Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Beyond The Frame | Yan Yang Tian Troupe | GFX 50s

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Although the Fuji GFX50s might not really be the most appropriate format to photograph theatre and opera, it produced interesting images while using it to photograph a live performance by the Yan Yang Tian opera troupe in
at the  Leng Eng Tian Khiew Ong Tai Tay temple in Kuala Lumpur during the annual Taoist Nine Emperor Gods Festival. 

For nine days, Taoists gather at various temples around the country to celebrate the Nine Emperor Gods festival, which begins on the eve of the ninth month of the lunar calendar.

The troupe performs traditional Cantonese opera, and has been on stage since its founder opera troupe owner Elizabeth Choy was 7 years old. Now in her late eighties, she is considered a treasure by the Chinese-Malay communities in Malaysia as well as those in neighboring countries.

While the popularity of Cantonese opera has dwindled, especially among the young, her troupe has continued to perform in local and international venues. She has led her troupe to perform throughout Malaysia and in other countries such as Vietnam, Hong Kong and Thailand. Sparing no expense, she sourced many of her opera’s lavish-looking costumes from Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong.


Accompanied by Stanley Hong and Mizuki Kato, I photographed the performers while they applied intricate makeup and donned their costumes in the back stage of the specially erected structure. Used to photographers, they seemed  oblivious of cameras being pointed at them; even when lenses were almost poking their necks to get their reflections in mirrors.

For those interested in gear: The technical details for the photograph are: Fuji GFX50s+ 63mm. 1/1000th sec Hand Held. f2.8. iso 800. Spot Metering. Date: 2017-10-20 at 20:48:80 (Malaysia time). Post Processed Iridient Developer 3.


Thursday, 5 July 2018

Ye Hong Qi | The Miao Portraits

Photo © Ye Hong Qi - All Rights Reserved
It's been a few weeks since my last post...but I needed a break to re-energize my blogging appetite, and with my time swallowed up with a forthcoming photo book, and the incessant demands of social media, blogging took a back seat.

However, I chanced on wonderful images by the Chinese photographer Ye Hong Qi whose long term project "The Portraits of Chinese Miao Nationality" (中国苗族人肖像) is just a delight for those who are interested  -not only in portraiture- but in anthropology and ethnic minorities.

Ye Hong Qi tells us that he started his project in 2012, seeking to document the Miao culture through portraits made in situ, eschewing artificial lights and other devices.

The Miao is an ethnic group belonging to South China, and is recognized by the government of China as one of the 55 official minority groups. They live primarily in southern China's mountains, in the provinces of Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi, Guangdong and Hainan. 

Interestingly, the Chinese traditionally classify the Miao according to the most characteristic color of the women's clothes...such as Red Miao, Black Miao, the Big Flowery Miao, White Miao, Green/Blue Miao, and the Small Flowery Miao.

While the Miao people have had their own unique culture, the Confucian ideology had significant influences on this ethnic group. It is expected that men are the dominant figures and breadwinners of the family, and women are, having a subordinate figure, the homemakers.

In his biography, Ye Hong Qi describes himself as an amateur photographer from Shanghai. He started his photography in 2012 and started to record the life and remaining culture of Chinese minorities people. He was awarded a number of recognitions in China and the USA, and was published in PDN and PSA.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Faces of Chinese Opera



I've been photographing Chinese opera performers at performances and backstages in New York City's Chinatown, various locations in and near Kuala Lumpur and in Shanghai for the past 18 months or so. My intention is to eventually produce a photo book of these photographs; a long term project if there was ever one since Chinese opera is a subject of immense complexity and depth.

Influenced by the square format portraits by Andres Serrano (see my previous blog post), I chose 24 portraits of artists (12 male and 12 female characters) who performed in Cantonese, Hokkien and Jīngjù performances.

I mentioned the complexities of Chinese opera; it is said that there are as many variants as dialects in China. For instance, there's the Beijing Opera, known also as Peking Opera 京剧 (Jing Ju) which I've photographed in Shanghai; Cantonese Opera, known as 粵劇 Yue Ju, which is popular in the Cantonese speaking regions, such as Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore and Malaysia; Sichuan Opera (in Mandarin) mostly popular in Chengdu, and Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan, Hubei and Taiwan; and also Ping Opera, Henan Opera, Kunqu Opera and Qinqiang Opera...to name but a few.

Click on "See The Full Post" on this post's photograph, and you'll be enjoying the two dozen portraits I've chosen to illustrate the magic of Chinese Opera.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Andres Serrano | Made In China

Photo © Andres Serrano | All Rights Reserved
Readers of this blog are well aware of my current "chinoiserie" phase, of my interest in creating Chinese fashion themed multimedia stories and of my working on a photo book on Chinese Opera.

So it's with great pleasure that I discovered the work of the famous photographer Andres Serrano, and his wonderful portraits of Chinese men and women in traditional garb and costumes in his Made In China gallery.

One of the most famous traditional Chinese clothing type is the Han Fu style. This is the type of dress worn by the Han people from the Yellow Emperor (about 2698 BC) till the late Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD). It became known as the Han Fu (“fu” means “clothes” in Chinese) because the fashion was improved and popularized during the Han Dynasty. It is usually in the form of long gown, cross collar, wrapping the right lapel over the left, loose wide sleeves and no buttons but a sash.

My very favorite is the qi pao or cheongsam whose origin is the Manchu female dress that evolved by merging with western patterns. Its features are straight collar, strain on the waist, coiled buttons (pankou) and slits on both sides of the dress. Materials used are usually silk, cotton and linen. 

Andres Serrano is the only son of an Honduran immigrant father and a mother of Afro-Cuban origin. He was born in New York and spent most of his childhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Like his family, his predominantly Italian-American neighbors were devoutly Catholic, and religion played a significant part in his growing up - in school, at home and on the streets.

On his website, he tells us:
"I’ve never called myself a photographer. I studied painting and sculpture and see myself as an artist with a camera. I learned everything I know about art from Marcel Duchamp who taught me that anything, including a photograph, could be a work of art. 

Thursday, 31 May 2018

POV : William E. Crawford | Hanoi Streets

Photo © William E. Crawford | Courtesy The New York Times
I don't recall writing a blog post about an article that appeared on The New York Times' Lens feature, but I could not let the wonderful photography of William E. Crawford on Hanoi Streets go without giving it its due merit on the pages of this blog.

One of the photographs that I couldn't stop looking at is of this Vietnamese general. I have no idea who he is or what his history may have been...but I've met Vietnamese men (and women) of his age with similar facial expressions, whose astounding gentleness and courtesy to me -as a visitor to their country- are the most rewarding experiences I took away from my travels in Vietnam.

In the Lens article, Mr. Crawford is quoted as saying "despite the embargo and the wounds of the American War there was no obvious anti-American hostility ... the lack of hostility towards Americans, at least in the North, was a relief to me."

This is so true! Everywhere I went in Hanoi and elsewhere in Vietnam, I was received with open arms even though I was seen as an American (the difference between being American-born or naturalized seemed irrelevant to them). Even Vietnamese men who told me were Vietcong during the American War were friendly and extremely cordial...and shared meals and many cups of rice wine (and ribald jokes) with me.

William E. Crawford is a documentary photographer who spent three decades documenting Vietnam, and in particular Hanoi, its people and the surrounding countryside. As one of the very first Western photographers to work in post-war North Vietnam, he was drawn back to the country numerous times at regular intervals between 1985 and 2015 to record this fascinating country's culture, people, and society with beautiful, compelling and intimate photographs, concentrating on colonial and indigenous architecture, urban details, portraits, and landscapes. 

While he used a large format camera an tripod, he -as I did, but not with the same gear- wandered Hanoi’s busy streets returning to the same places, especially in the 36 streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

I could not find Mr Crawford's website, but he is publishing a book Hanoi Streets 1985-2015 which has close to 200 color photographs.

Since I mentioned the wandering in Hanoi's Old Quarter, I thought I'd add a link to my own Hanoi Color: Moments in Hanoi's Pho Co.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Jaranan In Java | Jay Tindall

Photo © Jay Tindall- All Rights Reserved
I've always been interested in documenting the unusual or lesser known religious traditions (especially those of Asia) whether these were derived from mainstream religions or were stand-alone. It was this interest that guided me to photograph a number of such traditions, including Vietnam's Đạo Mẫu which I documented for two years and produced a photo book of which I'm very proud of.

It's with this frame of mind that I discovered the tradition of Jaranan; an age old Javanese tradition though the photo blog post Exorcism In The Volcano's Shadow by photographer/entrepreneur Jay Tindall.

His blog post describes this tradition as "...an intense ritual of spiritual passion and trance-induced savagery", so I won't duplicate the interesting contents of his post, except to say that Jaranan is a dramatic genre of a horse dance performed in Java.

The most prominent feature of these performances is the trance dancers who establish contact with the spirits of their ancestors. These ancestors -in common with most Asian traditions- have a significant impact on the lives of their descendants, whether in fulfilling wishes or resolving problems and issues.

I have witnessed many of such trances during religious-traditional events, and they all follow a similar pattern. The person in a trance makes him or her totally self absorbed, and grants them a sense of total liberation from their surroundings. 



Jay Tindall also videotaped the scenes at the ceremony (possibly graphic to some) which confirm a similarity to other religious-induced trances that I've witnessed in other parts of Asia. 

Jay Tindall is the co-founder of a travel company, and it is through his work that he investigates Asia’s most interesting destinations. 

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Beyond The Frame | Qu Hui | X-Pro2

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I was officially recognized as the photographer for The Shade of Butterfly & The Red Pear Blossom opera at the community center theater in NYC's Chinatown. It was the first opera of the season, and is one of the most famous Cantonese operas, and described as a masterpiece.

The plot centers on a scholar Yu-chow and the courtesan So-chow who write poems to each other and fall in love despite having never met. The scholar is attached to the court of a treacherous high official who schemes to keep the lovers at bay. The two lovers meet in the final act much to the delight of the audience.

I was introduced to Mr. Qu Hui, a mainland Chinese performer, who was to perform one of the lead roles in the opera, and also to sing a few more modern songs. A charismatic tall man, seemingly very comfortable in high heels, he posed for my camera for a few minutes before the show.

Cross-dressing has been an integral part of Chinese Opera from its beginning, but the number of males taking the roles of females has substantially decreased. China's "cultural revolution" (1966-1976) dealt a death blow to the opera, and along with it the nan dan (male acting as a woman). Although the 1980s saw a gradual revival, the nan dan remained in the shadows with the rise of women performers on the stage, leaving only about 10 male who specialize as such. Having witnessed the audience's reaction to Hui's performances, it's quite possible that he is one of them.

I read that the traditionalists believe that nan dan are irreplaceable, and they have characteristics and tricks such as specific hand gestures to make the hand look smaller and softer...wearing specially designed footwear meant to imitate women's bound feet...and, according to some, have better sounding falsettos given their wider vocal range.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved 
Hui's brought the house down when he performed Cantonese torch songs, wearing a tight fitting cheongsam and then getting off the stage to shake hands with members of the audience...including me. 

I made a quick recording of one of these songs in which he used a high pitched falsetto to mimic a woman's voice.

 


The technical details for the top photograph are: Fuji X-Pro2 + XF16-55mm f2.8. 1/100th Hand Held. f4.0. iso 400. Aperture Priority. Date: 2018.05.27 at 12:25:40 (NYC time). Post Processed Using Iridient Developer 4.

The technical details for the lower photograph are: Fuji X-T1 + XF18-135mm f5.6. 1/300th Hand Held. f5.6. iso 640. Spot Metering. Date: 2018.05.27 at 15:15:00 (NYC time). Post Processed Using Iridient Developer 4.



Monday, 21 May 2018

The Legend of Hua | Multimedia


I have now completed producing 'The Legend of Hua', an audio slideshow (aka photo film) which recounts in just over 3:30 seconds (reportedly today's upper limit for our attention span) the story of Hua.

The story meshes the topic of ghosts, opium, Shanghai in its 1930's heyday, traditional Chinese cultural and supernatural elements; all revolving around a plot of betrayal. The plot is influenced by a 1988 movie by Stanley Kwan (in turn based on a novel by Li Pi-Hua (also known as Lillian Lee), one of the most influential Chinese TV writers, film writers and reporters.

I've recently produced a handful of audio slideshows that involve imaginary plots during the 1930s in Shanghai, featuring friends who take on the roles of wronged women...possibly wronged by either Chinese men or laowais/gweilos

My long-time readers know that I've embarked on a 
chinoiserie "phase" for quite a while now; a phase fueled by my travels over the past few years to Hanoi, annual visits to Kuala Lumpur and more recently to Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Chinoiserie (from 'chinois' the French for Chinese) is a style inspired by art and design from China, Japan and other Asian countries. Fashion designers, furniture makers, wallpaper designers, artists and photographers have consistently been heavily influenced and inspired to produce work that reflect this aesthetic.

Aside from my travels, a major inspiration is In the Mood for Love (Chinese: 花樣年華), the 2000 Hong Kong film directed by Wong Kar-wai, starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. It's moody theme is especially inspiring. More recently, another movie Lust, Caution...the thriller film directed by Ang Lee
whose story is mostly set in Hong Kong in 1938 and in Shanghai in 1942.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Beyond The Frame | Huā | GFX50s



I've been absent from this blog for a while due to 'busy-ness', and working on a new audio-slideshow (aka photo-film) titled "The Legend of Hua"...which turned out to be more time-consuming than I anticipated, due to the various audio tracks that had to mesh with still photographs.

In the meantime, I uploaded a sample of the still images from the soon-to-be released audio slideshow unto my Exposure website, however I chose to post process these differently from those in the slideshow. 

I had read that a photographic technique merging silver printing with charcoal painting was widely popular in the 1920-1930s Shanghai, so I explored various modern digital post processing ways to try and imitate that 'look' as closely as I knew how.

After a number of failed attempts, I chose a process which mixes a combination of my own settings using two imaging softwares; ON1 Photo Raw 2018 and Iridient Developer 4. When I was satisfied with the resultant 'look', I saved the presets for the two programs, and it was more or less a cinch to just apply these to the images I had chosen for the gallery. That said, I still had to tweak a few of them...taking into account the disparity in lighting condition at the time of the shoots, so as to achieve uniformity as much as possible.

Insofar as the hardware is concerned, I used the Fuji GFX50s and its 63mm lens. This 'medium-format' camera is my go-to tool for such photo shoots, and I regret not having the 45mm I acquired after my Shanghai trip, as it would've given me a wider angle to work with.

All the images in this gallery were made in Shanghai and the nearby water town of Xitang. The latter is an idyllic setting and its ancient buildings date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties, which include the teahouse where parts of the famed movie "Lust, Caution" was filmed.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

POV: The Human World Photo Contest | Winning Entry

Photo © Supriya Biswas | Courtesy The Human World
The Human World photography contest just announced its overall winner; Supriya Biswas with the above monochrome photograph, and four honorable mentions namely Thigh Wanna, Shoeb Faruquee, Robin Yong and Edoardo Agresti.

The Human World photography contest is organized by Matteo Vegetti, an Italian photographer, and is in its fourth annual iteration. 

As one of the contest's judges, I was gratified that the winning image was one of my top choices...and I'm glad the remaining judges on the panel seemed to have thought so as well. By the way, these judges are Diane Durongpisitkul, Jing Chen, Kim Hak, Sarah Trevisiol, Probal Rashid, and Gunarto Gunawan...a truly international panel representing the USA, Thailand, China, Cambodia, Italy, Germany, India and Indonesia.

My blog's readers may be interested as to the reason for this photograph being one of my top choices...and in all candor, I struggled with the decision and wavered a few times. My primary impulse insofar as photography is concerned is to follow Sebastiao Salgado's credo and to only take pictures (and like photographs) that illustrate the nobility of human beings.

My initial glance at this photograph was a rather negative one...I took it as something akin to a "poverty porn" image aimed at generating sympathy from the contest judges...but as I reflected more on it, I discovered more details that -to the contrary- ennobled these two men.

The apparent companionship between the men, not only in their handicap, but by sharing a newspaper since I imagined the one on the right reading the news to the one on the left, made a compelling story. Had they been soldiers in a conflict in which India was involved? Were they living in the same neighborhood? The details jumped at me...such as the leg prosthetic with the sandal obviously belonging to the man on the right, while the one without footwear was that of the man on the left. The reader was half-way through the newspaper...was he reading cricket scores? Do they live in an ashram for veterans or their in own homes...or were they laborers/farmers who lost their legs in accidents? One of them reads English...how does this level with my assumptions?

And what's going on with the cat and puppy? They mimic the head positions of the two men.

One could imagine a thousand short stories from this photograph...this slice of time...this instant when everything fell into place.

Despite all handicaps, life goes on. That is why this photograph got my vote.


Sunday, 6 May 2018

Beyond The Frame | Ren Li Fung | Fuji GFX50s

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I'm currently working on a rather intricate "photo film" or audio slideshow that will mesh the topic of ghosts, opium, Shanghai in its 1930's heyday, traditional Chinese cultural and supernatural elements; all revolving around a plot of betrayal. The plot itself is influenced by a 1988 movie by Stanley Kwan (in turn based on a novel by Li Pi-Hua (also known as Lillian Lee), one of the most influential Chinese TV writers, film writers and reporters. 

It's funny how one thing leads to another...while planning my fortnight in Shanghai and preparing for my lecture and street photography workshop some six or seven weeks ago, I was invited to a number of WeChat groups by Yi Yi; a previous acquaintance from that super-modern city who would work with me on the second iteration of The Girl of Nanjing Road

Through these WeChat groups, I connected with Ren Li Fung ("Betty") who seemed very popular as a qi pao model with a number of fashion/commercial photographers. Employed by an American company, and holding a Masters in International Politics, she was quite fluent in English, and I put forth to her my interest in featuring her in my audio slideshow project. She accepted and we agreed as to the type of qi pao I thought would be best suited for what I had in mind. Since hers would be the narrating voice in the "photo film" project, she viewed the 1988 movie to get an accurate feel for what she would be asked to do when we started.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
A couple of days into my arrival in Shanghai, I scheduled a photo shoot couple of hours at the well-known IG gallery-museum which has an expansive studio complete with lights, reflectors and especially a Chinese screen which I liked a lot as a backdrop...as well as a Ming dynasty styled chair.

Helped by IG's Wang Hua with the studio's lights and reflectors, I used my Fuji GFX50s and its 63mm 2.8 lens to capture "Betty" in various poses until I was satisfied. We also were able to record the audio narration for the "photo film" in the back room until we were both happy with its pace and intonation.

Being an "on-the-fly" travel photographer (with an affinity for a photojournalistic style), I am always uneasy photographing in a static and controlled studio environment...as I'm not used to it. Directing the model to adjust her face or posture a hundred times doesn't come naturally to me. At IG, I had a mood board with me, and showed a few poses for "Betty" to adopt during the shoot to make it simple.

Having broken the ice with the studio photo shoot, we met a few days later at the Shanghai Hanxiang Water Garden (see above photograph). I was much more in my element in such an environment, but not a single teahouse was open in this 800+ acres park; probably since we chose one the three days of the Qing Ming (Tomb Sweeping) holidays. In any event, I had scouted some of the buildings and chose a few that were appropriate...especially one having images of 1930s Shanghai beauties. More comfortable in such places, I know how to make use of the ambient light, where to place my subject and of the surrounding wooden railings, benches, etc.  


Naturally in such public places, there are always people milling around and I expected that some would gawk at the photo shoot. However, most of the Chinese visitors hardly took notice of us...others waited until I finished shooting a pose to walk across the scene. I don't know whether it was politeness or whether they were jaded...having seen photo shoots of women in qi paos before, but it was unexpected.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
On the weekend before my departure from Shanghai, we ventured south of the city to the idyllic setting of Xitang water town where -along with another photographer, a make up artist, and translator/fixer, I photographed Betty in various locations, including in the ancient teahouse where parts of the famed movie "Lust, Caution" was filmed (see above photograph).

The setting of Xitang was perfect for my purpose; it's one of the six most famous water towns in South China, with nine rivers converging in it, with many bridges linking its various parts together. The town has buildings dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties.

All photographs were made with the Fuji GFX50s and its 63mm 2.8 lens. Except for the studio photo shoot, I relied on ambient light, eschewing reflectors and artificial lighting. For post-processing, I used Silver Efex for the monochrome image, and Color Efex for the rest (and Iridient Developer to process the RAW files).

Friday, 4 May 2018

Poy Sang Long | Reuters' Wider Image | Jorge Silva

Photo © Reuters/Jorge Silva - Al Rights Reserved
I was planning to attend the Poy Sang Long celebration in Chiang Mai in early April, but the opportunity of my Shanghai lecture and workshop intervened, and so I had to postpone traveling to northern Thailand till next year.

However, I viewed the recent wonderful photo essay and reportage titled Beloved Princes Become Buddhist Novices by Jorge Silva of the annual event which was featured in Reuters' Wider Image blog, and it definitely reaffirmed my intention to attend the celebration in April 2019.

The essay/reportage is quite thorough in explaining what Poy Sang Long is all about, but here's more information:

The days of April 4-6 are usually the time for the three-day festival of Poy Sang Long when, in the city of Chiang Mai, pre-teen boys are inducted as Buddhist novices. On the first day of the 3-day festival, the youngsters are in the midst of family feasting and gift giving before they are escorted to the temple to have their eyebrows and heads shaved. They are then ritually cleansed and anointed by bathing in sacred water. The parade to the temple is accompanied by the flute music, the beat of drums and the clash of cymbals by local musicians.

On the second day, the boys will parade to the temple to offer gifts to Buddha and the resident monks. The parade will move slowly from Thapae Gate through the road up to Chiang Mai Gate and eventually arrive at Wat Pa Pao.

Early morning on the third day (ordination day), the boys will be transformed into "Princes". Their faces will be covered with powder, rouge and lipstick and they'll be dressed in resplendent costumes, with white turbans on their heads. 

Friday, 27 April 2018

The Girl of Nanjing Road : Part II


N anjing Road by Tewfic El-Sawy on Exposure

I completed another personal project whilst in Shanghai a couple of weeks ago. It's a sequel to The Girl of Nanjing Road (Part 1) which featured Yi Yi as the main (and only visible protagonist).

Both involve Yi Yi as a girl from Shanghai who's in a relationship with a foreign resident of that city during its glorious heydays of the 1930s, and into the start of the battle of Shanghai in 1937.

For historical buffs; the Battle of Shanghai was the first of the twenty-two major engagements fought between the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China (ROC) and the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

During the fierce three-month battle, Chinese and Japanese troops fought in downtown Shanghai. In the end, the city fell, and China lost a significant portion of its best troops, while also failing to elicit any international intervention.

Against this warring background, the Shanghai French Concession was a foreign concession in Shanghai, China from 1849 until 1943, and was a safe haven for a multitude of refugees, including Europeans and Chinese...and notably Jews fleeing the horrors of war in Europe.

The Girl of Nanjing Road Part I And II brings the viewers into that era, are narrated in Mandarin by Yi Yi herself, and accompanied by Chinese songs by Zhou Xuan (China's 'Golden Voice' and one of the most popular and important actress/singers of the 1930s and 40s) and Wu Ying Yin (who was one of the seven great singing stars of the era) to impart an accurate ambiance of Shanghai in the 1930s.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Shanghai was where the best art, the greatest architecture, and the strongest business was in Asia. It rivaled many cosmopolitan European cities, earned the sobriquet of "The Paris of the East" and became known as a place of vice and indulgence. With its dance halls, brothels, glitzy restaurants, international clubs, Shanghai was a city that catered to every whim of the rich. 

The 3 minutes script was revised, edited and re-written countless times...until the narration was felt to sound "right".



For the technophiles: I recorded the narrations using an iPhone fitted with a "dead cat" and a specialized audio recorder, then edited the audio tracks using Audacity, merging Yi Yi's narrations with the songs and various sound effects. The still images and audio tracks were converted to an mp4 using iMovie.

For Part II, the still photographs were all made using the medium format Fuji GFX50s and the 63mm 2.8 lens. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

The Longtangs of Shànghǎi | Street Photography


scroll image down

Taking advantage of being in Shanghai to give a 3-hour photo talk on travel photography at the well-known IG (Imaging Group) Photography Gallery, followed by a day long street photography workshop for 10 local photographers (and a subsequent photo critique), I was able to indulge in some street photography of my own...either alone or with a Chinese friend.

I naturally gravitated to the neighborhoods that still had the traditional narrow alleys where the less fortunate Shanghainese families still lived...a world apart from the shiny new areas where the 小资 (xiǎozī – 'little capitalists') lived, worked and shopped. By the way, modern Shanghai is lightyears ahead of New York City in terms of infrastructure, cleanliness, transportation and overall efficiency...and its subway system is as good as Tokyo's.


The narrow and tightly-packed alleys that escaped demolition in some Shanghai neighborhoods are called longtangs (弄堂, lòngtáng). The homes/structures lining these narrow alleys are usually two or three stories high, almost cutting off the sunlight from the lower mazes.

Most of the photographs in the gallery were shot from the hip as I wanted to capture candid expressions of people who populate these alleys. While they're not hostile by any means, those who live in well-known alleys have had their fill of tourists who brandish cameras or cellphones to take pictures of them; hence my decision of being circumspect in my photography.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Beyond The Frame | Mr. Wu of Shi Hu Dang | Fuji X-Pro 2

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
On an overcast day during my two weeks stay in Shanghai, I traveled to the ancient water town of Jinxi with a Chinese photographer, his wife and a translator. The town is about an hour's drive, and is known for being -as yet- untarnished by commercialism.

Jinxi is also known as Chenmu, or the tomb of Chen. She was a beautiful royal concubine of Emperor Xiaozong(1127-1194)of the Song Dynasty. The legend is that during their stay in Jinxi, she decided to stay a little longer, and died there because of a sudden illness.


However, this is not about Jinxi, but about a small nondescript small town a few miles away called Shi Hu Dang, where I was introduced to a delightful octogenarian by Mei Qi; a businesswoman and his student at the school where he had worked for decades. 

I was welcomed by Mr. Wu into his small house; neat but cluttered at the same time. Unfortunately, his wife was absent doing errands so I could not meet her, although Mr Wu was very proud to share their wedding photograph in which she was wearing a qi pao.

Mei Qi explained Mr. Wu's kinetic and exuberant welcome by saying that this was the first time he had met and shaken hands with a laowai (foreigner) in all his long years. She also told me that Mr. Wu had been a long-standing chairman of the Communist Party in his small town (which was probably a village earlier). He had lost one of his sons last year....but hoped for a few pictures to send to his other son and daughter.

He was very agreeable in showing me the 2-3 rooms of his house; one of which was the kitchen...also very neat. His living room-bedroom had an old radio (visible in the above photograph) sitting side by side a small television.

It was getting late, and we had to return to Shanghai by subway; a trip that would take more than an hour...so I skipped interviewing Mr Wu and taping it. Had I had more time, I would've gladly spent a couple of hours in his company, and wait for Mrs. Wu to return from her errands. It would've been another Cafe Dao audio slideshow....however I promised him that I would return.

The technical details for the photograph are: Fuji X-Pro2 + Zeiss Touit 12mm. 1/15th Hand Held. f4.0. iso 800. Aperture Priority. Date: 2018.04.4 at 17:42:40 (Shanghai time). Post Processed Using Silver Efex and Iridient Developer 3.




Thursday, 19 April 2018

Isabel Corthier | Believers : Myanmar

Photo © Isabel Corthier | All Rights Reserved
It's not often that I stumble over a truly wonderful photographic website, and when it happens, I pore over its images very carefully...as long as it takes and relish the opportunity to share it on this blog.

The work of Isabel Corthier is worth poring over; especially that one its themes "Believers" happens to be one that has attracted me for quite a while during my own photographic journey.

For "Believers", Ms Corthier focuses her lens on Ecuador, Ethiopia, Uganda, Nepal and Myanmar. In the latter, her protagonist is a Buddhist nun called
Ayethikar, who at 21 years was sent to the Agayar Tawya nunnery in Yangon because she was sickly.

A few years later, she contracted Hepatitis C after being treated for dental issues. However, Ayethikar accepts her disease with Buddhist acceptance and equanimity.

The nunnery houses 30 nuns; one of which is 7 years old. The nuns arise from sleep at 4:00 am to start their meditation and for their housework.


Temples and monasteries are an integral part of life in Myanmar. It is estimated that they accommodate about half a million males, who are either vocational monks or novices, and around 50,000 nuns. Roughly-speaking, one percent of the population lives in one of the country's monastery or nunnery, completely dependent on the laity for all their material needs.

Ms Corthier's humanitarian work is prolific; her websites galleries include Refugees, Ex-Child Soldiers, Patients, Workers, Daily Life, Survivors and Believers.

Isabel Corthier is a freelance documentary photographer who works internationally for humanitarian organizations. Her work has been used for fundraising campaigns and communications for NGO’s such as Caritas, Trias, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF – Doctors without Borders), Vredeseilanden (VECO), Louvain Coopération, Ondernemers voor Ondernemers, Solid International and more…

Ms Corthier's work has been exhibited in China (Lishui, Pingyao), India (Calcutta), France (Barrobjectif), and Belgium, and some of her pictures have won awards. In 2014 she received the EP European Photographer certificate.
Since 2015 she has worked as a Fujifilm X-Ambassador for Fujifilm Belgium.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

An Rong Xu | New Romantics: China

Photo © An Rong Xu | All Rights Reserved
Having just returned from Shanghai where I was giving a photo talk on travel photography following a street photography walk-about workshop, I was struck by the depth and breadth of talent found in young emerging Chinese photographers, who are passionate about their craft and eager to break boundaries. They are like "sponges" for ideas; new and old...and are quick learners when they need to be.

Working on some of my personal projects took me to a couple of old water towns near Shanghai, such as Qi Bao (commercialized), Jinxi (untouched) and Xinchang (preserved), along with Shanghainese photographers. 

The above photograph by An Rong Xu is of such a water town, and exemplifies the scenery that most of these relics have and provide to its visitors...whether local or foreign. It's part of his portfolio listed as New Romantics: China in which he provides us with his view of his native country.

He chose the title New Romantics to explain his feelings and categories which describe his photographic style; finding himself interested in the moody, the potential of moments, and colors.

An Rong Xu is a New York City based photographer and director. He describes his work as being rooted in the beauty of the ordinary, capturing a rich cinematic stillness in his photography and a passionate ethereal journey in his films. Xu has photographed and directed for publications and companies such as, The New York Times, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, GQ Taiwan, The History Channel, Instagram, airbnb, Underarmour, and Google.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Travel Photographer Society Awards 2018 Announced

Photo © Raed Ammari - Courtesy Travel Photographer Society - All Rights Reserved
The TPS Photo Awards 2018 were recently announced by its founder, Ahsan Qureshi, and the overall winning image is a macro photograph (above) by Raed Ammari. The winning submissions for all the categories were exceedingly difficult to judge due to their quality, as well as for their stylistic diversity. In 2018, there were participants from 92 countries with 2560 entries. 

I was one of the 15 judges; chosen amongst well established photographers in different fields of specialization. This attribute led to there being no ties in any single category; an unusual result for any imaging competition.

It was a singularly tough competition to judge; not only for the sheer number and quality of the submissions, but also because of the number of categories: Street, People, Landscape, Wildlife, Black & White, Architecture, Sports, Fashion, Weddings and Stories.

My favorite category is People, and while I relished scrutinizing each and every submission in that particular category, I was quite partial to the submission by photographer David Nam Lip Lee that earned it a berth amongst its winners.


Photo © David Nam Lip Lee - Courtesy Travel Photographer Society - All Rights Reserved
The Travel Photographer Society has uploaded the Best 60 Entries here.

It also announced, that on April 26th 2018, an award ceremony for winners of the international photo contest will be held to present the winners their awards. 

There will be an exhibition to showcase the Best 60 travel photographs. The event on April 26 will by invitation only, and will be followed by an open to the public event from April 27-29, 2018 at White Box, Publika (Kuala Lumpur).

The full address is: A A4-2-7, Solaris Dutamas, PUBLIKA, No.1, Jalan Dutamas 1, 50480 Kuala lumpur, Malaysia.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Beyond The Frame | "Lust Caution" | Fuji GFX50s

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
It's been a hyperkinetic two weeks in Shanghai! I had a two hour (it ended by being twice as long) photo talk scheduled at the Imaging Group's IG Photography Art Gallery, a large building that includes IG Studio and the very impressive Shanghai Museum of Antique Cameras, a large darkroom for analog enthusiasts, and even a photo-themed cafe adjacent to a large conference room. It was in the latter two spaces that the photo talk was held, where over 85-90 people were in attendance. 

A day later, I led a photo-walk (street photography) near Fangbang Road amongst the narrow alleys which teem with residents...it was a black & white photography workshop, and was followed by critique of the 10 photographers' work during the walk-about. This too was held in the conference room space, and was attended (to my surprise) by around 30 photographers.

However, I digress...Through the WeChat app (no one planning to visit China should be without it), I established a decent amount of contacts amongst the photographic community in Shanghai and elsewhere. Through various chat groups, I befriended a handful of local photographers who were eager to help me in setting up some photo shoots in the vicinity.

On a sunny afternoon, a bunch of new friends and I drove to the ancient watertown of Xinchang, approximately 35 miles south of Shanghai. Being out of the clutches of Shanghai's municipality's influence, Xinchang is not as commercial as Qi Bao (for example), and one can still stroll the interlacing lanes, carved stone-arch bridges and old wooden architecture of around 100 conserved courtyard-style houses from the Ming and Qing dynasties that provide glimpses of a time when Pudong was merely a string of individual villages.

One of the better-known locations in Xinchang is the ancient teahouse where Ang Lee’s movie Lust, Caution was filmed, and where one can have tea and nibble on sunflower seeds for about ¥37 per person. It was across from where this teahouse is located that I spied the old house with red lanterns...and it was the location of the above photograph. 

Reng Li Feng (aka Betty) is the model for a forthcoming fashion-themed audio slideshow that I will start woking on in a few days. We had chosen and bought her sober qi pao for this particular project, and I thought it was well suited for this background. I photographer her in various locations all over this lovely ancient watertown, including in the teahouse itself.

The technical details for the photograph are: Fuji GFX50s + 63mm. 1/1000th Hand Held. f2.8. iso 800. Aperture Metering. Date: 2018.04.8 at 17:30:00 (Shanghai time). Post Processed Using Color Efex and Iridient Developer 3.




Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Passion For Travel Photography | Shanghai



Well, my Shanghai Photo Talk is prepared and ready to go. It will include 137 photo slides, which will be accompanied by 25 pages of talking points and explanations. I timed the photo talk to take about 98 minutes excluding the live translation.

Hence my absence from updating my blog for over a week. I suspect I will be unable to connect to the blog when I'm in Shanghai from March 26 to April 10.

It will be held on March 31, a few days after my arrival in Shanghai.

It is to be hosted by the Imaging Group's IG Photography Art Gallery, a large building that includes IG Studio and the Shanghai Museum of Antique Cameras, founded by Mr Chen Haiwen; a master photographer as well as a the recipient of the highest photography award in China twice in a row and Vice Chairman of the Shanghai Photography Association.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Beyond The Frame | The Rickshaw Wallah's Bell | Canon 5D Mark II

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
This Beyond The Frame backstory is about a bell. Not about any bell, but about the type of bell that is a constant fixture for rickshaw wallahs in Kolkata. What a horn is to a motorized vehicle driver, the bell is to the rickshaw.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves...first, what do we know about the rickshaw?

The rickshaw is thought to first have appeared in India, not in Kolkata but in the hill town of Shimla in 1880. However, it was made of iron not of wood as those that had appeared in Japan. It is said that it was an American who landed in Yokohama who introduced the rickshaw to the Japanese in 1869 to accommodate his wife who had difficulty walking.

The rickshaw eventually made its way south and west to Korea, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong through southeast Asia and into the Indian subcontinent, down to Sri Lanka, then found its way into Africa.

The image of men (some of them emaciated) pulling wooden rickshaws in the streets of Kolkata frequently causes knee-jerk proposals from its city government authorities to ban them, but 
the realization that the rains during monsoon seasons flood the streets Kolkata are flooded making them impassable by car makes it impossible for such a ban to pass. It is the only reason why the hand pulled rickshaw survives in Kolkata.

Now for my story. 

In October 2011, I had organized a photo-expedition-workshop during Kolkata's Durga Puja and naturally the rickshaw wallahs was one of the side stories that I proposed ought to be worked on.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
So I, as the other workshop participants did, walked the streets surrounding Sudder Street to document the pullers of these venerable vehicles. While photographing many of them at work or at rest, I came to like the tinkling of their hand bells which they shook to warn pedestrians to move out of the way, or to alert customers who were looking for rides.

While photographing a group of rickshaw pullers not far from my hotel, I asked a few who had them if I could buy one off them or where I could buy one. Getting vigorous head wags and vague hand gestures, I gave up, resumed my shooting and eventually walked back to the charming Lytton Hotel where I was staying.

Three hours later, I get a call from the Lytton Hotel's reception telling me that a rickshaw puller was outside, and had a bell for me. How did he know where I was staying is beyond comprehension...and how did the reception know that I wanted one? I call it the Kolkata "telegram"...or in more modern terms, the Kolkata SMS.


The rickshaw wallah was generously recompensed for the bell and his ingenuity, and I still have the bell in my home which I should use it to tell out-of-towners to make way on the narrow sidewalks of NYC's West Village.

For a full screen gallery of Kolkata's rickshaw pullers, drop by my color photographs at Rickshaw Wallahs.

And here's a monochrome slideshow on the rickshaw wallahs with the sound of the famous bell and street sounds recorded live in Kolkata.





Friday, 2 March 2018

Beyond The Frame | The Black H'mong With Birdcage | 5D Mark II

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
The H'mong, estimated at about 1 million people, constitute one of the largest ethnic group in Vietnam and one of its tribal group, known as the Black Hmong, are reputed for their handicraft and indigo blue clothes made of hemp. The women wear long blouses over short trousers, and wrap long scarves around their legs. They wrap their long hair around their head covered by a turban.

The H'mong came to Vietnam from South China some 300 years ago, during the Ming and Qing dynasties.  The majority live in northern Vietnam's Lao Cai province. Their spoken language belongs to the H’mong–Dao language family, and although their writing was Romanized in 1961, it is not widely used.

The back story on the top photograph: I was walking in a Black H'mong village (I don't recall  its name, but it was at a short drive from Sapa), and chanced upon a woman sweeping her porch. She was used to tourists, and didn't seem perturbed when I asked to take photographs of her. 

At one point, she unhooked a birdcage to clean it and started whistling to get the bird's attention. Naturally, the bird was more alarmed by my clicking camera shutter, and started to furiously chirp at me...it was at that moment* that I captured the woman's incredulous expression at the bird's "lack of manners". 

You'll note the circular discoloration on her forehead. This is the result of medicinal cupping. According to traditional Asian medicine, cupping creates a vacuum on the skin to improve qi (life energy) flow...in this case, the woman probably suffered from headaches.

* I will be using this photograph -among others- to illustrate "The Moment" in photography during my forthcoming photo talk on The Passion For Travel Photography in Shanghai.


© Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
At another village, I met a H'mong mother and her young daughter who gladly posed for photographs in front of their home. If they can afford it, H'mong women wear silver jewelry in the form of heavy necklaces and earrings.

The woman seems to be well-off (note the two gold teeth), and is wearing lock shaped pendants on her necklace. These ‘soul lock pendants' are presented during ‘curing ceremonies' to lock the restless soul to the body until the appropriate time to die arrives.

She also bears pinching abrasions on her neck. Pinching the skin is also an ancient Asian treatment to increase blood flow, and by extension to increase life energy.

For more of my photography on the tribes of North West Vietnam, don't miss my Hill Tribes In The Mist gallery of monochrome photographs.

The technical details for the top photograph are: Canon 5D MKII+ 17-40mm. 1/25th sec Hand Held. f6.0. iso400. Pattern Metering. Date: 2012-09-21 at 09:56:39 (Hanoi time). Post Processed Using Color Efex and Iridient Developer 3.

The technical details for the lower photograph are: Canon 5DMKII +17-40mm. 1/400th sec Hand Held. f6.0. iso 400. Pattern Metering. Date: 2012-09-21 at 11:36:39 (Hanoi time). Post Processed Using Color Efex and Iridient Developer 3.