Saturday, 16 December 2017

C. Glendening & S. Leahovcenko | Mongolian Eagle Hunters


This is a double feature on the eagle hunters of the Altai mountains of Mongolia; one is the cinematic work of Cale Glendening, and the other is a photographic essay by Sasha Leahovcenco.

The golden eagles live in the high Altai mountains, in far-western Mongolia, and build their nests in the crags of the area’s rugged peaks. The hunters, a Khazak minority, are traditional nomadic clans who learn to climb up to these crevices to capture and domesticate the young eagles. The birds are hand fed, and live with the hunters’ families for years.

The hunters take their eagles high into the mountains, so they can fly down and catch foxes and other small mammals. It's a dying tradition, with an estimated number of only fifty or sixty authentic eagle hunters left.
Photo © Sasha Leahovcenco | All Rights Reserved
Although eagles can live for thirty years, the hunters keep each one for only about ten years, then release it to live out its last years in the wild.

The hunters are called burkitshi, and try to pass their long standing tradition to their sons. The tradition of hunting with golden eagles is said to have been started by the nomadic tribes of Manchuria in northern China around 940 AD.

Sasha Leahovcenco's Mongolian Eagle Hunters photo essay is here

His biography reveals that is a humanitarian, entrepreneur and photographer. He was born in Moldova, an Eastern European country and former Soviet republic. A martial art champion, he eventually took up photography as a career, and traveled to Chukotka (the northern most part of Russia), Haiti, Central America, the Middle East and several countries in Africa. He covered stories of the earthquake in Haiti, the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, the ongoing war conflict in Ukraine and the Syrian and Lebanese refugee crisis.

Cale Glendening is a director and cinematographer who has spent the last eight years traveling the world filming on five continents in over 35 countries. His clients include Google, Red Bull, Cholula, Valvoline, Dollar General, BBC, ESPN, and Animal Planet.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Omo Valley's 'Circus'


I was in Ethiopia's Omo Valley in 2004, and photographed many of the tribes in that area such as the Hamer, Mursi, and the Bume....in their villages and at their markets. At that time, the local guides negotiated with the tribes and their village leaders a modest monetary compensation so we could photograph them in their environment as they went about their daily lives.

However, I was already sensing that this would soon explode into a veritable industry, which would progressively evolve into a 'circus' of sorts, altering the authenticity of the tribes' lifestyle, traditions and relationship with the tourists and photographers.

I was right. Over the course of the intervening 10-12 years I viewed that very circus through images made by travel photographers who had gone to the Omo Valley. These images proved how the tribes authentic adornments had morphed into becoming accessories for fashion shoots that would satisfy the most inventive fashionistas. 

Since early morning, the women and children of the Omo Valley villages begin their make-up sessions, and prepare wild accessories...often with the help and direction of photographers, and the villages are transformed into fashion studios.

The short trailer is produced by Jean Queyrat; a French videographer...and featured by the French Natural History Museum.

The question is: who is being duped? The photographers, the tribes or the viewers?

Monday, 11 December 2017

Remembering Shanghai...And How To Publicize A Book

Remembering Shanghai: Trailer

This post has nothing to do with travel photography, but has a lot to do with 1930's Shanghai; an era and a city that has kindled my imagination for quite some time, and recently influenced me to produce a couple of my 'fashion' themes stories such as The Red Qi Pao and The Girl of Nanjing Road.

However, this post is more about how to publicize a book...in this case, a memoir not a photo book, albeit with illustrations and photographs. 

The joint memoirs are by Isabel Sun Chao and her daughter Claire, and tell of their recollections. As Claire says:  "My ancestors were a cast of eccentrics who lived in tumultuous times, and thankfully my mother did not resist writing an insider tell-all. There’s a bank heist, a kidnapping, a feud with Shanghai’s top gangster, a trek across China and a date on a Harley-Davidson. In between the adventures, we learn about mahjong, calligraphy, silkworms, Beijing opera and Shanghai dumplings."

I was very impressed by the extremely well thought out Remembering Shanghai website which is publicizing the memoir. It's well designed, includes tantalizing tidbits and lovely illustrations...as well as old photographs. This is how to do it!

I wish I had seen this website ahead of my own Hau Dong: The Spirits of Viet Nam, since it would have inspired me to up my game.

In any event, I will keep it mind for my future book production.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Travel Photographer's 5 Favorite 2017 Photographers

Photo © Nagi Yoshida-All Rights Reserved
I now feature my favorite 5 photographer for 2017. I do so in no particular order, either alphabetically, nor chronologically nor by preference...just randomly.

Nagi Yoshida

My first favorite photographer of 2017 is Nagi Yoshida which was featured on this blog on June 26 with her work on Ethiopia. I liked her imagery of the various tribes in the Omo Valley such as the Mursi, Bume, Hamer and the Afari people. 

The Japanese photographer's love affair with Africa started when as a child, she was fascinated by being African. Some children want to become pilots, some models, but her dream was just to become African. 

Photo © Corentin Fohlen | All Rights Reserved

Corentin Fohlen:

Another favorite is French photographer/photojournalist Corentin Fohlen featured in my post of March 3, with his incredibly colorful and fantastical portraits of Haiti's KarnavalThis festival has been held for over 100 years in different towns of Haiti.

Fohlen began to photograph Haitians by creating a makeshift studio on a city sidewalk near the Karnaval celebrations, where he could create portraits of each unique costume. Since 2012, he has been involved in long term projects in Haïti, and has published two books on this country and its culture.


Photo © Hiroshi Watanabe - All Rights Reserved

As for the next favorite photographer, it's Hirshoshi Watanbe.

He was featured in my post of May 23 for his lovely work on Kabuki performers. This gallery is of square format monochromatic portraits of non-professional kabuki performers in the small town of Nakatsugawa; located midway between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Hiroshi Watanabe was born in Sapporo, Japan and graduated from the Department of Photography of Nihon University in 1975. He moved to Los Angeles working in Japanese television commercials, obtained an MBA from the UCLA Anderson Business School in 1993 and subsequently, started to travel worldwide, extensively photographing and since 2000, has worked full-time at photography.

Photo © Robert van der Hilst | All Rights Reserved
Robert van der Hilst:

I was happy receiving Robert van der Hilst's lovely 'Chinese Interiors' voluminous coffee-table photo book as a gift in Shanghai, and discovered the talents of this Dutch master photographer who was influenced and inspired by Dutch mid-17th century genre painting. Naturally, I wrote of him in my post of November 8.

Robert van der Hilst is certainly an inspiring photographer, and his website's galleries feature his lovely work from Mexico, Fukuoka (Japan), Shanghai and his Cuban Interiors is particularly worth viewing. 

Photo © Leonid Plotkin | All Rights Reserved
Leonid Plotkin:

Closing the list is a long time favorite photographer; Leonid Plotkin whose Men of Heart work was featured on my blog on March 5

Men of Heart is about the Bauls who are a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal (Indian State and Bangladesh). The Bauls are members of a syncretic religious sect, and a follow a distinct musical tradition. A very heterogeneous group, with many sects, but their membership mainly consists of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims.

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

The 5 Top Posts On The Travel Photographer In 2017


It's the time of year. Time flies. The most viewed posts of 2017 on The Travel Photographer blog are:

1. POV : Can The X-Pro2 Do The Job Of The GFX 50S? of January 8 in which I share my ambivalence about acquiring this -at the time- new camera, while owning the X-Pro2 and a bevy of lenses...and questioning whether the return on investing in a GFX 50S would be worth it. Would the quality of the GFX 50S surpass that of the X-Pro2 by such a factor that it justifies its $8000 expenditure? It seems many of my blog's followers and other readers were interested in the same question, and that boosted this post to very top of the popularity totem pole....and by a substantial margin.

As readers of this blog know, I did get the Fuji GFX50s and its 63mm lens a few months later, and haven't regretted it in the least. Quite to the contrary, I have fallen for it (as I have for the X-Pro2 before it) especially doing the "fashion-lifestyle-travel" type of photograph that I'm interested in.



2. The Legend of The Purple Hairpin | X-Pro2 of July 26 was the surprising second most viewed post. I call it surprising because I never expected Chinese opera would have much traction among readers of this blog. However, I am guessing that the post went sort of "viral" among the NYC Cantonese community involved in these shows.

The post links to a gallery of images I made at the Chinese Community Center's theater on Mott Street (NYC) of a famous Cantonese opera about a love story that occurs during the Tang Dynasty. To photograph the performance, I used my Fuji X-Pro2 and the Fujinon XF 18-135 F3.5-5.6 OIS WR (the equivalent of a 28-200mm) that gave me the reach I needed.




3. Mercer Street With the X-Pro2 of February 4 was the third most viewed, and the reason why is a little unclear. However, in the post I write of my style of street photography, roaming the cobblestoned streets of SoHo in NYC with my Fuji X-Pro2 and its 18mm f2.0 dangling from my neck and shooting from the hip... so perhaps that is what attracted the eyeballs. It could've also been linked to by one or more of the Fuji aggregators that have a fervent readership base.





4. An Afternoon With The Chinese Opera of May 22 comes in fourth place on the popularity totem pole. This again is very surprising for the reason I mention earlier. 

The post describes my difficulties in getting access to the back stage of the auditorium/theater in NYC's Mott Street. It was my first time there, and had no contacts to help me out....so had to photograph the perfromers from my seat. The X-Pro2 fitted with the 18-135mm Fujinon lens was just perfect to capture the action, and I had no need to stand or move to another location within the room. 




5. 
Ania Błażejewska | Balinese Idyll of January 12 rounds up the list as the fifth most popular post....and deservedly makes it on this list. 

As I wrote on the post, Ania Błażejewska's Balinese Idyll is of scenes with models to represent life on the island as it was many years ago, before becoming a tourist destination. Her photographs are tasteful and luminescent, and the models chosen for this particular photo shoot are just gorgeous.

I must reiterate my surprise that four of the five most popular posts are of my work. It has been the norm in recent years that the most popular were of other photographers...and deservedly so, as I feature many excellent galleries to The Travel Photographer blog. 

Perhaps a fluke...so let's wait for next year's most popular!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Patrick Aventurier | The Ma Song

Photo © Patrick Aventurier | All Rights Reserved
Having attended the Nine Emperor Gods festival's celebrations in Kuala Lumpur last month, I was interested to discover a gallery of 50 portraits of The Ma Song by French photographer Patrick Aventurier (which were in all probability taken during the festival in Phuket, and known there as the Vegetarian festival. 

My own experience at the Nine Emperor Gods festival in Ampang was very much milder than what these portraits depict....but let's start with what the festival is all about. 

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is a nine-day Taoist celebration beginning on the eve of 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, and celebrates this community's belief that abstinence from meat and various stimulants during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar will help them obtain good health, peace of mind, as well as spiritual cleansing. Its sacred rituals grant good fortune on those who observe this rite.

In accordance with the traditions, many religious devotees will perform ritualized mutilation upon themselves and one another (always consensual). 

The Ma Song are the people (usually men) who invite the spirits of gods to possess their bodies. Only pure, unmarried men or women without families of their own can become Ma Song. At the temples, they must first undergo a series of rituals to protect them for the duration of the festival, during which flagellation and self-mutilation is practiced. This ritualistic tradition doesn't exist in China and is believed to have been adopted from the Indian festival of Thaipusam.

Notwithstanding, it's said that the Ma Song follow a Chinese logic of fair trade: they volunteer their bodies to be used by the gods in exchange for being kept alive through the gods’ use of their bodies in the future.

Patrick Aventurier is a French photographer/photojournalist with Gamma. He covered conflicts in Lebanon, Israel, Cambodia, Myanmar, North Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Somalia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. He is the recipient of a number of awards and recognitions ranging from World Press 1988, a UNESCO award, War Correspondents Prize in Bayeux, and many others.

Note: I seldom -if ever- post commentary from readers, however I make an exception for photographer Cheryl Hoffman, a friend, a long time resident of Kuala Lumpur and an expert in the local cultures of Malaysia, including Taoist rituals and their significance.

Edited for space reason, here's what Cheryl wrote on my Facebook page about The Ma Song blog post:

"The sensationalism of the Vegetarian Festival has removed it almost entirely from the intent of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. The festival is intended to bring the forces of yin and yang into balance in order to provide for the health of the people. Yes, within Taoism there is a purpose for spirit mediums to show the power of their connection to the gods and sometimes that involves some kind of self-mutilation (or something that looks like self-mutilation but isn't). The antics played out by the Thai spirit mediums are unnecessary to achieve that. It's a circus really. And I don't know why the connection to Thaipusam keeps coming up. I think that increasing extremism amongst Chinese spirit mediums is based in Thailand and trickling into Malaysia. What's happening in Thailand is off the charts compared to the Hindu/Thaipusam version. Piercings for the puja of Thaipusam are undertaken as vows of silence mostly, even in their extremes. There has been increasing sensationalism around Thaipusam at Batu Caves and other places in the past decade. 

(Although) Patrick's portraits are good and they make me sad to think about the young people who are under pressure to do this kind of thing to make an impression and a living."

Friday, 1 December 2017

My Best Images Of 2017...And Why | X-Pro 2 & GFX50s

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
X-Pro2/12mm Zeiss/f2.8
With the end of year closing in, I thought I'd post 10 photographs that I made during 2017 which I deem to be the "best" (always a subjective thing) for a variety of reasons. 

By "best", I mean that these images combine the visual (composition et al), the ambiance and its connection to me as photographer.

The first (not in any particular order) is one of many I took of "Wang"; an aging Hokkien opera performer in Ampang (Kuala Lumpur) during the Nine Emperor Gods festival in October. In fact, I have a complete blog post on Wang, and how I formed a bond of sorts when I dropped on a couple of nights by the stage where he and his troupe would perform. For me, "Wang" epitomizes the gradual decline in popularity of the Chinese Opera. 

In this particular photograph, "Wang" wears heavy-handed make up on his face, with painted eyebrows. I can't decide whether his facial expression is sad, tired or is he being slightly sardonic. His face was very expressive, and I saw him use it during the shows. I deliberately used a wide angle (Zeiss Touit 12mm) to include the messy background, the drying clothes and the open trunk to show the "out-of-a-suitcase" lives of these itinerant opera troupes.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
X-Pro2/Fujinon 16-55mm/f3.2

Another favorite image is of four men in the small town of Qi Bao. It was taken in an ancient tea house where storytellers accompanied by Chinese pipas, perform their art.  Qi Bao, a water town 18 kilometers from downtown Shanghai, was built in the Five Dynasties Period (907-979 AD), and it's in such tea houses that one can enjoy a traditional Suzhou pingtan performance of storytelling to music.

Shanghai in September was hot and sultry, and I thought these men were either retired or unemployed. They were totally unconcerned with the storytelling show a few yards away, and were doing their own thing. I thought it was a timeless image, despite the two men fiddling with their mobile phones...with the crooked handwritten posters on the walls, the rickety furniture, the tea cups and the ancient music, I recall feeling as if I had gone back in time....at least 40-50 years.

For more of my Shanghai street photography, see Incongruities in Monochrome gallery.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
X-Pro2/Fujinon 18mm/f2.0
This photograph was made in Kyoto, and was shot from the hip...as is my usual way of  shooting when I'm in my street photography mode. I didn't want to disturb the scene so I was very quick. Compositionally, it could have been much improved had I been able to move two steps to the left, but I had no time as I wanted to capture the gestures of the little girl imitating the posture of the kimono-clad woman (who was being photographed by a friend with an iPhone).

Examining it later, I was about the chuck it out from my file of "possibles", but I liked the kimono's (and the bag's) design which contrasts with the plain gray/brown of the wall-fence...and the the striped t-shirts of the two little girls.

Many women of various nationalities (but mostly from East Asian countries) rent kimonos in Kyoto...and are appreciative when photographs are taken of them. The city officials developed programs to retain the traditional industries and artistry in making such garments, and to encourage people to wear them more often, so temples, museums, and restaurants in Kyoto offer discounts to women wearing kimonos. 

For more of my Kyoto's kimonos gallery, see The Kimonos of Kyoto.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
X-Pro2/Fujinon 16-55mm/f2.8

Whilst in Kuala Lumpur in 2016 participating in the annual Travel Photographer Society event, I was introduced to The Old China Cafe; an old café-restaurant that serves a combination of Straits Chinese and Malay dishes, and whose untouched pre-war ambiance and large traditional feng shui mirrors gave me the idea of constructing a fantasy story about a beautiful Chinese woman dressed in a clinging red qi pao or cheongsam appearing to an habitual customer and opium-addled Western photographer.

Fast forward to early May 2017, and I found myself once again at the Old China Cafe with Tracy Yee and Stanley Hong shooting for The Red Qi Pao, my fashion-themed story.

I had briefed Tracy as to the general idea of my imaginary story which was supposedly based in 1930 Shanghai, and she enthusiastically performed the role of the love-stricken Mei Li who was being ill-treated by her foreign lover. 

The atmosphere of the Old China Cafe lent itself perfectly to the theme, and while photographing, I had flash-backs of the wonderful movie In The Mood For Love by Wong Kar-wai, starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. For me, the photograph that best exemplifies the movie is the this one...of a pensive Mei-Li leaning against an old Chinese screen. I deliberately shot this frame so it would appear soft...to give it the mood I wanted to recreate in that particular sequence.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
X-Pro2/Fujinon 16-55mm/f2.8
In Tokyo...the metropolis of more than 9 million people has the reputation of having many lonely people. It is reported that instead of actually forging relationships, or continuing those they have already, Japanese people are hiring actors to play the roles of loved ones. Many young men have no courtship skills, and are unable to forge lasting relationships with young women as in the West.

At dusk near Shibuya station, this young woman waiting for someone...perhaps her boyfriend, her husband or other girlfriends, struck me as being forlorn and sad. She's clutching her mobile phone, perhaps expecting a call or message with a pensive expression. I saw her as vulnerable, cocooned in a outsized woolen sweater but wearing an unseasonable short dress. 

Deep in her thoughts, she did not notice me...and every time I view this image, I wonder if her friend(s) showed up, or did she go home after a long wait....disappointed at her wasted evening.

For more of my Tokyo street photographs, see Tokyo Noir.

 
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
X-Pro2/Fujinon 18-135mm/f6.4
Since earlier this year, I've immersed myself in a new project involving Chinese Opera. While this project is continuously evolving and may now focus on this ancient performance art amongst the Chinese diaspora in South East Asia, I started it in New York City's Chinatown. This still-authentic area of lower Manhattan is home to Cantonese and Fujianese/Hokkien immigrants, and weekly shows are periodically performed.

This is one of my favorite photographs of a "mou sang" (hero) in a 
Cantonese opera held at the Chinese Community Center's theater on NYC's Mott Street. The performer is "Andrew" who is part owner of the Mandarin Court Restaurant just opposite the Center. His role is that of the mou sang (actor who can play both civil and martial roles)..and he was extremely adept in portraying the play's hero. I particularly liked his expression confronting his nemesis...and that his (inadvertent) reverse V-gesture is a vulgar one in Britain adds to his combativeness.

As I was standing about 20 feet from the stage, I used the X-Pro2 and the 18-135mm OIS lens to give me the range I needed.

For more of my photographs of Cantonese Opera, see this audio-slideshow.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
GFX50s/GF63mm/f2.8
Taking the opportunity of being in Shanghai, I was able to photograph a sequel to my Red Qi Pao audio slideshow in that city itself. I was fortunate to be introduced Ms Yiyi; a professional model and a budding photographer herself, featured her as a red qi pao-clad girl of Nanjing Road; a famous road in the city. Her story "occurs" in the 1930's and involves the foreigner only known as "gweilo".

Along with Eric, a photographer friend, we went to Guilin Park for the 3 hours photo shoot. The park's tea house provided an perfectly suitable backdrop for the photographs. I used my GFX50s along with its 63mm lens, as well as the X-Pro2 and a 16-55mm lens. 

Ms Yiyi was very quick to understand what I sought, and had all the accessories needed to play the part; the opium pipe, the fake fur stole, the yellow fan and the high heels. While Eric was there to interpret whenever needed, I found it extremely easy to direct her as she intuitively knew what to do.

It was one of the most pleasant photo shoots I've had ever done. The tea house was empty at this time of day...perhaps because it was drizzling for most of the time, the park was not at all crowded, and the light was gorgeous. I shoot in ambient light, and I eschew strobes and reflectors. 

Unfortunately Ms Yiyi wasn't able to view the resultant The Girl of Nanjing Road audio-slideshow as Vimeo and YouTube are banned (or censored) in China, but I did manage to send an abbreviated version of it via WeChat.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
X-Pro2/12mm Zeiss/f2.8
This is another monochrome "street" photograph made in a small eatery in Nakano, Japan. The elderly man was totally oblivious of my presence at the door of the eatery, and seemed to be lost in a world of his own. Similar to the Shibuya young woman in the previous photograph, he seemed to be lonely and vulnerable, and I felt sorry for him.

Naturally, these feelings are aroused in a matter of seconds, and he may have been quite the opposite...waiting for his wife and family to join him....but feeling sorry for him was my instinctive reaction. 

One cannot help but noticing in Japan that it has a rapidly aging society, where nearly one in four people is over 65, which means that more elderly are living alone every year. I recall returning home and looking at this image more closely...and thinking he must've been a widower or a bachelor, because there was no glint of joy, of expectation in his eyes.

I read somewhere this quote by a Japanese social researcher: 

“An enormous flaw in Japanese society is that we don’t look each other in the eye when we’re walking in the streets. We need to re-think the Japanese fear of interacting with others.

For more of my Tokyo street photographs, see Tokyo Noir.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
X-Pro2/Fujinon 18-135mm/f6.4
Another of my favorite frames of Chinese opera was in Shanghai. Qinqiang is a regional type of this performance art, and the show was at the Yi Fu Theater on Fuzhou Road. The opera's tale was about two women; both brides but with different fates. The opera's title is The Qilin Purse (a red purse bearing the symbol or image of the mythical Chinese 'unicorn', meant to bring luck and good fortune to brides at their weddings).

Quite different from Cantonese or Hokkien operas, Qinqiang is much more sophisticated. It originated in the Yellow River Valley of Shaanxi province in northwest China, and boasts the most ancient, affluent and largest musical system of all Chinese operas, and is reputed to be the forefather of Chinese operas. It's also listed as a national Intangible World Heritage since 2006.

The cast seemed to be very well known to the enthusiastic audience, and while I expected to be asked not to photograph the show, it was quite the contrary with a couple of other photographers setting up tripods in the aisles. I didn't need to as I used the 18-135mm OIS on my X-Pro2 which was perfect for the task.

Due to the lighting and my settings (1/90 sec, f5.6, 75mm, iso 1000 and spot metering), I was able to capture the performers against a dark background rendering it almost black, and seemingly floating on a mirror.

At the end of the performance, there was an encore...and many of the audience went to the front of the stage to take pictures with their mobile phones...I was looking for an opening amongst the crowd, and a man shoved others to make way for me. He brushed my objections to the side, saying because I was a foreigner I had priority!


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
X-Pro2/Fujinon 16-55mm/f2.8
The tenth photograph (remember...they're not ranked by preference) is of a Hokkien opera performer applying his make-up before appearing on a stage in Sungai Way (Petaling Jaya). In contrast to the cluster of Malaysian photographers who were back stage that evening, I am not too fond of photographing the performers' reflections in mirrors. It's been done too many times, and have become trite....losing their impact because of overuse.

However, I made an exception for this one because I noticed the two reflections in the close-up mirror and the larger one....and because of the angle of view, I also noticed that the position of the performer's right hand with the brush (or applicator) looks different in the two mirrors. Perhaps an optical illusion?

If it wasn't for religious festivals, Chinese opera could well be virtually extinct in Malaysia. Before and during Chinese religious festivals such as the Hungry Ghosts festival and the Nine Emperor Gods festival, Chinese opera troupes live in the back areas of the stages that are specially erected, and perform nightly or even twice daily.

For this frame, I used the 16-55mm at a 24mm setting, iso 640 and center-weighted average.

For more of my Hokkien opera photographs, see Back Stage.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Hanfu Girl

Photo Courtesy Hanfugirl 
Readers of this blog know of my "chinoiserie" phase in my photographic trajectory, which ranges from photojournalistic projects such as documenting various types of Chinese opera to what I call "fashion themed storytelling'.

It's the latter that led me to discover the work of Ms. Gong Pan Pan, a Singaporean whose passion is to re-enact the ancient/traditional Chinese female’s way of dressing, either through modeling the dresses herself or relying on friends to do so. Ms Pan Pan's delightful blog is The Hanfu Girl, and she pens a number of historically and visually interesting posts about her passion.


One of specific interests at this time is the Hanfu style. Hanfu is the term for traditional clothing worn by the Han Chinese before the 17th century. Of the 56 different ethnic groups in China, the Hans are the largest, and make up approximately 90% of the population in China.

In a recent interview, she estimated that she has between 50 and 100 sets of hanfu clothes/costumes, and elaborate hair pieces, jewelry and props, all bought from mainland China.

Many of us think of the cheongsam (or qi pao) as the quintessential Chinese dress, but these are actually Manchurian creations, and which is popularly -and erroneously- assumed to be the de facto traditional Han Chinese garb.

Hànfú (literally:"Han clothing") is one of the historical/traditional clothing of the Han people, and influenced the clothing of East Asia such as the Japanese kimono and Korean hanbok.

The Hanfu style evolved in various iterations -as well as dropping in and out of favor- throughout Chinese dynasties. The rulers during the Qing dynasty (as an example) endeavored to expunge Han identity, and prohibited the Han to wear their national dress, requiring them to wear garments in the Manchu tradition....but that was fiercely resisted, and the policy was eventually relaxed. Men, government officials, Confucian scholars, and prostitutes wore the Manchu style; while women, errand boys, children, monks, and Taoists were free to wear Han styles. Han dress was also permitted for special occasions such as weddings and funerals.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Delphine Blast | Cholitas Project

Photo © Delphine Blast | All Rights Reserved

And for a total change away from Asia, I'm featuring photography out of South America,; a continent I've visited a number of times but neglected on this blog.

A French photographer, Delphine Blast was on a two month journey in Bolivia, and met dozens of cholitas; Aymara and Quechua women in layered skirts and shawls, with the distinctive bowler hats atop their heads, and learned of the social and racial discrimination they had faced for as long as anyone could remember.

She decided then to produce a series of portraits in a gallery titled The Cholitas Project to feature these women's identity affirmations and to reflect the social changes in the country following the 2005 election of Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous president.

A possibly apocryphal tale about the bowler hats worn by these indigenous women is that in the late 1800s, two brothers in Manchester were manufacturing a line of bowler hats, and planned to sell them to the British railway workers who were working in Bolivia at the time. The hats turned out to be too small, so the rumor was started that fashionable European women all dressed in these hats...and the trend in Bolivia was set.

Delphine Blast is a French documentary and portrait photographer, based between Paris and South America. Her work draws primarily on an emotional response and engagement with her subjects. She focuses on the personal and private aspects of people's lives and is motivated by a strong desire to get under the skin and straight to the heart of the issues they strive to deal with. 

She works regularly for the press, NGOs and various institutions in France and abroad, while she working on personal projects. Her work has been exhibited in France, Bolivia and more recently in Georgia where her two projects about the women issue in Colombia were exhibited at the Kolga Festival, in Tbilisi.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Justin Hession | Pilgrims of the Kumbh

Photo © Justin Hession | All Rights Reserved
Enough already with China, I heard you say? Well, here's a post on the famed Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in India.

There are different kinds of Kumbh Melas...the so-called "Maha Kumbh" melas are the largest kahunas of these Hindu religious festivals, and the second* Maha Kumbh of this century at Allahabad (also known as Prayag by observant Hindus) concluded with a magnificent ritual bathing on the occasion of Mahashivratri on March 10, 2013...and it is this religious gathering which influenced photographer Justin Hession to publish his stunning Pilgrims of the Kumbh portraits on Exposure. 


Justin tells us he spent two weeks in a makeshift tent studio, making portraits of pilgrims drawn to these rivers' confluence. He chose a different perspective from the hundreds of photojournalists who came there to document the event, and opted to create studio style portraits against a plain black backdrop. 

The Kumbh, the largest gathering of humanity on any occasion on earth, started with a ritual bathing on January 14, 2013, and in the 55 days of its duration, it is estimated that nearly 120,000,000 pilgrims and visitors from all over India and the world had been at the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna (and the mythical Saraswati) in Allahabad.

For the millions of pilgrims, bathing in this confluence (known as Sangam) is an expression of faith in a divine power. Although there are several references to river-side festivals in ancient Indian texts, the exact age of the Kumbh Mela is uncertain.

Justin Hession has lived in Switzerland for the past ten years. Traveling the world as a backpacker in the 1990’s, his passion for the visual image was kindled, and he spent the next three years studying photography before gaining employment as a staff photographer with News Corp in Melbourne. 


As a freelance photographer for some of the biggest companies in Europe, he also started PlanetVisible, a photography collective with other photographers working on personal projects outside their regular photography assignments. 

* I attended and photographed the first Maha Kumbh mela in January 2001...and it was a mind-bending experience.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Victoria Knobloch | Charm of China

Photo © Victoria Knobloch | All Rights Reserved
I can make no apologies for the recent spate of China or Chinese related posts. As this blog's readers know, I'm currently neck-deep in a new long term project revolving around the traditional Chinese opera (and its various styles) amongst the Chinese diaspora in South East Asia and elsewhere.

So here's the work of Victoria Knobloch which she has titled China Charm. Many of her monochromatic images are of simple portraits, with some more complex environmental portraits (including the cormorant fishermen of the Li River), along with some landscapes. 

Aside from her portraits, I was mostly attracted to her work depicting men in traditional Chinese interiors (presumably rural tea houses) and walking cobblestoned old villages.

She has also a number of other galleries worth stopping by; those of Tibet, Tibetans in exile and Kham stand out and reaffirm Ms. Knobloch's fascination in Tibetan Buddhism. 

Victoria Knobloch is a German photographer who concentrates on black and white portraits and documentary work. Aside from her particular interest in Tibet, she's interested in vanishing cultures, ancient traditions and contemporary culture. 
Her work include photographs of Iceland, Uganda, of the Kumbh Mela in India and its sadhus, as well as the ancient city of Fez in Morocco. She has has her work exhibited international in many venues and countries, and is widely published. Her biography also tells us that she's also a classical singer.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Hokkien Opera Actor | The GFX50s

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved (GFX50s)
At the end of every trip, whether I had been giving a workshop or working on a project, there's one (or perhaps two) frame(s) that I specifically fall in love with. This never fails to happen. I believe it's about developing an instant emotional bond for the subject(s) in such frames.

As I often tell those who attend my workshops...the photographer has to fall in a semblance of "love" with his or her models. Whether posed or candid photo shoots, successful imagery depends on the mutual bonds that develops between these parties. 

I was in Kuala Lumpur last month during the Nine Emperor Gods festival; an important Taoist religious festival which begins on the eve of 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. 

While the festival itself with its unusual rituals and religious processions is a veritable feast for the eyes, for the senses and naturally for photography, I was there to photograph the performances and back stage activities of Chinese Opera (Cantonese, Hokkien, Amoy, etc) troupes that put on nightly shows near the temples to entertain the gods (as well as human audiences)*.  


Ampang Stage. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved (GFX50s)
Adjacent to the Tokong Kau Ong Yah temple, the festival's hub in Ampang, was an elevated stage where an Amoy or Hokkien opera troupe held its nightly shows... not much better than a rickety edifice, it must've seen better days when Chinese opera was much more popular than it currently is. 

It's at the back of this stage that I met "Wang"....at least, that's what I think his name is. It was difficult to decipher what he told me between the mouthfuls of rice he was having for a late lunch.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved (GFX50s)
 

After attending this troupe's rehearsals and night shows, I concluded that "Wang" was a minor player whose duties ranged from raising the curtains, drawing the threadbare backgrounds, and standing as a sidekick to the main actors.


Irrespective of his status on the troupe's totem pole, "Wang" seemed to be the "go-to" person to the remaining 5-6 actors. Having a wicked sense of humor seemed to give him the last word on every bantering discussion going on amongst the troupe...perhaps it was also due to his being older, but I would like to think that he was just a character.

Whenever I walked back stage and photographed him, he would pretend not to notice my presence, speaking in Hokkien to a stagehand or a fellow actor...but he always had a sly twinkle in his eyes which meant he appreciated the attention. 

I always showed him his images on my camera's screen...he would glance at them, shrug and turn his attention elsewhere...as if these were irrelevant. However, on one occasion he looked at me, grinned (as in the above frame) and rubbed his thumb and index finger in the universal gesture signifying he expected me to pay him..

When I reciprocated the gesture to ask him to pay me, Wang went into a paroxysm of laughter. He had "gotten" it. I extended my hand...he extended his..and we shook hands; separated by language but united by humor.

It was at that moment a bond of sorts was formed...and it was the moment when I knew that the portraits I did of him would be my favorite from this trip.

Around one-thirds of the images I made during the Chinese opera performances and in their back stages were made using the Fujifilm GFX 50s mirrorless 'medium format' camera and a 63mm f2.8mm lens. I cannot laud this camera enough in terms of image quality, versatility and ergonomics. Its format forces me to take more time to compose the images, and it's the perfect supplementary tool for my X-Pro2 which I've used to make the remaining two-thirds of my images.

*These photographs will be part of my longer project involving the dying art of Chinese Opera amongst the Chinese diaspora in South-East Asia, which I hope will be published as a photo book.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Istanbul & Beyond | Robyn Eckhardt & David Hagerman


I was raised in a household in which French was the predominant language, and the cuisine was primarily Mediterranean...not surprising as Egypt's culinary roots were (and still are) influenced by Turkey...and to some degree, Greece, Italy and France. Ottoman Turkey and its antecedents ruled Egypt from 1517 to 1914, following the defeat of the Mamlukes, and its culinary influence is still pervasive to this day.

This, perhaps a convoluted way, explains the fact that I consider it as my "comfort" food; one with which my taste buds are very familial with, and one that reminds me of growing up in a household where Osta Hassan, the loyal family cook, would prepare for us aromatic kebabs, dolma, and imam bayaldi (the famous Turkish aubergines).

So it was with considerable pleasure that I received Istanbul & Beyond, a Turkish cookbook by Robyn Eckhardt & David Hagerman.


I haven't had the chance of meeting the two-time Saveur award winner Robyn Eckhardt, but I know David Hagerman, the travel photographer, from Foundry Photojournalism Workshops held in Manali (India) and Istanbul. 

Istanbul & Beyond is certainly a very well researched and crafted cook-photo book which introduces (or reminds) us of mouth-watering regional cuisines as well as life in the villages, cities, farms, and high pastures of the lesser-known provinces throughout Turkey. I read in one of the many kudos for this book that these recipes were gleaned over the past twenty years, as a result of traveling more than 13,000 miles along the backroads of Turkey. It certainly is best described as both a cook book and a travel photography book...so it has a place not only in the kitchen shelves but also on the coffee table.

Robyn and David are currently on a coast to coast book tour and appearances in late 2017 and early 2018, and the events program can be found here

Istanbul & Beyond was deservedly named as one of the best 34 cookbooks for the fall 2017 season by Epicurious.