Wednesday, 23 September 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All this is food for thought.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Vincent Dirckx | Samburu Warriors

Photo © Vincent Dirckx-All Rights Reserved 

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

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

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

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

Photo © Vincent Dirckx-All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 17 September 2015

POV | The Dark Side of Travel Photography?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Aisha Al-Shabrawy | Travel Fashion Fusion

Photo © Aisha Al-Shabrawy-All Rights Reserved
I find it uplifting to stumble on photographic work that comes out of Egypt, the land of my birth, that is colorful, joyous, modern and of good taste. It's a welcome antidote for all the negative news we are deluged about Egypt which is currently neck-deep in economic woes, with its people facing an uncertain future.

Whenever I look out of my flights that are about to land in Cairo,  I never fail to wonder as to why its buildings are all beige...the color of sand. Apart from a few spots of greenery along the Nile river, that's all that the eye can see. Beige upon beige upon beige. Depressing really. The desert's proximity to the capital is culpable, since the frequent easterly winds bring in the khamseen...the sand storms that occasionally fill the air. Add this to the vehicular pollution, and one has a toxic mix of environmental factors that converts brilliant white paint to the dull color of sand in a matter of months.

So it is really an elevating moment for me to see Aisha Al-Shabrawy's colorful and aesthetically tasteful photographs of attractive model(s) wearing various fashionable accessories that are locally produced. It might seem commonplace to some of us used to see such travel-fashion photographs all the time on the pages of various glossy magazines, and on the streets of New York City (as an example), but I know full well how hard it is to produce them in Egypt.

I think possessing a strong color aesthetic/sense is largely innate, but can also be an acquired talent. I might be overstating it, but being exposed to bland colors all one's life ought to dull one's color and aesthetic appreciations. India is well known for its brilliant colors; just take a look at the women's saris and other traditional attire. When I travel to India, I am -as many others- overwhelmed and overpowered by its colors.

Anyway, back to Ms Al-Shabrawy's work. Those images featuring eyewear were shot in Aswan, in the south of Egypt. The rural houses are painted in the blues of Jaipur in Rajasthan and Chefchaouen in Morocco, and their facades are decorated with naif drawings and religious phrases.

Yes, it's uplifting to see these images...and to forget (even for a moment) the drabness of Cairo and of Egypt's main cities. If only there was an enforceable law to paint its buildings in brilliant colors... annually!!!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Amira Al-Sharif | A Love Song To Socotra Island

Photo © Amira Al-Sharif-All Rights Reserved- Courtesy Arab Documentary Photography Program
Socotra Island is a small archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean. It is a governorate of Yemen. The same Yemen that is currently being ripped apart by a civil war, and systematically destroyed by Saudi Arabia and its allies. The island is considered a jewel of biodiversity in the Indian Ocean, and was recognized by UNESCO as a world natural heritage site in July 2008.

Most of the inhabitants are indigenous Soqotri people who are of Southern Arabian descent, along with a minority of Africans, believed to be descendants of runaway slaves. Interestingly, the islanders originally followed indigenous religions, then Christianity then Islam.

Amira Al-Sharif's A Love Song to Socotra Island grew from a search for inspiring and pioneering women who are making their own way in life while confronting the traditions and customs of a male dominated society.

Amira Al-Sharif was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Yemen. Working as a female documentary photographer in Yemen, where the majority of photographers are male, she continues to push cultural and societal boundaries. She works as a freelance photojournalist for English newspapers and magazines in Yemen and abroad. Her work is published in international newspapers and by humanitarian and development organizations in both English and Arabic. She is also a alum of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop (Istanbul).

The Arab Documentary Photography Program (ADPP) is an initiative that provides support and mentorship to photographers from across the Arab region. The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture in partnership with Magnum Foundation and the Prince Claus Fund established the ADPP to stimulate compelling work by Arab photographers working across a range of experimental styles of storytelling.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Juan Pablo Ampudia | Love Me

Here is one of the better multimedia/photographic work I've seen coming out of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop since its inception, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Love Me is a multimedia photo documentary on "warias" in Bali, Indonesia by Juan Pablo Ampudia.

In Indonesia, biological men who believe that they are born with the souls of women are known as "warias." The term is a combination of two Indonesian words: "wanita" which means woman and "pria" which means man. As a group, warias are diverse, encompassing what cross-dressers, transsexuals, drag queens, and effeminate gay men would be called in the West.

I'm sure many of my readers would be surprised to learn that transgender people can live openly in Indonesia, a country with the world's largest Muslim population.  That said, Indonesian warias are generally different from transgender women in the United States as an example. For religious reasons, many are not interested in sex-reassignment surgeries and believe that they were born as males, and must return to God when they die.

Photo © Juan Pablo Ampudia-All Rights Reserved
However, living openly does not mean total or even partial acceptance from the community at large. Juan Pablo tells us that the status of transvestites, transsexuals and other transgender persons in Indonesia is complicated. Cross-dressing is not, per se, illegal and some public tolerance is given to some of those working in beauty salons or in the entertainment industry. However, the law does not protect transgender people from discrimination or harassment. Neither does it provide for sex reassignment surgery to those who seek it, nor does it allow transgender persons to gain new legal documents should they opt for the transition. Most discrimination is directed at transgender women, who face challenges with stable employment, prejudice, and housing.

The videos and photographs by Juan Pablo were made in bars in Bali's Seminyak, a mixed tourist  and residential area on the west coast of the island. It's also the centre of life for hordes of the island's expatriates and tourists. The talented characters who work in these bars, seek to show to their country and to the society that they exist, and aided by international tourism, raise awareness among young indonesians about equality and human rights.

Juan Pablo Ampudia is an account director for an advertising agency based in Mexico City, who describes himself as "just a regular guy that uses photography as a tool for self-observation; to achieve my personal human growth."

I think you'll agree he's way more than that.

Friday, 4 September 2015

POV: The First Step : The Hầu Đồng Book

My first step in the long process of publishing "Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam" photo book was completed today when I took delivery of an 8x10 inches 12 page hardcover test version produced by AdoramaPix's bookmaking outfit.

My principal objectives in ordering a test version was to (1) determine the color -and monochrome reproduction quality for the chosen sampling of my photographs, and (2) whether the bindery style was acceptable. I have already self-published a couple of photography books through Blurb, so I know what to expect from them, but I wanted to find out if AdoramaPix was a viable alternative.

By the way, the iPhone pictures of the test book seen here were done without any preparation, so I wouldn't place too much weight on what these look like to my blog's readers.

The photographs are printed on professional-grade photo paper by Adorama. I chose the Luster paper option for its popularity, lower price and because it's a hybrid of gloss and matte, which supposedly handles a wide spectrum of image types and brings out the best in them all.

I liked the result. The book's pages are heavy; there's obviously a real photo feel to them, and they reproduced the colors very well. I am especially pleased with the 2 black & white pages. The text's placement needs a little tweaking, but overall the effect met my expectations.

One of the features offered by AdormaPix is the lay-flat construction. The book remains open and on display without anything to keep it from flopping over. Seamless lay-flat simply allows the readers to view the entire image...whether the image is a double-truck (as they call it) or are two side by side. There are no gutters or seams.

Now whether the lay-flat construction is sturdy enough to withstand many page flipping or not, I cannot tell. I compared it to a traditionally bound (stitched and non lay-flat) photo book, and it did appear flimsy. If -through usage- one or more of the photo pages may get detached from the rest, the lay-flat feature is the jury is out of that one.

The production of this 12 pages book was super fast. It was available for pick up in just two business days.

What didn't I like? I was slightly disappointed in the cover. The color reproduction is perfect, but the title is not exactly perpendicular. It seems to have been been affixed minutely off-center. I noticed it because I have a thing about straight lines.

Price-wise, the test book cost $30. One can calculate this as being $2.50 a page not taking into account the cover. It's for the 8x10 inch landscape option. For a more impressive 10x12.5 inches (which would be my choice), the price for a 80-100 page book jumps to a prohibitive $210-$260!

Setting all this aside, I'm glad I tried out the AdoramaPix option. It might be a viable option for a one of a kind photographic portfolio to showcase one's photographs...a sort of monograph perhaps, but not as a commercially viable  photo book.

So it's back to exploring the Print On Demand route. I've had experience with Blurb before, and it was generally quite satisfactory. I tentatively discussed having the eventual "Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam" photo book printed in Hanoi, but there might be tax and other issues that can crop up... but I'll revive that option when I'm there next month.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2016 | Cape Town

Photo © Daylin Paul. All Rights Reserved

Registration in the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Cape Town, South Africa is now open!

Yes, you read that correctly. The Foundry Photojournalism Workshop will take place in Cape Town in mid July.

I've written a number of posts on this blog praising the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop, but it's certainly worth repeating this:

"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 and 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'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)."

But perhaps  you think that I, as one of the instructors, am being biased.

If so, here is what Neelima Vallangi, a participant in the just completed workshop in Bali, has written about her unique experience:

"Storytelling and especially visual storytelling is a difficult craft that needs a lot of honing and mentoring. Above all, it needs a lot inspiration. During the 5 years that I have taken up photography, never have I been inspired so much to tell a story, any story. It was always about getting one good shot, just an independent shot that fit nowhere in the arc of storytelling. Without a purpose, I was as lost as a fish out of water. I always just thought of making pretty pictures, now I see that even a landscape can have a story to tell."

For more of her post workshop experience, read here.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Charles Fourtree | Papua New Guinea

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 29 August 2015

POV: This Thing Called 'Vision'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Blank Lands | In Search of Zhuang Xueben

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Marylise Vigneau | Havana | About Time 1 & 2

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

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

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

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

Photo © Marylise Vigneau-All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Charles Fréger | Queens of Cebu (Sinulog)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 20 August 2015

POV | Bali's Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till the next Foundry Photojournalism Workshop!!!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Chin-Pao Chen | Betel Nut Girls

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Soegee Sugiarto | Tari Kecak


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 10 August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For those who like that sort of thing:

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

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Roger Anis | Closet Full of Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

The age-old Shahama must return to Egypt.

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Nguyễn Vi | The Fortune Teller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 31 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Agung Parameswara | Devotion

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

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

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

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

Monday, 27 July 2015

My Presentation | Foundry Photojournalism Workshop: Bali 2015

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

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

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

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

Photo © Komang Windu Gunawan

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Vlad Sokhin | Mozambican Witchdoctors

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

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

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

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

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

Vlad Sokhin is a documentary photographer, videographer and multimedia producer. He covers social, cultural, environmental, health and human rights issues around the world, including post-conflict and natural disaster zones. He worked on photo, video and radio projects, collaborating with various international media and with the United Nations and international NGOs. Vlad’s work has been exhibited and published internationally, including at Visa Pour L’Image and Head On photo festivals and in the International Herald Tribune, BBC World Service, the Guardian, National Geographic Traveler, GEO, ABC, NPR, The Atlantic, Stern, Le Monde, Paris Match, Esquire, Das Magazin, WIRE Amnesty International, Sydney Morning Herald, Marie Claire, The Global Mail, Russian Reporter and others.

He is fluent in English, Russian and Portuguese and also speaks Spanish and Tok Pisin (Papua New Guinea). He is currently also learning French and Arabic.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

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

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

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

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

So here we go:

Bottom row (left to right):

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

Middle Row (left to right)

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

Upper Row (left to right)

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

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

Time will tell.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Cristina Venedict | The Monk

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

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

And that is exactly what this photograph is all about.

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

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

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

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

POV | Mediocrity And Cronyism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And pay them.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Jacob Maentz | The Mansaka

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

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

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

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

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

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