Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Shinya Arimoto | Portraits of Tibet

Photo © Shinya Arimoto - All Rights Reserved

I don't think I've featured the work of a Japanese photographer on The Travel Photographer blog before, and especially not one who traveled a number of times in Tibet.

Tibet, on the situated on the Tibetan Plateau on the northern side of the Himalayas, is an autonomous region of China. It shares Mt. Everest with Nepal. Its capital, Lhasa, is site of hilltop Potala Palace, once the Dalai Lama’s winter home, and Jokhang Temple, Tibet’s spiritual heart, revered for its golden statue of the young Buddha.

While some quarters argue that China’s invasion of Tibet ended feudal and theocratic rule and started a liberation process, the fact remains that Tibet has been subjected to an old-fashioned colonization. The invasion by China produced tens of thousands of refugees, manmade famines, and attempts to wipe out local culture, religion, and language. It also brought in thousands of Chinese Han immigrants, and ruling officials.

However, let me set aside the geopolitics and introduce the work of Shinya Arimoto whose galleries of Tibet are mainly monochrome and in the square format.

Arimoto has three galleries: Portraits of Tibet, Why Now Tibet, and Tibetan Way (color). He visited and photographed in Tibet from 1994 to 1998, and published these monochrome photographs in his first photo book “Portrait of Tibet” in 1999. He revisited Tibet in 2009 to start another project which is still ongoing.

Shinya Arimoto learned the fundamentals of photography in a photo school in Osaka. He mainly uses a Hasselblad 903SWC, however, he used a Rolleiflex 2.8F when traveling in Tibet. He was photographing in India, and met a Tibetan in Dharmasala who motivated him to continue northward (illegally) into Tibet. 

He is currently teaching photography at the Tokyo School of Visual Arts, and has supervised and led the artist-run Totem Pole Photo Gallery since founding it in 2008.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

POV : Photojournalism's Uncertain Future

The New York Times recently featured two articles concerning the future of photojournalism, through interviews with Donald R. Winslow (editor of the National Press Photographers Association’s News Photographer magazine and newspaper) and Leslye Davis, a young video journalist and photographer for The New York Times.

In essence, the viewpoint of a veteran and an another  from an 'emerging' photojournalist.

Some of the statements made by both interviewees just jumped at me...total deja vu for me. Why deja vu? Well,  because I said exactly what they said during my classes at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshops and more recently during my 2016 talk at the Travel Photographer Society in Kuala Lumpur.

The statements that mirror mine (or vice versa) are:

"If you’re going to earn a living now, you have to be a photographer who occasionally does photojournalism. You have to be able to do wedding photography, corporate photography or event photography." (Donald Winslow).

"There were a few hundred people, mostly white men, who could make a good living internationally by parachuting into other countries." (Interviewer James Estrin of the NYT)

"You should be published, and you should also be able to do that if you’re black and you live in sub-Saharan Africa. Or if you’re Indian, or if you’re Japanese— your unique perspective is valuable, and it’s to the benefit of us all that it be shared." (Leslye Davis)

I said these words...almost verbatim to the photographers -veterans or emerging or non-professionals- who attended my workshop classes (and my photo talk in KL), and I started to say them in 2011. 

In January 2011, I was leading a workshop in Gujarat (India) and watching every night the Tahrir Square demonstrations that led to the Egyptian Revolution, and read and re-read the non-stop coverage in various on-line newspapers and magazines.

Many of the news outlets quickly dispatched their "top-notch" (most of them "white" men) photojournalists to Tahrir...but the so-called battled hardened conflict photographers had no real idea where to go, so they just 'parachuted' amongst the masses of the demonstrating Egyptians, and sent their photographs back to their employers. To me, most of their images seemed to have been taken by a camera affixed to a rotator...automatically clicking the shutter every seconds of the surrounding crowds.

And then I saw compelling images of Tahrir in Egyptian newspapers...made by young, and perhaps still inexperienced, local photojournalists with crappy cameras, and borrowed flash cards...who knew where to go in the crowds, in the back alleys of Tahrir...and get the real stories. They stayed...while the "parachutists" decamped in a couple of days when things got too risky for them. And slowly, these compelling images made their way to the world's media.

It was there and then that I realized that the age of "parachuting white" photojournalists" ended, and the era of talented non-Western photographers and photojournalists was on the upswing.

I had the pleasure of meeting many different ethnicities in my workshops and classes, and repeated my point of view that now was their time to shine....their time to break the monopoly (or oligopoly)...the grip that Western photojournalists had on the stories...on the "I bear witness" stories...and some of them did.

Is the grip completely loosened? Almost but not quite. 

I remember recently seeing a powerful photo essay by a well-known Australian photographer and photojournalist (and a regular contributor to The New York Times) covering the war on drugs in the Philippines, where thousands were killed since Rodrigo Duterte became president. The photo essay deservedly won first prize at the 2017 World Press Photo Contest, however I also saw an equally compelling photo essay by Raffy Lerma, a Filipino photojournalist which didn't receive much attention.

So, as in my own personal experience with the blinkered Asia Society has proven, the dinosaurian gatekeepers, editors or curators are still trying to have the ultimate say in who gets published, featured or gets a chance to succeed.

However, this too will not last long.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

POV: NYC's Asia Society & The Age of Ignorance

Readers and followers of The Travel Photographer blog are probably well aware of my immense disappointment at the inertia demonstrated by the Asia Society in NYC in acknowledging my letters suggesting it recognizes the Vietnamese Mother Goddess religion as an important event in this Asian nation.

As background; I had sent over the past 60+ days two letters to specific high-placed staff members highlighting that the indigenous Vietnamese Mother Goddesses religion (known as Đạo Mẫu) and its rituals (known as Hầu Đồng and/or Lên đồng) had been included on the UNESCO's List of Intangible Heritages, and urging the Asia Society to recognize this by organizing some sort of event at it New York City (or elsewhere) location.

However, there was no reply, no acknowledgment, no reaction of whatsoever nature emerging from the Asia Society. Not even a "thank you, but we are not interested" email or voice mail. And certainly no event or recognition of any sort was held...not even, a short post on its blog.

Mind you, the Asia Society claims that it "is the leading force in forging closer ties between Asia and the West through arts, education, policy and business"

I was bothered at the lack of civility of not responding to my obviously serious approach, which conveyed an important cultural happening in Vietnam...but finally, as seen above, I (60 days post fact) managed to get a terse acknowledgement from someone at Asia Society as a Facebook message. This came about after my many social media posts castigating it for its rudeness.

This three line response may have assuaged my discomfort at the absence of response from his/her employer, but what about the larger scheme of things?

I searched for the Asia Society's mentions of Vietnam on its website, and found precious little. But I did find some Vietnamese trinkets for sale in its shop, but little else. That's outrageous.

Here's another stunning example of its obliviousness: the ancient art of Ca trù, a genre of chamber music featuring female vocalists, with origins in northern Vietnam, and recognized by UNESCO in 2009 as a Vietnamese Intangible Heritage, is not mentioned anywhere by the Asia Society. That's ridiculous.

In contrast, a Japanese musical group known as the Hougaku Quartet is scheduled with great fanfare to perform at the Asia Society this week. So it is receptive to Japanese arts and music but not Vietnam's?

I am really at a loss to comprehend its demonstrable lack of interest in Vietnam's cultural vibrancy. Does its staff know anything about Vietnam? India, China, Japan are all well covered...but what about this Asian country of 90 million people, with all its history and exquisite culture?

The ignorance is baffling.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Yvan Cohen | Chinese Opera

Photo © Yvan Cohen - All Rights Reserved
I've been interested in Chinese opera for quite a while; way before watching Farewell My Concubine. As a photographer, I'm attracted by its visual aesthetics and by its colorful make up and costumery...but I am also interested in its history and its influence on other similar art form in Asia.

For instance, I've photographed a performance of Hát Tuồng in Hanoi a few years ago. Influenced by Chinese opera, it is one of the oldest art forms in Vietnam, and is said to have existed since the late 12th century. I wanted to spend much more time in photographing its performers, but was constrained to do so as I was leading a photo workshop, and couldn't set aside enough time for it.

Together with Greece tragic-comedy and Indian Sanskrit Opera, it's one of the three oldest dramatic art forms in the world. I won't go into much background detail about the art, as it is widely -and more ably- described on scholarly websites, as well as on other blogs (including in previous posts on my own blog.)

Here's a wonderful photo essay by Yvan Cohen on Chinese Opera which combines traditional photojournalism and closeups of the performers' faces and make up. Presumably photographed in Bangkok's Chinatown where opera companies, hired by local Chinese shrines, perform mythical stories in Mandarin to observe celebrations marking the Lunar New Year.

Don't miss his photo essay on Bangkok's Chinatown which he has been photographing for some 7 years now – visiting once or twice a week, mostly at night.

Fluent in English, French and Thai,
 Yvan Cohen is a photojournalist based in Bangkok who works mainly in Asia. As a freelancer, he has been published in international publications including covers for Time Magazine and the New York Times. His work includes fashion, features and commissioned portraits. Other credits include The Sunday Times, Forbes, L'Express, AsiaWeek, La Vie and others.

He is also a co-founder of the LightRocket media management platform.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Chinatown Noir | Street Photography With The X-Pro2

CHINATOWN NOIR by Tewfic El-Sawy on Exposure

I am lucky to live in a neighborhood within easy walking distance to New York City's Chinatown. A mere 15 minutes or so, and I'm in Asia. It's as if I am walking in the cacophonous streets of Hong Kong, perhaps with a tiny smidgen of Hanoi thrown in, but without its motorcycle traffic madness.

My Fuji X-Pro2 with its 18mm f2.0 dangling from my neck, I take in the visual, aural and olfactory vibes of this quintessential Asian ambience, rub shoulders with its Fujianese and Cantonese residents; try to avoid and ignore the slow-walking sidewalk-hugging out-of-state out-of-shape tourists who gawk at them, and concentrate on catching interesting interactions and expressions.

I wear all black, with a dark scarf to sort of mask my camera. It might be a superfluous "precaution" since no one so far has noticed, nor minded me, taking pictures. They are far too engrossed in their daily to and fro, mostly shopping for seafood, vegetables and fruits. The overriding preoccupation in the streets of Chinatown is how and where to obtain the best and freshest (and cheapest) produce and household goods...as well as lining up for fresh tofu.

It is said that a street photographer is an extension of the flaneur, an observer of the streets. In my view, this is an apt analogy and one that I -by living for so long in a pulsating city such as New York- can do effortlessly and almost instinctively. 

A word about the monochromatic photographs in Chinatown Noir: I am not fond of Fuji's Acros film simulations, so I shoot in color and post-process using Silver Efex Pro 2.0 to achieve the 'look' that I like. My usual settings are Exposure Compensation Value of -1, an iso of 640, and the Fuji 18mm at either f5.6 or f8.0.

This is the first of what I hope will be many Chinatown Noir photo galleries. My readers can also view Hanoi Noir which I produced about two years ago in the Vietnamese capital. At that time, I used a Leica M9 and a Voigtlander 40mm lens, and a Fuji X-T1 and a Zeiss 12mm lens.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Sam Barker | Charro

Photo © Sam Barker Photography -All Rights Reserved
Let's go south of the border with the charro. These are Mexican horsemen (the horsewomen are known as charra) typically dressed in an elaborately decorated outfit of close-fitting pants, jackets, and sombrero.

The charro originated in the ce
ntral-western regions of Mexico, and participate in the charreada; a form of rodeo riding that has become an official sport in that country. It is a competitive event quite similar to the United States rodeo, and was developed from animal husbandry practices used on the haciendas of old Mexico.

According to scholars, there is perhaps no better representative of the country's combined cultures and history than the horse trained for "charreada." Charros believe that Mexicans were originally conquered by horses, but gained independence with horses, so are inseparable from their steeds. 

The horses preferred by the charros are a combined breed: the American Quarter Horse, descending from European thoroughbreds, and the native horses descending from the various stocks brought by the Conquistadors in the 16th century..

Sam Barker brings us a colorful gallery of horsewomen wearing the striking costumes when participating in the rodeos..

Sam Barker is a commercial photographer who shares his time between London and New York. He also shoots travel stories and personal projects in Iraq, Ethiopia (don't miss it!), and Columbia and Bhutan.

For his commercial work, he was commissioned for campaigns in Europe and the US for the likes of Hugo Boss, Glennfiddich and Landrover amongst others ,shooting subjects as diverse as Matt Damon to Lewis Hamilton, to tribal chiefs in Africa and the Americas. He began his career in photography in 1997 whilst attending the London School of Printing.

His work was spotted by The Telegraph, and work started to follow from the likes of The Sunday Times, GQ Magazine and Harpers Bazaar. He is also contributor to the National Portrait Gallery where he has 12 portraits in the permanent collection.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Mercer Street | Street Photography With The X-Pro2

I am a creature of habit...so on the days I decide to photograph in the streets of my NYC neighborhood, I follow a certain route that takes me from the streets of SoHo to Chinatown. Sometimes, I deviate and hit the East Side and the Bowery, but normally I stick to my normal trek, and alter my walks within the confines of this SoHo-Chinatown 'map'.

My Fuji X-Pro2 with its 18mm f2.0 dangling from my neck, I walk and imbibe the vibes of the city, and the human diversity that populates it. I normally shoot from the hip, since I seek fleeting expressions as much as I can. This obviously means that my success rate is very low, but it is what I like doing. 

I don't want to get into a debate as to whether SFTH (shooting from the hip) is unethical or not, and whether photographing "a la sauvette" (as Henri Cartier-Bresson described his on-the-sly photography) is right or wrong. I choose what to photograph, and never have photographed a homeless person or disrespected anyone's dignity. I am very comfortable with my style of street photography.

But back to my walk on Mercer Street.

Incidentally, I usually have set the Exposure Compensation Value on my Fuji X-Pro2 at -1, and the iso at 640, and the Fuji 18mm at either f5.6 or f8.0. 

On that particular day, I hesitated before walking up Mercer Street because it's usually very quiet with few pedestrians, but for an unknown reason, I did. Turning the corner from Howard Street, I encounters a whole block of people standing in line for what must've been an audition of some sort, or a fashion show, or a hip-hop event.

What a wonderful opportunity to photograph these interesting individuals, and their diverse racial and background mix, sporting cool and imaginative outfits! The whole walk took about 8 minutes or so, and for once I was very glad that a New York City sidewalk was so crowded. I didn't want to attract attention, so as to maintain the candid scenes as I saw them.

I used Iridient Developer 2 (which is now my go-to software) and fiddled with its toning settings to get the look I wanted. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Lee Cohen | A Three Hour Tour

A Three Hour Tour by Lee Cohen on Exposure

The Circular Railway is a local commuter rail network that serves the Yangon (previously known as Rangoon) metropolitan area. It extends over 28 miles, and serves 39 stations in a loop system.

The railway has about 200 coaches, runs 20 times and is said to sell 100,000 to 150,000 tickets daily. The loop, which takes about three hours to complete is heavily utilized by lower-income commuters, as it is (along with buses) the cheapest method of transportation in Yangon. It is also a way to see many areas of Yangon.

It runs daily from 3:45 am to 10:15 pm, and the  cost of a ticket for a distance of 15 miles is about $ 0.18, and for over 15 miles is $ 0.37. These prices are for the locals. The cost for a one-way tocket for non_burmese is $ 1.00.

The circular train stops at each and every station for only a minute or two, forcing passengers to quickly clamber on board, with all sorts of luggage and belongings. It returns back to Yangon’s city station before making the same journey over and over again (about 20 times) throughout the day.

The young boy seen on the cover of the Exposure gallery (above) has his face smothered with thanaka; a cream made by ground bark, and used by the Burmese  for over 2000 years. It is known for giving a cooling sensation, and for providing protection from sunburn.

Lee Cohen has taken the Circular Railway and narrates his experience. He also does not recommend tourists buy the more expensive air-conditioned train/cars, which the locals do not ride. The worthwhile experience is to rub shoulders and interact with the locals who ride the cheaper cars.

Lee Cohen has been working on educational issues around the world for the past ten years. he has a background in policy, monitoring and evaluation, creative and non-fiction writing, and documentary photography.

Monday, 30 January 2017

NEOCHA | The Puppets of Myanmar

Photo © Chan Qu | Courtesy NEOCHA 
The string puppets of Myanmar (previously known as Burma) are called Yoke Thé ( meaning "miniatures"). It originated from royal patronage and were gradually adapted for the wider populace.

The puppets or marionettes are intricately made, and require considerable dexterity as they are "controlled" by 18 or 19 wires for male and female characters respectively, especially as each puppet can only be controlled by only one puppeteer.

It is thought that Burmese marionettes originated around 1780 and were introduced to the courts of the time by a Minister of Royal Entertainment, U Thaw. Little has changed since the creation of the art, and puppet characters are still used today. However, the art went into decline during the colonization of Upper Burma by the British in November 1885 following the Third Anglo-Burmese War.

It is said that because the puppets were mere wooden dolls, their ‘speech’, although voiced by humans, was allowed more freedom during the various reigns of monarchs, and even during the more recent periods. It is curious that all thorough Myanmar's history, the puppets were the only ones who enjoyed some freedom of speech. 

Interestingly, as puppet troupes traveled from village to village in the olden days that had no newspapers or radio, their shows brought news of the capital and other larger towns through the puppets' songs and stories to villagers. Puppet shows were also used to express discontent with the rulers, but cloaked by the voices of the puppets.

A typical Burmese puppet troupe has 27 character figures. These puppets are carved, polished, sanded and painted, before being dressed in hand-stitched costumes; the entire process requires around twenty days of production from start to finish.

You can read more about this art form on NEOCHA.

View this short movie till its end...the agility of the puppeteers is breathtaking.

NEOCHA was stablished in 2006 by a group of Shanghai-based musicians, visual artists, programmers, and entrepreneurs, and has grown to become an award-winning company dedicated to celebrating culture and creativity in Asia.

Its online magazine tells stories by and of these creators, and shares them with a global audience on a new multilingual platform that showcases and celebrates Asia’s burgeoning creative class.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Lidia D’Opera | Venice

Venice by Lidia D'Opera on Exposure

After so much focus on Southeast and South Asia on the pages of The Travel Photographer blog, I think my readers and I are ready for a change of geography...and Venice and its famous carnival is probably one of the most jarring, but visually breathtaking- segue from one region of the world to another.

The Carnival of Venice (known locally as Carnevale di Venezia) ends with the Christian celebration of Lent, forty days before Easter, on Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday. To make it simple, it will be held between the dates of February 11-28, 2017.

It is known for its elaborate costumery and masks. While it is uncertain as to the reason for the earliest mask wearing in Venice, it is said by some that covering the face in public was a unique Venetian response to one of the most rigid class hierarchies in European history back in the 13th century.

There are distinct types of masks with names such as Bauta, Colombina, The Plague Doctor, Moretta, Volto and Pantalone to name just a few. Venice during the Carnival is full of  masked party-goers - posing and preening, dancing and enjoying themselves, reinventing a great tradition of the city.

Lidia D'Opera (what an evocative name!) describes herself as an enthusiastic street photographer and a traveler which, in my view, is another definition for a travel photographer. Her images of the Venice party-goers in their finery are some of the best I've seen. I much prefer the color images over the monochromes as they emphasize the wonderful costumery and masks.

Her Exposure gallery also tells us how she managed to capture her images using the flashes from other photographers (I do that as well when I am in similar situations.)

Apart from a more extensive website gallery of Carnival of Venice photographs than on her Exposure gallery, she has photographed in the streets of New York, India, Istanbul, Paris, Egypt, Hong Kong and her own Australia. 

She has also quite a number of photo books on her website, some of which she published on Blurb and other publishing houses.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Shankar Subramanian | Hornbill Festival - Nagaland

Photo © Shankar Subramanian - All Rights Reserved
I may consider myself as an old hand in India, but I cannot justify the reason for not having been to its "seven sisters" yet. The Seven Sister States are India's contiguous states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura in northeastern India...and this is a huge blot on my record.

One of Nagaland's most attractive festivals is the Hornbill Festival, named after the bird, and which is one of the largest celebrations of its indigenous warrior tribes, who live in India's far north east region. The hornbill bird is particularly revered by the Nagas and is reflected in tribal folklore, dances and songs.

The festival is organized by the state government and is attended by all of Nagaland's major tribes. It features traditional arts, dances, folk songs, and games.

So it's with pleasure that I feature Shankar Subramanian's Hornbill Festival photo gallery. He has photographed the tribal performers; mostly of the Ao tribe, and possibly others from the Angami tribe and the Rengma as well.

Shankar Subramanian is a talented photographer who's been photographing very seriously for the last 15 years. He travelled extensively in India and beyond. He is passionate about travel photography and portraiture, and loves to create stories and mini multimedia documentaries using photographs and music from his various travels.

Browse through his website, and you'll see his portfolio includes galleries of Holi, Ladakh, Assam, Kashmir, Pushkar Camel Fair, Bhutan, Bali and Kumbh Mela to name but a few.

His photographs from Rajasthan, Mathura, Allahabad gained international recognition from the prestigious International Photography Awards, International Color awards and Black and White Spider awards. He mentored many aspiring photography enthusiasts and is a member of the International fellowship of Rotarian Photographers.

Apart from being such a prolific travel photographer, Shankar found the time to attend my workshop during Travel Photographer Society in Kuala Lumpur in 2016. He introduced us to the intricate -and unforgettable- Bollywood dance step called "You screw in a lightbulb with one hand, and pet the dog with the other", and which became our class' signature movement.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Travel Photographer Is 10 Years Old !

The first blog post

 Shakespeare wrote “...the swiftest hours, observed as they flew...” 
And indeed, the ten years since I started this blog have flown swiftly, and many milestones have been reached during that decade.

Over 3400 posts. Almost 4,000,000 unique views. Over 900 travel photographers were written about; some multiple times. Over 2000 followers. Over 400 posts on India, and over 130 posts on Vietnam. More than 200 Point Of Views...some acerbic, some rants, some wide-off-the-mark, some spot-on. Personal opinions on cameras and lenses (my own tools) that I use and take on my travels. According to statistics, its readership is worldwide, and stretches from the United States to Japan. I frequently receive complimentary and thank you emails (or social media comments) from readers and from featured photographers.

I started the blog whilst in London in January 2007; on a whim and named it The Travel Photographer because it's what I consider myself to be. It was a worthwhile and judicious branding move, since I used the 'brand' for other websites, and for social media.

The blog is not commercial. I have purposefully kept it so, steadfastly and frequently refusing offers for adverts, payment for ads disguised as posts and becoming a camera store affiliate. The blog reflects my personality...and no one can buy into it. I do not allow comments, since I consider it my personal soapbox, not a forum for debate. There are other venues for the latter.

It is far from being a technical blog. I just write about what I like and dislike on my own terms, and about what satisfies my eclectic impulses. Whether it is about travel, documentary or even fashion photography, I try to add some cultural, historical and newsy element to the blog posts...and provide some intellectual value to readers.

 So thank you for reading The Travel Photographer blog, and I look forward to the next decade.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Diane Durongpisitkul | Chinese Opera In Thailand

Photo © Diane Durongpisitkul - All Rights Reserved
"I'm a wanderer who happens to own a pretty nice camera." 
I like that quote because its simplicity and humor...and I also like the length and breadth of Diane Durongpisitkul's photographic work....and admire its variety.

I feature Diane's work on the backstage world of a travelling Chinese Opera in Thailand, as this genre is also one I am interested in, and hopeful of finding enough time to start a long term project on before it evaporates from the pressures of modernity. These performers seem caked in make-up, and carry on an art form under threat by changing cultural habits and demographics.

Chinese opera -aside from China and Taiwan- is progressively getting forgotten, and soon may vanish as new generations ignore it, and are disinterested in this ancient 'imported' art form.

The Chinese Opera troupes around Thailand are usually commissioned by Chinese temples, and may travel the country extensively from Bangkok to the far east and deep south. Some of these dwindling troupes tour Thailand for six months, and another six months they perform in various regions of Malaysia, not stopping for a holiday.

A very talented travel photographer, Diane Durongpisitkul was born and grew up in Australia, and holds Australian and Thai nationalities. Her innumerable galleries attest to her voracious appetite for ‘off the beaten track’ destinations such as India, Bangladesh, Iran, Myanmar and Ethiopia...to mention but a few. She prefers to remain in a specific destination for months at a time to really get to know the area, and understand it. 

As a post script, here's a short clip by Star TV (Malaysia) about Chinese Opera in the country.

Friday, 20 January 2017

POV: Asia Society's "Tin Ear"

As readers of this blog know, I spent the better part of the past two years on a wonderful project documenting/photographing/researching the indigenous Vietnamese Mother Goddesses religion (known as Đạo Mẫu) and its rituals (known as Hầu Đồng and/or Lên đồng) in Hà Nội and in the northern regions of Vietnam.

A few weeks after the birth and publication of my photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam , Đạo Mẫu was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity. This prestigious acknowledgement was received in Vietnam with enormous nationalistic pride as it honors its heritage, and I was privileged to have had the opportunity to give three talks and multiple television interviews about my book, the project and how a non-Vietnamese was able to acquire an expertise in these rituals.

On returning to New York City, still reeling from the euphoric feeling of having done a meaningful project, I decided I would try to interest one of the prime repository of Asian culture in the possibility of (1) setting up talks (including my own) about Đạo Mẫu, and (2) to set up shows of Hầu Đồng rituals which would coincide with -or follow- UNESCO's endorsement which occurred on December 1, 2016 to the jubilation of the Vietnamese.

(This print was enclosed to the above letter as a gift)

I wrote up a detailed proposal to the Asia Society (excerpts above), and Fedexed it to its destination a few days after the UNESCO announcement. 

As of today's date, no reply, no acknowledgment, no reaction of whatsoever nature emerged from the Asia Society. Not even a "thank you, but we are not interested" email or voice mail.

This from an institution whose stated mission is "Across the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy, the Society provides insight, generates ideas, and promotes collaboration to address present challenges and create a shared future."

Two issues are raised here. The first is that it is stupefying that the Asia Society hasn't been at the forefront of celebrating the inclusion of this Vietnamese heritage on the UNESCO list. To date, there's nothing about Đạo Mẫu on its website...Vietnam is certainly part of Asia the last time I checked.

The second issue is the blatant lack of civility in not responding to an obviously serious approach, which fundamentally was making it aware of an important cultural happening in Vietnam. The Asia Society is supposedly a vibrant cultural institution, with staff that ought to be aware of cultural developments, and it certainly appears they're not.

I am not bothered by rejections...but what I'm principally bothered by is the lack of awareness and secondly, the lack of civility and by the disrespect. 

More to come.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Mattia Passarini | Inked Faces

Photo © Mattia Passarini - All Rights Reserved
The word tattoo is derived from the Tahitian "tatu" which means "to mark something." It is claimed that tattooing has existed since 12,000 years BC, and its purpose has varied from culture to culture and from era to era.

The recent tattoo popularity in the Western world most probably has its origins in Egypt during the time of the construction of the great pyramids. When the Egyptians expanded their empire, the art of tattooing spread as well. The civilizations of Crete, Greece, Persia, and Arabia picked up and expanded the art form, and China joined in around 2000 BC.* 

Inked Faces by Mattia Passarini is a gallery featuring various tribal individuals sporting intricate tattoos. I found the most extreme to be the Ramnami of Chhattisgarh who tattoo the word "Ram" on their whole bodies. Also included are the Konya, the Khonds, the Baga, the Apatani; all from the far reaches of India. The Chin of Burma, the Li and Doling of China, and the Lawae of Laos are also represented. 

Mattia Passarini is an award-winning freelance photographer based in China since 2006. He is focused in photographing the remote corners of the globe and the cultures that inhabit them. His passion in capturing disappearing cultures, ancient rituals, and everyday life leads him to travel to the most neglected countryside areas. In recent years he focused his research on their varieties, locations, habits and especially on their visible distinguishing features, which they express through face tattoo and body modifications. His photographs are exhibited in museums, galleries, and photography festivals around the world.

* This website has a thorough history of tattoos.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Ania Błażejewska | Balinese Idyll

Photo © Ania Błażejewska -All Rights Reserved
I should preface this post that some of the photographs are of tasteful nudity, and may be considered as NSFW.

Ania Błażejewska's Old Bali gallery, which only appears on her Polish-language blog, is of set up scenes with models to represent life on the island as it was many years ago, before its becoming a tourist destination. Her photographs are tasteful and luminescent, and the models chosen for this particular photo shoot are all just gorgeous.

Through these arranged scenes, she has recreated a traditional Balinese way of life, with roosters (for the cock fights), the religious offerings (canang sari), the temples, the abundant fruits, the dances, the gamelan, and markets.

This may not be travel photography as such, but it's certainly "time travel' photography with reenactment of what may have been commonplace in Bali in the 1920's or earlier. One can view actual old images here to see the accuracy of the reenactment.

Ania Błażejewska is an established and talented travel photographer who is based in Bali. Her website is replete with gallery after gallery of exceptionally well produced photographs and stories, ranging from traditional tattooing and Catholic flagellants in the Philippines, Theyyam rituals and Kathakali performers in Kerala, funeral rites in Tana Toraja of Indonesia's South Sulawesi, to the powerfully colorful Masskara festival in Bacolod, Philippines which shames the more accessible Venice Carnavale. She also documented the northern tribes of Vietnam and many others in her Photoshelter archive.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Viet Ha Tran | The Soul of Vietnam

Photo © Viet Ha Tran-All Rights Reserved
My previous blog post dealt with the question as to whether the Fujifilm X-Pro 2's capabilities mitigates my "need" for acquiring its medium format GFX 50S to seriously indulge in my interest in "fashion-lifestyle-travel" photography. I concluded the jury was still out, and that most probably the X-Pro 2 was more than capable of producing exquisite images without the weight and cost associated with its medium format cousin.

As I was checking Google News for recent updates on my photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam in the Vietnamese newspapers, I chanced on an article lauding the work of a Vietnamese photographer, whose name I was not familiar with, and who wasn't in my extensive Facebook network. Some of the work I viewed exemplified what I am interested in pursuing (to a certain extent).

I chose the lovely photograph above, which is one of many in Ms Viet Ha Tran's The Soul of Vietnam gallery, as an example of what I regard as "fashion-lifestyle-travel" imagery. The ethnicity of the model, the historical and cultural influences of her costume, and the "scenery"...the typical Sino-Vietnamese furniture et al. 

I am also impressed by the photographer's delicate The Lotus Lake gallery, which was photographed in Hanoi's West Lake. In summer when lotus flowers bloom, the lake is popular with Vietnamese women along with photographers. The Vietnamese have so much affection for the lotus flowers that it is the country’s national flower.

Viet Ha Tran is a Vietnam-born fine art photographer, and is based in Spain. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan and a Master in Marketing Management from IE Business School, Spain. She studied a photography course at  EFTI (Centro Internacional de Fotografía y Cine). 

Having started her photography in 2013, her images have been published in over 90 different magazines and newspapers around the world. Semi-finalist in the Spanish National Digital Photography Contest in that year, she also won Honorable Mentions in Fine Art Categories of the International Photography Awards, Los Angeles. She was invited by Vogue Italia to photograph for Vogue Talents Shooting in early 2014. Later in 2014, her works appeared at Brighton Photo Biennial, on of the UK’s largest photography festival.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

POV : Can The X-Pro2 Do The Job Of The GFX 50S ?

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved (X-Pro2 + 16-55mm)
I am not an impulse buyer, not do I have the dreaded (or lauded) Gear Acquisition Syndrome but when I saw that Fujifilm announced the imminent arrival of its medium-format GFX 50S, I admit my pulse raced a little faster than usual.

I own an old film Mamiya 645 along with an equally old 80mm 2.8 Mamiya lens in a drawer somewhere, crippled by an unfixable broken shutter according to the Japanese repair center that looked at it a few months ago. It has been infrequently used, so it may have been either a manufacturing defect, or a mishandling on my part. Consequently, medium format wasn't on my radar screen until the Fuji GFX 50S announcement.

According to the prevailing mix of facts and rumors, the mirrorless GFX 50S will be released on February 23, 2017 at a body price of $6500. It is weather-sealed and uses the X-Processor Pro (used in X-T2/X-Pro2), and has a 51.4MP 44 x 33mm Medium Format Bayer Sensor. Along with a GF63mmF2.8 R WR (50mm equivalent) lens costing $1500, the price tag will be $8000 before sales tax (if any).

This is a significant amount of cash, but it's much lower than many comparable medium format cameras. So the question arises as to whether it ought to continue attracting my attention.

I consider my cameras and lenses to be tools. Nothing more. Nothing less. They are chosen, bought or ignored based on my perceived present and future need, available cash liquidity, and whether they supplement, complement or replace an existing tool.

Whilst there's no dispute that the GFX 50S is exciting and interesting for what it it is, I have a few thoughts about its usefulness to my style of photography, and my impatience for setting up shoots. 

My migration from the Canon system to the mirrorless Fuji cameras and lenses was caused (among other reasons) by the weight factor, by the portability factor and by its rangefinder design (insofar as the X-Pro1 is concerned). I subsequently expanded my inventory of Fuji lenses and acquired two X-T1s with body grips, cementing my Fuji association. The GFX 50S body alone is about 800 grams (about 1.8 lbs), almost the same weight as the Canon 5D Mark II of 850 grams (1.9 lbs).  So the GFX 50S would bring me back to the same weight issue.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | The Travel Photographer
The other factor to consider is what I would use it for. The GFX 50S and lens would weight about the same as the Canon 5D Mark II, and I imagine it would have to be wielded in the same way. My principal style is "on-the-fly", street-type candid travel photography, and a lot of documentary photography of festivals and religious/ceremonial rituals. Will the GFX 50S lend itself well to this style? 

I viewed a bunch of GFX 50S promotional videos put up by Fujifilm, which are slick and well produced. However, these were, for the most part, photographers shooting in controlled environments, or in studios, or -in the case of a travel photographer in India- shooting with the help of strobes, reflectors and soft boxes.If the weight and my style of photography were the only two factors influencing the decision to adopt the GFX 50S, then the answer would be an easy no. But in the mix there's the newish factor of my being interested in the sub-set of "fashion-lifestyle-travel" photography. 

What on earth is "fashion-lifestyle-travel" photography? Well, something similar to the work by Anne Menke, a renowned fashion photographer, who occasionally merges fashion-travel photography styles. I've merged travel photography with documentary photography into a genre that I describe as "travel photography meets photojournalism", and I'm gravitating to yet another genre that would allow me to photograph ethnic fashion wherever I travel.

The photo gallery of Mansi Zhang's images made in the Old Quarter of Hanoi is a precursor of what I intend doing as part of my travel photography trajectory. I've been toying with this idea since 2014 -or even earlier-, and it's a style that I enjoy doing. For example, the portraits of Ms Hường Đặng and Ms Trần Hiền Trang which I made in 2014 and 2015 are also such examples. 

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The photographs of Ms Mansi Zhang were made using the X Pro-2, and I am stunned by the quality of the images straight out of the camera. It's versatile, intuitive, lightweight, it delivers 24.3 mp.6000x4000 pixel images and I already have a panoply of Fuji lenses.

So the question that remains to be answered is whether the return on investing in a GFX 50S would be worth it. Would the quality of the GFX 50S surpass that of the X-Pro2 by such a factor that it justifies its $8000 expenditure? 

The jury hasn't even convened yet...but as I await more results and reviews of this new medium format tool, what I haven't seen so far is still short of being totally convincing.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Souvid Datta | India's Fading Musical Tribes

Photo © Souvid Datta - All Rights Reserved
One easily falls head over heels for India. No question about it. It happened to me in 1998, and I've traveled to its four corners (with some exceptions) over 20 times, imbibing its people, sights, smells, cultures, music and everything in between.

It's well known for its diversity, various physiognomies, languages, religions, traditions and cultures. Across the country’s 29 states, over 500 dialects are spoken, over 800 million reside in booming metropolises, and its rural enclaves are home to over 2000 tribes.

However modernity and globalization exact a price on all nations; especially those with traditions and cultures as deep as those of India. And may well cause the disappearance of its tribes, cultural practices and musicians. For example, the dancing Veerghase troops of Karnataka, the formidable hunting tribes of Nagaland, the revered Kawaili singers of Rajasthan: these groups, once essential and symbolic of their regions, may no longer exist in 15-20 years.

I, for one, delved head first in the hypnotic music of Qawwali, Baul singing, Kathak and Odissi dancing, Kathakali theater and Kalbelya tribal dances....certainly not enough to give me a deep understanding of the musical heritage of this vast country

However, I came across the wonderful Fading Musical Tribes project that documents many of the musical and dancing tribes and artists in India by Souvid Datta, a young Indian photographer, musicologist and videographer.

Souvid Datta was raised between the two metropolises of Mumbai and London, within an artistic and politically active family. He developed an interest in the fields of multimedia journalism, social justice and conflict studies, and although specializing in international law, he developed a passion for photography. He completed commissioned and personal projects across the UK, Italy, Spain, Egypt, India and China, working for clients including The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Independent and Monocle.

Here is a trailer for Souvid's ongoing film series Tuning 2 You: The Lost Musicians of India exploring 12 states across the sub-continent and documenting their spectacular but fading music, dance and art traditions.


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Nhi Dang | Dreams Of Myanmar

Myanmar, or Burma (as I occasionally prefer to call it) is a wonderful country which I had the pleasure of traveling in some time before its recent "modernization". Its people consist of a mix of settlers and invaders from all sides; the Mon and the Pyu are thought to have come from India, while the now dominant Bamar migrated through Tibet, and by the year 849, had founded a powerful kingdom centered in Bagan. 

For the next millennium, the Burmese empire grew through conquests in Thailand and in India, then shrank under attacks from China and due to internal rebellions.

Photo © Nhi Dang-All Rights Reserved
I am often on the look out for young talented travel photographers to feature on this blog, and, because of my own background, I'm especially partial to those who left the "comfort" of a corporate career for a life of creativity, travel and cultural affinity.

My current feature is about such an individual; Nhi Dang who describes herself as a videographer, photographer, traveler, nomad, and as a food video blogger. Living in Hanoi, she graduated from university with a degree in economics, but -as she puts it- "oppressed with office work", she quit her career and restarted her life-journey working in graphics and video editing.

Based in Ho Chi Minh City, she traveled to Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Ladakh, Cambodia, and naturally her native Vietnam. Not content to narrow her work to travel photography, she also produced a number of videos, including fashion and commercial trailers.

Her videos can be viewed at her Vimeo page.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Jørgen Johanson | Guì Zhōu

Photo © Jørgen Johanson - All Rights Reserved
Guì Zhōu or Guìzhōu Shěng is a province in the southwest of China, and is demographically one of China's most diverse provinces, with minorities accounting for more than 37% of its population. These include the Miao, Yao, Yi, Qiang, Dong, Zhuang, Bouyei, Bai, Tujia, Gelao and Sui. 

The Miao people -at more than nine million - are one of the largest minority groups in China, and almost half of them live in Guì Zhōu. The self-given name Long Horned Miao refers to the women with their own (and false) hair wrapped around a large horn-shaped wooden comb. In the past, this comb was smaller and the tips only just protruded out from the hair. In more recent times, and especially amongst older people, the comb is extremely wide, almost the size of buffalo horns. During festival times, young women wear as many as thirty skirts and several long jackets. 

Jørgen Johanson's Guì Zhōu gallery features a number of photographs of the "long-horned" women, along with other views of the life in this province. 

In 1985 Jørgen went on his first trip to Asia. Completing the Annapurna circuit in Nepal, he tells us he was hooked on Asia and on traveling.

While most of my working life has been in software development for companies in Oslo he managed to do some long distance traveling each year, and has taken a sabbatical just to travel. Many Scandinavians actually do this. Most of his trips have been to Asia, but recently he also traveled to Africa, but he keep returning to India and China, especially in those regions with Tibetan culture and the Himalayas.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Trupal Pandya | The Last Headhunters

Photo © Trupal Pandya - All Rights Reserved
The Konyaks are found in Myanmar, in a couple of districts of India's Arunachal and Nagaland, India. They are known in Arunachal as Wancho Konyak. In Nagaland, there are sixteen major indigenous tribes with different cultures and traditions. The most fascinating of these tribes are the Konyaks; the largest in number, identifiable by their tattooed faces and a history of fierce headhunting. Headhunting was important place in the Konyaks' tradition and culture.

For the Konyak, killing an enemy and bringing back the head used to be considered a rite​​ of passage, and was rewarded with a tattoo on the face or chest of the warrior. The more tattoos the fiercer (and more respected and feared) was the warrior.

During the 1970's, the Konyaks converted to Christianity and consequently many ​traditional practices and rituals have vanished. What now remains are​ ​a few old men with faded tattoos.These men are idling about certain villages, smoking opium​ and sharing stories about their glorious past.

The Last Headhunters is a series fascinating portraits of the Konyaks by Indian photographer Trupal Pandya.

Trupal has a bachelor’s degree in photography from the Fashion Institute of Technology (NYC), and started his photography a few years ago.  He participated in the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2014 and interned with Steve McCurry. His work was published in CNN, Huffington post and National Geographic Magazine and he has been on an assignment with the United Nations to Iraq to photograph the refugee camps.

His portfolio includes pictures of the tribes of Omo Valley in Ethiopia, Huaorani people of the Amazon Rainforest, Headhunters, Brokpas, Aghoris, eunuchs and shepherds in India. He has traveled to countries like Ethiopia, Ecuador, India, Iraq, and Sri Lanka mainly focusing on communities that are standing on the edge of modernization.