Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Unique, The Skateboarder

Having noticed Unique David Starson in Washington Square Park, I approached him with my iPhone, on which there was one of my earlier photographs of a skateboarder, and asked whether he'd be interested in posing against a tree a few feet away. He was amenable to the idea, grabbed his board and posed. A skateboarder and an aspiring model, he told me he often dropped by the park with his friends.

I added these photographs to my NYC Photography website.

I used ON1 Photo Raw 2020 to replace the tree trunk that I had him stand against with a black opaque black background, and try to duplicate the setting of an indoor studio.  

Whenever and wherever I traveled, it has always been my regret not to have a lightweight backdrop support system (such as this one) coupled with a black muslin backdrop (such as this one) to quickly set up and photograph whoever I came across. It could also be very useful in Washington Square Park with the many interesting individuals that seem to congregate there.

Monday, 17 May 2021

The Thrashers | Washington Square Park

The Thrashers is a collection of photographs made of the skateboarders who practice their skills in New York City's Washington Square Park.
A 2009 report found that the skateboarding market is worth an estimated $4.8 billion in annual revenue, with 11.08 million active skateboarders in the world. In 2016, it was announced that skateboarding will be represented at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, for both male and female teams.

I also found an interesting article on Tony Hawk on The Guardian, which goes into the evolution of skateboarding over the years.

Readers can scroll on the right side of the above cover photograph to view the gallery in large format. Alternatively, here are the photographs in sequential order.
And others of "Salem" and "Jo Asia" using masking technique:

Sunday, 28 March 2021

I Am Not A "Virus"

These photographs were made during the AAPI Rally Against Hate in NYC's Columbus Park. March 21, 2021. The protestors demanded justice for the victims of recent shootings at massage businesses and to denounce racism, xenophobia and misogyny.

Hundreds of people of all ages and varied racial and ethnic backgrounds gathered in Columbus Park in Manhattan's Chinatown, and in similar rallies across the country.

All photographs © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved

Monday, 14 December 2020

Emile Bocian's Chinatown (Manhattan)


Photo © Emile Bocian | Courtesy of The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA).

The Museum of Chinese in America and The Center for Jewish History have just published a joint online exhibition featuring the photographs of Emile Bocian. These images document New York’s Chinese American community from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s.

During his years as a photojournalist in Chinatown, Bocian amassed an archive of approximately 120,000 photos and negatives, largely featuring the places and faces of his adopted neighborhood; which is the largest Museum of Chinese in America's photograph collection.

MOCA's exhibition website tells us that "Emile Bocian photographed Chinatown from 1974 to 1986, a period of extreme transition for the community. During the 1980s, the neighborhood saw rapid growth due to an influx of immigrants from Guangdong and Hong Kong. The New York Chinese community has continued to evolve and grow, expanding into Chinatowns in Brooklyn (Sunset Park) and Queens (Flushing)."

We are also told that Emile Bocian (1912-1990) was the son of Eastern-European Jewish immigrants, and was perhaps the only non-Asian resident of Chinatown’s iconic Confucius Plaza apartment complex at the intersection of Bowery, Doyers Street, and Division Street in the 1970s and 80s.

It's particularly interesting to me as I gifted about 40 high resolution monochromatic photographs to MOCA earlier this year. The photographs were made during my weekly walks in Chinatown during the earlier days of the COVID19 pandemic, when its streets were largely empty and devoid of their usual energetic bustle. I expect these photographs -whether they are exhibited in public or not- will serve as a historic record of Chinatown for generations to come. 

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Best of 2020

With international travel at a standstill for most of 2020 due to the pandemic, it's the first time that my "Best Of The Year" do not include -or are all of- photographs made on trips to foreign lands, but are of street photographs in New York City and of a fashion storytelling audio slideshow, also in NYC. These are not necessarily the best photographically or aesthetically, but are those which retrospectively resonated the most with me.

The first photograph (they are not in any preferential or chronological sequence) that I chose for the list is that of the hand of a protestor holding a sign demanding for a change in America. It was made on June 6 at a demonstration in Washington Square Park triggered by the murder of George Floyd by policemen two weeks earlier in Minneapolis. Due to Covid19, I was extremely concerned while attending the protests despite face masks/coverings being mostly prevalent. However, it was to witness history being made by courageous people hungry for a societal change.

For more: Stolen Lives and I Can't Breathe.

The next photograph was made on Bayard Street; in Manhattan's Chinatown on April 15...the peak of New York's lockdown. A depressing sight especially knowing that Bayard Street is normally abuzz with shoppers, tourists and workers. A lone elderly man, probably on a trip to buy essentials despite most stores were shuttered, was seen shuffling slowly in front of the popular grocery/meat store.

It was my first outing with cameras since the official lockdown, and I prepared myself as if going to a war zone...and took excessive precautions; a baseball cap, sunglasses, a mask and scarf over it...and avoided the few people who were out that morning. It wasn't too difficult to do so as Chinatown was almost deserted, but I was very uneasy and disheartened during the 2 hours spent there. 

For more: Chinatown In The Time of Covid19

Following the protests calling for Black Lives Matter and other grievances in various boroughs of New York City between May 30 and June 2, 2020, substantial looting and break-ins from criminal gangs were seen in the shopping districts of the city. As a consequence, unsightly wooden boards were erected to protect stores and boutiques from further damage. Some of Manhattan's SoHo streets witnessed a flurry of activity from artists and others aiming to use these boards as canvases for their art and messages.

It was emotionally invigorating to see the colorful artwork which brought life back to the shopping canyons of SoHo. I spent a pleasant few hours on June 7 walking along its cobblestone streets, photographing the artists, non-artists and random volunteers who contributed to the beautifying project.

For more: SoHo's Street Art

It was not until mid-summer that I started to see almost back to normal signs in Chinatown. I had recently added a 50mm lens to my GFX50R gear, and started to experiment photographing in panoramic format known as 65:24 or X-Pan. I had to explore the outer reaches of Manhattan's Chinatown for panos as its main streets such as Mott et al were too congested with vehicles to get the scenes I sought.

It was a long-awaited relief to photograph busy streets again, even if the large majority of people were wearing masks...which meant facial expressions could no longer "make the picture" as they did pre-pandemic. 

In Mid-May, signs of life were returning to Manhattan's Chinatown with shoppers scurrying about to buy their daily shopping...some were wearing gloves, masks and face-shields, and not even stopping to catch up on gossip as they delighted in doing a few months earlier. On Mott Street, I was struck by a long line of Chinese residents -mostly elderly, but a few younger- waiting for the distribution of free food by a small restaurant. The effort was funded by individual donations, and publicized by concerned politicians such as Yuh-Line Niou (NYS Assemby Member).

I uploaded this photograph to my Twitter account where it received over 3400 views. It features shopping bags hanging from the grille of a shuttered store...these bags were hung by their owners to reserve their spots on the line for the free food, while they stood on the other side of Mott Street where the sun was warmer.

As many other photographers have done while spending most of their days indoors, I experimented with still life photography. Flowers from a neighborhood florist (or Trader Joe's) became my models -either fresh or dried- set against a large sheet of black card stock, and with diffuse light from a window.

I include these dried flowers as a sort of reminder of this 'staying-indoors' period. I haven't had the patience for that sort of static photography for long, but this forced phase of still life photography gave me the chance to familiarize myself with my new GF 50mm f3.5 lens. 

The only project that provided the identical adrenaline I usually experience on my travel was a photo session with Lise Liu in Manhattan's Chinatown, and which allowed me to produce the audio slideshow "Looking For Mei Wu".  

I had researched the locations (Pell, Doyers and Mott Streets) beforehand, and it was a very enjoyable 2-3 hours of the morning of September 4. The preparation for the photo session and its post phase (editing the images and audio) reminded me how enjoyable such projects were when I worked on them in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

The Glorious Pain | Hát Tuồng

Here is an interesting cultural -and possibly - less known art form which still exists in Vietnam, albeit on its last legs. 

Hát Tuồng is one of the oldest art forms in Vietnam, and is said to have existed since the late 12th century. It’s believed to be influenced by Chinese opera performance techniques, but subsequently evolved and changed into a new form embodying Vietnamese characteristics and nature.

Per Wikipedia, the origin of tuồng is still unclear but is believed to have been imported from China around the 13th century when Vietnam was warring against the Mongol Dynasty. It was initially adopted by the Vietnamese imperial court, then trickled down to the peasantry through traveling troupes.

The Glorious Pain is a documentary film which tracks the journey of a small classical Vietnamese opera (tuồng) troupe and one of the very few still surviving, as it travels and performs through the Vietnam countryside. The characters who -in contrast to their royal roles behind the closed curtains, are commoners and peasants who struggle to make ends meet. The troupe is on the verge of disbandment with the main artists are facing penury. The future appears very bleak and will this art form disappear as many other traditional art forms have?

Having devoted a significant amount of time in documenting Chinese opera in its various forms and producing the photo book Chinese Opera of the Diaspora, it's almost a certainty that classical Vietnamese opera will not survive unless the Vietnamese government provides much need assistance in terms of funding, subsidy and providing its artists with employment. This is what the Chinese government has done, and its opera has - in most of its forms - survived and even flourished.

I came across Hát Tuồng for the first time in Hanoi (2012) during a photo expedition. The performance was held in an elegant theater near Hoàn Kiếm Lake, but the audience was embarrassingly sparse, and consisted of foreign tourists.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved

The Glorious Pain is produced by the Vietnamese Department of Entertainment Program and is part of a prominent documentary series of the Vietnam Television aired monthly during prime-time on VTV1 Channel. The Glorious Pain is also among the projects covering traditional culture of Vietnam which receive funding from the Film, Archive and Music Lab (FAMLAB). 

I was alerted to this documentary by Nguyễn Thị Hồng Ngọc; a friend and a freelance photographer based in Hanoi.

Unique, The Skateboarder

Having noticed Unique David Starson in Washington Square Park, I approached him with my iPhone, on which there was one of my earlier photogr...