Monday, 5 November 2018

POV | The Character Actors of Chinese Opera | GFX50s

Actor In Teochew Opera (Hong Kong)
 Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
As no doubt readers of this blog have known for quite a while, I've been working on building an inventory of photographs of the various types of Chinese opera performances and backstages which eventually will be featured in the production of a coffee-table photo book "Chinese Opera of the Diaspora". 

So far, I've photographed a number of performances at different venues ranging from New York City's Chinatown, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and Penang...most of which were held during Chinese festivals. I hope to do the same in Taipei and Bangkok later this year and early next.

Setting aside the eye-catching aesthetics of the costumery, the beauty of the performers, the intricacy of the facial makeups and the "live-in" atmosphere of the shows' backstages, I thought I'd share two of my environmental portraits made in the backstages of Chinese opera shows in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.

These two portraits are of elderly actors; the type that the cinematic world calls' "character actors" (these are generally defined as supporting actors who play unusual, interesting, or eccentric characters). I found these actors to be much more visually interesting than the glamorous divas; not because of their rugged and wrinkled physiognomies but because they had presence...and must've been part of these troupes for as long as they could remember.


Actor In Hokkien Opera (Kuala Lumpur)
 Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Although neither of these actors took the roles of "leading men" or "warriors" in the operas, they seemed comfortable in their skin to do less strenuous roles such as the elderly scholars, judges and other supporting roles.

Unfortunately, due the language barriers I wasn't able to interview either of these two actors to gain an insight on their lives and background. They also seemed reluctant to allow me more than a few minutes to photograph them, either because they were waiting to perform (as in the top photograph) or just uncomfortable with the the attention of a stalking photographer (lower photograph).

Both photographs were made with the fabulous Fuji GFX50s, the medium format mirrorless camera. Technical details are:

Top photograph: GFX50s. GF45mmF2.8 R WR Lens. 1/25th. f2.8. iso 800. Aperture Priority. September 4, 2018.

Lower photographGFX50s. GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR . 1/30th. f5.6. iso 800. Spot Metering. October 20, 2017. 

The top photograph was made during a Teochow opera performance at the King George V Memorial Park (Kowloon) during the Hungry Ghost festival.

The lower photograph was made during a Hokkien opera performance at the Tokong Kau Ong Yah temple (Ampang, Kuala Lumpur) during the Nine Emperor Gods festival.