Monday, 1 December 2014

The Travel Photographer's Favorites of 2014

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I'm perhaps jumping the gun; but anticipating an imminent flurry of "The Best of 2014" articles and posts, I decided to be ahead of the pack and feature my photographs which I view as being my overall favorites of this year. I'm not claiming these are my best. I leave it to others to make that judgement.

No, these are just my own personal favorites just because I like them, and because they remind me of the precise circumstances in which I was while making them...and I can "smell" and "feel" them.

One of these favorites is the one (above) of Flower H'mong women discussing the merits of a traditional skirt being offered for sale at the Bac Ha market in northern Vietnam. I processed it with Color Efex Pro4 software to give it this sort of blurry-glow effect, which I think works well with the dark wooden background.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Another of my 2014 favorites is a photograph made in the streets of Ha Noi's  Old Quarter. It's shot from the hip (as I often do when doing street photography), and shows two well-to-do affluent Vietnamese women doing their grocery shopping, while an older shopper uses her bicycle to carry her purchases. What made it one of my favorites is the contrast between the styles, the old and the new...the affluent and the less so. But despite the obvious contrast and different social status, both women in the foreground wear the traditional non quai thao conical hats, and shop at the same stores in the old neighborhood's maze of alleys and tiny streets.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
One of the streets of the Hanoi's Old Quarter is lined with traditional restaurants and coffee shops, and I spent a few hours ambling along it for photo opportunities to appear. Again shooting from the hip, I stood next to this woman waiting for the right scene to develop. I used a wide angle lens, and after a cursory look at me, she was oblivious to my presence.

I liked the contrasting scene of the older woman engrossed in a game of Candy Crush (I'm not kidding) on her iPad, while a woman street vendor approaches with a đòn gánh tre (bamboo carrying pole) perched on her shoulders.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
During my photo expedition-workshop to Vietnam in September, we spent a few days in Hoi An; one of my favorite towns in that wonderful country. I had arranged for a dawn photo shoot with a local photographer to photograph the traditional fishermen of Hoi An. We boated to the mouth of the Thu Bon River to photograph these large fishing nets, that are lowered into the water to catch fish during the night. They are slowly raised and lowered by the fishermen using foot-powered winches.

This is one of the many I made when the sun was rising at that photo shoot. I used my least favorite lens (18-135mm Fuji) with my Fuji X-T1, and was pleasantly surprised at its sharpness. The beads of water on the net prove that sharpness.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
While at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in La Antigua (Guatemala), I took to its cobblestone streets, and photographed during the annual fiesta of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala.

La Antigua's Parque Central is a magnet for the Maya vendors of traditional textiles, and this one was awaiting the influx of tourists and celebrants to peddle her wares. Her expression is that of resignation but I also saw a glint of hope in her eyes. The Maya face discrimination, isolation and poverty in Guatemala, and selling textiles and trinkets to tourists is often the only way to make a living.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Just before the parade started for the fiesta of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, this group of young women stood with their umbrellas deployed, waiting for the signal to march. I liked the way they were standing; anticipating the signal, nervous perhaps to take part in their town's main event... dressed to the nines in the Sunday best, and totally serious. It was not easy to photograph at this time of day, with intervals of bright sun and thick clouds.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
One of the most intense and difficult festival to photograph was India's Holi. Framing the frenetic action during the peaks of that festival, ducking handfuls of colored gulal, and avoiding being doused with water was a challenge, but one that -in retrospect- was not unenjoyable.

This particular photograph was made in the Banke Bihari temple, the "belly of the beast" and epicenter of Holi in Vrinadavan, the sacred city of Krishna. Unseen in this photograph is a stage where the Hindu priests periodically lift a curtain to reveal the deity, and every time the curtain is lifted the crowds go wild with fervor and joy. This sadhu caught a glimpse of the deity, and displayed his emotions by chanting and dancing. He might been also encouraged to overdo it by the presence of my cameras.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Here's another of my favorites made at the Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan during Holi showing the degree of faith and spiritual belief that has infused these three women in the presence the deity. Covered with colored powder, they had just made their way through the throngs of devotees and fell to the floor in reverence and supplication.

This photograph is one of many that exemplify the reason I am drawn to religious festivals in order to document the display of human beings' utter absence of artifice when in the presence of what they believe is a higher power.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
During my Sacred Cities photo expedition-workshop, we left the chaos of Holi in Vrindavan for a whole morning, and followed the pilgrims' trail for a few miles to the banks of the Yamuna river. It was there that I captured one of the pilgrims performing a personal puja by scooping water with one hand, and flicking her fingers. One can see the drops of water twirling above her head.

Contrary to what was happening just a few miles away in Vrindavan, this place was peaceful, and not a  sound marred its calm.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Not only is this photograph one of my favorites for 2014, but it was also made in one of my very favorite places in India; the dargah of Nizzam Uddin in Delhi.

Here again, this photograph was made by shooting from the hip. I was intrigued by the dynamics of this group of Indian Muslims, who had come to the Sufi shrine to seek some sort of spiritual fulfillment, and I captured the moment where the man in the center glared at the woman who is both recoiling and defiant at the same time. I don't know whether the man is her husband, father or a stranger she just sat next to. I don't know if he's rebuking her or whether he's coming on to her.

Whatever it is, it's certainly a story.