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.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Tengku Azari | The Princess of Huế

Photo © Tengku Azari | All Rights Reserved

Continuing the featuring of creative work by impressive photographers who specialize in ethnic fashion-portraiture, I bring to the pages of The Travel Photographer blog the artistry of Tengku Azari, a well known Malaysian photographer.

I was amazed by his work which he describes as the "tram anh thế oligarchy"; which I suppose involves a model dressed up in the most stunning costume against the magical backdrop of Huế architectural wonder of its imperial citadel.  Huế is a city in central Vietnam that was the capital of Đàng Trong Kingdom from 1738 to 1775 and of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945. The 19th-century citadel encompasses the Imperial City, with palaces and shrines; the Forbidden Purple City, once the Emperor's home; and a replica of the Royal Theater.

He produced a "behind the scene"  video (below) which shows him and his team at work in the photo shoot which resulted in the Huế images. 

Tengku Azri is a portrait and wedding photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. He is a founder and art director of the Dloven Group. He was recognized with multiple awards from different international competitions such as Wedding Portrait Photography International (WPPI) & Professional Photographer Asia Community (PPAC). He also conducted a number of photography workshops Malaysia & Singapore. He is a Malaysia Fuji X-photographer.

Monday, 6 January 2020

To Live To Sing | Huo Zhe Chang Zhe

I was referred to a movie on Sichuan opera which, by all accounts, showcases the type of opera troupes I've been photographing over the course of the past 30 months. For my "Chinese Opera of the Diaspora" photo book, I eschewed documenting the glamorous well-funded troupes in Shanghai and Beijing in favor of the small impoverished 'hand-to-mouth' troupes that perform in Hong Kong, Penang, Kuala Lumpur and New York City's Chinatown.

The movie 'To Live To Sing' (活着唱着 Huo Zhe Chang Zhe) is directed by Johnny Ma, and is about Zhao Li, the manager of a small Sichuan Opera troupe, who lives and performs along her troupe in a rundown theatre located in the outskirts of Chengdu, China. When she receives the notice of demolition for the theatre, she hides the news from everyone, fearing that it would spell the end of her opera troupe, and the life of her “family”. As she struggles to find a new theatre for them to both sing and live in, the characters start to realize that soemthing is amiss.

The backdrop of the movie involves the Chinese push for modernization which hits the town of Chengdu, and it paints a stark picture of a country wresting with itself over its past and future. The cast includes members of a real-life Sichuan Opera troupe, whose real existence is threatened by urban redevelopment and dwindling audiences, as well as the easy money performers can make by reducing their art to magic stunts for the entertainment of tourists in cheap hot-pot restaurants.

It’s not really necessary to know anything about Sichuan Opera to appreciate an archetypal story about a troupe of traditional artists in the twilight years of their profession.

The story synopsis is as follows: the colorful troupe, seen initially touting for customers in full costume in the back of a motorbike pickup truck, lives and performs in a ramshackle, warehouse-like space in a run-down part of a Chinese city that is in the throes of modernization. Bulldozers have already begun smashing through surrounding houses and properties, and the theatre itself has been served with a demolition order which stern troupe owner and matriarch Zhao Li  is determined to fight. It doesn’t help that the company’s young star, Zhao Li’s strong-willed niece Dan Dan, is secretly moonlighting as a sexy nightclub torch singer, nor that the audiences who shuffle in dutifully to see the troupe’s nightly performances are all well past retirement age.

The director and camera shower love on the costumes, make-up, traditional wooden instruments, rough signage and makeshift props of this shoestring-budget world on the verge of extinction – and along with that stirring finale, this tender analogue devotion goes some way to making up for a story that is as thin as a stage curtain versions of themselves.*

* Edited and redacted from various movie reviews.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Awamu Moja | China 2018

Here's another stunning video of a string of fashion shoots in southeastern Fujian (China) led by Awamu Moja (more details on him later in this post). During these photo shoots, the photographer wisely -from an aesthetic standpoint- chose to feature Chinese models, in contrast to Sails Chong's Chengdu Shining Blossoms which I wrote about in my last post.

All of the photo shoots were located in the mountainous region of Fujian, using the incredible backdrop of a number of different tulou (福建土樓) structures, or Fujian earthen buildings. These are Chinese rural dwellings unique to the Hakka of the areas, and were mostly built between the 12th and the 20th centuries. Other locations were Xichan temple, a Buddhist temple on the slope of Mount Yi, and West Lake. 

A tulou is a large, enclosed and fortified earth building, most commonly rectangular or circular in configuration, with thick load-bearing earth walls between three and five stories high and housing up to 800 people. Smaller interior buildings are often enclosed by these huge peripheral walls which can contain halls, storehouses, wells and living areas, the whole structure resembling a small fortified city.

These photo shoots must've been logistically demanding, since they included 9 shooting sites, and required 142 pages of mood boards, 133 boxes of props. The total duration of the photo shoots was 84 hours, involved 16 staff members, 6 models, 3 fashion designers and 38 outfits. 

Photo © Awamu Moja | All Rights Reserved

Based in Luxembourg, Awamy Moja is a fashion photographer who gathered a team of professionals passionate about aesthetics, fashion, performing arts, graphic design and plastic arts, architecture and decoration. In 2018, Moja writes on his blog that he came to China with his team and was deeply intrigued by Chinese history, culture and architecture. He tells us he had never before encountered such a vast and colorful country which, especially for  photographers, is a huge treasure house. The artistic culture of China impressed him to such an extent that he plans to spend more time there for work.

To ensure the picture quality, he only uses the Phase One medium format camera at 100 MP and 150 MP, together with the German Schneider Blue Ring lenses. His favorite is the 80mm LS f/2.8 lens, and often uses the 45mm LS f/3.5 and the 150mm LS f/2.8 IF lenses. He almost always shoot between f/11 and f/22, most often at f/16.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Sails Chong | Chengdu Shinning Blossoms

The artistic genius of Sails Chong's photography is clearly evident in the many projects he and his team have produced.  The exquisite attention to aesthetic details, the undeniable complex logistics and the sheer imagination in producing this video (and others like it) are just stunning.

While the protagonist in Chengdu Shinning (sic) Blossoms is a Western model who appears in this pictorial project, she seems totally out of place despite the ethnic costume and makeup. I don't know the reasons for including her, and I wish she hadn't been. I am loathe to nit-pick such lovely work, but I'm of the opinion whether fashion-related or otherwise, inserting a non-Chinese person is rather jarring and has no significance. It dawned on me that she might have been chosen to advertise Sails Chong wedding photography to Western audiences. Since I'm nit-picking, I'd also mention the sound track (mostly drum beating is pretty awful. I would have used a piece of classical Chinese music which would have added an aural authenticity to the project. That said, Sails Chong's artistry and imagination are breathtaking and barring these two personal peeves of mine, the project is a must-see over and over again. Choosing an authentic teahouse as setting for the initial photo shoot is spot on, and having a Sichuan face-changing artist alongside the model is ingenious.

In fairness, the movie's aim is not to tell a story as's only a highly stylized photo shoot using gorgeous models, wonderfully tailored costumery and a stunning atmosphere, ambiance and carefully chosen locations/backgrounds. 

Sails Chong (his website doesn't seem to work) is China’s top photographer and a Hasselblad Ambassador. Coming from an academic background of Japanese Studies and Fine Arts, he is well known for his photography in which he creates surrealistic imagery against a backdrop of visually stunning Chinese aesthetics and breathtaking landscape. 

As a footnote: The Chinese wedding total industry is worth an estimated $170-billion per year (according to many local and international news sources) and wedding (and pre-wedding) photo packages range from $400 to $18,000. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

New Website | New Galleries

To start 2020, I put together a freshly baked website using my domain name of I've used the services of based on my previous experience with it, and because of the diversity of its templates. 

The website is dedicated to my photographic work of China which include recent projects which, for now, consist of Chinoiseries and Chinese Opera. While the latter is self-explanatory, Chinoiserie is defined as a "style of ornamentation current chiefly in the 18th century in Europe, characterized by intricate patterns and an extensive use of motifs identified as Chinese". I used the term to showcase my fashion-historical storytelling work involving cheongsam or qi pao clad models. The overriding theme in the Chinoiserie gallery is that of a "Shanghai-1930" atmosphere which I seek to recreate.

Each photograph in the Chinoiseries section carries the title of a fashion-historical story; some of which are 'photo-films' and are found on my other website and on my Vimeo site.  The website also features a number of Chinese opera related galleries and street photography in Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo and naturally New York City.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

La Dame de Soie | Madame Wellington Koo

I end the year with a wonderful -albeit too short- video entitled La Dame de Soie (or The Lady of Silk) which was produced for Nowness, in collaboration with Cartier. It's directed by Robin & Cako, and stars Li Meng. 

The video (feeding my interest in Chinese culture, aesthetics, historical fashion) is based on the character of Madame Wellington Koo, also known as Oei Hui-lan, a well-known Chinese-Indonesian international socialite and style icon, who from late 1926 until 1927, was the First Lady of the Republic of China. After a failed first marriage, she married the pre-communist Chinese statesman Wellington Koo, and was a daughter and heiress of the colonial Indonesian tycoon Oei Tiong Ham.

Both her parents were from the "establishment". Her father was the descendant of one of the wealthiest families in Java, while her mother came from the aristocracy as a descendant of the highest branch of the traditional Chinese establishment of colonial Indonesia.

Despite her family's great wealth, however, as a Chinese – albeit with Dutch nationality – Hui-lan and her family were treated as second-class citizens by the Dutch administration, and had to carefully navigate their way past the difficulties they often faced in their dealings with government officials.

Oei Hui-lan married Wellington Koo in Brussels in 1921 and lived in Geneva then moved to Beijing where he served as Acting Premier in the evolving republican Chinese state. Between October 1926—June 1927, Wellington Koo also acted as President of the Republic of China for a brief period, making Oei Hui-lan the First Lady of China. The couple then spent time in Shanghai, Paris and London where Oei Hui-lan became a celebrated hostess. In 1941, she moved to New York. She had divorced Wellington Koo in the fifties, and remained single until her death in New York 1992 at the age of ninety-three. (Source: Neehao.Co.UK)

She is remembered for writing two autobiographies and for her contributions to fashion, especially her adaptations of traditional Chinese dress. She was voted best- dressed Chinese woman of 1920 – 40s by Vogue magazine, and was renowned for wearing long black or deep blue qipao or cheongsam.

Naturally, I plan to produce a slideshow of images based on her life when I'm next in Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong.

Oei Hui-lan. 1921

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Ye Hong Qi | The Miao

Photo © Ye Hong Qi | All Rights Reserved
The Miao is an ethnic group belonging to South China, and is recognized by the government of China as one of it 56 official ethnic groups. It is estimated that the Miao population is just over 9.5 million; larger than most minority groups in China. 

The Miao live mainly in southern China's mountains, in the provinces of Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan, Hubei, Hainan provinces and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Prefecture. Some sub-groups of the Miao, most notably the Hmong people, have migrated out of China into Southeast Asia (Burma (Myanmar), northern Vietnam, Laos and Thailand).

I feature the work of Ye Hong Qi, a Shanghai-based photographer, who focused most of his photography on documenting the Miao minority in his native China. Describing himself as an "amateur" photographer, I met Qi at the well-known IG Photography Art Gallery in Shanghai to introduce him to its director. 

He graciously gifted me a copy of his book The Miao Family of China; a lovely monograph of his 70 images selected from more than 100,000. This project was started in 2014 and was completed four years later. All of Qi's images are made using ambient lighting, and no artificial lights were used. The images were made in 5 provinces, and in more than 90 Miao’s villages in China.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

The Travel Photographer's 2019 Selection

As the year comes to a close, I look back at 20 photographs; a selection which remind me the most of the moments when i pressed the shutter. I certainly do not claim these are the best amongst my work, but they exemplify -to me- what I enjoy to do as a photographer.

The 20 photographs are listed in no preferential sequence. They combine street photography, fashion and cultural images.

The first is of Ren Li Fung; a friend in Shanghai, who appeared in many of my fashion-cultural multimedia galleries. Here she's wearing regular clothes, rather than a quintessential Chinese qi pao. We had scheduled a photo shoot in Qi Bao, the famed water town near Shanghai, one of my favorite locations.

From the ensuing photo shoot, I produced The Butterfly And The Teahouse; the story of Hu Die, a legendary Chinese actress in the 1920-1930s. 

The second photograph is of two Hokkien opera performers exchanging what appeared to be high-intensity gossip. This image was made during the Hungry Ghost festival in Kowloon. The backstages of Chinese operas are a trove of impromptu and candid scenes which I delighted in documenting over the course of the past two years. This image and many more appear in my soon-to-be- published "Chinese Opera of the Diaspora" photo book. 

In the meantime, I produced a photo gallery titled "The Hungry Ghost festival" which showcases the vibrancy of this annual religious event.

The blissful facial expression on her face on having her first cup of hot tea of the morning was infectious, and I enjoyed mine almost as much. We were in Zhujiajiao, a delightful water town established about 1,700 years ago and a magnet for photographers for its 36 bridges. We had traveled early from Shanghai to avoid the later crush of local tourists but the rain dampened our hopes for any sustained photo shoots on the banks of its river.

I spent a couple of days in Shanghai's Marriage Market at the People's Square. This was purely a photojournalistic endeavor with street photography overtones. Every Saturday and Sunday since 1996, this popular gathering provides parents (and grandparents) the opportunity to advertise their unmarried children by posting their vital statistics such age, height, educational qualifications and work history. One of the most striking image is that of a marriage broker who presumably received the news that the match she had arranged was successful, and she would get her commission. 

I chose to post process the resulting photographs in monochrome to give them a documentary feel, and more of them can be viewed at The Marriage Market.

In the main touristic spots in different cities across China, pre-wedding photoshoots can very frequently be seen, since they've become the must-have for every Chinese couple before their marriage. However, Chinese people often have day-long photo sessions much before their actual weddings. Sometimes it can be half a year or even a year in advance of the ceremony. It's predicted that the value of the pre-wedding photo shoot industry may reach millions of US dollars by the end of 2019. 

No longer content with black and white pictures, this bride -as many others- dressed in a magnificent red dress (in all likelihood rented for the day) was posing near the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Most probably, she and her husband to be could've traveled from one of China's provinces especially for this photo shoot.

A Hokkien opera actress breaking into laughter on seeing me in the backstage is one of my favorite candid photographs, and has earned its place amongst the many others in my  in my soon-to-be- published "Chinese Opera of the Diaspora" photo book. I am still unsure what provoked her to laugh. Her partner seems puzzled as well. The majority of the Chinese opera actors I photographed were exceedingly welcoming and hospitable, however few were as amused as she was by my presence. The show was during the Hungry Ghost festival in Kowloon. 

Another gallery of Chinese opera is The Unseen; a collection of monochromatic images of a Hokkien opera troupe in Malaysia.

This is the only image in the selection that doesn't have any humans in it. It's of  Xinchang Ancient Town viewed through a restaurant's round window. 

Xinchang is an ancient water town with about 100 folk houses of different sizes that were built during the Ming (1368 - 1644 AD) and Qing (1644 - 1911 AD) dynasties. The old streets, the rivers that pass through the town, the stone arch bridges, and folk houses form a typical picture in China’s Yangtze River Delta. The glass diffraction added another layer to the timeless feel of the town.

The eighth image of the selection is of Ren Li Fung, who posed for my camera at the water town of Zhuijiajiao. Although we had photo shoots all over the small town, this one was indoors in its tiny museum. We were nervous because we were not supposed to use any of its rooms as backgrounds (though there were no signs posted prohibiting photography). I used the side opening of a typical Chinese canopy bed to frame her in the ambient light.

For more of Ren Li Fung, I've produced a multimedia slideshow titled "The Legend of Hua", which tells the story of a Hua, a women wronged by an unfaithful lover, who returns as a ghost to seek revenge.

Another of my favorite images was made in the old teahouse in Qi Bao. The Qi Bao teahouse consists of a large tea room with about six or seven square tables, an outdoor courtyard whose walls are covered with posters of handwritten calligraphy, and an inner large hall where traditional pinghua/pingtan singing-story telling shows are performed between12:30 and 2:00 pm.

This dapper gentleman is a regular patron, and tried to discourage me from photographing him. He had a small transistor radio on the table next to him, and would furiously scribble in a notebook. I took him to be a journalist; retired like most of the other patrons, who couldn't shake the habit of writing. He might have been anything at all of course, but my image of him pleased me. When I returned to the teahouse a few months later, he was at the same table and cracked a very thin smile when I gave him a few prints of his photographs. He even managed to whisper a "xie xie".

I produced a monochromatic photo gallery of The Old Qi Bao Teahouse, and produced a large landscape image wrap photo book by the same name.

I spent a day at Beijing's famous Panjiyuan market, photographing mostly from the hip and jostling against the crowds that come to find a deal or a rare artifact. It dates back to the late days of the declining Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) when many destitute members of the aristocracy and officials brought their antiques to the street in the cover of night to sell. To avoid gossip, they lit up a lantern to sell their antiques at night. 

I was particularly drawn to the indoor section of the market where the booksellers had their lockers, and spread their offerings. Second hand books, including Mao's Litle Red Book and posters of his likeness, as well as books of poetry and old photographs were there to be sold.

I put together a photo gallery of images made during my time at this unique market titled Panjiyuan

Deng Li is a fashionista, an artist and has a small store in Beijing's Dashanzi Art District which is also known as Art Zone 798. Although I mistook her for being Tibetan, she's Han Chinese from Chongqing. She has a lot of presence which is what interested me in photographing her. She uses old embroidery on the tunics and on the dresses she sells; all of which are one-of-a-kind. We had difficulty communicating and I found her to be rather enigmatic. All of the images I made of her were in her tiny store which was crowded with her clothing inventory, her artwork of large oil paintings and sculptures...interspersed with vases, plants  and Buddhas.

The twelfth photograph in this selection is of three cast members of a Hokkien opera troupe preparing themselves before appearing in a show to celebrate the Hungry Ghost festival in Hong Kong's Kowloon. It's reminiscent of an oil painting because of the penumbra and the dim light reflected on their white tunics. The opera troupes live in close proximity of each other during the months they spend performing at various venues, and they bond together as members of a single family. There's a lot of camaraderie between them, and the spirit of cooperation and mutual assistance is very high. Life would be very difficult for them if that spirit was not present and engendered.

I produced a photo gallery titled Entertaining The Gods which includes images made during the Hungry Ghost festival in Hong Kong.

The tattoo'ed man walking with his companion on Mott street during the feast of San Gennaro is the only non-China photograph in this selection.  Every September since 1926, in honor of the San Gennaro, patron saint of Naples, the Little Italy section of Lower Manhattan becomes alive with people, enjoying the sounds and food of Italy. Now in it's 93rd year, the festival attracts more than a million people annually to the streets of Little Italy. Mainly tourists come to witness the festivities, eat Italian food and while the carnival games are usually rigged, it doesn't stop them from being fun.

The monochromatic photo gallery is titled "The Feast of San Gennaro".

An extremely enjoyable photo shoot took place at the Shanghai Film Park in Chendun that had sets of urban 1930 Shanghai. A day of work with Tian Yiyi and with the help of Yimu, I produced a short multimedia slideshow based on the life of Ruan Ling-Yu, a silent film star of the 1930s in her native China. She was known for a charismatic on-screen presence and a tragic off-screen life. One of the most prominent Chinese film stars of the 1930s, her exceptional acting ability and suicide at the age of 24 led her to become an icon of Chinese cinema. Moreover, her life story was portrayed by the sublime Maggie Cheung in the 1991 movie Centre Stage.

Along a gallery of images of Tian Yiyi titled "The Ingenue", there's also the monochromatic multimedia slideshow "The Immortal".

Another 'behind-the-scenes' image of the close ties that bond the cast members of Chinese -in this case, Hokkien- operas. I was struck by the 'sisterhood' exhibited by these two female actors and by their obvious affection for each other. In a conversation before the show, they were sitting very close to one another, and on seeing me photographing them, the one on the right hugged her sister or companion. I felt they wanted me to record their friendship, and unfortunately I neglected to ask for their WeChat handles to send it to them.

This image is featured in my soon to be published photo book "Chinese Opera of the Diaspora".

More of my photographs of Chinese opera can be viewed at "Behind The Curtain."

Another image from Shanghai's Marriage Market made the selection. Here, what drew me to these two women was their earnest expressions. The one on the right had an anxious expression -almost like a supplicant- while the other was more relaxed. I felt it was an ongoing negotiation; perhaps over the amount of a dowry should the marriage be agreed to. Most of the unmarried offsprings are in the dark about their parents' activities, and would be utterly mortified at the meddling in their love affairs.

More of these images are at "The Marriage Market".

Melody (aka Xin) and Agnes were at Beijing's Forbidden Palace being photographed by their friend Eddy Leung, and after obtaining their permission, I gladly joined in the opportunity. They are from Guangzhou, the capital and most populous city of the province of Guangdong in southern China and were visiting the nation's capital during the long holiday. They are wearing Qing dynasty dresses which they presumably had rented for the occasion. Melody spoke perfect English, and told me that she is proud of the nation's heritage. She often dresses up in historical costumes/dresses in her home town.

A collection of my photographs of people in Chinese costumes can be viewed at "Chinoiseries of Beijing".

From my photo gallery titled "The One-Yuan Teahouse" is one of the portrait of Pan Pingfu, the owner of the teahouse. I had traveled from Shanghai to the thousand-year-old Digang Village (荻港村); a small village near the Grand Canal; the watery artery that runs which runs 1200 miles from Beijing to Hangzhou. This modest and sleepy village with black-tile-roofed houses is home to Juhuayuan (聚华园) teahouse which has been here for more than a century, a relic from the past.

It is where customers can sit for the entire day from as early as 3 am, spending only 1 yuan ( about $0.15) for the cost of black tea, boiled water, a table and a chair.

The final selected image is of a cast member of a Hokkien opera troupe applying makeup foundation to his face. I was surprised to see him in August this year, after having seen and photographed him during last year's Hungry Ghost festival at a different Kowloon venue. The makeup sessions take an inordinate amount of time especially as the actors have to self-apply it. They have to learn it as they learn to act, move, sing and speak.

For more on the Hokkien opera during Hungry Ghost festivals, drop by "The Hungry Ghost festival" photo gallery.