Friday, 23 September 2016

Takehiko Yagi | Holi

Photo © Takehiko Yagi-All Rights Reserved
"I have been fascinated by the colors of the sacred festival of Holi for nine years now. I fell in love with the festival for the first time when I saw it on television as a high school student." 
This is very possibly a first. 

My Twitter feed has the link to the photo gallery Diving Into The Colors of Holi by Japanese photographer Takehiko Yagi, and naturally I followed it to view it.

Scrolling down the intensely colored images of the well known Indian festival, I stopped at the above photograph, showing the spiritual intensity on the faces of devotees in the temple of Banke Bihari in Vrindavan, the epicenter of the Holi festival. 

I recognized this exact scene because I was there as well....at the same time, and photographed these very same devotees. And then I remembered being shoulder to shoulder with an Asian photographer, who, now I know, was Takehiko Yagi. We were both swathed in scarves and eye protections; our cameras protected by makeshift (or ready-made) plastic covers, and we had our backs to the stage where the idol was periodically shown to the mass of devotees in the temple's hall.

This is my own photograph:


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
While the scenes at Banke Bihari Temple, the epicenter of Holi devotional revelry in Vrindavan, provide incredibly compelling photographs of devotees covered in color, I remember concluding that the scenes were also repetitive, and there was the risk of hitting the point of diminishing returns after a while.

Most photographers prefer to remain to the sides of the temple, but not Mr. Yagi or me. We preferred venturing in the courtyard where the frenetic activity was, and where we were most at risk from the Holi weaponry. I recall being drenched in colored water thrown at the crowds by the temple's priests.

Takehiko Yagi was born in Fukuoka, and attended the Tamagawa University College of Agriculture, and started his career as a professional photographer in 2014. He was awarded
a Nikkei National Geographic Photo Prize in that year, and was Grand prize winner of the 4th Nikkei National Geographic Photo Prize.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Hanoi Grapevine | The Spirit Mediums of Hanoi


I'm very pleased that Hanoi Grapevine has featured news of my photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam on its popular portal.

Hanoi Grapevine describes itself an important and active promoter of the arts in Vietnam. It provides bilingual content of high-quality art and culture happenings in the contemporary landscape of the country and offer reviews by interested, informed and opinionated commentators. 

It has also announced that Hanoi’s expats and local citizens will have chance to talk to me about Đạo Mẫu and Hầu Đồng when I am in Hanoi in early November for a number of appearances at different photo talk venues.

Fuller details will be announced on this blog once I have the firm dates. The venues are in central Hanoi and are popular for art, photography and music events.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

My Book's Back Story | The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam

All Photographs © 2016 Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I remember September 12, 2014 very well. I was in Sa Pa, the famous hill station in northern Viet Nam, and despite the early morning humidity, the Black Hmong vendors were already waiting for tourists. I was walking on Fansipan Road, bantering with some of them, when I heard religious music wafting from a nondescript building. I asked the vendors and was told it was a temple. I walked in and met women dressed in red traditional clothes who, through sign language, told me that a ceremony would start at 9:00 am.

This is how my two-year long journey into the world of Đạo Mẫu, the indigenous Vietnamese mother goddess religion and hầu đồng, the ritual of spirit mediumship, started. Totally by accident. Serendipitously. 

I was flabbergasted that I hadn't heard of Đạo Mẫu before. My so-called specialty as a travel photographer is/was ethno-photography with special interest in esoteric religions and cults. And here, on a silver platter, was an ancient indigenous religion that had escaped my notice. To me, that was analogous at how cats react to catnip...the "happy" receptors in my brain went haywire.

It was after attending another 'stumbled-on' hầu đồng ceremony, this time two days later in the market town of Bac Ha, that I resolved to explore the religion, its rituals, its history and its practitioners. 

I had quickly researched the topic online, and discovered -to my surprise-  that no non-Vietnamese photographer had documented the religion and the ceremonies. There were commercial videos on YouTube and other sites, but no serious photographic essays or documentaries. It was at this point that I took it as a sign that I had to be the first to do that...and eventually this evolved into publishing the book: Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam.

Sharing The Ceremonial Wheat Wine Known As "Rượu Cần". Photo ©2016 Kim Nga
It took more than 18 months since that first accidental encounter with a Đạo Mẫu religious ceremony to reach the point where I felt I was ready to produce a substantial book about my journey into the depths of this esoteric religion, in its sacred rituals and music. 

Apart from the five or six trips of two weeks each to Hanoi, from attending over two dozen hầu đồng ceremonies in the capital, suburbs and further afield, and from interviewing some of the most popular spirit mediums, I researched Đạo Mẫu in as many publications and books that I could find. It wasn't readily available, and even the venerable New York Public Library wasn't able to find a specific historical tome in its inventory. I learned a lot from interviewing the mediums and by observing their mannerisms and styles during the ceremonies and in social settings.


On reviewing the material I had gleaned from my research and trips, I concluded my book would end up being between 150-200 pages, with about 100 full page color photographs.  I carefully chose and edited my photographs out of the thousands I had taken, and I started typing the manuscript.

The next step was to choose a print-on-demand publisher. I had toyed with the idea of using a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publishing costs for an offset printing, but decided against it as too time-consuming and potentially a time-waster. After a few tries, I settled on Blurb Books.

I have had past experience with Blurb Books, when I published two monochrome photo books:  Bali: Island of Gods and DARSHAN, but this would be the first time that I'd use them for a color photo book. Setting that aside, I had a number of reasons to use this popular print-on-demand publisher.

Firstly, I was used to Blurb Books' BookWright free tool, which allows users to publish custom photo books, magazines, and novels in either print or ebook format. I wasn't interested in its templates as I wanted total creative control on my book's layout, but I could use the rest of its features, including the ability to eventually produce the book in printed form and ebook.

At work using Blurb Books' BookWright
Secondly, Blurb Books has its own bookstore for books, and has a option which allows its users to publish their books on Amazon. Thirdly, I knew that Blurb Books could produce my books very quickly, and could deliver them efficiently to my eventual buyers.

This brings me to my efforts to get an international publishing house interested in my book. I collected a few of my best photographs of hầu đồng ceremonies, added a few paragraphs on the religion's background and emailed TASCHEN, TeNeues-USA, Phaidon and others. Most of the publishing houses demurred or didn't respond.

Being very pleased at the quality, layout and color reproduction of the dummy test book, I ordered a hard cover large format landscape version of the book, and offered it for sale as a special edition on my own website at a discount to start the marketing momentum. Not only were the results very encouraging, but the feedback made it all worthwhile.

Đạo Mẫu (and its Hầu Đồng rituals) is a fascinating syncretic religious practice mixing a number of artistic elements, such as music, singing, dance and the use of costumes. It also happens to be a joyous religious ceremony, without the dour, morose, guilt-ridden and fearsome ambiances of some other established religions we all know about.


The ceremonies are often joyous and engage the audience.

I had remarked in an earlier blog post that I had found a calling with this book project. My photographic expeditions-workshops were characterized with constantly having a definite documentary objective to them. Whether the objectives were Sufi festivals, obscure Hindu religious events such the gathering of the Vellichappadu and Theyyam, or the Cao Dai tradition in central Vietnam, I always had an intellectual, and not only a photographic, interest in such esoteric activities, and those who joined my trips seemed to have shared that. However, being practically unable to spend but just a few days at such events meant that significant ‘coverage’ was impossible, and this frustrated me. Spending weeks in a single location or on one single religious event was impractical with a half dozen or more other photographers in tow.

Literally stumbling on the Vietnamese religious tradition of Đạo Mẫu, and its ceremonial tangential manifestations such as Hầu Đồng and Hát Chầu Văn in late 2014 has literally supercharged, and reinvigorated, my enthusiasm for documentary photography, audio recording, storytelling and multimedia production over these past two years.

Pondering what to do with a gift of money and a lit cigarette during a ceremony. Photo © Hoang Anh
The special editions ready to go.


Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Jean-Claude Moschetti | Egunguns | Magic on Earth

Photo © Jean-Claude Moschetti - All Rights Reserved
African spirituality, such as worship of ancestors and protective spirits, also includes traditional secret societies and voodoo, and is a fertile field for unusual ethnographic photography.

Jean-Claude Moschetti's photographs in Magic On Earth is about these African occult traditions where masks are considered to be mediators between the living world and the supernatural world of the dead, ancestors and other entities.

He tells us that in Burkina Faso, these masks represent protective spirits that can take animal forms or can appear as strange beings. These spirits watch over a family, clan or community, and if the rules for their propitiation are followed correctly, provide for the fertility, health, and prosperity.

The word Egungun signifies all types of masquerades or masked, costumed figures worn by the Yoruba people, and which are connected with ancestor reverence, or to the ancestors themselves as a collective force. The Yoruba is an ethnic group of Southwestern and North central Nigeria as well as Southern and Central Benin known as the Yorubaland cultural region of West Africa.

Amongst the Yoruba, the annual ceremonies in honor of the dead serve as a means of assuring their ancestors a place among the living. They believe the ancestors have the responsibility to compel the living to uphold the ethical standards of the past generations of their clan, town or family. The Egungun are celebrated in festivals, known as Odun Egungun, and in family ritual through the masquerade custom.

Jean-Claude Moschetti has photographed his Egungun series in four different countries; Benin, Burkina-Faso, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. He plans to continue this series throughout the African continent.
 
Born in France, he studied at the Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle et des Techniques de Diffusion, en Belgique, and worked in the movie industry. He worked as a freelance photographer/photojournalist since 1995.

His work appeared in Le Figaro, Libération, Le Monde, GEO, Les Echos, Le Point, L’Express, La Vie, Capital, Challenges, L’Expansion, L’Usine Nouvelle, Moniteur duBTP, Liaisons Sociales, LSA, Que Choisir, Forbes Magazine, Financial Times, among others.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Berta Tilmantaitė | Burma - Myanmar

Photo © Berta Tilmantaitė -All Rights Reserved
I am saddened by the recent news of a major earthquake affecting Myanmar, and at the loss of life and at the reported damage to over 150 historic pagodas in Bagan...so I was glad to have noticed the work of Berta Tilmantaitė on my Facebook timeline-wall.

It's not as much on Bagan and its pagodas, but is a visual and musical journey through Myanmar, specifically while Berta and a friend were traveling on a public boat from Yangon to Pathein, and onwards to Bagan. They stayed on the deck with all other people - locals, traveling to small villages along the river. I recall taking this public boat at dawn from Mandalay to Bagan, and it was a wonderful trip.

Berta Tilmantaité is a Lithuanian multimedia journalist, photographer and videographer. Her visual stories from different parts of the world often focus on the connection between human and nature. Berta has BA in Journalism from Vilnius University (Lithuania), also took a course in Photojournalism at Danish School of Media and Journalism. She holds MA in International Multimedia Journalism (University of Bolton/Beijing Foreign Studies University). Currently Berta works as a freelance multimedia journalist and photographer. Her work has been published in various media outlets, such as National Geographic, Al Jazeera, Geographical, GEO, Rhythms Monthly, China daily and others. She also occasionally lectures at Vilnius University and VGT University in Vilnius, Lithuania





Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Hầu Bóng | The Cult of The Immoral



I found this fascinating short movie on my Facebook timeline. The many readers of my blog know of the recent publication of my book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam (on Amazon), and this short movie which was filmed in 1934 not only fits perfectly fits in the book's narrative, but also provides me with an incomparable view of the past, and how the ceremonies I documented were conducted over 80 years ago.

If the movie doesn't play, click here to watch it on YouTube.

Let me start by the title of the movie: in French it reads the cult of the immoral. French colonialism in Vietnam lasted more than six decades, and by the late 1880s it controlled Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, which it referred to as Indochine Francais. It became one of France’s most lucrative colonial possessions.

The French justified their imperialism as being a ‘civilising mission’, a pledge to develop backward nations. Consequently, most indigenous traditions were considered as barbaric, especially those that related to religion.

In my book, I highlight the role of Père Léopold Michel Cadière (1869–1955), a French missionary who wrote 250 research works about Vietnamese history, religions, customs, linguistics and who described Đạo Mẫu (the worship of mother goddesses in Vietnam) as being a cult, ignoring its ancient history and indigenous character throughout Vietnam. The French, through brutal force, intimidation and jail sentences, tried to eradicate the religion but this only reinforced its practice, but pushed it underground.

I've attended a large number of hầu đồng ceremonies during my research, and have not encountered female singers in the chầu văn that perform during the ceremonies. I was told that only males could be chầu văn singers, however in the movie it is most certainly a woman's voice that is heard accompanying the medium during her performances.

By the way, hầu đồng, Hầu Bóng or Lên đồng are interchangeable names for the ritual of spirit mediumship practiced in the Vietnamese indigenous religion, Đạo Mẫu.

The socialist government frowned on the practice but relented a few years ago as it was viewed as extolling the traditional values of the Vietnamese, their virtues, history and culture. It is now being considered by UNESCO for inclusion in its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List.

However, many Vietnamese I met in New York City and elsewhere in the United States still consider it as a prohibited activity, or as superstition. A few have never heard of it.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Chu Việt Hà | Hà Nội Street Life

Photo © Chu Việt Hà -All Rights Reserved
It's been a while since I've posted the work by a Vietnamese photographer, especially one that specializes in street photography, which is one of my very favorite activities when I travel to Hà Nội; that is when I can drag myself from photographing Hầu Đồng ceremonies.

I've been following the work of Chu Việt Hà on Facebook link is for his Flickr page) for a while, and he has always impressed me with his keen eye. I know some of the locales in Hà Nội's Old Quarter where he photographs, and perhaps that adds to my enjoyment of his technique and his timing. Many of his photographs are made around Hoan Kiem Lake (as the one above), while others document the shopkeepers and the teeming life near Dong Xuan market.

According to a recent interview, Chu Việt Hà considers Robert Capa as one of his ideal role models, as well as Henri Cartier Bresson for his "decisive moment"...however I see much of Alex Webb's influence in his work. There's also humor in his work in the way he juxtaposes certain elements in the scenes that end up being incongruous.

A Fuji camera user, he currently works at a construction company in Hà Nội, and has been involved in street photography for approximately two years.

Photo © Chu Việt Hà -All Rights Reserved

Friday, 12 August 2016

Hầu Đồng : The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam

For My Personal Blurb Bookstore, Click on Above Image

I am pleased to announce the official publication of Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam; a 170-pages photo book. I've been working on this book over the past two years, during which I traveled to Hà Nội no less than six times to attend and photograph various ceremonies, conduct interviews and research the tradition and its impact on Vietnamese society. I am the only non-Vietnamese photographer to have photographed Hầu Đồng ceremonies in such depth.

Hầu Đồng is one of the main rituals of Đạo Mẫu, the worship of mother goddesses in Vietnam. During these rituals, the mediums go into trances to allow their bodies receive the spirits of various deities. The journey of the spirits into the bodies of the mediums is an incarnation, and the process involves the spirits briefly hovering then moving into the mediums. The mediums change their costumes to indicate which deity has entered their body

Vietnam submitted The Mother Goddesses worship to the UNESCO for consideration as ‘intangible cultural heritage of humanity’, and expects this status to be approved by November 2016.

I have already produced one-of-a-kind limited number of special advance copies of Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam, and these were all sold out in a matter of two weeks. These special editions were hardcover large format landscape (13×11 in, 33×28 cm 170 pages), and were individually dedicated/signed, along with a surprise gift for those who bought it.

Those currently offered for sale through my Blurb Bookstore are in two formats: the standard landscape hardcover or softcover (both 10×8 in, 25×20 cm 170 pages).

For a glimpse of the book and some of its pages, drop by A Labor of Love. And for a quick view of the many testimonials received from people who bought the special advance copies, take a look at the following video. It also features one of the more famous music pieces performed during the ceremonies.


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

POV : Say No To Cheap "Parachute" Photographers

A recent article (or a post) in the Hanoi Grapevine caught my attention, and aroused my ire.

It appears that an American photographer is seeking volunteers in Hanoi to assist her in producing a another of her photographic projects that involves making photographs of people living in their apartments or living quarters through their windows.

I am told the project does not involve surreptitious photography, but all is staged and arranged for beforehand, and although I fail to appreciate the aesthetics (if any) of such a project, others might find it interesting.

However this is not the issue.

According to the article, the  issue is that this photographer -presumably reasonably well-off- is soliciting the help of about 20 or so young Vietnamese photographers to scout Hanoi's neighborhoods (while she is still in the USA), take pictures of buildings and residents that may fit her requirements, obtain the approval of the residents to be photographed, and show her these prints on her arrival.

She would then pick and choose those that suited her best...and have the Vietnamese volunteers accompany her to these building, interpret for her, stage the various settings, and she would then click the shutter on her cameras, and that would be it.

So in essence...the way I read it is this: the fruit is peeled, sliced and ready to eat. But those who did all the work don't get a bite.

And what do the Vietnamese volunteers get in exchange? A decent day rate? A seminar on how to take their photography to the next level? Tips on how to improve their photography? A review and an edit of their portfolios?

No. According to the article/post, the photographer will provide meals (probably a cheap bowl of pho at some street corner) and a tankful of gas for the volunteers' motorcycles while she's in Hanoi.

I'm really sick and tired of reading and hearing stuff like that. This is shameful. There's no two ways about it. The United States has a abject legacy of war with Vietnam, and yet, I have seldom been in a country where they have not been welcomed more warmly, more effusively and with more generosity. And yet, this photographer cannot bring herself to do the right thing and give back something tangible to those she seeks help from.

I have conducted workshops in Vietnam, and employed assistants , fixers and guides...and never have I not paid them. Never.

Had this photographer's project been about the culture of Vietnam, its people... a social issue... something worthwhile... then I would accept and agree that the assistants could benefit from the "volunteerism", and learn and participate in a worthwhile production that projects well into their homeland.

Volunteerism is great when there's a redeeming value to it at the end of the day. But this, in my view, is not that.

This "photographer" should learn how to do research, how to develop friendships and relationships based on mutual respect, she ought to recognize that these young people have expenses and must be compensated fairly (perhaps not in line with United States' pay levels, but certainly with those in Vietnam)...these are not volunteers; they are fixers, who make things possible for this photographer to hang her work in expensive galleries in New York, London and elsewhere.

'Parachuting' for two weeks in a foreign land, and expecting people to help you for free just because you are a foreigner, is insensitive, unfair and wrong.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Udit Kulshrestha | The Nocte People

Photo © Udit Kulshrestha _ All Rights Reserved
The Nocte people, are an ex-headhunting lower hill tribe of the Patkai hills of eastern Arunachal Pradesh. They are ethnically related to the Konyak Nagas, and are originally from the Hukong Valley in Myanmar, from where they migrated during the 1670s-1700s.

They originally followed Theravada Buddhism and animism, but have adopted Hinduism since the 18th century. Many of them converted to Christianity by American missionaries whose objectives were to convert tribes in Myanmar and China. The Nocte society is divided into two groups, the chiefs and the commoners.

Udit Kulshrestha has photographed the Noctes, and his monochromatic gallery is on his website. An interview with him and on his Noctes work is also on The Wire, a web publication in Delhi.

Udit is an Indian photographer whose primary focus is on subjects of culture and social issues. I have particularly admired his excellent work on the Nautch Girls of Sonepur, Sanskaar, Braj Holi, Kumbh Mela and Pushkar Fair.

His work was published by Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Fortune, LA Times, Washington Post and leading Indian publications such as The Caravan, FountainINK, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Sunday Guardian, Motherland etc. His work has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institute. He prefers to delve in the culture and conflict in the unseen geographies of North East India. He is also the author of Darwaze, a limited edition self published pictorial photobook of his early works.


Sunday, 31 July 2016

Barbara Colbert | Theyyam

Photo © Barbara Colbert - All Rights Reserved
Theyyam is also known as the “Dance of Gods”, which is unique to the folk culture of Kerala. The dance is an intriguing ritual integral to the worship of the goddess Kali. Originally reserved for the upper caste temple priests hundreds of years ago, it evolved to become a mass celebration for everyone.

The 800-year old celebration has roots in the age-old Dravidian culture of South India, and is a combines dance, drama, music and mime. More than 1200 temples in the Malabar region of Kerala host these religious dances during the first three or four months of each year.

The lower parts of the costumes in Theyyam are made of coconut leaves, while the upper part of the body remains bare and painted, although I have also seen some performers wearing two halves of a coconut shell as a bra. Usually, a paste of rice and turmeric is smeared on the upper bodies of the performers. 

The Theyyam headdresses, made of bamboo, wood, peacock feathers, leaves and flowers, are the heaviest and most elaborate part of the costume. In some cases, the headdresses rise to 50 feet, requiring a lot of training and balance from the performers.

For his book Nine Lives, historian William Dalrymple visited Malabar and asked a Theyyam performer to explain his experience. The oracle answered,
“You become the deity. You lose all fear. Even your voice changes. The god comes alive and takes over. You are just the vehicle, the medium."
Barbara Colbert's Theyyam photo essay describes her experience photographing a Theyyam dance ceremony in Kannur. She arrived at 4:30 in the morning at the courtyard of a small temple where the preparations had been going on all through the night.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Shiho Fukada | The Samurai of Fukushima

Photo © Shiho Fukada - Courtesy Bloomberg
Here's another photo essay on the Sōma-Nomaoi festival by photojournalist Shiho Fukada as featured by Bloomberg Pursuits.

The annual festival involves horse-riding participants don elaborate armor like samurais, who aim to recreate scenes from Japan's Sengoku period (1467–1603) which was marked by social upheaval, political intrigue and near-constant military conflict.

The festival's original purpose was a military exercise designed to sharpen the fighting skills of the samurai. One event in the festival, Shinki Sodatsusen, sees the samurai compete for flags that have been shot into the air. The festival has been designated as an "intangible cultural asset" by the Japanese government.

Shiho Fukada is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, cinematographer, and photojournalist based in Boston and Tokyo. She started her career as a news photographer in New York and has a decade of experience shooting and producing stories nationally and internationally. She currently pursues underreported stories both in video and photography. She has a degree in English literature from Sophia University in Japan and received a diploma in Multimedia Journalism from Ateno de Manila University in the Philippines.

Her work has been featured in numerous publications including The New York Times, Time, Stern, New Yorker, Le Monde, CNN, MSNBC and others.

Incidentally, I've never heard of Bloomberg Pursuits, which describes itself as its hub for lifestyle news and luxury reviews, your guide to the best food, fashion, travel, cars, watches, real estate, gadgets, wine, and cocktails.

And here is a short movie on the Soma Nomaoi festival.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Richard Atrero de Guzman | Sōma-Nomaoi

Photo © Richard Atrero de Guzman (aka Bahag) - All Rights Reserved
One of the great summer festivals of Japan’s northeastern Tōhoku region, Sōma-Nomaoi dates back over a thousand years and is held every year for three days during the month of July. Some 500 armored and helmeted warriors ride on horseback, and  take part in this military recreation.

There are primarily two main attractions during the festival: the Koshiki Kacchu Keiba and the Shinki Sodatsusen. The former event involve 12 samurais in their armor who race over a distance of 1,000 meters. The latter event involves several hundred samurais on horses that compete for the 40 shrine flags known as "goshinki" that are shot into the air with fireworks. 

Richard Atrero de Guzman (also known as Bahag) was recently at the festival and produced a number of photographs viewable on his Photoshelter website.

Bahag (or Bahagski) is a Tokyo based photographer/filmmaker whose photographs have been published in local and international publications. Despite photographing the glossy world of fashion and advertising, he is more inclined to produce socially relevant work in the tradition of documentary photography and photojournalism.

Traveling the globe for the past eight years, he was commissioned by core civic institutions like the United Nations and the Drik Picture Library in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is represented internationally by M4 Collective and Bahaghari World Photography Philippine. He is also a stringer for Anadolu Agency & RT Ruptly TV, a German international news agency.


Saturday, 23 July 2016

World Body Painting Festival

Photo © Heinz-Peter Bader - Courtesy Daily News
I wasn't aware that a World Body Painting Festival even existed, but I should have. It is an annual body painting festival and competition held in Pörtschach, Austria, and attracts artists from 45 nations, and attracts more than 30,000 spectators. The event was held on July1-3, 2016.

It's a competition between artists (I suppose they're called 'body painters') who work on models for the festival's three days with a given theme. The categories are brush & sponge, airbrush and special effects for the World Champion Award.

I've done some digging, and I chose a couple of galleries that feature the wildest body painting examples; the Daily News has a gorgeous gallery with large images, while the UK's Daily Mail has a set of equally interesting images here.

I viewed many more of these galleries and noticed the number of photographers carrying the quasi-obligatory DSLRs with 70-200 lens were cheek-to-jowl surrounding the stage where the painted models strutted and showed off their body canvasses. I would imagine that getting as close as possible to the stage requires sharp elbows and a thick skin...these cluster-fucks must have a lot of shoving and pushing, and are not for the faint-hearted.

Perhaps an event on my bucket list?


Monday, 18 July 2016

Dorie Hagler | Semana Santa

Photo © Dorie Hagler-All Rights Reserved

To continue religious posts which I've added to my blog over the few past weeks, and to provide equal opportunity to the three main world religions, I'd like to feature Dorie Hagler's Semana Santa photo story.

I attended a Semana Santa in La Antigua (Guatemala)in 2002, and it was quite an experience. Although small, it featured rituals indigenous to this Central American nation, which included covering streets of La Antigua with natural, aromatic carpets of flowers, pines, clover and fruits, which the residents made and placed in front of their homes. 

I recall the tremendous fervor expressed by the Guatemalans who participate in the processions and its preparations, creating an extraordinary outpouring of Christian faith and devotion. I found it quite easy to photograph in Antigua during the Semana Santa, as there are ample accommodations, the routes of the processions are planned in advance and no one minds photographers.

The processions in Antigua feature huge platforms, called andas, on which religious statues are mounted. The first platform, holding a figure of Christ with a cross, is carried by 60 to 100 men, called cucuruchos, dressed in purple biblical clothing. This is followed by a platform with the Virgin Mary, borne by women wearing black mourning.

I was also in this delightful small town while teaching at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in 2015 mainly using a Leica M9 and a Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 as I walked the quaint cobblestones streets of La Antigua, not straying too far from its epicenter, Parque Central.

Dorie Hagler is a New York City based photojournalist, storyteller and an advocate. Her photographs appear in distinguished publications such as Tina Brown Live Media, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Elle, The Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post, The Albuquerque Journal, Ski Magazine, New Mexico Magazine, and many others. She was commissioned by international non-profits, local non-profits and documentary film-makers and has been awarded a public art commission by The State of New Mexico. Images from her personal documentary projects are collected by The State of New Mexico, museums, state agencies and individuals throughout New Mexico and the United States.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Remera | With The Book

Photo © Remera - All Rights Reserved

I haven't posted photographic work documenting Judaism for quite a while, and thought I'd remedy this unintentional lapse by featuring With The Book, a series of photographs made at the Western Wall in Old Jerusalem by Remera (more about him follows).

The Western Wall, also referred to as the ‘Wailing Wall’ is the most sacred place for Jews who believe it to be the only surviving structure of Herod's temple. For Muslims, it is known as the Buraq Wall, where the Prophet Muhammed tied Buraq, the winged riding animal which he rode during the Night of Ascension to heaven.

The wall has been a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage for centuries; the earliest source mentioning this specific site as a place of worship is from the 16th century. Rabbinic tradition teaches that the western wall was built upon foundations laid by the biblical King Solomon from the time of the First Temple.

The Sages of the Talmud stated that anyone who prayed at the Temple in Jerusalem was as if he had prayed before the throne of glory because the gate of heaven is situated there and it is open to hear prayers.

Remera is a photographer of Rwandan heritage, who trained as an architect in France, and is currently living in Luxembourg. In 2009, he acquired a camera to document a trip to China. This journey has sparked an interest in photography and the desire to show other cultures. This road leads him around the world; Europe, Africa, North America, India, Nepal, Middle East.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Now! | Hầu Đồng : The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam


Available for a limited time! Get an exclusive first run advance copy of Hầu Đồng : The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam


Hầu Đồng : The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam

US$ 235.00
(This exclusive price is for one advance copy. It's on a first come first served basis.
The price includes USPS shipping to an address within the contiguous United States.)
.

(Image-Wrap hard cover) 170 pages 13 x 11 inches/33 x 28 cms

Printed on Proline Pearl Photo Paper (Semi-Gloss/Best Quality 190 gsm)

Book weight approx 5.6 lbs/3 kgs

A large coffee-table format photo book with over 100 large color photographs and more than 60 pages of text, "Hầu Đồng : The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam" explains the ancient Vietnamese syncretic religion of Đạo Mẫu, its rituals, its pantheon of deities, along with a narrative of my own experiences documenting it in Vietnam since late 2014.

Hầu Đồng is a ritual of Đạo Mẫu, and involves mediums being possessed by deities-spirits. It combines trances, spirit worship, sacred music, spectacular costumes, theater, superstition, nationalism and history. Prohibited by the French colonials and by the Ho Chi Minh regime, it went underground and is now going through a resurgence.

I am the only non-Vietnamese photographer to have photographed Hầu Đồng ceremonies in such depth.

In addition to the large color photographs and scholarly explanatory text, the book also features interviews with 7 prominent Vietnamese mediums-clairvoyants on their life stories, and on their spiritual connection with Đạo Mẫu deities.

These are exclusive first run advance copies, and will individually be signed by me (if so wished)
and may also be personalized with the recipient's name (and any message) on request.








A Labor of Love by Tewfic El-Sawy on Exposure

Monday, 11 July 2016

Diego Huerta | Inside Oaxaca

Photo Diego Huerta-All Rights Reserved
“It is surprising that we have more than 57 native cultures in Mexico and we don’t know at least half of them. The information is nearly nonexistent.”- Diego Huerta
Diego Huerta discovered the depth of his country's dazzling cultural traditions and the myriad of its indigenous communities when traveling to Oaxaca, and attending the Guelaguetza, its biggest annual celebration and parade that features traditional dances and customs from the States’ eight regions.

Photographing this event launched Diego's Inside Oaxaca project in which he photographed carefully thought out portraits individuals of four of the eight regions that exist in Oaxaca. This project also led to a larger photo project called Native Nation, which consists of documenting Mexico’s more than 50 indigenous groups.

I attended a number of Guelaguetza dance performances (not the annual event which is held in the second half of every July), and when performed by experienced dancers, the choreography and costumes are extraordinary. That said, the Guelaguetza annual event is based on a celebration dating to much before the arrival of the Spanish, and remains a defining characteristic of Oaxacan culture.
Its origins and traditions come from pre-Hispanic earth-based religious celebrations related to the worship of corn and the corn god.

Diego Huerta was born and raised in Mexico, and currently resides in Austin, Texas where he bases my photography business.  I found two excellent articles on his craft on the Huffington Post here and here.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Puppeteer of Monipally | Untold

Photo Courtesy of Untold
The portal website of Untold is a veritable trove of photo stories of endangered traditions and art forms of India, and one that piqued my interest is The Lone String Puppeteer of Monipally.

Monipally is a small and peaceful village in Kottayam district, Kerala, and according to Wikipedia earns the sobriquet of 'The Spicy Virgin Village', but no further explanation is given.

The photo story of The Lone String Puppeteer of Monipally is of a 15-year-old women named Renjini, who is said to be the only person in the world today that can maneuver the entire epic of Ramayana on the tip of her lips – on a pole of string alone. Renjini and her grandmother are the only practitioners of this delicate ancestral art.

In Kerala, a centuries old legacy comes to life with wooden string puppets that tell the entire Ramayana and Mahabharata. The art form is called Nokku Vidhya Pavakalli,  and is an indigenous puppet theatre form practiced for centuries in Kerala.

The puppets are perched atop a pole that rests vertically on the upper lip of the puppeteer squatting on the floor. The puppets are animated with the help of strings held by the artiste. The act of balancing the puppets and animating them call for extreme concentration and practice, as the puppets are made to move in tune with the tempo of the accompanying music.






Sunday, 3 July 2016

Viviana Peretti | Salaam Harlem

Photo © Viviana Peretti - All Rights Reserved
Eid al-Fitr or the Islamic festival of breaking of the fast is imminent, and millions of Muslims around the world are eager for it as it marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. The religious Eid is a single day during which Muslims are not permitted to fast, and it celebrates the conclusion of the 29 or 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the entire month of Ramadan.

Viviana Peretti, with her Salaam Harlem photo essay, documented the Murid Islamic Community of America in Harlem, New York City, as part of her larger NEW YORK PRAYS photographic work.

A Murid (or Mouride) is generally defined as an initiate into the mystic philosophy of Sufism originating in Senegal and the Gambia. A high proportion of the Senegalese in New York City are “Murids, and they practice a Muslim work ethic that provides money to create mosques and sustain their operations. The ethic is based on the Quranic injunction that Muslims must do ‘amal saalih, or wholesome work, that is acceptable to Allah and will be rewarded. Many of these Murids work as street vendors.

I featured Viviana Peretti's work on many occasions on this blog. s an Italian freelance photographer based in New York where in 2010 she graduated in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism from the International Center of Photography (ICP).

In 2000, after graduating Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Anthropology from the University of Rome, she moved to Colombia where she specialized in photojournalism and spent nine years working as a freelance photographer.

Viviana has received fellowships and awards from the International Center of Photography, the Joannie M. Chen Fund in New York, CNN, the Fondation Bruni-Sarkozy in France, FotoVisura, the University of Salamanca, the Spanish Embassy in Colombia, the Photo Museum in Bogota, and the Colombian Ministry of Culture. In 2010 she has been selected for the Eddie Adams Workshop, Barnstorm XXIII. In 2013-2014 Viviana has been an Artist-in-Residence at L’École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie (ENSP) in Arles, France.

Her work has been published in a number of international media outlets including The New York Times, Newsweek, BBC, CNN, L'Oeil de la Photographie, New York Magazine, Le Journal de la Photographie, and L'Espresso.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Hầu Đồng : The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam


The highly anticipated photo book Hầu Đồng : The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam will soon be available to coincide with the inclusion of this ancient indigenous in the UNESCO Registry which is expected in September 2016.

With over 100 large color photographs and more than 60 pages of text, it explains the ancient syncretic religion of Đạo Mẫu, its rituals and its pantheon of deities, along with my narrative of my own experiences documenting it in Vietnam since 2014.

I am one of the very few non-Vietnamese photographers to be welcomed during countless Hầu Đồng ceremonies, and allowed to produce a photo book of this tradition in this magnitude.

Serendipity is a funny thing. Having literally stumbled on this Vietnamese religious tradition and its ceremonial tangential manifestations of Hầu Đồng and Hát Chầu Văn in late 2014 literally supercharged, and reinvigorated, my enthusiasm for documentary photography, audio recording, storytelling and multimedia production.

I completely immersed myself in this project, traveling many times to Hanoi from New York City to attend often undeclared ceremonies in the capita, its suburbs and in other distant regions to its north and east. To have access and be welcomed in these ceremonies wherever they are held, one must gain the confidence and trust of the community, and initially be accompanied by someone known to the mediums or the musicians.

Producing a book is an achievement for certain, but there's something infinitely more important to me than the photographs I made...and that's the friendships and the human kindnesses I've been privileged to experience while at these ceremonies.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Mario Cruz | Modern Day Talibes

Photo © Mario Cruz | All Rights Reserved
A few posts back, I featured the work of Indonesian photographer Ulet Ifansasti on an Islamic boarding school in East Java, and I follow it up with the powerful monochromatic work of Mario Cruz on a similar subject; an Islamic boarding school in Senegal...however difference abound.

The long tradition of sending boys to study at Islamic boarding schools (also called madrasas) in Islamic countries is often rooted in positive values of religious and moral education, and on teaching classical theological, legal, and Qur'anic texts. However, politics and social exploitation have intruded in some of these institutions.

Over the last decade in Senegal,  the educational purpose of these boarding schools has been used by unscrupulous so-called teachers to exploit thousands of children who are known as "talibes"...the Arabic term for students.. 

Cruz spent months documenting the physical abuse of talibes, although much of it takes place behind the closed doors of these "schools". The teachers also known as "marabout" (A North African term for a learned Islamic teacher), know that their actions of treating these children as slaves, and sending them into the streets to beg and steal are criminal, but it's a slow progress to apprehend them and close down these schools due to Senegal's limited resources.

The number of children exploited by this system of modern-day slavery is estimated to number as many as 30,000 in the Dakar region alone and 50,000 across the country.

Mario Cruz is a Portuguese photojournalist, and studied studied photojournalism at Cenjor - Professional School of Journalism. In 2006 he began working with LUSA – Portuguese News Agency / EPA – European Pressphoto Agency. Since 2012, he has been focused on his personal projects dedicated to social justice and human rights. 
 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Xavier Guardans | Windows

Photo Xavier Guardans-All Rights Reserved

Here's a gallery of monochromatic portraits of individuals belonging to a variety of Kenyan tribes, such as the Turkana, Samburu, Masai, Rendille, Gabra and Pokot, which were all made using the simplest of staging.

All of these were photographed through the window of the photographer's vehicle. The vehicle's window act as a simple picture frame, almost forcing the viewers to focus only on the subjects' expressions, hands and arms.

Over multiple trips to Kenya in 2006, the photographer took 25 black-and-white portraits from the backseat of his vehicle, photographing his subjects, members of Kenyan tribes, through a rear window.

Xavier Guardans was born in Barcelona in 1954 and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Bournemouth College of Art in England and was included in exhibitions at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Madrid, Museo de Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca and the Museu d’ Art Espanyol Contemporani in Palma. His work is held in private and public collections, including at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and the Center of Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona. Guardans has also had an extensive commercial career publishing his work in major magazines and worldwide advertising campaigns. 


Monday, 20 June 2016

In Production | Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Vietnam


It's been quite a long road to get to the point where I now have my ducks in a row, and have the first full "skeleton" of my forthcoming photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Vietnam ready to be printed as a dummy first cut book. I have had two made a few months ago, but these were of a much smaller page and image count.

The current iteration is of 168 pages, of which 104 are full-bleed photographs and 64 text pages, and at 15 inches x 11 inches (38 cms x 28 cms) is of one the largest image wrap landscape hard cover sizes I could find.

It ought to be ready by the end of this week, and I ought to see it by the end of the month. It's being printed in Kuala Lumpur, and because of an operational snafu, I've had to have it shipped to Ahsan Qureishi of Travel Photographer Asia, who has kindly agreed to ship it to me in New York City.

Once received, examined and reviewed I shall decide on further formats and sizes, and naturally on prices, as well as produce a trailer type of video to market it as widely as possible using social and other medias.

I am hoping to have it all set up by early September 2016 to coincide with the Việt Beliefs in the Mother Goddesses inscription to the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.


Thursday, 16 June 2016

Ulet Ifansasti | City of God

Photo © Ulet Ifansasti -All Rights Reserved
Many in the West have a skewed view of Islam and its 1.4 billion adherents, and much of the fault lies at the door of the mainstream (and other) media that is unwilling or unable to portray a balanced and more nuanced view of this worldwide religion.

Philosophically, I'm against schools that are not secular but in many cases (such as this one) it's poverty - rather than faith- that forces parents to place their children in an Islamic boarding school.

City of God is a photo essay on Lirboyo, an enormous traditional 'pesantren' (Islamic boarding school) in Indonesia. Located in Kediri, East Java, the boarding school is home to roughly 17,000 students, or 'santri'. It was founded in 1910 by KH Abdul Karim. Its pupils and students spend their days reading the Quran, studying Islamic scriptures and learning Arabic. They have around 20 hours of activities daily, beginning at 4am and finishing at midnight.

Ulet Ifansasti is a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer, with a particular interest in social, environmental and cultural issues. Born in Papua and currently based in Yogyakarta-Indonesia, he started his career at a local magazine in Yogyakarta, Indonesia before joining Getty Images in 2008. 

His work has been published in many leading organizations and publications including GREENPEACE, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, STERN, The Guardian, TIME Magazine, USA Today, LIFE, National Geographic Traveller among others.