Friday, 19 October 2018

Back Story | The Lost Diva of Penang

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
As I was planning my two weeks photo trip to Malaysia's Penang Island and Hong Kong to photograph the Hungry Ghost Festival, I started thinking of another fashion-travel-historical storytelling project to add to those already done in Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur such The Legend of Hua, The Girl of Nanjing Road, and The Red Qi Pao.

After a few false starts, I decided to concoct a story that would dovetail perfectly with the Chinese public operas that were to be held in Penang during the festival and a qi pao wearing opera diva, returning to earth from the afterlife. I don't want to divulge too much of the story line at this time, but it will merge fashion, culture (through the festival and opera) and to a certain extent history as well, due to the proximity of the Malacca Strait that was, and still is, a haven for pirates.

To that end, I enlisted the help of Venisess Hui, a Georgetown-based makeup artist, and bounced the concept off her. The only props I had was a black qi pao bought online from Taobao and a red paper fan. At my request, Venisess ordered a Chinese opera headdress which was also available online.

We agreed that Jinru Lee, a student and a resident of Georgetown would be ideal for the role of the Chinese opera diva that I had in mind. 

We met at my hotel on Lebuh Leith where Jinru got her makeup, dress and headdress. After an hour or so breaking the ice and a photo shoot, we drove off the some of the streets of Georgetown scouting for appropriate locations and decent light.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Decent outdoor light in Georgetown at this time of year is virtually impossible, since it's either monsoon rains or blinding sunshine, however we found decent spots under the colonnaded sidewalks in some parts of the town. Most of the spots we chose were facades of old shophouses and colorful and freshly painted walls. 

The heat was oppressive, and having had no sleep because of extreme jet lag and fatigue caused by the 20 hours flights travel time, I wasn't as sharp as I would've liked...and it's only when I view the images made during the photo shoot that my recollection of details returns to a certain extent. I suspect that my directions to Jinru and Venisess were not as precise as I would've liked. 
But no matter...the photo shoot was completed and I'll be working on stringing some of the images together to tell the story of the opera diva returning to her birthplace. I recorded Jinru's narration which, along with appropriate music, will accompany the images.

Ah, yes...the audio slideshow will be called "The Phantom of the Chinese Opera". Not entirely original, but it's descriptive.