Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Psychedelic World of Sudan's Sufis

Photo © Ala Kheir- Courtesy The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 5 February 2016

Hà Nội And A Brace of X-T1s


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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 25 January 2016

Robert van Koesveld | Geiko and Maiko of Kyoto


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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, 23 January 2016

Jan Møller Hansen | The Raute of Nepal

Photo © Jan Møller Hansen-All Rights Reserved 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 22 January 2016

Paul Levrier | Red Hmong | Visions of Asia

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Mustafa Dedeoğlu | Ashura

Photo © Mustafa Dedeoğlu-All Rights Reserved
I've seldom featured the work of Turkish photographers on this blog, but to redress this oversight here is the powerful photographs of Mustafa Dedeoğlu with monochromatic images of Ashura. It's also
about time that I featured black & white imagery after a surfeit of color that my blog has seen for the past few months.

Ashura is an Islamic holiday observed on the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic year. It's scheduled for October 12th in 2016. The word itself is derived from the number "10," denoting the date of the holiday. For the Shias, it commemorates a day of mourning for the death of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the battle of Karbala. Shias consider Hussein the third Imam and the rightful successor to Muhammad, and the grief for his death is demonstrated by the self-flagellation in parades and other venues.

For Sunni Muslims, Ashura is occasionally observed by fasting as the Prophet Muhammad did, to commemorate the day when Moses and his followers were saved from the Pharaoh by God by creating a path in the Red Sea.

I'm itching to photograph Ashura in India, and was on the verge of setting out to do just so a year ago, but I've had to postpone it for another time due to conflicting schedules. It is one of the religious festivals that is intense, possibly blood curdling and not for the faint of heart. 

Mustafa Dedeoğlu was born in Istanbul and studied industrial engineering in Cyprus. His interest in photography started in 2006, and with time it has become his passion. Mustafa's work is published in various local and foreign titles on art. He also shares his creations through exhibitions, and has shown it in Russia, Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, America, Tehran and France.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Book Trailer: Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam


Here's a trailer of my work in progress book project; Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam, on which I've been working for the past year, and whose fieldwork will be completed by summer of 2016, if all goes to plan.

I estimate the photo book in its final form will have around 100 full-color photographs of Hầu Đồng ceremonies, of its rituals, of its mediums, its religious paraphernalia and much more. In addition, it'll have no less than 25-30 pages of text explaining the ancient syncretic religion of Đạo Mẫu, its history, its mythology and its pantheon of deities, along with a narrative of my personal experiences documenting it in Vietnam.

The trailer is a conscious attempt on my part to set a firm timeframe for the book's publication. Otherwise, this documentary project might never finish. As I've written in an earlier post, I could be victim of the matryoshka dolls (aka Russian nesting dolls) syndrome; a metaphor for discovering more and more opportunities every time I probe the Hầu Đồng world and its community.... and this project could go on and on like the Energizer Bunny.

Since I worked on this personal project, I’ve experienced a resurgence of excitement, not only for photography, but a spike in my intellectual interest in syncretic religious traditions, occult cultural customs and practices, Asian history and languages, to mention just a few. And I can say that working on this project has given me a sense of direction, and the expression "as happy as a pig in mud" comes to mind.

The experience of researching the material needed for this book project, whether in Hanoi or New York City, whether in live conversations or in emails/messages with the generous Vietnamese who are helping me or in my office using the available internet search engines to gather as much information as possible... whether succeeding or failing... whether finding the ceremonies and people or not... experiencing highs and lows, whether experiencing disappointments or success, it was worth every second, and it ain't over yet.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Gary Draluck | Burning Man

Photo © Gary Draluck-All Rights Reserved

Brace yourself for over 100 unique photographs of the incredible Burning Man 2015 festival by photographer Gary Draluck, and set some time aside to view scenes that are so unusual that I thought these were from another planet.

According to Wikipedia, Burning Man is an annual gathering that takes place at Black Rock City—a temporary community erected in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The event is described as an experiment in community and art, influenced by 10 main principles, including "radical" inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, gifting and (sic) "decommodification", and leaving no trace.

Some describe the Burning Man festival as a socialist utopia; bringing thousands of people to an empty desert to create an alternative society. Money is banned, advertisements are taboo, and this creates a gift economy. Others are critical of it, describing it as a week-long art party in a handmade city in an inhospitable environment, and that is being taken over by the rich Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Whatever side of this divide one belongs to, the fact remains that Burning Man is wonderfully photogenic, weird, alien...almost extra terrestrial, and has a Mad Max-style environment.

Gary Draluck is a multi faceted photographer from Oakland, California, who's enamored with music and musical photography, with emphasis on tango, and naturally on Burning Man which he visited many times. He's also an alum of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop (Chiang Mai chapter).

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Nomads of Mongolia | Brandon Li



With the temperature in New York City in the teens today, I thought I'd feature a documentary about the Nomads of Mongolia by Brandon Li, a talented peripatetic movie maker.

The Mongolian pastoral herders are one of the world's last remaining nomadic cultures. For over 3000 years, they have lived on the steppes, grazing their livestock on its grasslands, and move in the search of better pastures and campsites. They live by and for their livestock, including their horses.

About half of Mongolia’s population is still roaming the vast plains living in the traditional ger, and moving their campings several times a year. Nomadic life may seem to us to be extraordinarily hard, but Mongolians have developed, over the centuries, strength and resilience that are essential for survival in this harsh nature.

However, modernity, bringing a new economic system, opportunities in mining, and the effects of overgrazing and climate change are pushing this ancient nomadic culture to adopt a more urban, settled lifestyle. Many Mongolian herders believe their traditional way of life is over, and some have already broken the ancient tradition of passing down the family herd to the youngest child.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Enrico Martino | Believers

Photo © Enrico Martino-All Rights Reserved
With the advent of 2016 and for the first blog post of the year, I thought I'd feature the personal work of veteran photographer Enrico Martino, which he titled "Believers".

It's a collection of 77 photographs of various religious (conventional and not so conventional) traditions, including Jewish worshippers celebrating Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem, the Peruvian procession of “Señor de los Milagros”, Lord Krishna's birthday in India, rituals in the Islamic wonders of Old Cairo and Coptic pilgrimage sites, Spain's Camino de Santiago, and and many others.

Enrico Martino is a documentary and travel photojournalist, writer and multimedia storyteller, who has worked in more than sixty countries. He's a contributor to important Italian and international magazines and exhibited in international expositions, covering political and documentary assignments in Italy, Europe, Middle and Far East, Africa, USA and Latin America. Recently, he specialized in travel photo and texts reportages. He is also member of Nuestra Mirada, the website of many Latin American photographers.
I originally came across Enrico's work before I traveled to Buenos Aires in 2011 to teach at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop. I wanted to produce a short multimedia photo-film about tango, and his wonderful work Tango Soul came up during my search.

He produced a number of short movies, but I reckon that Tango Soul is the one that influenced me the most. Don't leave his website and not view it. You will not regret it,a nd you'll view it many times.

Monday, 28 December 2015

POV: Retouching Photographs

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved

Since starting on my photography trajectory some 15 years ago, I've been consistently adamant about not spending much time on post processing my images. Whether it was Photoshop, Color Efex (and its derivatives), Silver Efex or even Lightroom, I resisted the lure of "improving" the photographs I made whilst leading my many photo expeditions-workshops and solo assignments.

It's an aesthetic decision coupled with a genuine disinterest in spending time poring over digital images and pixel-peeking. I just don't have the patience to do what other photographers seem to revel in.

With the advent of Color Efex, I softened my resistance. With just a click or two (or three) on a preset filter, I could change (and improve) the photographs that I liked... and that was almost a revelation to me.

It was easier. I liked the results. I didn't have to spend an hour over a single image.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved
And then earlier this year, I started the long journey on my personal project "Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam"; researching, documenting and photographing the Vietnamese religion of the Mother Goddesses, and the practice of mediumship. The project is currently taking shape, and ought to culminate in a book, combining photographs and text.

As I progressed and added more photographs to my inventory, test prints were made, and I was generally pleased with the results. 

I also just chanced on a photo retouching software program, and as Hầu Đồng ceremonies involve women mediums, colorful brocade costumes, a degree of exotic background pageantry and rituals, dance and songs, it certainly has a connection with fashion photography.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved
Fashion photography? Yes, I'm serious. And fashion photography needs retouching software....so I put two and two together, and acquired the software*. Boom! Another revelation of sorts to me. 

It proved to be a cinch to use. A click here and there, and I could tackle the facial and skin imperfections that I would've normally have had to fix in Photoshop, or more probably just ignored. The key is to avoid overdoing the degree of "fixing" as it would alter the physiognomies of the subjects I photographed (as in botched face-lifts), and pushed to the extreme would render them unrecognizable. We've seen this on the covers of fashion magazines, and we wonder if it's really Julia Roberts or not.

The usefulness of this retouching software will be proven or disproven when I run a few test prints. I'd like to see whether it is a non-destructive image editing software  (it claims to be) before I run it on the Hầu Đồng photographs.

* PortraitPro...



Friday, 25 December 2015

The 5 Most Popular Posts of 2015


I always think it'd be interesting at the end of each year of blogging to highlight the five most popular posts on The Travel Photographer blog... and this year is no exception.

In first place (by a significant margin) is:

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


While I seldom post about gear (since there are more qualified people who do this better than I can), this post was about my impressions on two Fuji lenses used during trips to Hanoi and Bali. The two lenses were the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 and the Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8. 

I'm always taken aback by the popularity of any of my posts dealing with camera gear, but I guess it's because readers are interested in hands-on experience rather than technical nitty-gritty.

In second place is:

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


This was also a post about my hands-on experience the Fuji X-T1 which I used almost exclusively during my week-long stay in Bali. I used it with a Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 and a newly acquired Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8. Following a firmware installation, I noticed a slight improvement in the X-T1's auto-focus speed and accuracy.

The third post in terms of popularity is:

Agung Parameswara | Devotion


While at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Bali, I chanced upon the work of 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, landscape, and human events in conjunction with their surroundings.

Very nice work!

In fourth place is:

Hà Nội Color | Exposure | Leica M9 & X Pro1



I'm gratified that one of my favorite galleries of photographs made in the streets and alleys of Hà Nội's Old Quarter (referred to in Vietnamese as Phố Cổ) was so popular. These streets are enormously interesting in terms of history, culture and visual vignettes of everyday life; life that is carried out in the open for all to see. I used a Leica M9 and a Fuji X Pro 1 to make these photographs.

In fifth place is:

POV: This Thing Called 'Vision'


I'm also chuffed my favorite POV post of 2015 was so well enjoyed by readers. In the post, I quote myself as saying (and believing):

"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."

Many friends and followers on my Facebook page agreed with my premise and candor.

That's all, folks!!!


Wednesday, 23 December 2015

End of 2015


Due to my involvement in my long term personal project, I have been rather neglectful in updating my blog in the past few weeks. Researching, editing, writing, revising, are all tasks that are extremely time and attention consuming, and updating my blog has been one of the 'victims'.

This ought to change in the new year, when I will -hopefully- have more time on my hands to update its contents much more frequently.

 In the meantime, I wish all my readers a very happy Christmas and holiday season, as well as a wonderful 2016.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The "Look-Back" Images of 2015



Here's a short movie slideshow consisting of some of my favorite images made during 2015. As I'm taking a hiatus from leading photo expeditions-workshops in order to complete a forthcoming photography book tentatively titled "Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam, all my travels this year have been to that country to build an exhaustive inventory of photographs relating to this subject matter.

I've included a few street photographs of Hanoi; probably one of the most photogenic cities for the genre since its life spills unto its alleys and streets. I've also included a few photographs of Ca Trù; an ancient genre of chamber music featuring female vocalists, with northern Vietnam origins. 

And naturally, I've included just a handful of the literally thousands of Hầu Đồng photographs I've amassed since I've started this book project in March.

For more still photographs, drop by Hầu Đồng, and Cháu Ba.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Travel Photographer Asia 2016 | Photo Contest


Following my earlier post on Travel Photographer Asia's a 4 day Workshops in Kuala Lumpur between May 26 and May 29, 2016, here is its highly anticipated photography contest.

The contest is travel-photography biased, and will be judged by a panel of jury consisting of some of the world's most renowned photographers.

There are 5 categories in the travel photography contest. The categories are:
People
Daily Life
Sense of Place
Nature
Beautiful HomeThe prizes are substantial and include, inter-alia, free entries to The Foundry Photojournalism Workshop and to the Obscura Festival Masterclass 2016 Penang. These are two of highest rated workshops for emerging and established photographers.

The judges are Dr. Shahid ul Alam, Ms. Huang Wen, Ms. Gwen Lee, Vignes Balasingam, Che’ Ahmed Azhar, Drew Hooper and myself.

If you're interested in the quality of the submitted photographs to Travel Photographer Asia 2015, here is the link to last year's contest results.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Aik Beng Chia | Lao Sai Tao Yuan




Teochew opera, or Chaozhou opera, is one of the many variants of Chinese opera, and originated in Chaoshan region in south China. It was popular in Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. 

Chinese opera is a popular form of drama and musical theatre with roots going back to the early periods in China. It is a composite performance art mixing various art forms that existed in ancient China, and evolved gradually over more than a thousand years, reaching its mature form in the 13th century during the Song Dynasty. It evolved to include various art forms, such as music, song and dance, martial arts, acrobatics, as well as literary art forms to become Chinese opera.

Above is a photo slideshow by Singaporean photographer Aik Beng Chia of Lao Sai Tao Yuan, the only group that survived all these years. It was formed in early 19th century and is the oldest remaining Teochew Opera in Singapore.

Photos © Aik Beng Chia-All Rights Reserved
I liked the way that Mr Chia juxtaposed the portraits of the Teochew opera performers side by side; the monochromatic ones in their daily street clothes, and the colored ones in their costumed regalia.

Aik Beng Chia started photographing the daily lives of people on the streets of Singapore in 2008. Since then, these images have earned him a strong following on Instagram numbering over 20,000. They have also caught the attention of UK newspaper, The Guardian, which let him take over the Guardian Travel Instagram account for a three-day special feature on Singapore as seen through his eyes. He has also been invited to be a contributor to Everyday Asia on Instagram, and his works have been exhibited and published internationally.

Aik Beng started the “Singkarpor” project in 2011, and of the thousands of photos taken since, a carefully curated collection will be shown at its exhibition. In 2013, he launched his first monograph "Tonight The Streets Are Ours" published by the Invisible Photographer Asia, which showed Singapore's Little India after dusk. 

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Travel Photographer Asia 2016


I've been very glad to be involved with Travel Photographer Asia since its inception last year, and I'm doubly gratified to have been re-invited by its founder, Ahsan Qureshi, to participate in its forthcoming event as a judge of its travel photography contest, and in giving a 4 day workshop in Kuala Lumpur between May 26 and May 29, 2016.

There will be a master class with Dr. Shahid ul Alam and workshops with Ms. Khaula Jamil and myself. Master Class In Story Telling, Basics of Photojournalism and The Travel Documentary!


The Master Class with the legendary Dr Shahid ul Alam will explore the basic structure of storytelling and with practical examples and simple guidelines, provide the framework for utilizing the remarkable tools at our disposal today to create, deliver and propagate engaging stories. A component on social media, including the recipes for engagement and reach will also be included.

Amongst his many celebrated accomplishments, Dr Shahid ul Alam has set up the award winning Drik Picture Library, The Bangladesh Photographic Institute, Pathshala, The South Asian Media Academy, and he is a also member of advisory board of National Geographic Society.

Ms Khaula Jamil will present the Basics of Photojournalism workshop; a 4 day visual storytelling and photojournalism class. It will involve both theory and practical sessions. Lectures and highly interactive discussions on various genres of photojournalism/key practitioners/ ethics/ social issues /examples and presentations will be conducted.

Ms Khaula holds a MFA in Photography at Parsons School of Design in 2009 on a Fulbright Scholarship and is now an independent freelance photographer. She founded "K For Karachi" a collection of silver jewelry and is well known for her on-going photo project “Humans of Karachi”. She also teaches part-time at the Indus Valley School, and is a member of Majority World, a photo agency started by Dr. Shahid-ul-Alam.

As for me, I shall present The Travel Documentary, a 4 day visual storytelling and travel photography workshop in Kuala Lumpur. Participants will photograph in the field, while indoors time will be devoted to weaving the material into still photo stories and travel documentaries.

To repeat the obvious, I plan, organize and lead photo expeditions-workshops for other photographers, with emphasis on travel photography, multimedia storytelling and documentary photography. I am also the founder of The Travel Photographer blog, and I'm proud to be a faculty member in the Foundry Photojournalism Workshops. Interested in traditional and non-traditional religious manifestations, I am currently working on a long term personal photographic project titled “The Spirit Mediums of Vietnam”.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Fortune Teller Told Me | Nguyễn Ngọc Vi


As readers of this blog probably know, I'm immersed in a personal photographic project documenting the Spirit Mediums of Vietnam; a project which is slowly progressing and will eventually result in a photo book.

One of the derivative 'sub-projects' from my traveling to Vietnam is 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 started documenting Vi's life story in July when she graciously invited me to her family home in Hanoi. It was 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. 

Not only was I privileged to have been invited to her home again in October, but we became friends, and I was glad to be amongst her group that traveled to the north of Vietnam to attend one of her ceremonies.

She is one of the best practitioners of Hầu Đồng I've seen, using her personal charisma, fashion sense and considerable experience to enthrall her audiences. Extremely talented in many fields such as graphic design, photography and fashion, Vi has nevertheless chosen a life path that is difficult; almost monastic to a certain degree.

As I intend to produce a much lengthier documentary on Vi's life, I consider this short movie as a trailer for what is about to come in the near future.


Monday, 30 November 2015

Anthony Pond | Entranced

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

However, I would add another important consideration to these four. While Varanasi is the quintessential Hindu city, it also has a sizable Muslim community of almost a third of its approximately one and a half million inhabitants. There has been Muslims in Varanasi for hundreds of years, and they have built their own societies where they live and work with respect for their own rituals and religion.

During my 2014 The Sacred Cities Photo-Expedition-Workshop to Varanasi and Vrindavan, I made it an obligatory stop to schedule a photo shoot at the shrine of the Sufi saint Bahadur Shahid in the outskirts of the city. Its atmosphere was electric with a large number of women in deep trances and imploring the dead saint for favors.

Anthony Pond participated in the photo expedition, and has just produced Entranced; a monochromatic multimedia piece that very accurately depicts what the atmosphere was like whilst we were there. The shrine welcomes Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who mingle and seek blessings from this Muslim saint, and because of the prevailing religious intensity, some of them go into intense trances.

The trances you will witness in this multimedia piece are caused by the religious fervor of the women involved, who react in the ethereal "presence" of a saint...a syndrome colloquially called hajri. Being in a trance signified the entrance of the deceased saint in the body of the entranced person, to rid it from ailments, from jinns and other undesirable symptoms.

In my own secular (but non medical) view, these “hajri” manifestations such as auditory hallucinations, the paranoid or bizarre delusions,  may well be schizophrenia.

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

Friday, 27 November 2015

POV: The ‘Russian Nesting Dolls’ Syndrome

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Caused by a number of reasons, it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted on my blog. Traveling to Hanoi to expand on my research for my forthcoming photo book “Hau Dong: The Spirit Mediums of Vietnam”, then to Cairo then to San Francisco for non-photography related reasons, has limited my available time and focus to do so.

Since I started my involvement in this personal project, I’ve experienced a resurgence of excitement, not only for photography, but also a spike in my intellectual interest in syncretic religious traditions, occult cultural customs and practices, Asian history and languages, to mention just a few.

My photographic expeditions-workshops were characterized with constantly having a definite documentary objective to them. Whether the objectives were Sufi festivals, obscure Hindu religious events such the gathering of the Vellichappadu and Theyyam, or the Cao Dai tradition in central Vietnam, I always had an intellectual, and not only a photographic, interest in such esoteric activities, and those who joined my trips seemed to have shared that. However, being practically unable to spend but just a few days at such events meant that significant ‘coverage’ was impossible, and this frustrated me. Spending weeks in a single location or on one single religious event was impractical with a half dozen or more other photographers in tow.

Literally stumbling on the Vietnamese religious tradition of Đạo Mẫu, and its ceremonial tangential manifestations such as Hầu Đồng and Hát Chầu Văn in late 2014 literally supercharged, and reinvigorated, my enthusiasm for documentary photography, audio recording, storytelling and multimedia production.

I’ve already amassed a substantial inventory of photographs and interviews relating to Hầu Đồng ceremonies and the mediums who are involved in the practice, but similar to matryoshka dolls (aka Russian nesting dolls), every ceremony or interview I attend or conduct reveals another interesting opportunity. Moreover, the more I read and research about Đạo Mẫu, the more I discover other influences that intrigue me, and that I want to explore and incorporate in my continuously evolving personal project. I now have the serious fear of not knowing when to call it quits.

The British idiomatic expression “how long is a piece of string?” in response to a question of how long will a project take is apt in my case. It’s in my hands when I deem it to be complete, but with the continuous emergence of connected traditions, I’ll have a difficult time to say enough is enough.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Sreeranj Sreedhar | Ashtami Rohini

Photo © Sreeranj Sreedhar- All Rights Reserved
I was under the totally ridiculous impression that I had photographed most of the important religious festivals in India until I recently saw photographs of Ashtami Rohini, an annual celebration of the birth of the Hindu deity Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu.

The festival is celebrated in August–September, and includes dramatic enactments of the life of Krishna, and is observed all over India, but especially observed in Mathura and Vrindavan; which Indiaphiles know as the epicenters for the famous Indian festival of Holi. 

On this day, women fast and keep vigil in Krishna's temple till night. When the pujas are over, they are allowed to share the edible offerings left by the devotees for Krishna. The temples are illuminated with countless of oil lamps, and worship goes on almost till the early hours of the morning.

Sreeranj Sreedhar photographed Ashtami Rohini in Kerala, and his photographs provide a wonderful insight into the festival, and the enactments of Krishna's life. The make-up sessions, the painting of the feet and palms, as well as the magnificent costumes are all documented in his gallery.

In his Photo Stories, Sreeranj also photographed the Holi festival in Nandgaon, and in Barsana. These photographs remind me of my own 2014 Holi photo expedition, especially those of the young Holi reverlers holding water pumps filled with color water to spray the passerby.

Sreeranj Sreedhar is a travel, documentary and culture photographer who's creently based in Dubai, but is from the Indian state of Kerala. He started his photography in 2011.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

POV: Hotel Photography | A Challenge


I had the pleasure to have been asked to photograph the Golden Silk Boutique Hotel whilst on my personal assignment in Hanoi, and I can vouch that hotel photography (or whatever this style of photography is called) is no walk in the park...it seems easy but it's certainly not.

Having  the DNA of a travel-documentary photographer meant that I felt more comfortable having people in most of my photographs. I recalled a ad campaign by Annie Leibovitz for The Peninsula Hotel (Hong Kong and New York City) some years ago, in which she produced monochrome photographs of the hotel's staff, and it was hailed as a huge success in the hospitality industry. That was to be my inspiration.

I doubt if Leibovitz's ad campaign used models for its photographs, but I certainly didn't have to. The Golden Silk Boutique Hotel has a number of photogenic staff members, and they were chuffed at being photographed for the occasion. I wanted to photograph the staff in action as it were, so I was in the dining room for breakfast at 6:00 am just in time to have a few moments with its staff before the influx of guests, and then later on in the bar, rooms and spa.

Hotel photography techniques are obviously similar to photographing interior spaces; wide angles, choice of perspectives, soft lighting, etc...but without the assistance of a room stylist, I had to really focus on the smallest of details. An errant electric cord, an imperfectly made bed corner, a slightly askew towel in the bathroom, bathroom amenities that are not perfectly aligned...even lightbulbs of different warmth...would be amplified in still photographs.

My strategy was to provide the hotel with both static photographs of its rooms, lobby and other facilities as well as some people photographs (such as this above). I don't know yet if the hotel's management will use the latter (in color or monochrome), but I hope it does since it would set it apart from the remaining comparable hotels in Vietnam.

There's no argument that the Golden Silk Boutique Hotel's location, accommodations, price structure, facilities are all important, however the primary reason for my making it my home in Hanoi for the five times I've been there, and intend to return to it during my forthcoming trips, is its staff.

As in most businesses, the human element is key, and I've found the hotel's people to be extremely helpful, friendly and welcoming. I know most of them by name, and chatting with them, I now know a little bit of their personal life, their families, their hobbies, etc. This makes a huge difference in the experience of staying in a hotel for two weeks at a time. When I return from a long day of non-stop shooting, I am always greeted by the hotel's receptionists with a genuine welcome back, curious to know how my day went...and through the internal grapevine, many of them know where I've been.

And that is my reasoning behind making -as much as I could- my hotel photo shoot about its staff. I and possibly many others do not return to the hotel just for the quality of its rooms, facilities, price structure or the fluffiness of its omelets (although that one has a huge impact), but because of its staff.

That's the truth.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

POV: What I'll Always Remember

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
As my readers know, I've been completely immersed in a personal project involving the Mother Goddess indigenous religion in Vietnam for almost a year now; making the long journey New York City to Hanoi three times so far, aiming to eventually produce a photo book. I envisage the photo book to include photographs (naturally) of the rituals, portraits of the mediums and fortune tellers involved in the practice of hầu đồng, as well as interviews with its practitioners.

I've attended over 20 hầu đồng ceremonies so far; featuring master mediums, intermediate mediums and neophytes. Most of them were female mediums, with a small proportion of the ceremonies conducted by males. Many were in the capital city of Hanoi and its suburbs, and some were far in the east and north of the country; Hai Phong, Lang Son and Kiep Bac to mention but a few.

The timings of these ceremonies are always based on the lunar calendar, and are not advertised. It's more of a word of mouth (aka mobile telephones) kind of thing amongst the community. Some are quite large and others are small. Some are held in large temple complexes, others in smaller out of the way temples and some held in tiny private temples or rooms with shrines in homes. To have access and be welcomed in these ceremonies wherever they are held, one must gain the confidence and trust of the community, and initially be accompanied by someone known to the mediums or the musicians.

The ceremonies are extremely complex, and involve sequential rituals that are accompanied by sacred liturgical music and songs. These ceremonies and rituals haven't changed in centuries, and neither has the music, although some modernization has creeped in by bringing in amplifiers...and to my untrained ears, a smidgen of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton riffs.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I researched and read as much as I could find online and in books about Đạo Mẫu, and its complexities are just staggering. However, I am at the point where I now understand a few of the rituals, some of significance of the various spirits of the Đạo Mẫu pantheon, and I even correctly interpreted the hand signals by a medium during a recent ceremony...hardly an "expert", but able to ask somewhat intelligent questions.

These ceremonies are religious events, but they are also part fashion show, part pantomime, part dance and re-enactments, and bottom line, are mind-blowing, fun and - for a variety of reasons - challenging, to photograph. 

However, I also look back to my 2015 three trips and realize that there's something infinitely more important to me than the photographs I made...and that's the human kindnesses I've been privileged to experience while at these ceremonies.

Here are just a few, out of the many, that will stay with me for a long time:

1. On a pre-dawn private bus trip to attend a ceremony in Lạng Sơn, not only was I given a choice seat but half way to our destination, the medium asked me if I needed anything. Unthinking, I replied that a coffee would have been nice. She immediately turned to a nearby friend, who smilingly gave me her half finished cup of Vietnamese coffee. I couldn't refuse.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
2. The hầu đồng ceremonies typically go on for 5-6 hours, and since I like to stand (most of that time) while I photograph, it's exhausting. In Lạng Sơn, I was also sweating quite heavily due to the humidity, tied a bandanna around my head and kept on shooting. At some point, I felt a waft of cool air on my face, and turning to see where it came from, I saw a woman in the audience (perhaps another friend of the medium) fanning me. Her kindness stunned me, and I didn't know how to react for a few seconds. I thanked her, telling her I was fine. What else could I do or say? She wanted me to be comfortable, but I couldn't let her go on fanning me. 

3. I was invited to attend a hầu đồng ceremony in Kiep Bac, about 2-1/2 hours drive east of Hanoi. A car, which I shared with other guests of the medium and her family, was provided and we drove off at precisely the time agreed upon. As I had to leave the ceremony before it ended late at night, the medium and her husband reassured me a car would drive me back whenever I wanted. When the time came, the medium's husband and his friends accompanied me to a small car, and told me that it was already paid for. Ignoring my entreaties that it was I who should pay, they bundled me in the car, and set me on my way. Its certainly not an insignificant fare, and adding to my discomfort, these are people of modest means.

4. The musicians, assistants and guests at the hầu đồng ceremonies are all fed before and after the ceremonies. The medium is usually fasting, and is meditating during these meals, which are literally feasts. I share these meals, even if I'm not hungry, because it's the right thing to do. And I realized that I was always being taken care of, asked if I had enough to eat or to drink, and offered whatever was available.


Photo © Trịnh Ngọc Minh-All Rights Reserved

5. During the ceremony in Kiep Bac, where it was also hot and humid, the medium's husband and her friends continuously made certain I had enough water to keep hydrated, and kept an eye on my camera bag. 

These are but a few of the many wonderful examples of the Vietnamese people's generosity and kindness that, as I said, affected me deeply because I know these gestures are genuinely selfless, and are given to me because of my interest in, and respect of, their culture, religion and ways of life.

The Last Qawwal By Kaushik Ghosh


I had the privilege of meeting Ustaad Meeraj a few years ago with my good friend and fellow photographer Dr. Kaushik Ghosh. Unfortunately, Ustaad Meeraj passed away some days ago with nary a mention in the Indian press.

However, Kaushik wrote this eloquent eulogy about this legend. I post it here without any change.

THE LAST QAWAAWL" is no more. The legendary Qawwal USTAAD MEERAJ AHMED NIJAMI, the senior most of Delhi Gharana passed away on 18 October 2015.

Being an artist and an Indian Citizen, I am extremely ashamed and shattered that not a single Indian media came up with this news till date, except an online publication "The Delhi Walla" .

Probably, beef and Chhota Rajan are selling well for them and of national importance. They may come up with headlines "10 things you must know about Chhota Rajan", but not a single line of this person!!! How easily we can ignore our own cultural root, yet becoming euphoric to listen Rahman's rendition of 'Kun Faya Kun'. Probably we are losing our capability to digest the original except the adulteration!!! I met Ustaad Meeraj couple of times.

The first time during my search to make a Multimedia Narrative (MMN) on Nizamuddin Basti (not the Shrine); later ended up to make a MMN on Ustaad Meeraj. It was an accidental meet at the shrine of Hazrat Inayat Khan. And then I spent couple of days with him in his residence. It was almost an endless discussion about life & music as a whole and it was too less time to spend to understand him, his music and his philosophy of life.

The next time, I met him with my mentor of photography, Mr. Tewfic El-Sawy. And at that time, I was touched about his greatness. There was a preparation going on in his family for a marriage ceremony and while talking over phone, one of his son absolutely refused us to meet Ustaad. We both reached at his place and approached him directly. Immediately after recognising me, he welcomed both of us and that's with full of warmth. And despite of having busy and chaotic situation in his one room flat at Basti Nizamuddin, for next an hour or so, he sung some of his favourite songs (including Bhajans of Meera Bai) for Mr. Tewfic.

I understood, for Ustaad nothing is in priority other than his music and that's his life. I really feel blessed to archive his voice, his narrations, a part of our cultural evolution. This Multimedia Narrative is my homage to this ignored and forgotten legend by Indian Media. I thought to meet you during my next visit in Delhi, but probably you were in a hurry.

Rest in Peace, Ustaad!

Written by Kaushik Ghosh.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

France Leclerc | Hola Mohalla

Photo © France Leclerc-All Rights Reserved
I can barely catch up with France Leclerc these days. She's always on her way to a far-flung destination, schlepping her cameras with her (she's a recent but still tentative convert to a lighter mirrorless camera system), writes a wonderfully informative blog and has compelling photographs on her website.

One of her recent additions to her blog is Hola Mohalla;  a Sikh festival that takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chet which usually falls in March. This festival was established by Guru Gobind Singh, and follows the well-known Hindu festival of Holi by one day.

During this festival, processions are organised in the form of army type columns which are accompanied by war-drums and standard-bearers. The martial-like event originated in the time of Guru Gobind Singh who held the first such mock battle event at Anandpur in February 1701.

Sikhism (as per Wikipedia) is a monotheistic religion originating in South Asia during the 15th century. The basic beliefs of Sikhism include faith in a single Creator God, unity and equality of all humankind, engaging in selfless service, striving for social justice, and honest conduct and livelihood. Sikhism is based on the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru, and the ten subsequent Sikh gurus. It claims over 25 million adherents worldwide.

You'll read France's blog post, and realize that she was badly injured during a sudden stampede of a horse; probably spooked by the loud martial music. However, she quickly recovered and has been on the road ever since.

For more of France's awe-inspiring photographs of Hola Mohalla, Maptia recently featured her work in large sized photographs.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

POV: Zoom IQ7 Microphone


I've returned from almost three weeks traveling to Vietnam, which may explain the long silence on this blog. The purpose of my trip was to add to my personal project's inventory of images, and glean further information on the subject by way of interviews.

Before traveling, I had seen some reviews on the Zoom IQ7; a compact but full-featured mid-side stereo condenser mic, which was designed to fit with all Lightning-equipped iOS devices such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod.  The microphone retails for $100.

Seeing that I was trying to minimize my load as much as possible, I decided to give it a try as it weighed next to nothing compared to my other stand alone recording devices; the Marantz PMD620 and the bulkier TASCAM DR-40, and it would take no space at all. I also decided to add the ShoulderPod S1 to it as well.


I was comfortable in using the Zoom IQ7 whilst conducting interviews in Hanoi. Affixed to my iPhone 6, it was unobtrusive and unthreatening, even when fitted with its foam windscreen. I suppose the interviewees saw that it was nothing but a small attachment to an iPhone, and were not as intimidated by it as a standard recording device.

I also liked the free Zoom's free Handy Recorder app, which is super easy to use as well. It offers some editing functions (that I haven't used because I'll do the sound edits on Audacity), and allows me to save the audio files in either linear PCM or AAC file formats. I chose the latter format for the interviews and was very pleased with the results. The app also allowed me to email the audio files I created, and/or to upload it to SoundCloud if I wanted to.


Interviewing various mediums, such as Ms Dieu Hoa, using the Zoom IQ7 was a cinch. The controls are easy to adjust, and from the app itself I was able to quickly email the audio files for translation into English to one of my contacts in Hanoi.

This is not a tech review by any means, but is just my experience with this newly launched product. None of the manufacturers mentioned in this post have any relationship with me, beyond being a consumer.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

POV: The Second Step : Blurb & The Hầu Đồng Book


My second step in the long process of publishing "Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam" was achieved today when I received a 13x11 inches 28 page hardcover test photo book produced by Blurb (or more accurately, produced by me and printed by Blurb).

I produced the 28 pages (of which 19 are color photographs) using Blurb's BookWright software, which is adequate and not too difficult to learn in a few minutes. The photographs were post processed in Photoshop, refined in Color Efex and the text was written using Photoshop text tool.


I found the suggestion from Filipe Bianchi that the text ought to be divided into columns for a better flow to be right, and I'm glad it worked very well aesthetically. However, I used a font size that was too large. It looked fine on Book Wright when I was prepping the book, but in reality it was too large. A smaller font will be used on the book's next itineration. I am restricted in which font I can use because few fonts allow the accurate rendering of some diacritic Vietnamese letters...and in Vietnamese the à is totally different in meaning than á.

Another problem with a smaller font is that there'll be more space on the text page...unless I add more text, or use a small image to fill that space.

Unfortunately, the paper I chose is expensive...but one gets what one pays for. The Proline Pearl Photo paper is semi-gloss, heavy and feels like photo paper. It's manyfactured by Mohawk Fine Paper. The color rendition is accurate, and I'm quite pleased with the book's overall look.


The font for the captions under the photographs also needs to be smaller. I have not yet decided if the photographs will be full-bleed, filling the whole page (as the image on top shows) or be surrounded by a white frame (as above). If the former, then the captions will have to be layered on top of the photographs...perhaps in white text.

  
I am happy with the Image Wrap cover options. My two other books printed by Blurb have Image Wrap covers, and I much prefer it than the Dust Jacket option. I will refine the positioning of the images on the front and back covers, as well as the back text which also needs editing.

There is no question that the Blurb option is probably the best for a Print On Demand book. There are some downsides though...and on the top of that list is the price. It is expensive, particularly if one opts for the top of the line paper etc.  However, choosing a soft cover, a smaller landscape size with a standard quality photo paper will cost around $40 for 100 pages. An Ebook option for the iPad etc is also available for $10.

All this is food for thought.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Vincent Dirckx | Samburu Warriors

Photo © Vincent Dirckx-All Rights Reserved 

I am featuring two gorgeous portraits of Samburu warriors by Vincent Dirckx, which were made during his recent travels to Northern Kenya. He tells me it took him 48 hours of traveling by an all terrain vehicle over rocky tracks and another trek of 24 hours with a camel caravan and porters to reach this particular tribe. The photographs were made using an off-camera flash and an ND filter, somewhat of a change for Vincent.

The Samburu are a Nilotic people of north-central Kenya that are related to but distinct from the Maasai, and it's based on a gerontocracy style of governance. Gerontocracy is defined as oligarchical rule in which a population or community is ruled by people significantly older than most. Moreover, the Samburu practice polygynous marriage, and a man may have multiple wives. While missionaries have had success in converting more Samburu to predominantly Catholic, and also Protestant forms of Christianity, the majority of Samburu continue to observe their traditional ritual practices.

Vincent Dirckx is a corporate lawyer and a photographer based in Belgium, who started his latter avocation in 2011. His travel photography is multi-faceted and during his many travels, he is eager to photograph the cultures, people, street life, monuments and landscapes that he encounters.

While his work in Northern Kenya amongst the Samburu tribes is his most recent, I encourage you to spend time viewing his other galleries; Omo Valley, Turkey, Japan, the Andes and the Amazon, Indonesia and India. You'll be amply rewarded with some exceptional photography.

Photo © Vincent Dirckx-All Rights Reserved


Thursday, 17 September 2015

POV | The Dark Side of Travel Photography?

Photo © Magnus Brynestam-Courtesy of Travel Photographer Asia
A recent article appearing in the popular 500px ISO photography website dealt with the "dark side of travel photography" which, according to its author (DL Cade), would be crossed into when the images involved vandalism, animal cruelty, and doing outright harm to the environment.

No argument with the noble notion that travel photographers should not cross that line, however one of the examples given in the article involves the unique technique of “Yin-Bou” fishing using
cormorant birds in the Li River. I think there are far better examples to highlight the article's point, and here's why.

It seems that Jimmy McIntyre, a a travel photographer,  had recently captured an image he had wanted for quite a while. In China, standing waist deep in the Li river, he finally shot a portrait of the famed cormorant fishermen.

Mr McIntyre realized that the fishermen weren't fishermen any longer because they made more money from tourists and photographers by posing for these atmospheric photographs. He also realized that to get the classic shot of a fisherman with the cormorant spreading its wings, the fisherman had to grab the bird by the neck, dunk it in the water and bring it up...whereupon the cormorant would spread its wings to dry them.

The article's argument is this is an example of animal cruelty, and should be discouraged by self respecting photographers.

However before agreeing too quickly, let me make the following points:

1. As per Wikipedia, cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method in which fishermen use trained cormorants to fish in rivers. Historically, cormorant fishing has taken place in Japan and China since about 960 AD.  It's an ancient tradition that has also been followed by fishermen in Greece and Macedonia to this day.

2. I asked Dennis Cox, one of the leading travel photographers of our generation, (and one who has photographed in China countless of times), as to his views since he photographed the cormorant fishermen countless of times. He informed me that dunking cormorants by their necks was done by the fishermen long before photographers arrived on the scene to make these images. That's how they were traditionally taught to catch fish. 

3.  Another point raised by Dennis is that the Li river became so polluted that the fish disappeared, leaving the fishermen with no means of livelihood. It was the local professional photographers, followed by the foreign professionals who started paying them to as compensation for the loss of income and the change in their livelihood. Then of course, came the influx of tourists.

There are many examples of similar situations, and the one that comes to my mind as I write this (although there's no involvement of animals) is the Inle Lake fishermen in Burma, who are no longer fishermen (if they were at all), and are merely "models" for tourists to snap their shutters. The other example involves the Omo Valley tribes in Ethiopia who are turned into fashion models and made to wear incongruous and ridiculous headgear made of vegetables and fruits, just for the sake of a few snapshots....and paid more than they would make in a traditional occupation, destroying their culture and traditions.

It is sometimes difficult for those of us influenced by Western values and aesthetics to appreciate that certain local customs and traditions are best left alone, and that we should not meddle with them too much. Let us be as noble as we possibly can while we photograph, but let's also be mindful of unintended consequences of any actions we may make.