Sunday, 10 May 2015

POV: A Synthesis of Ethno & Fashion Photography?

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
A recent off-the-cuff tongue-in-cheek post on my Facebook page set off quite a large number of "Like" as well as supportive commentary from other photographers, friends and followers. I was surprised that there was so many reactions to such a light-hearted post, and it made me reflect as to the reason behind the reactions.

First off, to paraphrase the well-known figure of speech referring to Helen of Troy, below is the face that launched a "thousand" reactions. It's a photograph of the South Korean model Kim Sung Heewhich I found on a random Tumblr blog. No photographer's name was given so I wasn't able to credit it properly as I always do to any photograph appearing on this blog.

Model: Kim Sung Hee-Source:
On the Facebook post, I said this: "When I Grow Up, I'm Going To Photograph Like This"...a self-deprecating comment that -in combination with the absolutely gorgeous portrait- garnered sympathetic attention.

Yes, I wouldn't mind having the opportunity of photographing models (after all, who wouldn't?) and I suppose I could if I were really serious and determined about it. There are many studios in New York City where I could get involved with in some capacity, and do some similar work.

But that's not really what I see myself doing. A controlled work environment, a studio, strobes, box diffusers, capricious models, make up artists... no, that's not my thing at all.

No, one of my visual interests is in ethno-photography, perhaps melded with a little ethnic-traditional fashion. 

I suppose the best way of defining this particular visual interest of mine is through the portrait I made of Ms Hường Đặng (top photograph) at Hanoi's Ngoc Son Temple. A Ca Tru musician, she wears the dress and headband in the style of the royals courts of Vietnam. To me, this photograph (and others of Ms Hường at the same location and elsewhere) exemplifies what I'm also interested in photographing while I travel. It's distinct from the environmental portraiture I normally do, because it relies on subjects wearing traditional and fashionable attire as fashion models do... in photogenic settings (such as temples, old houses, etc) but not at the locations where they normally live or work... or in the streets.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Having recently witnessed a number of hầu đồng ceremonies performed by attractive practitioners last month, I (unsuccessfully so far) tried to persuade some to be photographed in their costumes fashion model style. However, as these costumes are considered religious attire, and can only to be worn during ceremonies by the mediums when they are "visited' by the spirits, this will be probably impossible.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Here's another example of what I mean by ethno-photography I'm interested in. The photograph was made in the ancient Chinese Assembly Hall which was transformed into a temple dedicated to the Fujian deity named Thien Hau, the goddess of the sea, with the assistance of Ms Hiền Trang.

Is this fashion? Is it travel photography or is it ethno-photography in the classical sense? Is a synthesis of ethno and fashion photography? Perhaps. I don't know for sure, but it's a style that I certainly like doing.