Saturday, 30 May 2020

RESURRECTION by Tewfic El-Sawy on Exposure

The word translated as "resurrection" comes from the Greek a·naʹsta·sis, which means "raising up" or "standing up again". I've been walking the streets of Manhattan's Chinatown on a weekly basis to photograph its evolution to what some now call "the new normal". 

This week, I witnessed a tangible revival of its commercial activities...and noted with appreciation how the vast majority of its residents were adhering to the precautionary directives issued by the City and the State. I saw signs of optimism amongst the retailers, and a return of normalcy on its narrow sidewalks exemplified by the "nainais" with their wheeled shopping bags filled with fresh produce, shrugging off my theatrical whelps when these occasionally hit my shins.

I also saw many efforts by the Chinese community to help its most vulnerable; whether by distributing free meals at the Chinese Community Center or at Mott 41.

Unlike my previous monochromatic photo essays documenting Manhattan's Chinatown during Covid-19, this photo essay is in color...slightly unnatural in a way to convey that it's not totally back to its feet yet, but is getting there.

My previous photo essays:

Part I of Chinatown In The Time of COVID-19 I is here.

Part II of Chinatown In The Time of COVID-19 is here.

Part III of Chinatown In The Time of COVID-19 is here.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

NYC's Chinatown During COVID-19

Manhattan's Chinatown is one of the oldest and largest concentrations of Chinese people outside of China. Still comprising more than 90,000 inhabitants as of today, its colorful banners and bustling street marketplaces were a persistent fixture of lower Manhattan. I use the past tense here because Chinatown (and there are many more in New York and elsewhere in the United States) has been hit hard by the lockdown orders imposed by New York State due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

Chinatown in lower Manhattan can trace its history to Guangzhou-born businessman Ah Ken; the first person to permanently settle on Mott Street where he opened a cigar shop on Park Row in 1858.

The decline of the mining business on the West Coast of the United States pushed the earliest Chinese immigrants to the East Coast, and Mott Street became the center of these immigrants willing to take low-paying jobs in cigar-rolling and textiles.

Having the good fortune of living not far from Chinatown, I often walked its busy, narrow streets from Chatham Square’s statue of Lin Zexu, a Qing dynasty official who led the fight against Britain’s illegal importation of opium; the odd pagoda-style roof and Buddhist temple; and the atmospheric Doyers Street, with its basement bars and a famous tea parlor...listened to the rather discordant singing in Columbus Park and even photographed a number of Cantonese operas at the Chinese Community Center for my Chinese Opera of the Diaspora photo book.

It's been over two months at least since restaurants in New York City closed because of the viral outbreak. Some believe that many of the businesses might not survive, and don't think Chinatown as we know it, will ever be the same again. As stay-at-home policies were gradually instituted, Chinatown — along with other high-traffic destination Manhattan neighborhoods like Midtown — further emptied, leaving haunted, vacant streets with a fraction of its businesses still operating. Whereas there had previously been almost 300 restaurants in Chinatown, almost all have closed except for a handful who survive by offering take-out and delivery. 

Over the past 4 weeks or so, I've witnessed a few strands of normalization in the neighborhood's activities. There were progressively more pedestrians and shoppers in some of the streets that have grocery stores and pharmacies. Social distancing was observed on the grocery lines; some of which snaked for half a block. Facial masks were seen in Chinatown early on in 2020. Mask wearing may be the reason for the low incidence of Covid-19 hospitalizations amongst Asians.

On May 7 I sensed a little " exhalation" after the long breath holding since mid-March, and even much earlier by this community. I witnessed an extraordinary long line waiting for tellers at a local snaked for a few blocks. Was it because Thursday is a traditional payday? Some of the small-time vegetable and fruit sellers were back, doing a brisk business in selling their fresh produce. There was also a long line for free food distributed by the Chinese Community Centre. 

Notwithstanding widespread closures, I felt a sense of hope, and of stoic resignation which I believe underscores the resilience of the people of Chinatowns everywhere.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

New York City Rhapsody | Adorama

Here's a wonderful movie titled New York Rhapsody that will make every New Yorker (and others who love this city) feel emotional and forgive it all of its sins. As Roger Cohen of the New York Times wrote in an equally beautiful Op-Ed; "Come Back , New York, All Is Forgiven".

The film, all shot in New York City, features a single day snapshot of the lives of three individual creatives. A wedding photographer, a filmmaker, and a musician show us the city and their craft through their eyes.

Sal D'Alia, Content Producer at Adorama, tells us he wanted to make a love letter to the city, and  that would also show the hustle and the passion of every artist in this city. His original plan was to shoot every day for one year, and then make a portrait of what happens in the city. He wanted to focus the story on creatives who pour their dreams into this city and try to make a living with their passion.

For more in making this film, go to Behind The Scenes.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

POV: Painting With Light Photography

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Under the lockdown, and with limited opportunities to immerse myself in street photography (and certainly none whatsoever for travel), I've looked for other ideas to exercise my shutter finger. There's a ton of YouTube videos that offer creative ideas; some of which are truly interesting.

One of those ideas is what is called "painting with light photography"...which in its simplest form is nothing more than using a flashlight to light the object that you want to “paint”. The flashlight can be like a brush that smears the light on that object, or used to light a specific area/spot on the object. 

The latter is the technique I used for both examples.

The keys to successful results are a dark room, a tripod, one or two flashlights...and patient experimenting. I used a Leica M9 on manual, using the self-timer and a longish shutter speed. While the shutter opens, I illuminated the Buddhas for as long as it was open.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I tried on other Buddhas that are monochromatic, and found that those with colors (especially red or gold) looked much better because the light enhanced the contrast between the colored areas and surrounding darkness.

For the upper frame, I used Leica M9 and a Voigtlander 40mm at 1/15th, 400 iso and opened at f1.6. For the lower frame, I used the same hardware but the lens wide open at f1.4.

I then used ON1 software to warm up the two frames, as the beam from flashlight is too blue for my liking.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Sanitized Travel After Covid-19?

As a travel photographer, I'm obviously very keen -not only to travel again (safely)- but to imagine what would the procedures be which might be adopted by airlines and airports when international and domestic travel is allowed. 

The pre-Covid19 travel mechanisms will, in all likelihood, never return and in their place more regimented and tight restrictions will be implemeted. 

SimpliFlying, which describes itself as the world’s leading aviation marketing consulting firm, has put up a number of reports that provides us with scenarios in how future travel may look like. We will soon know whether all of these become reality or not, but certainly there will be some changes and restructuring in the way we will travel. 

Sunday, 26 April 2020

POV: The Usefulness of LUTs

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I had no idea what a LUT was until recently when I started to post process my photographs using ON1, a well regarded photo editing software. LUT is the acronym for Look Up Table, and is a file that converts a range of colors in an image to another range of essence, they're filters which can help in achieving a certain look and feel.

LUTs are incredibly useful to photographers who - like me - are loath in spending tons of time fiddling with their photographs in order to achieve the result they seek. You can describe them as presets or filters, if you these are typically applied as a filter or a layer within photo editing programs.

They are calibrated to work with properly exposed images, and can help with color grading, but not necessarily with color correction. LUTs are good at creating vintage, cinematic and matte looks (color grading stuff), some black and white looks as well as split toning...but they they can’t do a good job at things like adjusting highlights and shadows, nor sharpening, blurring, noise reduction et al.

Here's a screen grab of the above photograph that I made in Shanghai with the help of Tian Yi Yi who took the role of Ruan Ling-Yu, the late actress who was the subject of my photo-shoot. 

I used one of my favorite LUTs that I created and called Old Style YiYi. It gives the photograph a color grading that I sought to impart a sense of warm "old world" which matched the color of the wood of the windows.

The original photograph straight out of the camera (in this case Fuji GFX50R/45mm) and un-cropped is here:

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved

Monday, 20 April 2020

POV | Example -The Usefulness of Mood Boards

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved

In my previous post, I wrote about the usefulness of mood boards; especially when discussing with the models/friends the concepts for the photo sessions, and how they help me overcome any language difficulties -if any- with the photo shoot team.

I thought I'd illustrate this usefulness with an actual example from a photo session in Shanghai a year posting one of my photographs (top) of Ms. Tian Yi Yi alongside another photograph I had found on Pinterest that I liked and added to my mood board.

I sent the Pinterest photo to a photographer friend in Shanghai who thought it had been taken at the Shanghai Film Park in Chendun which has sets of urban 1930 Shanghai. His ample "Rolodex" provided Tian Yiyi; a model who fit the persona of Ruan Ling-Yu, the late actress who was to be the subject of my photo-film The Immortal.

The film park opened in 1998, the 400,000-square-meter compound hosted the production of more than 100 films and TV series every year, with titles like "Lust, Caution," "Perhaps Love" and "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor."

When the team and I were there, we walked up to the main square and true enough, the tram on its tracks was waiting. It was most probably the same as in the original photograph, although it actually looked a little less spruced up. 

Tian Yi Yi, all dolled up in her qi pao/cheongsam, pretended to be a passenger alighting from the tram...and as they say, the shot was "in the can".

Saturday, 18 April 2020

My Work | Chinatown's Lockdown

Chinatown's Lockdown by Tewfic El-Sawy on Exposure  (Scroll Down on Image)

On April 15, 2020 (and April 22) I chanced out of self isolation with my camera for a walk though the neighborhood of Chinatown to view for myself how the NYC lockdown had affected its shops, restaurants and other small businesses. It was my first outing with a camera, and I was apprehensive as to what I would find.

I restricted my walk to Grand Street, Mott, Pell and Bayard...streets I knew very well from my frequent street photography outings, and which had restaurants and businesses I had been to and enjoyed. 

Having read that knowledgeable people thought the businesses might not survive, and didn't think Chinatown, as we know it, will ever be the same again, I was hoping they had been overly pessimistic. After my walk, I saw faint glimmers of hope but realized that to bring Chinatown back to where it had been, will take enormous effort and investment. It's been done after 9.11 so there's always hope it will rise again.

As stay-at-home policies were gradually instituted, Chinatown — along with other high-traffic destination Manhattan neighborhoods like Midtown — further emptied, leaving haunted, vacant streets with a fraction of its businesses still operating. Whereas there had previously been almost 300 restaurants in Chinatown, almost all have now closed except for a handful who survive by offering take-out and delivery. I hope these will persevere, grow and pull the rest of Chinatown's small businesses. I added captions under the photographs for more information.

I purposefully darkened my photographs in post processing, to reflect the situation. 

Subject to there being no deterioration in the COVID-19 situation, I hope to return to Chinatown on a weekly basis and continue photographing its streets and stores and in so doing, keep my finger on its pulse.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

POV: The Usefulness of Mood Boards

Photo © Steven Hom Photography | All Rights Reserved
Before embarking on producing ethnic fashion photo stories and photo-films, I had never heard of the term 'mood board' and no knowledge of what it was for. It was on my third or fourth photo shoot in Kuala Lumpur in 2018 that I was told what it was and how useful it could be. 

Since I go beyond the norms of a regular fashion shoot with my photo film stories (like this one) by merging photographs and audio, I have to begin with a concept, and research a story line based on the life of a legendary actress, a historical or imaginary event such as the 1930s in Shanghai, or a fantasy story

Once the story line is chosen, I can move to the next step of creating a story board that helps me arrange the sequence of poses, the wide angle shots and close-ups, and the facial expressions of the model who will help me in the project. To help in that, I dig in various sources for images to gather as many as possible to guide me in how to set up the poses, and what to ask the model to imitate. 

So this is where and when the mood board kicks in. The mood board is a collection of images (usually not your own) that helps to visually communicate the direction of the shoot. 

Photo © Jimmy Lee Lee | All Rights Reserved
I also found a mood board also incredibly useful when conferring with the models/friends before starting the photo sessions. In the case of the audio photo stories, I usually sent them the script(s) for the short story(ies) and a selection of the images I liked from the mood board ahead of my arrival to the country or city where we would work. This allowed them to train for the voiceover and narration, as well as the poses I anticipated asking of them.

The mood board's help is also invaluable when there are language difficulties between me as the photographer and the model(s) and stylists (if any). In some cases, I just pointed at a particular image whose pose I liked, and it was done.

The sources for my mood board were/are mainly from Pinterest, and a few from Twitter. Since these images are only for inspirational and guidance purposes, I'm not infringing on any rights.

A Small Sample of my Mood Board

Monday, 13 April 2020

My Work | Lockdown "Hallucinations"

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
What happens to this travel photographer used to documenting exotic locales and photogenic people during a seemingly endless lockdown due to a pandemic ? Well, for one thing...he starts hearing voices coming from his GFX50S and GFX50R cameras. Yes, whiny voices rebelling at the enforced idleness, and refusing to work on any nascent still life photography efforts.  The cameras' constant whining that they had been promised trips to Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong and even Tokyo during 2020, and that he was now reneging on these promises, started to affect his mental state...and he was now clearly hearing these whines. 

These 'hallucinations' -that's what they are- started when he was setting up the spices and props as per the above photograph. The cameras sullenly refused to work when brought in to photograph it. Their batteries were flat; their menus refused to show and the message was loud and clear; "you did not buy us for this! " they moaned. It's only the considerable pressure and threats of being ignominiously sold on eBay that made them do their job.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
As the travel photographer was busy preparing the second still life which involved an ancient Chinese water opium pipe, the GFX50S scurried to his side expressing an interest in being used for it, if and only if, it was allowed to take a puff or two on the pipe. The request was reluctantly granted (as it was still a minor), but the photo shoot was a success.

With the lockdown very possibly extending into the month of May, this photographer is bracing for continued resistance from the two Fuji GFX50 cameras that will still be strident in their disapproval at being used for still life photography instead of reveling in exotic places...but tempting them with a few puffs on the opium pipe might do the trick.

To be continued...

Saturday, 11 April 2020

My Work | The Wasted Years

wasted years by Tewfic El-Sawy on Exposure                      SCROLL DOWN ON THE IMAGE

The Wasted Years is my latest gallery of Yi Yi's photographs which were made in Shanghai's Guilin Park (桂林公园). I chose a title that reflects our current situation in being locked up (or in isolation) at home during the COVID19 virus (although I certainly hope it won't extend to more than a couple of months and not years), and because I was recently influenced by a Chinese thriller movie named The Wasted Times, starring the gorgeous Zhang Ziyi.

Although the photographs from this photo shoot were not destined for The Wasted Years gallery, I chose a handful of these photographs to illustrate a fictitious Shanghai gangster moll, a long-suffering but loyal girlfriend of a ruthless triad boss, wasting her youth and beauty in Shanghai between 1934 and the end of the war in 1945. It helped that 
Yiyi had been very quick to "adapt" to the feel of this Shanghai era, and had all the accessories needed to play the part; the opium pipe, the fake fur stole, the yellow fan and the high heels.

To give the photographs a semblance of authenticity, I used a combination of filters in ON1 2020 to achieve the "old" look preset.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Dzung Yoko | Miss Saigon

My interest in "photo films", merging Asian fashion and storytelling based on Asian history and legends, has continued unabated despite the downtime (also known as 'isolation') forced upon us all by the Covid19 pandemic. I had made travel plans to spend two weeks or so in Tokyo in early January, cancelled them in favor of Taipei a couple of weeks later...only to cancel them a few days later.

I haven't come across similar 'photo films' yet, but I was recently directed to the work of the Vietnamese visual artist Dzung Yoko (real name is Trần Hoàng Dũng), and I was stunned by his photography which was made into the aesthetically delicate Miss Saigon short video above by The Red Team based in Hanoi.

The very short video is an advert for Miss Saigon, a perfume bottled in the shape of a Vietnamese woman wearing the traditional Ao dai and a non la, the eponymous conical leaf hat.

Trần Hoàng Dũng is considered to be one of Vietnam’s top visual artists. He graduated from University of Architecture in 1998, and has been known as one of the leading visual creators in Vietnam with award-winning music album cover designs for the country’s top artists. He has held the position of Creative Director of international fashion titles in Vietnam such as ELLE and L’OFFICIEL magazines.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Alessandra Meniconzi | Canon EOS R | Mongolia

Photo © Alessandra Meniconzi | Source: Canon Europe
One of my very favorite travel photographers is Alessandra Meniconzi*, a Switzerland-based Canon Ambassador and a true globetrotter who preceded most of us to the remote corners of the world. I cam to know Alessandra's work through her wonderful book "Hidden China" which she graciously gifted me a few years ago.

"Never behave like the paparazzi, always be polite and respectful. 
The subject has their pride; they are not an object, but a person like you."

Her work has always been focused on the ancient heritage and customs of indigenous people, and she has recently spent a few years documenting the traditions of Mongolia's nomadic people, by establishing connections within their communities, particularly in the Altai Mountains in the far west, where Mongolia meets Kazakhstan. Her work has been published by Canon-Europe to advertise for the EOS R, and can be found here.

Supplementing her remarkable images, Alessandra also shares her shooting philosophy when she's out in the field. 

I found her approach, while not exclusive, to portraiture to be very practical and useful. She chooses to have her subjects posed against a black background in a dark room or, if not possible, she uses her own black fabric to hang behind the subjects as backgrounds. This enhances the Mongolian costumes, and brings out their colors.

* Alessandra's website is password protected.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

L'Amant | Vietnam Airlines Heritage Magazine

Photo Courtesy Vietnam Airlines Magazine - © Tang Tang 
In late January, I was planning a two weeks trip first to Japan but when it registered a large number of Covid19 cases, I switched to Taiwan as it had managed to prevent an outbreak, only to find that my hometown of New York City had started to witness some cases. 

I cancelled my flights and my hotel stay...and with all my contacts in both Tokyo and Taipei understanding the circumstances, I resolved to stay put, but naturally very disappointed at the unavoidable turn of events.

I had planned to produce a number of photo films (like this one) with the participation of friends and models. The one I was anticipating the most is based on Marguerite Duras' 1984 autobiography "L'Amant" which was set in 1929 French Indochina.

Photo Courtesy Vietnam Airlines Magazine - © Tang Tang 

In my photo-film, I intended to switch the roles around by having the role of the nameless girl (Ms Duras herself) played by -depending on where I had been- either a Japanese or Taiwanese model and the role of her lover, a Western expatriate who would remain invisible. 

I had a handful of different plots for the 3-1/2 minute photo-film, but the one I leaned into the most would center on an clandestine romance between the Asian girl from a financially strapped family and an infatuated Western photographer.

Unfortunately, the virus' rapid spread all over the world puts a stop to such plans for the foreseeable future, but it's only a matter of time when normalcy will return.

The in-flight Vietnam Airlines magazine is probably one of the most attractive I've seen in all my travels.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Havana's Chinatown | Lok Pok-chi

Photo © Lok Pok-chi - All Rights Reserved
I make it a daily habit to read the South China Morning Post, and was very interested in an article that appeared on its pages a few days ago. It tells us the story of Lok Pok-chi, a photographer born in Hong Kong and based in Kansas, who accidentally met Caridad Amaran, a 90-year old talented singer of Chinese opera in Havana.

When they met, she scrubbing oil off a Chinese printing press with a kerosene-soaked toothbrush. Ms. Amaran has been performing since childhood, and is still an active singer. She is one of the subjects featured in photographer Lau Pok-chi’s latest solo exhibition, “Chinese Diaspora”. I couldn't find a link to it, but I did locate a short video featuring Lok Pok-chi and her, (starting at 07:35) amongst other images of Havana.

For more on Lok Pok-chi, here's a link to his website.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Patrice Delmotte | The Passionate Photographer

Photo © Patrice Delmotte with Jan Farn Chi as Lady Chi.
I've had the good fortune of meeting -and briefly working with- Patrice Delmotte in Taipei at the end of 2018, during an all too short visit to the island. It was a visit long overdue, and the first visit while in my second career as a photographer. I had previously traveled to Taipei years ago during my banking life, and it gave me my first dose of Sinophilia, especially as traveling to mainland China at the time was not as easy as it is now.

A few months ago, I decided to revisit Taipei and eventually linked up with Patrice again, expressing my interest in producing a few photo-films that would merge fashion and Chinese opera storytelling. Very willing, he quickly connected me with one of his favorite muses, the stunning Ms Jan Farn Chi. He also sent me samples of his own lovely work with her; some of which I add to this post. I was excited at the prospect of teaming up with Patrice and Jan Farn, working in a studion setting as well as in other external venues.

Photo © Patrice Delmotte with Jan Farn Chi as Lady Chi.
Photo © Patrice Delmotte with Jan Farn Chi as Lady Chi.
Plans were made, and days for the photo shoots were tentatively set when my flights and hotel booking were finalized. Not only would I produce Chinese opera-fashion photo films, but I would also work on other projects which would include portraits of Chinese street opera performers. 

Unfortunately, all these projects had to be shelved due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus in Asia. While Taiwan has been remarkably successful in containing its impact, it had started to appear in New York City, and it was deemed wiser to postpone the trip. I am confident that these plans will come to fruition in a month or two.

Patrice Delmotte describes himself as a passionate photographer, who has been living in Taipei since 1979. He started photography in 2005, and is now a full time photographer influenced by Sebastião Salgado. Most of his work is in black and white, some produced in his own studio and others on external sites (either in Taipei or Bali). He is a prolific author of photo books, with more than 50 self published; some of which are artful NSFW.

Much of Patrice's works can be viewed on his Instagram page, and on his website. He has exhibited his photographs in galleries in Taipei and Bali, and gives workshops in Bali as well.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Vietnam's Ca Trù & The Google Doodle

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I'm very pleased that Google Doodle; the special, temporary alteration of the logo on Google's home pages intended to commemorate holidays, events, achievements, and notable historical figures, has featured the ancient art of Ca Trù on February 23, 2020 which coincided with its day in Viet Nam. The 'doodle" is by Xuan Le, an artist in Ho Chi Minh City.

The illustration depicts a typical Ca Trù performance, with a female singer playing the phach (a bamboo bar beaten with small wooden sticks), accompanied by a man playing the dan day, a long-necked, three-string lute used exclusively for this art form. It also features a judge (left) who strikes a drum in praise or disapproval of the singer’s performance, usually done after every passage of the song.

Google tells us that Ca Trù fits somewhere in between the geisha ceremonies of Japan and the dramatic performances of opera. Its unique sound has roots that stretch back to the 11th century. First gaining popularity as entertainment for the aristocracy of Vietnam’s royal palaces, it later made its way into the inns and communal spaces of what is now modern-day Hanoi.

In 2015, I attended a number of these Ca Trù performances in an old house in the center of Hanoi's Old Quarter. I was granted permission to photograph at will from various corners of the 'stage', which resulted in The Ancient Art of Ca-Tru galley.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Chunyun 春運 | The Largest Human Migration

"Chunyun", the world's largest annual human migration takes place every Chinese New Year. This cultural phenomenon consists of over three billion passenger-journeys, largely for the purpose of spending treasured time with family. It usually begins 15 days before Lunar New Year's Day and lasts for around 40 days.

Of the phenomenal 3 billion journeys, 2.43 billion trips will be made by automobile, 440 million by rail, 79 million by air and 45 million by sea. Already boasting the world's largest rail network, China has built 8,489 kilometers (about 5,275 miles) of new railway lines in 2019, including 5,474 kilometers of high-speed rail.

The documentary was produced by Jonathan Bregel, and additional information about it can be found on Directors Cut.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

G. Venket Ram | Recreations of 19th Century Paintings

Photo © G. Venket Ram | All Rights Reserved
An Indian photographer was inspired by famous paintings from the 19th century, and recreated them into 12 exquisite photographs for a 2020 calendar, which can be viewed in a slideshow. Venket Ram chose some of renowned Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma's masterpieces and using South Indian actors, recreated them with carefully constructed photographs. In the image for this post, he chose Aishwarya Rajesh (an Indian film actress of Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films) depicting the Rani of Pudukottai.

Raja Ravi Varma was an Indian painter and artist, considered as one of the greatest painters in the history of Indian art. He was renowned for his amazing paintings, which revolve mainly around the ancient mythological stories known as the Puranas, and the Mahabharata and Ramayana. the great Indian epics. 

As for G Venket Ramhe is a commercial photographer based in Chennai, India. For over 18 years, he's been working with various advertising agencies & publishing houses across India. He photographer adveritisng campaigns for Ponds, Reebok, Citibank, Cadbury's, Pepsi, Mirinda, Coca Cola, Fanta, Airtel, Tata Sky, ITC Limited, Aircel, Tata Docomo, Nescafe, Taj Group of Hotels, Samsung, amongst others. His photographs also appeared in well known magazines.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

China’s ‘Mermaid’ Hezhen People | SCMP

Here's a slightly off-beat post on China's Hezhen people, who are also known as "The Fish-Skin People". 

The Hezhen are famous their fish skin clothes. Making such clothes is a dying tradition, as it's complicated and time consuming.  The process starts by taking the full skin of a silver carp and drying dry it. The second step is to remove the fish scales and hammer the skin with wooden mallet to soften it, and making it as soft as cotton cloth. The final step is to sew the fish skin with silver carp skin threads and fashion it into clothes.   

One of the Hezhen women involved in making the fish skin clothes spent five years making 33 pieces. After the fish skins are sun-dried, she would roll a wooden rod on the skins until flat as paper. Rather than pounding the skin with a mallet, she used her bare hands to rub the fish skins thousands of times until they were as soft as a piece of cotton fabric.

The Hezhen have been eating raw fish since long before sushi was invented. They also eat fish skin, fish eggs, and soft fish bones in a raw state.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

My Work | Inspiration From Old Photographs

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I've immersed myself in the ethos of 1930s Shanghai for a few years now,both from visual and historical viewpoints. In the 1930s, Shanghai was a thriving commercial center, but was also known for every kind of vice. Its golden years ended in 1937, when Japan invaded.

Shanghai entered its most prosperous era at the start of the thirties, with a population of about 3 million, it ranked fifth among the world’s great cities in population. As it grew in wealth and sophistication, it became known as the “Paris of the Orient,” a mecca for the rich and famous of the time.

The pursuit of pleasure was second only to the pursuit of wealth. Both foreigners and Chinese patronized nightclubs, movie theaters, and dance halls. Opium was readily available, and thousands of prostitutes worked in an environment that included brothels, gambling, and drugs. Shanghai between the wars became a home to those with nowhere else to go, such as "White" Russians fleeing Soviet control, Jews escaping persecution, criminals on the run from justice, or just those with few prospects elsewhere.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
With that interesting history in mind, I produced a number of 'photo-films' which involved Chinese models living in Shanghai who helped me tell stories of betrayal, legends and famous silent movie actresses which can be viewed on my Vimeo channel.

These photo-films used regular color or monochrome photographs, however I decided to age-process some photographs using a special "sauce" (as some photographers like to say) using a combination of filters in the Nik Collection; namely the Analog Efex Pro and the Color Efex Pro suite of tools. 

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved

Sunday, 26 January 2020

The Travel Photographer Blog's Thirteenth Anniversary

Photo © Benjamin Fan - All Rights Reserved
The Travel Photographer blog was born on the 24th of January 2007...thirteen years ago....or roughly 4,680 days ago.

Since then, it registered about 4,250,000 unique views and published over 3500 posts. It has gone through a number of iterations over the years, reflecting my evolving interests and focus (geographically from India to Viet Nam to China, as an example).

The frequency of posts slowed down somewhat in 2019 as I was busy with my Chinese Opera of the Diaspora photo book. 

Let's see what 2020 will bring.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Hon Hoang | Fall With Me

One of my favorite movie directors is Wong Kar-wai; the Chinese film director whose art films are characterized by nonlinear narratives, atmospheric music, and vivid cinematography involving bold, saturated colors as seen in the evocative 'In The Mood For Love' starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, about an unconsummated romantic relationship.

So here is a short movie titled 'Fall With Me' by Hon Hoang, a Vietnamese-American photographer and film maker currently based in Los Angeles. This short movie is about leaving a life one has made, and follows the story of a couple, moments before they go their own separate way. 

It's reminiscent of Wong Kar-wei's work in terms of saturated colors, dark and moody scenes and the unconsummated, or cut short, relationship. How many of us would disagree with " In life, in love, you either end up resenting or regretting" uttered by the sultry actress Lyena Kang.

Hon Hoang is a freelance photographer and videographer, and is involved in various photography projects such as EnFlight.Design and Asia Photo Review. EnFlight.Design is a web site devoted to the production, publication, and education in photography, design and cinema.

Asia Photo Review is a community to showcase the best photography being produced from Asia and Asian photographers around the world, whose goals are to promote honest reflections of these countries and the stories the inhabitants have to tell.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Anna May Wong | Google Doodle

Anna May Wong (Photo © Edward Steichen. Colorized by Miko2660) 
On January 22, Google Doodle (the special, temporary alteration of the logo on Google's homepages intended to commemorate holidays, events, achievements, and notable historical figures) celebrated Anna May Wong (1905–1961), considered to be the first Chinese-American Hollywood movie star. The date marks 97 years since the release of The Toll of the Sea, the movie in which Wong had her first leading role.

Wong was born in Los Angeles, California, as Wong Liu Tsong on January 3, 1905. Wong's family was from Taishan, China, and she grew up speaking both English and Cantonese. Deciding she wanted to be a movie star, Wong chose Anna May Wong as her stage name when she was just 11.

She was on the big screen from the 1920s to the 1960s. Though she was cast in mostly narrow, stereotypical roles early in her career in the US, she moved to Europe in the late 1920s where she worked with some of the biggest names of the day like Laurence Olivier and Marlene Dietrich. Her move to Europe -where she became a sensation- was because she was tired of being both typecast and being passed over for lead Asian character roles in favor of non-Asian actresses.

Enticed by the promise of lead roles and top billing, she returned to the United States, and starred in a number of films. In both America and Europe, Wong had been seen as a fashion icon for over a decade. 

Through her films, public appearances and prominent magazine features, she helped to humanize Chinese Americans to white audiences during a period of intense racism and discrimination.

One of the Google Doodle:

Monday, 20 January 2020

China Dolls | Nathalie Daoust | Dodho Magazine

Photo © Nathalie Daoust - All Rights Reserved
Nathalie Daoust's Wikipedia page tells us that her China Dolls project is a study of contemporary Chinese women, the role(s) they have in society and the consequences of the country's one child policy. Most of her compelling portraits can best be viewed on Dodho magazine's website.

These portraits were individually made in a darkened room, to spotlight the subjects who have “remained in shadows.”  Using a specially constructed human-sized box, so they could sit in the dark, alone with their thoughts, they were photographed with light painting.

Each black and white print is hand colored and printed on ceramic tile, reinforcing the notion of the ‘China Doll’ and reflecting the fragile situation of the modern Chinese woman.

Ms Daoust travelled to China in 2006 for an artist residency with the Red Gate Gallery and fell in love with the culture. Since then, she has looked for any excuse to return to China and has spent many months exploring the country.

Nathalie Daoust is a Canadian photographer and contemporary artist. Using space and light as avenues through which to examine the creation of self, she constructs worlds that lay bare the conflicting impulses that drive us. She created several conceptual projects that have taken her all over the world, from the love hotels of Tokyo, to a brothel in Brazil, to a darkroom in Sydney, to the dreamy landscape of the snow-capped Swiss Alps.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Bamboo Theaters | Hong Kong

Readers of this blog are well aware of my recent fascination with Chinese opera which culminated in the production of my sixth photo book "Chinese Opera of the Diaspora". My photographic work documenting this ancient art form took over two years, and had me travel many times to Hong Kong, amongst other countries and cities.

However, it was in Hong Kong that became familiar with the term "bamboo theaters". Having spent time at the venues where performances were to be held, I witnessed the rapid erection of these makeshift structures a few days (or even hours) before the various festivals and deities' anniversaries. In other countries, wooden poles rather than bamboo are used for such street theaters.

Bamboo is the traditional material to build these theaters in Hong Kong, but some still fear that bamboo scaffolding be replaced by metal or wood structures used elsewhere, but others do not believe think bamboo theaters will be replaced.
Film director director Cheuk Cheung has recently work on his third documentary on Chinese opera titled Bamboo Theatre. His first two were My Way and My Next Step.

Bamboo Theater deals with the architecture of these structures, and features villages around Hong Kong, such as Sai Kung, Po Toi, High Island and Peng Chau, that regularly build bamboo theaters to celebrate the birth of Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea. The construction of these traditional bamboo theaters requires no nails, no glue and no tools of any kind. The bamboo poles are just latched together with bindings.

The majority of these operas are produced by small local troupes and staged by residents’ associations.

The documentary's Facebook page tells us that it followed the ritual practices in various villages and remote islands of Hong Kong for two years. It documents this traditional cultural space, its way of building and dismantling, as well as the collaborative work of troupes’ performers, stage managers and wardrobe.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Portraits of China

PORTRAITS OF CHINA by Tewfic El-Sawy on Exposure

I read that Picasso had a number of 'phases' for his art. He went through his Blue Period which depicted gaunt people in gloomy settings, and then circus and harlequin subjects. The predominant color of that phase was a melancholy blue. It was followed by a Rose Period which depicted romantic, delicately treated subjects in pale pink.

I am going through a 'greenish' phase, probably influenced by Japanese photographers who seem to favor color grading of green, grey and taupe for their work.  

From the photographs made in Shanghai and Beijing over the past couple of years, I chose about two dozen that lent themselves well to a green color grading that emulates a cinematic 'feel'. These are part portraits and street photographs...some are posed while others were made on the fly.

These can be viewed either on my website or on my YouTube channel (accompanied by the lovely voice of Zhou Xuan).

To achieve the color grading* I liked and depending on the original color of the images, I used a combination of post processing software such as Alien Skin Exposure, ON1 and Color Efex. 

*Color grading is the process of enhancing the color, saturation, and contrast of an image. Photographers use it to create specific moods in their photos.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Apple's Chinese New Year's "Daughter"

Apple has marked the Chinese New Year* with its latest "Shot on iPhone" video, a short film recorded on the iPhone 11 Pro featuring three generations of Chinese women gathering together for the annual event. 

The short movie features the generational differences between a mother and daughter about the life that she and her child lead. It’s a film about pride, acceptance, and family. Theodore Melfi, the director of the film, is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker who received his nominations after co-writing, directing and producing Hidden Figures, a film about the role that black female mathematicians played during the space race. Hidden Figures received nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Lawrence Sher, the film’s cinematographer, is best known for this work on Garden State and The Hangover series. Most recently, he served as Director of Cinematography for Todd Phillip’s ‘Joker’ film which just won Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture for Joaquin Phoenix’s depiction of the villain at the Gloden Globe awards.

The film stars Zhou Xun, China’s leading actress, known for her performances in ‘The Equation of Love and Death’, ‘The Banquet’, and ‘Perhaps Love’. The last film earned her a Best Actress award in the Hong Kong Film Awards.

A behind the scenes trailer has also been featured on YouTube which demonstrates the versatility of the iPhone 11 as a film-making the hands of an expert cinematographer and his crew.

*According to the Chinese zodiac, it'll be the year of the Rat. According to a folktale, the Jade Emperor decided that the order of the animals would be determined according to the order by which they arrived at his party by crossing a river. The rat cleverly convinced the ox to give him a ride. Just as the ox waded the river, it jumped off its back and was the first to arrive.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Chinese Opera of the Diaspora | Photo Book

After a 2-year journey that took me in the world of Chinese opera, my latest 166 pages hard cover photo book Chinese Opera of the Diaspora was published by Blurb. Due to contractual terms agreed with its sponsor, it's not currently available for sale, however I produced a short video with samples of its pages/photos.

The genesis for the book is multi-faceted. Following my equally long photo book project documenting the spirit mediums of Vietnam, I developed an "appetite" for visual and cultural traditions that fused fashion, history, art, music and storytelling, and I found it on one of my innumerable walks in New York City’s Chinatown. A poster announcing a Cantonese opera on Mott Street was plastered on a few walls, and it triggered my interest in documenting the opera of the Chinese diaspora.

Little did I know then that there are more than 300 different regional opera styles in China. I initially had no grasp as to the extent of the project I had embarked on, but it had what I was looking for. 

Coincidentally, I was about to travel to Kuala Lumpur where I was to teach a multimedia workshop, to give a lecture on travel photography and to curate a photo exhibition. It is there that I realized Malaysia’s Chinese communities held annual festivals such as the Hungry Ghost festival (or Yulan Festival) and the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. I also got to know that Hong Kong held the same festivals, during which Chinese opera troupes from China’s southern provinces performed in various locations.

The die was cast, and I planned a photo book documenting the Chinese opera styles in Malaysia, Hong Kong and New York City. I resolved to focus on the unsophisticated -also known as street operas- troupes rather than on the high-end troupes featured in well known theaters. 

After a number of trips to Hong Kong, Penang and Kuala Lumpur as well as periodic visits to the Mott Street location for the New York City's Cantonese opera events, I edited and culled the resulting thousands of images into a 166 pages photo book.