Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Hà Nội Noir | Audio Slideshow



Street photography has almost become an obsession. Arriving Hà Nội with my body clock completely out of whack didn't stop me from taking a quick walk about the streets of its Old Quarter.

As the oldest continuously developed area of Vietnam, Hà Nội's Old Quarter has a history that spans 2,000 years and represents the eternal soul of the city, and walking along some of its more than 36 streets, I remembered their names: Hang Gai, Hang Quat, Hang Bac and Hang Ma.

A majority of the street names in the Old Quarter start with the word hang, which means merchandise or shop. Hang Gai, where my hotel The Golden Silk Boutique is, offers silk clothing ready-made and tailored, embroidery, and silver products.

One of the assignments given to the group participants was Hà Nội Noir; a series of monochrome street photographs depicting the teeming life found in the small streets of this capital city. Over the course of the few days I spent in Hà Nội, I walked its 36 streets (well, almost all of them) and shot mostly from the hip as is my custom to capture impromptu scenes and candid expressions.

Most of the photographs were made with my new favorite combo: Fuji X-T1/Zeiss 12mm f2.8. Others were made with a Leica M9 and the Voigtlander 40mm f1.4.
 


Monday, 29 September 2014

A Life With Leica | Thorsten von Overgaard



ZITE has introduced me to a multitude of interesting articles on photography and otherwise, including this short documentary featuring a Danish photographer named Thorsten von Overgaard.

As a preamble, let me say that although I own a Leica M9 and have the utmost regard for its capabilities as a tool, I'm far from being a Leica fanboy, realizing (and grudgingly accepting) its shortcomings, and periodically ranting at Leica's blatant ostentatious marketing and pricing.

Nonetheless, I have just returned from leading a photographic expedition-workshop to Viet Nam where I used the M9 (with a Voigtlander 40mm) on a number of occasions during street photography jaunts in Ha Noi and Hoi An, and readily confirm that (1) its images (whether monochrome or color) have a distinct 'feel' to them, and (2) its ergonomics are just right.

This is a lovely documentary filmed in Rome with Thorsten who shares his photographic 'philosphy' with us. I found myself in full agreement with him on most of his points of view...which ranged from "there's always stuff happening" in the streets, that each one of us has a unique visual viewpoint, that cameras (whether Leica or otherwise) are just tools and that he never photographs people unless to show them off in the best of lights. The latter also echos Sebastião Salgado's philosophy.

A minor point: I was surprised to see Thorsten resting his Leicas on their lenses instead of on their bottom plates. I do that as well. Weird.

Friday, 26 September 2014

30,000 Feet In The Air | Thoughts

Ms Hiền Trang in Hoi An street. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
At just over 8000 miles, the Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to New York is one of the longest direct flights, and it gave me ample opportunity to use my jet-lag addled brain to toss over ideas about The People of Tay Bac Photo Expedition-Workshop.

In between in-flight movies and meals...and possibly over the polar cap, I concluded that one of the most enjoyable segments of the photo expedition (for me) was the so-called "fashion" photo shoots that either happened serendipitously or by design in Hoi An and in Ha Noi.

I enjoyed these so much that I am seriously giving thought to dedicate a few days during in a forthcoming trip to Vietnam to such "fashion" shoots....fusing travel photography to ethnic fashion photography. The style can be posed...with static portraits, or can be pseudo environmental-street portraits such as the one above.

Ms Hiền Trang in Hoi An doorway. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
It's a totally different change of pace. It takes a combination of various skills...some of which I have, and others that I still don't...but that are more or less easy to acquire. To really do a professional job, I'd need the support of models, local photographers (many such photographers are available in Da Nang, Hoi An and Ha Noi), as well as make-up artists....and finding a handful of attractive local dresses.

In Hoi An, I was fortunate to have had the generous support of the adorable Hiền Trang, and of professional photographer Minh Nhat Nguyen. I also stumbled on Mai Đoàn, who could provide the make-up support if required.

Scouting for attractive backdrops is not difficult in Hoi An. The little town is replete with those, including the interiors of the Chinese Assembly halls. Many stores have ancient fronts that offer superb backgrounds, along with mustard yellow textured walls for which the town is famous for.

Ms Hiền Trang in Fujian Assembly Hall. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
If these thoughts come to fruition, I'd have to acquire the proper accessories such as reflectors and strobes, which I haven't used much before. However, these accessories would have to be minimal so as not to require photography permits, and to avoid red tape.

We scheduled a photo shoot with Hiền Trang at the Fujian Assembly Hall. This landmark was built around 1690 for the Chinese ethnic group from Fujian to socialise, but later it was transformed into a temple dedicated to the Fujian deity named Thien Hau, the goddess of the sea.

Source: Heritage (Vietnam Airlines Flight Magazine) 

The inspiration for Hiền Trang's photograph at the Fujian Assembly Hall was from images featured in Vietnam Airlines Flight Magazine. One of our group members, Maria Dikeos, spotted the resemblance in the setting, and suggested we held a photo shoot in that particular corner.

Another project to plan for, and to look forward to during 2015.

And yes. All these photographs were made with the new Fuji X-T1, and a Zeiss 12mm f2.8

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Ha Noi | Report 11 | The People of Tay Bac

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
All good things come to an end. Sort of.

The People of Tay Bac Photo Expedition ended at breakfast this morning (Ha Noi time), where it has become noticeably cooler and less humid.

Seizing on the opportunity to shoot in the streets without exuding a ton of sweat, I worked the small streets of Hanoi and its tiny alleys, where impromptu small pho establishments suddenly appear out of nowhere. I've been encouraging the group to look for layers in their street photographs, and I practiced what I taught.

Ha Noi's Old Quarter is rife with such opportunities, but one has to pick an interesting spot and wait...or lucky enough to stumble on one or more of such scenes. I normally shoot from the hip in such instances; not because I don't want to appear sneaky but because I don't want the subjects to freeze, or wave, or proffer the V sign that's very popular in Asia.

Mostly working with my new Fuji X-T1, (and occasionally with a Leica M9), during the past couple of weeks convinced me that the era of DSLRs for me is over. The X-T1's capabilities, performance, ergonomics as well as image quality, are very impressive. It has a few quirks and irritants, but these are easily either ignored or worked around.

In a few days, I'll write up a review about the Fuji X-T1, and feature it here on this blog.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Hội An | Report 10 | The People of Tay Bac

Ms Hiền TrangPhoto © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Undoubtedly, Hội An is now a tourist haven but it still is a wonderful little town, with a myriad of photo opportunities whether candid, serendipitous, posed or set up. Its ancient town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its yellow textured mustard walls are an ideal backdrop for photographs, and some of us took advantage of that feature. Even its plentiful restaurants seem to have an interesting ancient history to them.

The group's assignment in the streets of Hội An was to try to emulate the chiaroscuro style of Alex Webb...but unfortunately, while it was sunny (and humid), the sun's angle didn't cooperate. There was however, alternatives that occupied us the too few days here.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Our day started at 4:00 am, when we boated to the mouth of the Thu Bon River to photograph the large fishing nets (reminiscent of the Chinese nets in Cochin). These large contraptions are lowered into the water to catch fish during the night. They are slowly raised and lowered by the fishermen using foot-powered winches.

I had booked a morning boat through Dang Ke Cuong, a talented local photographer who I had met on my previous stay in Hội An two years ago, and whose images of similar fishermen are wonderful.  The setting was just splendid, and the sunrise happened on cue and cooperated fully. Most of us either ran out of batteries or storage space in their cameras during this outing, which included time at the fishing wharf a few miles from Hội An itself. There the activity was frenetic, and the buyers of fish (that ended on the restaurants tables) were relentless arguers and hagglers.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
As I wrote above, the streets of Hội An are rife with photo opportunities; some contrived and others not. Elderly ladies are largely ambivalent about being photographed, and some require some coaxing to allow it. This elderly lady was quite happy to be photographed in front of what I thought was her restaurant. She must've been quite a beauty in her days, and I could easily imagine her in an ao dai, being courted by eager young men.

Speaking of which, I am extremely fortunate to have finally met with the adorable Ms Hiền Trang (top photograph), who was willing to pose for our group in various interesting places in Hội An. Accompanied by her friend, photographer Minh Nhat Nguyen, who acted as photo shoot director, we spent two hours emulating fashion photographers in the field. Not perhaps the purview of travel photographers per se, but a worthwhile exercise fusing exotic location photography, fashion photography with travel photography.

The day ended with dinner at a local restaurant (not a tourist trap by any means) where cau lay and squid dishes...and La Rue beer, of course.

Photo © Minh Nhat Nguyen-All Rights Reserved


Friday, 19 September 2014

Ha Noi | Report 9 | The People of Tay Bac

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The group's morning assignment was ostensibly a simple one; during a single photo shoot, and in 15-20 photographs, show Hanoi's teeming life in its streets.

However, the assignment was to be in monochrome. Not as simple as initially thought, eh? Especially with Ha Noi's Old Quarter vivid colors and textures, and particularly galling because of the wondrous light that appeared after every thundershower.

The other objective of the assignment was to encourage the participants to see and capture  "layers"...the fundamental attribute to successful street photography...and to record ambient street noise/sound to accompany the photographs. It was up to them whether to shoot from the hip or otherwise.

I chose to feature the above photograph in monochrome and color...to provide a contrasting view of the same image, and leave it to the viewers as to which they prefer. Both have different aesthetic merits, and both are faithful in their depiction to what I saw. The photograph was made by shooting from the hip so as not to disturb the woman.

By the way, she is playing Candy Crush on her Apple iPad.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Lào Cai-Ha Noi | Report 8 | The People of Tay Bac

On The Lao Cai-Hanoi Road. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The itinerary has us today returning from Lào Cai city, the capital of Lào Cai Province. It borders the city of Hekou Yao Autonomous County, in the Yunnan province of Southwest China, and the Chinese influence is quite pervasive. The beautifully appointed Swiss-Bel hotel was virtually empty of guests, except for a handful of local Vietnamese, and us being the only non-Asians. Our Ha Noi minder Huyen rode an overnight train to take us back, and to solve any issues if we had any during our return trip.

The journey back to Ha Noi took us from 09:30 am to about 5 pm, door to door. A middle section of the highway is still blocked off due to last minute repairs, but the toll gates are open and we drove on this new highway for quite a while. The back roads were in bad condition due to the rain caused by the typhoon, but I've seen much worse.

On the way, we stopped to photograph the rice harvest in the gorgeous paddies, and chanced on a small house where these elders were tending to their grandchild. There was some reticense after this photograph was made because traditional Vietnamese normally do not like to be photographed in threes (and/or other odd numbers).

Ha Noi felt like home. The chaos, the commotion, the noise...and naturally the lip-licking Pho Bo at  Pho 10 on Lý Quốc Su street. A bowl of pho bo and a bottle of Hanoi beer set each one of us 60,000 dongs or just under $3.00. It really can't be beat.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Coc Ly | Report Seven | The People of Tay Bac

Coc Ly Market. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I had not been to Coc Ly market before, so yesterday's morning's excursion was somewhat of a novelty. Coc Ly Market is held weekly on Tuesdays, and is predominantly frequented by the Flower H’mong. While only 35 kilometers from Bac Ha, it took us about 3 hours to drive from Sa Pa. It's smaller than the Bac Ha market that's held on Sundays, and doesn't have its 'charisma'.

Sa Pa Market. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Returning to Sa Pa, after a quick lunch of Pho Ga and Bun Cha in Lao Cai, we were out for an afternoon of street photography. A drizzle was starting to develop; auguring heavier downpour in the evening. Unknown to me at the time, but Typhoon Kalmaegi would soon arrive to the north of Viet Nam, drenching the north.

In contrast to the ambulatory photography style I adopt while at the markets, I spent the afternoon in the Sa Pa market in one or two locations.  I chose a spot where I thought there'd be interesting foot traffic...adjust my settings,  pre-focus my camera (I used the Leica M9) and wait patiently for some interesting scene to develop.

Note: Typhoon Kalmaegi did indeed hit the region and I had to cancel our trip to Xin Cheng market due to reported landslides, heavy downpours and muddy terrain which could have made the trip unfeasible for our van.  Currently in Lao Cai at the Swiss Bel hotel...a new, modern and posh hotel, where we probably are the only residents.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Sa Pa & Ta Phin | Report Six | The People of Tay Bac

H'mong in Sa Pa. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Yesterday included a morning of street photography in the small town of Sa Pa. Being such a small place, it was not too difficult to grab an interesting street scene, provided the Black Hmong vendors left us in peace.

Since much of the pedestrian action really occurs on a couple of small streets, as well as on the steps leading to and from the central market, it was easier to station myself at a specific point on these steps, and wait for something or someone interesting and exotic to happen by. Using the Leica M9, I pre-focused and chose the most appropriate settings...and just waited.

A word about the Hmong vendors. They have (for the most part) a sense of humor, and very willing to exchange banter with tourists. They are rather persistent in trying to buy some of their handicraft, but once they realize there's no way, they either walk away to look for another prey...or exchange pleasantries with anyone who'll give them the time of day.

Ms Thuy Linh, Sa Pa store owner. Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved
Whilst waiting for interesting scenes to develop, I noticed an attractive store vendor watching me, and who seemed to understand the purpose of my being there. Expecting nothing much of importance to develop over the next few minutes, I asked if I could photograph her. Thuy Linh (her name) readily accepted, and naturally asked me to send her images when I was done.

The reason I mention this is that this exchange between two people who don't speak each others' language couldn't have occurred a few years ago.

Using Google Translate app on my iPhone, I asked her if I could photograph her, and if she had an email. She asked me to send the images to her Facebook account, and became my Facebook friend on the spot (using an iPhone no less)...enabling me to accept her invitation and eventually send her the images.

Red D'Zao. Ta Phin. Photo © Tewfic EL-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

In the afternoon, we drove to the village of Ta Phin, a picturesque thirty minute drive north of Sapa. It's about 17 kilometers to the west of Sapa, and is principally a Red Dao village, where these can be seen embroidering their wares for sale to tourist groups.

On the way to Ta Phin, we stopped at the abandoned French nunnery/monastery. It was built in 1942, but was promptly evacuated and deserted by 1947. Its walls are in ruins but are covered by mustard-color moss (or lichen), giving it a wonderful textured look.

Photographing a bunch of Red Dao women in the village itself was not too difficult...despite their relentless efforts to make us buy anything from their inventory. It would not have been possible to persuade a couple of them to accompany us back to the French monastery where they could've been photographed against the interesting walls.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Bac Ha | Report Five | The People of Tay Bac

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Rather than rising pre-dawn to drive from Sapa to Bac Ha in order to reach its famous Sunday market early, I structured the itinerary in such a way that we spent the night at the Sao Mai Hotel. Naturally, Bac Ha being a weekend destination for most tourists, the Sao Mai Hotel is the best there is in the small town...which doesn't mean much. That's said, its location is extremely convenient as it's only a couple of hundred meters from the Bac Ha market.

Once again, I took a walk along the streets of Bac Ha late afternoon Saturday, and wafts of religious chants emanated from a small temple. Asking around, I was told it was a hầu đồng ceremony, but I couldn't get firm information as to when it'd be over or how long it was to be performed.

Rushing back to the Sao Mai, I gathered the rest of the group and we photographed the ceremony  until late at night. Before describing what hầu đồng is, I must express my utter amazement and gratitude to the local Vietnamese congregants at this temple who welcomed us with open arms, and showered us with their tolerance.

Hầu đồng, also known as lên đồng, is a ritual of spirit mediumship practiced in Vietnamese indigenous religion and Đạo Mẫu, a Vietnamese mother goddess religion, in which followers become mediums for various deities. The main ritual, which may last from two to seven hours, begins with petitions to Buddha and to the deities for permission to carry out the ritual, after which the medium seats him or herself (both men and women may act as mediums) in the middle of four assistants, whose job it is to facilitate the medium's incarnation of different deities and spirits. (Wikipedia).

Although we were restricted by the temple's small space, I managed to photograph at will until I ran out of SD card space. I also recorded the live performance by the musicians; music that accompanied the medium as she went through the various incarnations. The live recording was badly affected by the small space of the temple and the resultant reverberation of the percussion and the gong.




Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved
It was a pre-breakfast short walk to the Bac Ha market early morning Sunday, where the villagers had already arrived and spread their products to sell. It looked somewhat different than how I remembered it, and May Lan (our H'mong minder) agreed. The local authority had moved the eateries down to the entrance of the market.

That early, we were the only non-local people around....but I knew it wouldn't last long when tourist buses would arrive. There were mostly Flower H'mong, and a few Black Dzao, and Tay. The animal market was especially busy, with buffalos being bought and sold (one sells for about 30 million dongs or $1500...not much). A few local tribespeople were selling puppies and small dogs....whether for pets or otherwise.

Engaging the women vendors without buying any of their wares is not too difficult. Many of them have a very keen sense of humor, and are willing to have fun and be teased. A few are dour, and don't respond to bantering, and a few genuinely don't like to be photographed. Older women cover their faces, not because they don't want to be photographed for cultural reasons, but because -as they told May Lan- they were too old and had lost their beauty.

Just at the entrance to the market, there's a small restaurant where we had breakfast. It seemed its Pho Ga was the best some of my group had ever had.


Friday, 12 September 2014

Sa Pa | Report Four | The People of Tay Bac

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
It took us far longer than expected to drive from Hanoi to Sa Pa, the famous hill station in the north of Viet Nam. The brand new highway is supposed to cut the journey time from approximately 10-12 hours to a mere 4 or so, but because a section was closed for repairs, we had to take the back roads, and reconnect into it not too far from Lao Cai....so we did it in about 8 hours.

Sa Pa is still humid (in comparison to two years ago, when it was really cool at the same time of the year), but it's tolerable. Accompanied by our Hanoi minder Huyen, and now Lan...our new Hmong guide in Sa Pa (and beyond), we explored the market area. The vendors have quieted down from what I recall, and there are less of them hassling the newcomers.

At one point, I heard unmistakable religious music emanating from a nondescript building, and asking around, I was told it was a temple. I walked in and encountered a handful of women dressed in red traditional clothes who, through sign language, told me that a ceremony would start at 9:00 am.

Religious music and ceremonies are like catnip to me...and I decided to forgo the street photography morning in its favor.

Rustling up the rest of the group wasn't an easy matter as they had dispersed around the area, but we finally found ourselves welcomed to the temple by around 15-18 women wearing these red outfits.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

It appeared that it was a rehearsal for a much larger ceremony which was to occur tomorrow. Naturally, we will be on our way to Bac Ha by that time, so we thanked our stars to be able to catch it.

Despite our being occasionally in the way,  the congregants were extremely gracious and didn't seem to mind us at all...quite the opposite. In short, this photo shoot (once again, serendipitous) was an enormous success for all of us.

Technical porn snippet: The Fuji X-T1 performed flawlessly. The X Pro-1 showed its age.

In contrast, our afternoon photo shoot to the village of Cat Cat, described as an age-old village of H’Mong ethnic group, was an immense flop of monumental proportions. If you fancy walking (actually quite an arduous trek) in the company of busloads of tourists, then go....but this was an epic fail. I'm not going to waste one sentence on it.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Hanoi | Report Three | The People of Tay Bac

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The current high humidity prompted me to set aside our Hanoi street photography program, and flee with the group to the equally humid (but less crowded) village of Tho Ha village, about 45 kilometers from the capital city. Tha Ho village's claim to relative fame is in it's specialization of producing rice paper, used for spring rolls and other Vietnamese culinary dishes.

Serendipity played its role in us passing by a row of old houses, and meeting Việt. Our minder, Huyen, asked permission to enter his house where he welcomed us with remarkable hospitality, offering us rice wine in small goblets... quite potent at this time of the day.

Seeing a collection of traditional instruments on his living room's walls, I asked if he played them...and he said yes. Being encouraged to play, he grabbed one these stringed instruments and started singing a number of traditional Vietnamese songs, and entertained us for over an hour. Naturally, we whipped out our cameras and audio recorders.

As soon as I realized Việt's talents, I thought I'd suggest him as being the subject of the group's first multimedia assignment. Ten photographs and a snippet of his music playing in a short multimedia project would be the group's initial homework.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
What other news? Well, I was asked by the owner of the Golden Silk Boutique Hotel (a lovely hotel perfectly located in Hang Gai) to make some photographs of her at the hotel...a request that I jumped at. I didn't expect any, but she gifted me a lovely scarf in return. She probably realized my affinity to scarves, and chose one that is really luxurious. It'll certainly not be used during my photographic travels.

Oh, and by the way...the best Pho Bo I've ever had (and this is shared by the rest of my group) is at a modern restaurant on Ly Quoc Su...a short walk from the hotel.

Tomorrow, we travel to Sa Pa and it was with considerable relief that we received confirmation that there's a newly constructed road linking Hanoi to Sa Pa. No trucks are allowed so the travel time has been cut from 10-12 hours to a mere 5.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Hanoi | Report Two: The People of Tay Bac

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The humidity is just staggering in Hanoi, and it's certainly affecting the group and I. Timing the photo shoots in the early morning, as we did today, doesn't really make a measurable difference.

That said, the dawn-early morning walk about on the Hoàn Kiếm Lake shore was interesting, both culturally and photographically. Apart from the placid tai chi being performed by Hanoi's senior citizenry, the group and I came across a more energetic display of the form using large fans, couples dancing to the tune of Delilah probably performed by a Vietnamese Tom Jones, groups of women of all ages doing aerobics to the bear of disco music...and school children waiting for their buses.

Later, we went for another walk about on Hang Ma...the epicenter of the Tết Trung Thu festival; the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is the country's second most important holiday, after Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.

It's a combination of Christmas, Halloween and a block party of sorts during which young women (known as 'the pretty young things' in my parlance) wear Minnie Mouse ears and huge eyeglasses (fake), and flash the ubiquitous Asian 'V' sign at whoever looks at them.

It's a surfeit of sensory overload, with incredibly colorful decorations and lanterns...as well as incessant traffic noise caused by an endless stream of motorbikes and scooters.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I anticipate that Hang Ma will really be incredibly crowded this evening when we return for another dose of the Mid-Autumn Festival...hopefully this time, there'll be dragon dances!

By the way, the technological improvement of the X-T1 over the X Pro-1 are really staggering. The latter is really showing its age...however, I'm still using both.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Hanoi: The People of Tay Bac Photo Expedition

Relaxing & Tai Chi On Hoàn Kiếm Lake (Hanoi)
Despite the long grueling flight from New York City to Hanoi via Hong Kong, the inevitable accompanying jet lag made it not too difficult for me to walk around Hanoi's Hoàn Kiếm Lake for an early morning spot of photography.

It's here and at this early hour that the older generation of Hanoians come to exercise individually or in groups, and to play badminton or do tai chi. Some bring their boom boxes and dance to the tune of Vietnamese love songs. Others just practice the ancient art of people watching, and gossip about the latest news, read newspapers or have their morning bowl of pho.

If the humidity in Hanoi isn't 100%, it sure feels like it. Walking a few hundred feet, and I was drenched in sweat...a reminder that I needed to take it slowly during the first few days.

For the above photograph, I used my new Fuji X-T1 fitted with the 18-135mm lens, and it was made by shooting from the hip so as not to disturb the scene unfolding in front of me. I haven't used a zoom lens for quite a while, and while it felt a little sluggish compared to my other prime lenses, I reckon (or hope) this will improve once I get used to it.



In the afternoon, after a long walk in the Old Quarter, Huyen (my interpreter and minder in Hanoi, and I walked to the lakeshore, where I saw a number of pre-wedding photo shoots as well as aspiring models posing for their friends, usually sporting the enormous Canon DSLRs and the ubiquitous 70-200 lenses.

The one who caught my attention with her beauty and grace was Tu. She and her photographer happily agreed that I poach a few photographs of her, and this short opportunity made my day. I suspect that many of the men reading this post will agree that it was an unmissable opportunity.

If I tried to do the same in New York's West Village photo shoots, I doubt I'd be treated with such generous alacrity. Tu also agreed to pose for my group of photographers the following day should we wish to do so.

Returning to the haven of the Golden Silk Boutique hotel, its air conditioning was particularly welcome after Hanoi's humidity. Although the weather forecast called for thunderstorms, I have yet to see a drop of rain since arriving.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

POV: The 'Unbearable' Lightness of Fuji X Series



Well, time does fly and I'm preparing to leave for Hanoi to start my The People of Tây Bắc Photo Expedition-Workshop in a few days.

This trip is something of an important chapter in my timeline as a travel photographer, as it'll be the first time that I leave my heavyweight DSLRs home. I've traveled before with just a Leica M9 and the Fuji X Pro-1 (as to Guatemala last month), but this is the first photo expedition-workshop that sees me DSLR-less.

I've tested the Fuji X-T1, the new addition to this group of non DSLR tools, in the streets of New York City and over the past two weeks, found it reliable and responsive, and I believe it'll perform well in replacing my aging Canon 5 Mark II. The Fuji X-T1 has its drawbacks and quirks, but from my past experience with the X Pro-1, these are mostly caused by my being unfamiliar with its minor idiosyncrasies.

What will accompany me to Vietnam is this: (from the top left) Marantz PMD 620 audio recorder,  a Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4 (Leica mount), Leica M9, Fuji X Pro-1, a Fujinon 18mm 2.0, a Fuji external flash EF-X8 (for fill-in if needed), a XF18-135mm f3.5-5.6 and the Fuji X-T1 with a Zeiss Touit 12mm f2.8.

I roughly calculated that the combined weight of all these is a little over 6 lbs. or 3.0 kilograms at most. Feather weight in comparison to what I used to schlep before. All of which will fit very comfortably in my small Domke F-8 shoulder bag, along with two 2TB hard drives...and other paraphernalia.

So it'll be an rangefinder (M9) for portraiture, a hybrid (or pseudo) rangefinder (X Pro-1) for street photography, and the mini DSLR (X-T1) for travel-documentary photography. 

For the X-Series cameras, I'm bringing along 5 batteries (3 back-ups/spares) which will be charged every night.

On my return, I'll be in a better position to relay my impressions and experiences with the Fuji X-1 and the various lenses.

PS. Yes, I cover the brand names of my cameras with black gaffer tape.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Monsoon | Sturla Gunnarsson



I saw this trailer posted on Facebook the other day, and thoroughly enjoyed the few minutes it took to tell the story of the monsoon in India. Most time lapses I've seen are irritating, but here they're relevant and well-done.

Cherrapunji in the Indian state of Meghalaya is credited as being the wettest place on Earth. According to records, it received 366 inches of rain in July 1861 and a whopping 1,041.75 in between 1 August 1860 and 31 July 1861. In comparison, Seattle got a record of 16.25 inches of rain in December 1917.


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Fuji's Full Frame VS "Full Size" APS-C



"It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument." -Eve Arnold

The internet lit up (well, almost) the other day when eagle-eyed Fuji aficionados and others read the Fuji Press Release for Photokina 2014 to read this:

"We will be unveiling our latest lineup of X-series digital cameras along with interchangeable lenses and peripheral accessories at this year's Photokina. At the Touch and Try Corner of the Fujifilm booth, visitors will be able to experience the outstandingly high image quality with a full size sensor and high resolution images taken with the new lineup of cameras that feature FUJINON XF interchangeable lenses."

Reading the words "a full size sensor" led many to believe that Fuji would be announcing a new full frame sensor in a couple of weeks. Not reading it carefully left me, having just acquired the new X-T1 and the 18-135mm lens, with the taste of sawdust in my mouth, and using the English equivalent of "merde!", I started calculating the costs (if any) of returning the X-T1 and the lens to the retailer I bought it from...cursing the day I decided to buy it in the first place...less than week or so.

On my Facebook page, I expressed my view that I didn't think the difference between a full frame and a cropped one was of such critical importance with technological advances in the APS-C sensors. There's certainly differences, but as many other photographers attested to, these differences have to balanced against the many positives of using an excellent mirrorless system such as Fuji X-Series.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved (XT-1/Fujinon 18mm)







I also expressed my surprise that Fuji would go full frame (or full size) as it had no lens line-up that would work with a full frame camera. It actually referred to its existing XF interchangeable lens system. 

So somewhat relieved...I concluded -after reading the paragraph in question- that it had to be a copy writer error, and that I didn't have to return my X-T1 after all. This was confirmed a day or two later when Fuji re-issued its Press Release and corrected it to say "the emphasis will be on the high resolution of the APS-C sensor, which rivals that of a full frame sensor.”

My initial knee-jerk reaction was a silly one. The X-T1 is an exceptionally good tool, and while I've discovered over the past few days that it has some quirks (and I will probably find more), it's certainly a worthy replacement for my aging (and super heavy) Canon 5DII and the 7D...along with their back-breaking glass.

I'm not a tech-head and I'm not saying (or even thinking) that APS-C is as good as a full frame. Bigger is better in this case...but the difference is smaller than what many photographer think...but sometimes, we are wedded to notions that are past their prime, and with the technological advancements in sensor manufacturing, this is no longer the case.

My view is simply this: I am delighted to be able to rely on a smaller and lighter system than what I used for the past 14 years. I'm not yet ready to get rid of my DSLRs just yet, but I'll have to decide really soon. In the meantime, Vietnam beckons and leaving my DSLRs behind will be the real test.

Fuji X-T1/Zeiss Touit 12mm/Grip

Speaking of Vietnam, the X-Pro1 served me extremely well during my Photo Expedition-Workshop of 2012. I used it for street/candid photography and although it's auto-focus capabilities weren't ideal, it allowed me to photograph discreetly in situations where my Canon 5D Mark II would've been too intimidating, and the quality of its images were up to my expectations. The new Fuji X-T1 will hopefully surpass my expectations that it will generally outperform (or perform as well as) my DSLRs.

Monday, 25 August 2014

35 Cows And A Kalashnikov | An African Journey



"No boy soldiers. No hunger. No safaris."

Here's a beautifully produced trailer of a movie titled 35 Cows And A Kalshasnikov by Oswald Von Reicththoven.

It's in three parts: a tribute to the stick-fighting Surma tribe of Southern Ethiopia, the dandy movement of Brazzaville and the voodoo wrestlers in Kinshasa.

Stick fighting is a sport and ritual the Surma people take extremely seriously. In most cases, stick fighting is done so young men can find wives, and is a way for young men to prove themselves to the eligible young women.

The "dandy" movement of Brazzaville involves young men who love to wear meticulously in sartorially fashionable dress, and these are known as "sapeurs". Pastel-colored three-piece suits in designer labels are a staple of the Sapeurs' fastidiously assembled ensembles. They stand out among the widespread poverty, strutting the streets like walking works of art.

In the Congo, wrestling is extremely popular, but the main difference between the way it's practiced here is that the Congolese like to introduce a mystical, magical “voodoo” element to the theatrics. So apart from the obvious play-acting, there are also “magical traditions” involving powders, spells and zombie-like transformations of wrestlers.

Oswald von Richthofen is a producer and director, known for 10000 BC (2008), 35 Cows and a Kalashnikov (2014) and Franzmann (1979).

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Christian Werner | Chained In Paradise



Mental sickness, lack of psychiatric hospitals and traditional healers...all come together in a compelling and disturbing documentary on the mentally sick who are chained, caged or tied up by their families,  on the "paradise" island of Bali.

As is common with other nations of the world, Indonesia is unable to provide adequate mental health facilities to those who are in dire need of them, and it's reported that there are 40,000 Indonesians who are afflicted with mental illnesses, and are treated inhumanly. In Bali alone, it's reported that there are 350 cases who are chained like animals...for fear they will wander off, or that they'll hurt someone or themselves. The Balinese call them "pasung"... or "in chains" and consider them to have been 'punished' by the gods..

With the lack of mental health facilities, families refer those mentally sick to traditional healers; the balians, as they're called, number about 8,000 in Bali. There are about four times as many balians as doctors. The balians are traditional healers who play an important part in Bali’s culture by treating physical and mental illness, removing spells and channeling information from the ancestors.

I photographed balians during one of my photo expeditions in Bali, and found them to be a mix of witch doctors and chiropractors, mixing mumbo-jumbo with massage and manipulation. Most of those I've seen had waiting rooms with many patients.

Chained in Paradise still photographs can be viewed on Christian Werner website.

Christian Werner is a freelance multimedia/photojournalist based in Nordstemmen, Germany. H graduated from the photojournalism & documentary photography course at the University of Applied Sciences in Hannover. His interests are social diversity and global political issues. He worked in various countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and South America, and he's represented by the agency Laif.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Cedric Arnold | Yantra: The Sacred Ink



I'm quite chuffed to have found a preview of Cedric Arnold's Yantra: The Sacred Ink documentary film which features the rituals and ceremonial processes accompanying the application of tattoos in Thailand.

Having photographed the application of tattooing Wat Bang Phra, a Buddhist temple about half an hour's drive from Bangkok, I know the utmost reverence with which Thais regard their sacred tattoos, which are applied by the monastery's monks. It is here at Wat Bang Phra that every March 30 thousands of Thais and foreigners gather to watch or participate in the 'Sak Yant' festival. Sak means "tap tattoo" while Yant translates into "sacred design".

The short documentary preview uses footage shot between 2008 and 2014, which shows the tattooing process and ceremonies attached to the tradition, as well as the state of trance, or “Khong Khuen”, tattooed devotees enter when “possessed” by the spirit of their tattoos.

Cedric's writes that "For centuries, Thai men have covered their bodies with protective tattoos. Old temple murals show epic scenes of swords breaking apart when hitting a tattooed soldier’s skin. The tradition was handed down by generations of both monks and laymen who create the talismanic, protective tattoos and empower them with prayers."

The sacred tattoos in Thailand are much more than just an art form, and with a culture deeply rooted in superstition and spirituality, such tattoos are believed to have magical and healing powers. Thai men and also women have their sacred tattoos done at many Buddhist temples, for protection against evil spirits, and as good luck charms.

Cedric Arnold is a photographer specializing in portraiture, travel, documentary & corporate photography, as well as movie stills. With over 15 years experience shooting all formats from 35mm digital to 4×5 large format film, he is equally at ease working alone in remote areas or with a team of creatives and a lighting crew. In his personal work, he is often drawn towards exploring the markings of time, this can be in the subject matter itself or expressed with the medium he uses: out of date film, old instant film, or even through chemically altering prints and emulsion.

This is the third time that I feature Cedric Arnold's work on this blog. Previous posts can be found here.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Stan Raucher | The New Israelites

Photo © Stan Raucher-All Rights Reserved

Over five decades ago, Ezequiel Gamonal, a humble Peruvian cobbler founded an evangelical sect called Asociación Evangélica de la Misión Israelita del Nuevo Pacto Universal, and declared he had been chosen by God to build a new Israel in the Amazon wilderness, and many people answered his call and formed this sect.

The members of Ezequiel's followers strictly observe the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath and, imitating the ancient Israelite "look", the men grow out their hair and beards while women keep their hair covered with kerchiefs...a sort of Israelite hijab. The cult founder is said to have been an admirer of  Cecil B. DeMille’s work, and based his belief system on these biblical movie epics.

During weekdays, the men wear regular clothes and baseball caps as they go about farming and farming. The women teach in the local school and care for children. However when Saturday arrives, the cult members meet for elaborate, day-long festivities with bible readings, singing of hymns to the tune of a brass band and a feast.

Stan Raucher's Los Israelitas features 15 gorgeous monochromatic photographs of members of this sect, made as he traveled down the Amazon River by boat with several members of this Peruvian evangelical sect.

The UK's Daily Mail newspaper also featured a whole spread of Mr Raucher's photographs, along with interesting captions.

Stan Raucher, now based in Seattle, was born and raised in Minnesota during the age of black and white television, and LIFE magazine photo documentaries. Although he did not begin to do photography seriously until 2003, these early influences are reflected in his work. His work was widely exhibited, with three recent shows: the 2013 Newspace Juried Exhibition, in Portland, The Decisive Moment, Black Box Gallery, Portland, and 2013 B+W Exhibition, Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins. After 36 years as a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Washington, he retired in 2011 and now devotes his time to photography, travel and outdoor activities.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Travel Photographer's Street Photography Contest | Extension


I announced The Travel Photographer's Street Photography Contest mid June, and I'm extending the deadline for submissions from August 31 to the week following September 30, 2014.

Two reasons for the extension: the number of submissions hasn't reached my expectations to make the contest really competitive, and I'll be traveling to Viet Nam by September 2 and I won't have the time to properly curate the submissions.

The street photography contest is open to any professional, student, or amateur photographer at least eighteen (18) years of age. The contest is restricted to residents of the contiguous United States.*

The contest's main theme is daily life in any city, town or village (anywhere in the world), captured through street photography: real, instant images, that grab moments, people, faces, streets, buildings and other elements capable of telling stories.

The sole prize is the handcrafted WotanCraft Ryker Urban Classic 001 which I reviewed earlier here. It's an ideal camera bag for street photography, it's low-profile and is made of very high quality leather.

The requirements and rules are simple:

1. Entrants can submit up to three (3) photographs, color or monochrome.

2. Each photograph must be a jpg 1000x667 pixels at 72 dpi.

3. Each photograph must include your name and a sequential number if submitting more than one (ie JohnDoe_001.jpg, etc.)

4. Each photograph must indicate where it was made (New York City, San Francisco, London, Delhi, Tokyo, etc). 4. Entrants warrant that their submissions are all their original work.

5. The contest is closed for submissions on September 30, 2014.

6. Entrants are to send their submissions to: tes(at)telsawy.com. The email must also include entrants' full name.

7. There are no fees, or any costs to the entrants. This contest is essentially a competitive giveaway, and has received the blessing of WotanCraft Atelier.

Judging: I shall be judging the submissions, and will announce the three top best photographs. These three photographs will be posted on this blog, and public voting will be opened to choose the prize winner. This will now occur during the week following September 30, 2014 deadline.

* Regrettably, shipping to destinations other than in the contiguous United States is not only costly, but also involves an amount of paperwork, as well as potential hefty custom duties to be paid by the eventual recipient, especially with such an expensive camera bag. That is the reason for restricting the contest as I did. My apologies to the multitude of very talented non US-based photographers who may have been interested in entering the contest.

WotanCraft Atelier's website has full information and details on the WotanCraft Ryker Urban Classic 001.


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Fabrice Monteiro | Signares

Photo © Fabrice Monteiro-All Rights Reserved
I'm always interested in the intersection of fashion and travel photography. Exotic and beautiful women in exotic dress...what's not to like? One of my modules during my photo expedition to Vietnam will include a model shoot in Hoi An....and I really look forward to it.

In that vein, I feature the lovely fashion-travel-cultural work of Fabrice Monteiro, which showcases gorgeous women taking the roles of Signares. According to Wikipedia, Signares was the name for the French-African women of the island of Gorée in French Senegal during the 18th and 19th centuries.

These women held some power in a patriarchal system throughout the Atlantic Slave Trade, and over time amassed considerable power in trade and wealth. Some owned land as well as slaves. European merchants and traders, such as the Portuguese, settled on the African coastal societies inhabited by Signares and would marry them in order to benefit from their connections and wealth.

Fabrice Monteiro, living and working in Dakar, is a Belgian-Benin photographer who, while an industrial engineer by training, adopts the style of photo-reportage and fashion photography. He specializes in Africa, and being of a cultural mix himself, favors subject matters that provide the same mix.

Monday, 11 August 2014

POV: In Praise of The Foundry Photojournalism Workshop (Again)

Photo © Adriana Zehbrauskas
As this blog's followers and readers know, I attended the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in La Antigua Guatemala just over two weeks ago. It was my sixth workshop as a faculty member; having missed Sarajevo out of the workshops held in Mexico City, Manali, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Chiang Mai and now La Antigua,

Once again, while it is the students and instructors who are in the limelight during the workshop, it's the unsung heroes of the Foundry's staff,  its administrators and the local volunteers who consistently make them such wonderful successes. This particular workshop in La Antigua was particularly challenging in view of its venue (the conference rooms at the Casa Santo Domingo) being so dreadfully expensive to rent.

As always, Eric Beecroft, as the visionary force behind the Foundry Workshops, deserves singular praise. He had the  idea of creating such a workshop some 7 or 8 years ago, and made it a reality despite enormous obstacles. Eric, the staff and local volunteers worked around the clock, and deserve enormous credit for the success of yet again another wonderful Foundry.

I've often suggested to my class participants that attending a Foundry workshop is not only about enhancing their craft with advice of some of the best (and certainly selfless) photographers/photojournalists in the business, or about the class they've chosen or even about their own stories and image-making, but it's also about rubbing shoulders with other participants, whether these are peers, or just starting their photography careers, or veterans, and with all sorts of other styles of image-making....it's about augmenting their exposure to different worlds, about exposing themselves to divergent thought processes, to varying points of view, and in doing so...grow as human beings (and yes, as photographers too).

In my previous POV post, I refer to my personal photographic evolution...and there's little doubt in my mind that my involvement in the Foundry since 2008, meeting and viewing the work of my fellow instructors, as well as that of the students, has inspired a shift in my travel photography trajectory...and caused an evolutionary progress in my way of seeing...from the narrow focus on stock travel photography to a more documentary type of travel photography.

I'm quite certain of this, and I'm equally certain that many students, and possibly other instructors, have had their their own photographic evolution influenced by the osmotic phenomenon of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshops.

So when the next Foundry Photojournalism Workshop is announced (either Indonesia or East Africa...maybe), grab the opportunity and register.


Thursday, 7 August 2014

POV: Style Evolution

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Having just returned from Guatemala, I thought of revisiting the photographs I had made during an earlier trip to La Antigua (and some other towns and villages) during the 2002 Semana Santa, and comparing these to my most recent photo gallery Between The Three Volcanoes.

I rarely -if ever- photographed in monochrome at that time, relying on color (whether digital or film), using a 70-200 zoom lens for most of my shots, and essentially shooting for stock and magazines...as the top photograph (with space for text on either side of the subject) clearly is for. Storytelling or street photography wasn't part of my DNA at that time, and although I was mindful of Costa Mano's advice to shoot more complex images, I was still enamored with simple travel portraits.

Over the years, I witnessed the slow and progressive shift in my aesthetic vision (vision as in seeing rather than its more abstract meaning), and a desire of telling more in one image. Whether I succeed in "complicating" every photograph I make or not is open for debate, but I do try my best in achieving this goal...as in the lower photograph from my latest effort in La Antigua during a festive day.

It is only natural that one's craft should evolve over time, and hopefully improve with practice. But these two are different sides of the same coin. My style could've remain static, and I could've kept shooting for stock and simple travel portraits for all these years, and with time, I might have become really good at it.

Alternatively, I am much happier that my style has evolved to being a hybrid of travel-documentary photography, or as someone told me a style where "travel photography meets photojournalism". I still shoot travel portraiture on occasion, as I would shoot street portraiture, but my heart and visual acuity is now much more attuned to the 'complexity' of the lower photograph.

I may not be able to tell a story with every photograph or set of photographs, but the intent is there...bubbling under the surface, and sometimes the photographs fit together like a jigsaw puzzle...and a story is told.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Cameron Karsten | The Vodou Trail

Photo © Cameron Karsten-All Rights Reserved
"The Engungun spirit enters the body and becomes a direct translation of God".


Readers of this blog will know of my interest in documenting vodou or voodoo for quite a while, and until I'm able to finalize my research, and allocate some time to do so, I have to content myself with the work of others...often magnificent work...about this age-old, and misunderstood,  religious practice.

Both Cameron Karsten and Constantine Savvides produced a multimedia project that documents the origins of this belief system in West Africa to the shores of the New World. Cameron's website has a ton of still images of vodou practitioners in West Africa.


Voodoo, or Orisha, as it is practiced today, originated many hundred years ago among the Yoruba people who live in the region of modern-day Togo, Benin and parts of Nigeria. Followers of voodoo believe in an unapproachable god and an array of spirits who serve as intermediaries. Slaves, forced to leave Benin's sandy shores in their millions, took such beliefs to the U.S. and the islands of the West Indies, where they spread and formed the basis of religions like Candomblé, Macumba, Santería and Umbanda.

The Vodou Trail is the dedicated website for Cameron's and Constantine's documentary work on vodou, exploring the misconceptions about the practice, and about its clandestine aspects.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

John Rowe | The Donga

Photo © John Rowe-All Rights Reserved








For a complete change of pace, here's an Ethiopian feature.

The Donga  (also called Saginay) is the stick-fight practiced by the Suri, a tribe in the Omo Valley. The Suri  adopt stick fighting - which is a traditional way for young men to impress girls. The often bloody fight is a demonstration of bravery, and underscores the men's desire to become cattle warriors.

Generally, stick fighting is practiced so young men can find wives. The ideal time to stick fight is just after it rains, and involves various Suri villages. With 20 to 30 people on each side, the stick fights can be extremely dangerous despite having referees to make sure that rules are followed. It's said that the fights have recently led to fights with guns, in which people have been wounded.

Sometimes when a young man has a dispute over a woman, he challenges his rival to a stick fight. His village joins him by starting the age-old ritual by singing, and carrying their fighting sticks that are carved in the shapes of penises (of course).

The Donga
is a gallery of incredibly compelling monochrome photographs of this ritualistic fight by photographer John Rowe.

John Rowe is a photographer and film maker who first trained at the US Navy School of Photography when he was 18 years old. He's also a successful businessman who has founded and managed companies which develop software and digital media for the entertainment industry.

He has also devoted a tremendous amount of time, energy and financial assistance to humanitarian work in Africa. He is also helping to save babies born in the Omo Valley from the brutal tradition of Mingi. Mingi is a tradition practiced for many generations by tribes of the Omo Valley like the Kara, labels certain children as “cursed.”

For more on John's efforts on this worthwhile cause, drop by PetaPixel's post on the subject.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Between The Three Volcanoes | Tewfic El-Sawy

BETWEEN THE THREE VOLCANOES
(click on image)

During the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in La Antigua last week, I managed to squeeze in a few hours of street photography.

Using my Leica M9 and a Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 (and occasionally a Fuji X Pro-1 with a Fujinon 28mm f2.8), I walked the quaint cobblestones streets of La Antigua, not straying too far from its epicenter, Parque Central.

I titled this gallery as Between The Three Volcanoes, since La Antigua is cradled by three volcanoes; Acatenango, Volcán de Agua and the Volcán de Fuego.

Many of the photographs in this monochromatic gallery were made surreptitiously, using the shooting from hip technique I work with in the streets of New York City...aka shooting blindly (sort of). I don't see it as a furtive method, but simply as a way to capture the candid expressions of people in the public eye and in the streets.

Furtive or not, I seldom photograph (or show) pictures of the homeless or the handicapped wherever I go. In La Antigua, I photographed a person in a wheelchair being pushed by a woman who had the most interesting of expressions...but despite that, I decided against including it in this gallery.

I decided early on that I'd photograph in monochrome, and resist being seduced by the colors of Guatemala...whether the colors of the indigenous people's dress, or La Antigua's walls of red, mustard-yellow and orange. The Leica M9 has a setting with which my photographs were monochrome in jpg and color in dng...so I had the best of both worlds.

Some 10 years ago, I photographed in La Antigua (and some parts of Guatemala) during its spectacular Semana Santa, and comparing my photographs now and then, I am amazed by the difference and by the gradual evolution in my style. My photography used to be more for stock at that time, and now it's pure documentary-travel photojournalism.

I've chosen to feature this gallery on Medium, which allows photographs to be viewed is 1400 pixels on the long side.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Philip Montgomery | The Masjid

Photo © Philip Montgomery - All Rights Reserved






















I had planned to feature an Islamic-themed photo essay a few days ago on the occasion of Eid el-Fitr, but I was in Guatemala for the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop, so couldn't find the time to do so.

The Masjid, or the mosque, is the place of worship for Muslims. These places of worship range from the simplest to the most elaborate architectural structures (the most beautiful, in my view, are those in Istanbul and were either built or influenced by the great Ottoman architect Koca Mi'mâr Sinân Âğâ, who was either an Armenian, or a Greek).

The smaller places of worship are technically not mosques, but are called 'mussaleya" or some derivative thereof.

"...a person kneeling towards Mecca is not a stranger, but a brother or sister in faith."
The Masjid is the work of Philip Montgomery, and is a photo essay on the places of worships for the
the immigrant Muslim communities within New York City. Philip writes that for these new immigrants, the Masjid acts as an incubator, a neutral space, providing refuge from the outside world.

He found an incredible diversity of cultures and practices; whether in Harlem, Jamaica, Brooklyn or Queens...practices divergent from one origin to the other, whether West African Muslims, Egyptians, Palestinians, Indonesians...all bringing their rituals and characteristics to New York City's melting pot, and keeping their individual traditions intact but united under Islam, despite the slight nuances of each.

Originally from the San Francisco Bay-Area, Philip Montgomery is a freelance photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of the Photojournalism and Documentary Program at the International Center of Photography and is a recipient of the 2009-2010 ICP Directors Scholarship.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

La Antigua | The 'Multimedia For Photographers' Class of 2014

Photos © Cheryl Nemazie-All Rights Reserved
Well, the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2014 ended last Saturday, after a week long of grueling work from instructors, assistants and class participants (aka students).

I'm not getting into the daily details of what the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop was all about in La Antigua, but I will certainly say is that this class exerted their very utmost to produce individual projects that included still imagery, text and ambient audio over the course of what is in reality only 4 full working days.

The above collection of "mug shots" was the brainchild of Cheryl Nemazie. She thought our group photograph should consist of individual mug shots, wearing my eyeglasses, a Cambodian krama scarf and holding a Leica M9...creating a Tewfic "tribe" or "team".

Despite the well publicized travel warnings about La Antigua, none of my class participants experienced any difficulties or issues (at least that I'm aware of) during the Foundry week-long event. The classes were held at one of the town's most prestigious hotel, with conference rooms allocated to each class, and the venue generally worked very well.

The Multimedia for Photographers Class 2014 Hard at Work

The class projects included an intimate look at Guatemala's chocolate-making process, Pollo Loco (the 'chicken' buses of Guatemala), two stories on traditional Mayan-Indian weavers, the art of making typical Guatemalan bread, a teacher of reading/literacy for Mayan Indian women, and a light hearted canine love story. Except for one, all the stories were in color.

Monday, 21 July 2014

La Antigua | First Class Day | Foundry Photojournalism Workshop

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

The first day of class for the Multimedia For Photographers course was completed, and the class participants (pictured above) are already on their way to gather photographs and audio for their multimedia projects.

There are a number of project ideas popping on individuals' radar screens, and we'll have to wait to see if these materialize or not. The advice given is to always have a couple of optional projects just in case the one chosen doesn't pan out.

Parque Central in the center of La Antigua is rife with interesting characters, and hopefully participants will be able to craft visual and aural stories as quickly as possible, as one week is really too short to create an in depth story with a multimedia component.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

The eco-system that exists and gathers around the Parque Central, whilst touristy, is fascinating. The woman trying to sell some dubious looking liquor must have had luck selling it in the open in such a fashion. There was nothing furtive about her, and she brandished the bottle, offering it to me with no compunction.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

La Antigua | La Fotografia De La Calle

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Although this morning was totally consumed by exchanging US dollars to Quetzals, getting a Claro SIM card (getting two for the price of one...un regalo, as I was told), and changing hotels, I did manage to wander about La Antigua, especially around the Parque Central.

I concluded that this little town is made for street photography. I have yet to unpack my gear...relying on my iPhone to grab some casual shots of whatever interests me...especially those with human interest in them.

Under the cloisters of San Jose Cathedral, I watched a photographer setting up a shoot for a Quinceañera celebrating her fifteenth birthday in a satin dress, while the assistant with the reflector is fiddling with his phone.

Street photography here is probably going to be like shooting fish in a barrel...I hope. I regret not having unpacked my cameras, but first things had to come first.

Oh, and by the way...I had a fantastic avocado gazpacho (courtesy of the house), and great penne with salmon at a nearby restaurant. Losing weight won't be an option here in La Antigua.

Can I find the restaurant again? Probably not.