-Sawy- X-T1 & Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8 
I rarely write up technical posts about the photographic gear I use when traveling, since there are many more photographers better qualified than I am to do so. However, I thought I'd share my impressions on two of my recently acquired Fuji lenses used on my just completed two weeks in Hanoi and Bali.

These two lenses are the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 and the Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8. Some months ago, I acquired the former specifically for portraiture, especially for its low-light capabilities and it impressed me as an excellent lens for such a purpose.

And just a few weeks before my traveling, I added the Fuji 16-55mm to my collection of lenses. I much prefer primes to zooms, but I was attracted to this particular zoom lens because it would give me a lot of flexibility when photographing rituals, festivals and crowds.

The Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 is the first pro-level standard zoom lens for the Fuji's X series of cameras. It maintains a maximum f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range, and is sealed to protect against dust and moisture. Having no short zooms during my March self-assignment in Hanoi meant that I had to constantly switch primes and or cameras whilst shooting various religious ceremonies.

This zoom gave me the flexibility I needed, and I used it almost 70% of the time in Hanoi and Bali. I was very pleased by its capabilities (low-light and otherwise), and it 'converted' my X T-1 to a go-anywhere camera when mounted with it. While it has no OIS, it performed virtually flawlessly and its sharpness is commendable. It's a tad large and heavy, so is better suited for the X T-1 with a battery grip. That said, it provides prime-like image quality over a range of focal lengths.

And this brings me to the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 prime lens. I know some Fuji photographers had to consider very carefully the merits of each lens, as these two 'competed' with each other. I have both, and I believe that the  Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 is as good as the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 in terms of optics. In the zoom, one doesn't have as wide an aperture, so the bokeh will be less pronounced, but the zoom's flexibility ought to compensate for that.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- X-T1 & Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2
The Fuji 56mm f/1.2  is the equivalent of a f/1.2 on an 85mm full frame, and my intention was to use it for environmental portraiture and shallow depth-of-field effects. So far, my experience has been that it is truly remarkable at large apertures, and provides a lovely blur in the out-of-focus parts (aka bokeh). At just under $1000, I deem it to be one of the best lenses I've ever had and used.

The question now that I have both lenses is whether the Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8 negates the usefulness of the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 . The above portraits of Ms. Nguyễn Vi are almost similar in quality., and one could argue that having the zoom lens is enough. I have yet to decide on that, but I also know that the low light capability of the prime lens is an important consideration for my type of photography.

For those who like that sort of thing:

The photograph's settings using the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 are: 1/320, 800 iso, f/2.8 and spot metering.
The photograph's settings using the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 are: 1/3200, 800 iso, f/1.2 and pattern metering.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Roger Anis | Closet Full of Dreams

Photo © Roger Anis-All Rights Reserved
"To be a woman in Egypt is to live with the crushing inevitability of sexual harassment. The magnitude of the problem is epidemic, with 99.3% of Egyptian women having been sexually harassed, according to a 2013 U.N. Women report."
Despite faltering and sporadic government efforts, sexual harassment of women in Egypt has been described as a cancerous epidemic, especially during druing the past few years which saw the country's numerous political upheavals.

Roger Anis is a photojournalist working at an Egyptian daily newspaper whose recent and meaningful work "Closet Full of Dreams" was recently featured on TIME's Lightbox. His objective was to publicize the issue by making diptych portraits of women next to the clothes they would wear on the streets, if only they felt safe enough.

On a personal note: While I have no intention of generalizing (since I'm certain that this behavior is not universal amongst Egyptian youths), I do not know what happened to the Egyptian male psyche. Growing up in a Cairo suburb, which was totally Westernized at the time, I rarely -if ever- witnessed or heard of any sexual harassment. Women dressed as they chose; some provocatively, some less so... but there was no fear of them being harassed anywhere they chose to go. Yes, they may have drawn admiring glances, perhaps a whistle or two and even a funny comment...which would be frowned upon by passers-by and others.

There must be root causes for this epidemic. Is it caused by over-population, poverty, absence of cicil societal norms that progressively evaporated? I recall often hearing the word "shahama"...the Egyptian word for 'chivalry'...and 'honor', and an innate duty to assist and protect women, whether these were known to us or not. What happened to it? Is it a perverted misinterpretation of Islam one of the reasons to treat women in such a despicable way? True Islamic teachings call for the exact opposite; treating women with respect and dignity.

I have no answer. I just don't know. What I do know is that the Egyptian government must eradicate this epidemic as forcefully as any other public health issue, through the power of its courts and through the power of its media.

The age-old Shahama must return to Egypt.

Roger Anis is working as a photojournalist in the daily newspaper Al-Shorouk since 2010, covering various social issues in Egypt. He is one of the contributors to the Associated Press Agency, and received a Diploma in Photojournalism from the Danish school of Media & Journalism in June 2015. During his work in the newspaper and with AP, he covered a number of local important and historical moments, including the disenfranchisement of Coptic Christians.

His work has been published in international newspapers and magazines such as TIME, New York Times, Newsweek, Guardian , Le Monde, The Daily Mail, Newsweek, Aftenposten, and De Grone Amsterdammer. He has also been awarded a number of international and local recognitions.

He is also an alum of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop (Chiang Mai 2012).

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Nguyễn Vi | The Fortune Teller

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Ms. Nguyễn Vi is a Cô Đồng, a fortune teller....a medium and a Hầu Đồng practitioner.

Followers of this blog know of my ongoing project in Hanoi, which aims at documenting practitioners of the Đạo Mẫu religion, also known as the worship of Mother Goddesses in Vietnam. This project has also opened doors to various ancillary documentary possibilities that I could not have envisaged when I first got started.

One of these 'sub-projects' is the documenting the life story of Ms. Nguyễn Vi, who is not only an active Hầu Đồng practitioner and a medium, but also is a psychic, a clairvoyant and a fortune teller. She tells me that her innate insight into people's futures helps them in their lives. As with many Vietnamese Buddhists, Vi embraces its teachings on compassion and altruism.

I already started documenting Vi's life story last month when she graciously invited me to her family home in Hanoi. It is there that she worships, actively follows her belief system, and deploys her fortune telling skills. In our conversations, it was evident she hasn't had an easy life, and had suffered a number of personal setbacks over the past years until finding her calling in the Đạo Mẫu religion.

A stylish young woman with a sense of dramatic flair, she has worked as a photographer and a graphic artist...but discarded her career to obey a spiritual calling. Her favorite incarnation during her Hầu Đồng performances is Chúa Cà Phê (Princess Coffee) of Lang Son province, and one of the many ladies-in-waiting of the Mother Goddesses.

It is in this incarnation of Chúa Cà Phê that she agreed to pose for me in a photographic studio near her home.

Photo ©Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I am hoping to complete the production of a multimedia photo essay on Ms Nguyễn Vi in the coming few months.

The above photographs were made using a Fujinon XF16-55mm F2.8 on a Fuji X-T1.

Friday, 31 July 2015

A Fuji X-T1 In Bali | Kuningan Ceremonies & More

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
A lighter load than usual in the number of students in my class during the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Bali gave me the opportunity to photograph the various religious festivities on the island which took place at the same time.

The timing of the workshop was perfect as it coincided with Kuningan; an important religious annual event held in every temple, as the Balinese believe it's the day on which their ancestors return to heaven after visiting the earth during the preceding Galungan celebrations.

While I had also carried a Fuji X Pro-1 and a Leica M9, I used the Fuji X-T1 almost exclusively during the week-long stay in Bali. Having updated it with the new firmware v4.0, I used it with a Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 and my newly acquired Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8. I noticed a slight improvement in the X-T1's auto-focus speed and accuracy during my time in Bali, but I didn't purposefully test it...I just went with the flow, so to speak.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
With my friend Komang, we drove around the area of Ubud, and stopped at various temple celebrations as well as to a rather disturbing cockfight. I have photographed Balinese cockfights before, but this one was "gambling-heavy"...more than those I had witnessed before, so we didn't stay for long.

I used the Zeiss Touit 12mm quite a lot, especially amongst the crowds in the temples. Mostly shooting from the hip, I managed to capture a number of impromptu and candid scenes such as the one above of the group shooting a 'selfie', with the fellow behind them trying to avoid photo-bombing it. These are the kind of behind the scenes that I search for in such settings and events; avoiding the traditional shots of people praying and priests blessing them.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I was also fortunate to have witnessed for the first time a number of meajar-ajar ceremonies (above) on Kusamba beach. These ceremonies are one of the many that follow cremations, during which families of the deceased will perform pilgrimages to Goa Lawah temple and Besakih mother temple to announce to the gods that the deceased souls are ready to be enshrined at their respective family temples.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
High priests (known as 'pedanda') generally officiate during temple and other religious ceremonies, and are usually assisted by a number of lay-priests known as pemangku; those are not of a Brahmin caste, but are chosen by their villages due to their piety, religious knowledge and ability to go into trance.

This female pemangku  (above) lighting incense sticks was striking because of her style and demeanor. She was clearly in her element, bossing other priests around, and laughing out aloud whenever I approached to take her photograph. While not blessing the devotees by sprinkling water with a small bamboo brush, she was busy filling small plastic bags with water and petals of flowers, presumably for offerings. I used the Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8 during many of these ceremonies.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Another first for me was the ceremony during which a temple's sacred objects were transported to a nearby river for purification, and although I had photographed 'odalan' ceremonies on the beaches, I had never seen one inland. The temple is question this time was Pura Desa Lan Puseh in Silungan, and had I not run out of battery power for my X-T1, I would have missed it. Returning from my hotel with my spares, we stopped at the temple which was being prepared for this ceremony.

The ritualistic purification of the temple's sacred objects was solemn and joyous at the same time. The site for the purification was about a mile from the temple itself, and a long procession formed of women carrying the various offerings, while men carried the sacred objects, carefully and lovingly wrapped in yellow cloth. 

The main characters in this procession were two Barongs; the lion-like creature in the mythology of Bali, who is the king of the spirits, leader of the hosts of good, and fighter of all evils.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Agung Parameswara | Devotion

Photo © Agung Parameswara-All Rights Reserved
Although having been both at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Bali, Agung and I haven't met...whether at the Betelnut Cafe for the events, or at the Pelangi School.

I chanced on his work during a Betelnut Cafe event where I noticed his small prints on a table. I took one, and viewed his website. It's a shame he didn't show his work of Bali and elsewhere, and nor had I had the opportunity to review his portfolio. Luckier instructors must have, and I would have loved to sit in on the review and see his new work.

One of his many compelling photo galleries is Devotion; an on-going project in monochrome which Agung describes as a personal one, and that delves in the spiritual relationship between the Balinese and their deities and ancestors. It is the element of bhakti, the devotion that Hindus have for their deities, for their way of life and their religion.

Agung Parameswara is a Bali-based freelance photographer specializing in documenting social cultural issues, delving in travel, and documentary photography. His focus is on Bali and his native Indonesia with a passion in capturing culture, folklore, lanscape, and human events in conjunction with their surroundings.

Monday, 27 July 2015

My Presentation | Foundry Photojournalism Workshop: Bali 2015

I have just returned from a wonderful two weeks in Hanoi and Bali (the latter as an instructor at the incomparable Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2015).

Whilst I will soon write a post about my experience during the week-long workshop, I thought I'd upload the presentation I gave during one of the evening sessions at the Betelnut Cafe in Ubud. Most instructors were asked to present their work, and I chose Pulau Dewata: The Island of Gods...a collection of images made during my trips to the island.

Some students made the point to me that this presentation ought to have been shown on the first night of the workshop, as it would have helped them to choose their self-assigned photo essays. I was the only instructor to show work directly relating to Bali.

A very sensible observation, but the timing choice of the presentation was not mine to make.

Photo © Komang Windu Gunawan

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Vlad Sokhin | Mozambican Witchdoctors

"Insolite" is a French word which may not have a direct equivalent in English...but it means 'unusual' or 'weird' or even 'eerie'. Photographic essays that are worthy of being 'insolite' are pure catnip for this blog.

Vlad Sokhin's Mozambican Witchdoctors is one of those.  It is said that the 70,000 traditional healers in Mozambique outnumber their 1,500 professional doctor counterparts, and are often the only ones serving its remote populations. You can also view the photo essay in a superb layout on the always interesting Maptia.

Witchdoctors are not exclusive to the African continent, but can be found all over the world. In fact, in a few days I'll be traveling to Bali and I've photographed its own brand of witchdoctors (balian) who are frequently the first to be visited by the Balinese rural population, despite the proximity of medical doctors, clinics and hospitals.

A witch doctor is a type of healer who treats ailments believed to be caused by witchcraft, and is commonly used to refer to healers, particularly in third world regions, who use traditional healing rather than contemporary medicine. 

Some are so popular and media-savvy that they use the internet, and have attractive websites, such as this one.

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.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Hanoi & Bali | The 'What Do I Take' Phase?

In a week's time, I'll be flying to Hanoi and Bali via Hong Kong; combined flights of unfathomable duration.

The Hanoi trip is to increase my inventory of Hau Dong ceremony photographs, conduct a bunch of interviews, hold portraiture sessions with a number of Hau Dong practitioners as well as some street photography...while my trip to Bali is to join the rest of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop faculty and give a class called The Travel Documentary; Sound & Images. It seems there will be a number of temple anniversaries in Bali during the time of the workshop, so I might -time permitting- photograph during these odalans.

As I always do before such trips, I lay down the gear I envisage using during these two weeks for a few days, and reflect on what I really need to take with me and use.

So here we go:

Bottom row (left to right):

*Tascam DR-40 Recorder
Marantz PMD620 Recorder
*Elmarit 28mm f2.8
Leica M9

Middle Row (left to right)

Fujifilm X-T1 Camera/Vertical Battery Grip
Fujifilm X-Pro1
Nokton Voigtlander 40mm f1.4
Photoflex reflector

Upper Row (left to right)

*Fujinon 18-135mm f3.5-5.6
Fujinon 16-55mm f2.8
Fujinon 56mm f1.2
Zeiss 12mm f2.8
Fujinon 18mm f2.0

The gear I've marked * will probably stay behind...but I might change my mind as far as the Fujinon 18-135mm is concerned.  I recall using my Canon 70-200 lens quite often at the Balinese festivals.

Time will tell.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Cristina Venedict | The Monk

Photo © Cristina Venedict-All Rights Reserved
I know. It's been quite a while I haven't posted on this blog. This was due to unplanned personal (aka non-photo related) travel...but let me immediately jump in the fray and feature the wonderful work of Cristina Venedict, a photographer from Romania. It is not very often when a photograph makes me stop what I'm doing, and prompts me to immediately look up the rest of the photographer's work.

I chanced on Cristina's 'The Monk" which was recently recognized by ePHOTOzine as Photo of the Week. It was described by the magazine's photo editor as "this image almost looks like a painting you’d find in a gallery. It’s like stepping back in time into a long forgotten era."

And that is exactly what this photograph is all about.

I was excited at the prospect of viewing more of Cristina's similar work; perhaps made during her travels in her native Romania or nearby (these two monks are wearing the garb of Orthodox priests), and admiring her color treatment  of her photographs.

However, there were no more photographs of Orthodox priests on Cristina's website, but galleries of her lovely and stylish -but different- fashion and portrait work. Many of these are processed in muted colors to give the impression and the atmosphere that they were made eons ago.

Cristina is a self-taught photographer from Romania, and who entered the world of photography after being a psychologist.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

POV | Mediocrity And Cronyism

Photo © This Cannot Be Mine. Take It...Steal It!
A reasonably well known travel magazine branding itself as "the multi-platform travel media brand that inspires and guides those who travel the world to connect with its people, experience their cultures, and understand their perspectives', and  published in San Francisco, recently featured on its website a bunch of photographs made of India by the creative director of a fashion-lifestyle website.

It is virtually impossible to make a bad photograph in India, but these were really bad. They were more aptly described as 'snaps' by photographers who know their craft. And their captions were even worse....but these might have been the work of clueless copy writers.

Here's the thing: many talented upcoming and young travel photographers would love to be featured in this magazine...but may have an uphill struggle to get their work considered by the magazine's photo editors.

But the 'creative director' of a fashion-lifestyle website had not trouble in getting her ridiculously mediocre photographs seen and featured.

So why feature mediocre photographs on the website of a seemingly professional travel multi-platorm?

One of the answers probably lies in old fashioned parasitical cronyism.

The fashion-lifestyle website appears to have over 500,000 Instagram followers, while the creative director's Instagram is followed by over 100,000...the later being almost double that of the travel magazine's followers.

So in a possible bid to enhance its audience, the decision-maker(s) at the magazine may have gritted their teeth, and featured these talentless photographs. 

Of course, there may be different reasons...such as friendship, or whatever. It could have been as simple a reason as the creative director returning from a shopping trip or honeymoon or holiday to India, and asking her travel magazine friends if they'd publish her stuff.

It happens all the time, and I understand how such things work in the real world, but I also know that in this particular case, the photographs really suck and reduce the value and respectability that this travel platform tries to achieve. And the way to enhance a travel magazine's value is to publish thoughtful, compelling, beautiful photographs by talented photographers who take pride in their craft.

And pay them.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Jacob Maentz | The Mansaka

Photo © Jacob Maentz -All Rights Reserved
The Mansaka live in the provinces of Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley in the region of Mindanao in the Philippines. Essentially farming people, they are choosy as to there they cultivate their lands, and seldom encroach on other lands.  Their name means “the first people upstream,” derived from man (“first”) and daya (“upstream or upper portion of a river”).

The Mansaka are known for their distinctive costumes and ornamentation, involving tie-dyed textiles and embroidery. Their farming practices slash and burn cultivation. They live mainly on rice, various tubers, and bananas. Houses, which may contain up to three family units, are organized into kinship-based neighborhoods and always placed within eyesight of each other.

Jacob Maentz documents the lives of the Mansaka in his 'The Mansaka of Compostela Valley' photo story, in which he tells us that the Mansaka; although many are Christians, still embrace many of the traditions and beliefs passed down to them over time.

His lovely portrait of Datu Sucnaan (above) is of one of the last few Balyans or priests of the Mansaka Tribe. I encountered a number of Balians (or Balyans) on the island of Bali, and these, like Datu Sucnaan, are faith healers who are extremely well regarded by the Bali islanders, and who are often the primary go-to for medical treatments instead of hospitals and clinics.

You shouldn't miss Jacob's essay with much larger photographs on Maptia, one of my favorite storytelling platforms. You can find it here.

Jacob Maentz is a documentary and travel photographer based in Cebu, Philippines. He's keenly interested in documenting issues related to the human condition, culture, and humanity’s interactions with the natural world. He has worked with corporations, humanitarian organizations, publishers and advertising agencies and his work appeared on television commercials and billboards to magazine and book covers. Much of his documentary work is represented by Corbis Images.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Tu Tran Thanh | Lên Đồng

Photo © 2015 Tu Tran Thanh-All Rights Reserved
Some of my readers will recall my March personal project in Ha Noi which centered on documenting the rituals of Hầu đồng -also known as Lên đồng-, when I was provided invaluable assistance by Tu Tran Thanh; a photographer who also discovered and eventually shared my interest in these traditional Vietnamese rituals.

For decades, Lên đồng was restricted by French colonial and Vietnamese leaders, but the tradition is currently enjoying a strong resurgence in popularity since restrictions were relaxed a decade or so ago. It takes some effort to find and attend the authentic Lên đồng ceremonies. since these are not widely publicized, are often performed at the virtual drop of a hat and are dependent of availability of the pagodas allowed to hold such ceremonies.

I think it is about time I feature Tu Tran Thanh's photographic work "Lên đồng: Spirits' Journeys of Vietnam" which was published on the visual storytelling platform Exposure. There is quite a number of her fabulous photographs of the various ceremonies which she attended before, while and after I was in Ha Noi. It is not an exaggeration that Tu Tran Thanh is now seen by many Hầu đồng mediums as a trusted photographer for their ceremonies.

I am glad Tu Tran Thanh's role is assisting me is far from over. She's also helping me to complete my own ongoing Hầu đồng book project.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Kares Le Roy | Buzkashi

Photo © Kares Le Roy -All Rights Reserved
Buzkashi! The word just fills the mouth with an exotic flavor, doesn't it?

It literally means "goat dragging" in Persian, and is is a Central Asian sport in which horse-mounted players attempt to drag a goat or calf carcass toward a goal. Originally, free-for-all games could last for several days, but in more regulated tournaments, the games are time limited.

It is popular in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Some mistakenly attribute the game of polo as having its origins in buzkashi, but the two are two separate types of horse riding contests. The goat (ideally, a calf) in a buzkashi game is normally beheaded and disemboweled and has its limbs cut off at the knees. It is then soaked in cold water for 24 hours before play to toughen it. Occasionally sand is packed into the carcass to give it extra weight.

Kares Le Roy was in Tajikistan, and features his Buzkashi gallery on his website.

Kares travelled for 2 years through a dozen countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia and Middle East.  The countries he photographed in range from Tibet, Nepal, India, Bali, Cuba, Cambodia to Morocco. He traveled through 56 000 km of land and humans: faces, smiles, eyes, monuments, cultures, and events. He has recently started his travels again, and we look forward to see more of his extraordinary work.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Fabien Astre | The Goroka Festival

Photo © Fabien Astre-All Rights Reserved
The Goroka festival is probably the best known tribal gathering and cultural event in Papua New Guinea. It's held every year close to the country's Independence Day on 16 September in the town of Goroka, the capital of the Eastern Highlands Province. About 100 tribes arrive to show their music, dance and culture. This traditional festival is called a sing-sing, and is the biggest of its kind in the world. 

The feathers of birds of paradise are heavily featured in the festival, either used for decorative head gear or ceremonial dress, and it is often noted how extraordinary that so many feathers can be squeezed on a traditional headdress. The dances and songs during the festival reflect the behavior of the birds of paradise in the wild, which represent beauty and seduction to the tribes.

Fabien Astre documented the Goroka festival, and his colorful photographs appeared in a number of publications such as The Daily Mail, Rough Guides, and Bored Panda amongst others.

Fabien is a French photographer who started traveling in earnest about 10 years ago. He worked in
New Caledonia and backpacked his way in both Australia and India. Returning to Australia, he became interested in travel photography, and currently spends most of his time in Asia and in the Pacific. Currently living in the Solomon Islands, he's combining travel, diving and photography.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Nigel Morris | Tribes of South Ethiopia

Photo © Nigel Morris-All Rights Reserved
I've criticized, on a number of occasions, a handful of photographers who feature images of tribes in south Ethiopia and the Omo Valley, depicting them in elaborate (and contrived) headdress, and setting them up to freeze in front of their cameras in awkward poses, and in so doing rewarding them with lavish gifts of money for every photograph made. I traveled to the Omo Valley in 2004 at a time when this was the exception rather than the norm, and when the tribes were willing to have their photographs taken against a modest donation being made to the heads of their villages.

With a very few exceptions, the recent photographic work I've seen has been of overworked imagery, with the Omo Valley tribespeople overly made-up and fetishized by making them wear incongruous head gear and unnatural accessories. So it's with pleasure that I stumbled on Nigel Morris' Tribes of South Ethiopia on PDN (which led me to his website) since his portraits are free of these artificial accoutrements which, in my view, are demeaning. 

According to the PDN interview,  Nigel Morris's gear during his two week long trip to Ethiopia was a Phase One 645DF with my P40+ digital back and 80mm LS lens; two small cameras, a Fuji X100s and Fuji XT1; one flash unit, a Profoto B1; three light modifiers, an Elinchrom Rotalux 69-inch OctaBox, a Paul C Buff Soft Silver Para, and a Westcott Apollo; and two light stands. 

He tells us that he mainly photographed four tribes—the Daasanach, Mursi, Hamer and Bodi. He employed a fixer and a driver, and just rolled in the Omo Valley. He is a portrait and editorial photographer from Brooklyn, New York.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Hanoi | Bali (Foundry Photojournalism Workshop)

Well, it's the time of year again when I finalise travel plans to join the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop's faculty, as I have done since its inception in 2008 in Mexico City (with one exception, Sarajevo which I had to miss to other commitments). This time it will be held in Bali from July 19-25 and it promises to be another roaring success.

I shall teach "The Travel Documentary: Sound & Image"; a multimedia class that allows its participants to concentrate on the story, rather than on the application. The purpose and aim of the class is to show photographers how to make quick work of slide show production (rivaling in content and quality the more complicated processes), using their own images and audio generated in the field, to produce a cogent travel documentary under the simulation of publishing deadlines.

I plan to drop by Hanoi for a few days to do some further research into the practices of Hầu Đồng, and to add to my already existing inventory of images of these unusual ceremonies.

As my readers know, I am also working on what I hope will be an interesting photo book on Hầu Đồng and its mediums, whose cover will resemble the above tentative mock-up. It potentially could be printed in Hanoi, but it is still premature to determine the location of its production at this stage.

All this makes for an exciting summer 2015!

Friday, 5 June 2015

Jean-Christian Cottu | The Holy Men

Photo © Jean-Christian Cottu-All Rights Reserved
"The Holy Men" is a collection of arranged and posed portraits made by photographer Jean-Christian Cottu in the ancient city of Varanasi. Although these photographs have yet to be uploaded to the photographer's website, he asked me to feature them on this blog on an individual basis, so I chose a few that I liked.

Photo © Jean-Christian Cottu-All Rights Reserved
On Cottu's website, there's a section featuring videos showing the photographer and his assistants during photo shoots, which is quite interesting as it shows the degree of preparation and gear he has to schlep during such shoots.

Photo © Jean-Christian Cottu-All Rights Reserved
As readers of this blog know, I am always highly skeptical of the "holiness" of the photogenic individuals who roam the ghats of Varanasi and elsewhere. I photographed some of them myself, and know full well they are about as holy as I am. That said, they are extremely photogenic, look authentic and play the part marvelously well, provided the monetary reward is in line with current market rates. Now, there may be exceptions to this, and I'd be happy to stand corrected it indeed there was. The fellow in the above photograph holding a stick with a skull is probably taking the role of an ascetic Shaiva sadhu known as Aghori.

Nonetheless, and authenticity cast aside, the portraits of these photogenic characters are lovely and atmospheric. I have previously featured Cottu's work in the Nagaland here.

Between Bordeaux, France, where he lives and the other side of the world, Jean-Christian COTTU defines himself as a wandering photographer. When travelling, he carries his equipment in a sealed trunk containing a portable photo studio and a light box connected to a generator.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Asher Svidensky | The Yin-Bou Fishermen Of China

©Asher Svidensky-All Rights Reserved
I recently took part in judging Travel Photographer Asia photography contest, and one of the winning images was that of an elderly fisherman using the cormorant fishing technique, photographed by Magnus Brynestam.  While the cormorant fishermen with lanterns at dusk is a consistent favorite in such photographic contests, and has been photographed countless times, the judges saw it fit to award this photograph a place in the top five submissions.

Coincidentally, I chanced on Asher Svidensky's The Yin-Bou Fishermen which features gorgeous photographs of these fishermen, along with interesting information of this technique. It seems that during the 16th century, the unique technique of “Yin-Bou” fishing to the Li river of Xing-Ping village in South China.

Wikipedia tells us that the technique is prevalent in Guilin, where cormorant birds are famous for fishing on the shallow Lijiang River. To control these birds, fishermen tie a snare near the base of the bird's throat. This prevents the birds from swallowing larger fish, which are held in their throat and brought back to the fishermen.Though cormorant fishing once was a successful industry, its primary use today is to serve the tourism industry.

Asher Svidensky is a freelance photographer with a strong passion for documentary and storytelling.
Conscripted into the Israeli military in 2009, he served as a photographer. His photographs have been published in magazines and newspapers around the world, including the BBC, National Geographic, The Times Newspaper, Metro Newspaper, GEO, AD (Netherlands) and more. In 2014 he also had the privilege of giving a TEDx talk.

Monday, 1 June 2015

POV | Jimmy Nelson | A TED Talk

Many of us travel and ethno-photographic and documentary photographers have heard of Jimmy Nelson and of his photographic work.

His photographs, the publicity buzz surrounding the publication of his book and his self-promotion (albeit helped by a veritable array of PR professionals) have engendered a strong backlash from a variety of sources, whether these are from other photographers, from NGOs and the like, and environmentalists who saw it as an affront to the way of living of his subjects. Others have even gone so far as accusing Nelson of being exploitative, and have expressed strong reservations and an unease (to put it mildly) at the over-the-top PR promotions, and the self-aggrandizement tactics adopted by Jimmy Nelson and his entourage.

Another part of the equation is that it seems Jimmy Nelson managed to convince an wealthy investor to fund this project to the tune of $500,000 and his books are selling for $150 whilst the special limited editions sell for $8750.

I liked a number of his photographs that were featured on the internet, and whilst most of them are posed and pre-arranged, they do depict life ways that are disappearing quite quickly. I also admire Nelson's energy, perseverance and courage in pursuing this project. He ventured in places that are really tough to get to and to live in for the duration of his shoots. He must've endured quite a lot of difficult situations...so for that, he ought to get respect.

That said, I watched the TED talk he gave. And I must say, Nelson is no Salgado. The gist of his talk was superficial, and he worked way too hard at being sensationalistic and enthuse the audience. I also thought the choice of his group photograph (Omo Valley) and its backstory to be mundane and uninteresting. He tried hard, but he's not a charismatic raconteur and although he must have incredibly interesting stories to share, he came through as unconvincing to me.

It's a shame because it's a perceptual kind of thing. None of his critics, nor I, know whether Nelson -apart from his over-the-top PR campaigns to sell his books- has exploited his endangered photographic subjects. Knowing whether  a portion of his royalties were (and will be) used to support the very tribes he photographed, would be interesting... and would go a long way to convince his critics that he's a 'good guy'.

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: http://koreanmodel.tumblr.com/
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.