Friday, 4 September 2020

A Photo Session in NYC's Chinatown

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved

After the long 'drought' brought about by COVID-19 which essentially grounded me since the beginning of 2020, I received a well needed boost of endorphins when I met with Lise Liu in Chinatown's Pell Street on a Sunday morning for a photo session.

I had arranged with her to wear one of her qi pao/cheongsam as she was to take on the role of the imaginary Lily Wu looking for traces of her long deceased grandmother in the narrow alleys of Chinatown at a time when the area was controlled by gangsters. The photo-film is tentatively titled "Looking For Mei Wu".

My favorite Chinatown streets are Pell and Doyers streets, and this is where Lise and I made many of the photos. Doyers -in particular- is special since within its curve was hidden secret gambling and opium dens and even prostitution caves. Pell Street is also interesting as it used to be where the headquarters for gangs and their criminal activities.
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
It was my first time to photograph a model in New York City, and I was apprehensive as to whether the busy streets and gawking pedestrians would be impediments...but none of that happened. We had thought that it being a Sunday, the streets would be less crowded...but that turned out not to be the case. Chinese shoppers prefer their produce as fresh as possible, so shopping doesn't stop on's a daily event. Pedestrians were mindful not to intrude and avoided crossing in front of me when I was photographing. Overall, it was an amazing experience with Lise supplying a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

There were only two "annoyances": we encountered a noisy removal/haulage truck parked in front of a building that is to be featured in the forthcoming photo-film, and the disappearance of a wooden chair next to the incredibly glorious red wall on Mosco Street. I had hoped the chair would be a prop for a scene, but it had been whisked away by its owner or someone else.

Overall I would've preferred a cloudier sky, but the sun perfectly illuminated certain photo spots such as dark stairwells on Mott Street.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I had provided Lise with a black qi pao to wear for the photo session, but the size was not right so she wore a flowery one. It turned to be a salutary choice because a black one would not have contrasted well against the red backgrounds that I favored. She also brought a silken scarf which was useful on certain poses.

I used the fabulous Fuji GFX50R and the equally impressive Fujinon GF 45mm f2.8 all through the session, and while I had the X-Pro2/18mm for transitional takes, I didn't use it.