Tuesday, 16 December 2014

POV: 5 Days, 2231 Views And Counting | Exposure

I've very recently became an Exposure platform full fledged subscriber, and uploaded a few of my photo essays.

For those who don't know, or who haven't followed my recent blog posts, Exposure is aimed at  photographers who are looking to publish their photographs as part of a more meaningful narrative.
It's designed and built to feature large (edge to edge of your computer monitor) photos, and it places these photographs in neat layouts with various presets to choose from.

But that's not the only reason behind this post. Just take a look at the screen grab above. I published Hà Nội Noir on December 10, 2014...and it received 2231 views already, and this number will be higher by the time this post gets published....so it averaged about 450 views a day. I'd say that it's a pretty decent view count for this sort of photo essay.

How did it get there? Well, I promoted it on this blog, on my Facebook page and on Twitter (where it was retweeted a few times by others), and it was chosen as Staff Picks by the nice people at Exposure.

I never understood the commercial reasoning of photographers who spend fistfuls of money to mount exhibitions to enhance their visibility. Printing costs, matting and framing costs, marketing, gallery rental and ancillary expenses probably reach thousands of dollars, and I doubt galleries will attract, or have the space for, that many viewers over the same number of days. Sure, there is the tactility of exhibition prints...the social aspect of meeting like-minded people....the excitement....the ego trip...of having one's prints on walls, and admired by many.

But absent of a healthy bank account, a friend-gallery owner, and/or a marquee name, web platforms such as Exposure, Medium, Storehouse and Cowbird will offer photographers a worthwhile venue for their work, to supplement their own websites.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Bernat Armangue | The Copts of Egypt

Photo © Bernat Armangue-All Rights Reserved
Amongst all the angst and hubris of the events in Egypt during the past few years, attention should be given to its largest minority group; the Copts, the native Christians of Egypt.

Wikipedia tells us that "Christianity was the religion of the vast majority of Egyptians from 400–800 A.D. and the majority after the Muslim conquest until the mid-10th century and remains the faith of a significant minority population."

"Significant" is the word used by the online encyclopedia, since it's almost impossible to get an accurate number from Egyptian governmental sources.  I also read in The Guardian that no one in Egypt can agree on how many people live in Cairo, let alone the precise ratio of Muslims to Christians. But senior government clerics are quite sure of one thing: there are exactly 866 atheists in Egypt – roughly 0.00001% of the population. Ridiculous, and somewhat reminiscent of Ahmadinejad's assertion that there were no gays in Iran...and the same flaky arithmetic applies to the Copts.

Bernat Armangue's 15 photographs in his Copts In The New Egypt provide us with a sliver of a glimpse in the daily lives of Egyptian Copts. In the current religious climate, no one can tell the Copts' future in their own land, and whether this will lead to increased emigration to other countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia.

Bernat is a Spanish photographer born in Barcelona. He freelanced for various Spanish newspapers, and has been working with The Associated Press since 2005. He covered the Middle East (mostly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), and recently moved to Delhi to cover South Asia.

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Travel Photographer's 2014 Most Popular Posts

In first place on The Travel Photographer blog during 2014 was POV: The 'Unbearable' Lightness of Fuji X Series in which I explain my decision to leave my heavyweight DSLRs home, and travel to Vietnam with just a Leica M9 and the Fuji X Pro-1. It was first photo expedition-workshop that saw me DSLR-less.

In second place, another POV post with Fuji X-T1 Goes To Vietnam in which I describe my experience with the Fuji X-T1 and how it performs while I was traveling and leading a photo group for almost three weeks. Not only did it perform very well, but I didn't miss my Canon equipment.

In third place is the post titled Leica M9 vs Fuji X Pro1 | New York's Chinatown, in which I compared photographs made with these two cameras during New York's Chinatown Parade. The main thrust of the post is to compare virtually identical photographs made with a Leica was coupled with an Elmarit 28mm f2.8, while the Fuji X Pro1 was coupled with a Fujinon 18mm f2.0.

In fourth place is the post titled Verdict | The People of Tây Bắc Photo Expedition; a lengthy and detailed review of what worked and what didn't during that particular photo expedtion-workshop. I graded it (perhaps too harshly) as a B. Members of the group thought I was too harsh, and perhaps I was...but while the travel logistics were flawless to a large degree, there were a few negatives out of my control that affected the trip.

Rather surprisingly I thought, the fifth place most popular post is about the Zeiss Touit 12mm | Fuiji X-Pro 1, in which I explain I had decided to buy a Zeiss 12mm f2.8 Touit. My reasons were that it was a solid, all glass lens that felt well made, and while it's manufactured in Japan (as if that is a downside), it feels 'German Zeiss'. And it's hand-built.

Most of my blog's most popular posts relate to cameras and lenses...ie gear. Hardly surprisng since photographers, whether travel or otherwise, are primarily interested in opinions and points of view about gear.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Hội An | Tewfic El-Sawy

I'm on a roll and featuring another photo essay on Exposure; Hội An: Port of the Cham Kingdom;

This time it's of photographs made in the lovely town of Hội An during my two photo expeditions-worskhops to Vietnam in 2012 and 2014.

Departing from my usual "no frills" documentary style of travel photography, I used Color Efex Pro 4 (Nik Collection) to give the photographs a sort of glamour glow, and enhanced the mustard-yellow color of Hội An's famous walls. 

Most of the photographs were made in 2014, and made with the Fuji X-T1 camera. I generally used the Zeiss Touit 12mm (effective 18mm) lens, and the XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 on specific photo shoots such as that with the traditional fisherman. For the photographs made in 2012, I used a Canon 5D Mark II.

I shared my experience using the Fuji X-T1 and the couple of lenses mentioned above on a separate post on this blog, and explain how it impressed me to the point that I didn't miss my Canon cameras during the 2+ weeks of my 2014 Vietnam adventure.

In this Hội An photo essay, I chose photographs that reflect a number of styles; street photography, fashion and model photography and pure travel.

The ancient town Hội An is a well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings, though many have recently been converted to shops and restaurants, still have an ancient ambiance to them...despite the ever increasing influx of tourists who come to enjoy this small corner of Vietnam.

In the 18th century, Hội An was considered by Chinese and Japanese merchants to be the best destination for trading in all of Southeast Asia, but its importance dropped significantly with the development of neighboring Đà Nẵng as a main trade center.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Đạo Cao Đài | Tewfic El-Sawy

Readers of this blog know of my documentary interest in syncretic religions wherever these are observed, and Đạo Cao Đài is certainly one of those.

I've just featured Đạo Cao Đài : All Religions Are The Same on the Exposure platform, with over a very large dozen monochrome photographs made at Hue's Cao Đài temple. The photo shoot was held during my 2012 photo expedition-workshop in Vietnam. Although we were warmly welcomed to the temple by the devotees and clergy, it was somewhat hard to photograph because of the temple's columns and of the contrasting light.

In terms of number of adherents to Cao Đài, the religion is quite small with an estimated 3-6 million people following it in Vietnam and elsewhere. It was founded in 1926 by Ngo Van Chieu who claimed to have received a calling from a supreme deity during a seance.

The religion and its philosophy draws upon ethical precepts from Confucianism, occult practices from Taoism, theories of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and a hierarchical organization (including a pope) from Roman Catholicism. Its pantheon of saints includes such diverse figures as the Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, and Sun Yat-sen.

The headquarters of Cao Đài are at Tay Ninh, near Ho Chi Minh City.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

MAPTIA Goes 2.0

I'm very pleased to have had MAPTIA feature three of my photo stories for a while now, and also pleased that it has now updated itself to a 2.0 iteration.

What is MAPTIA, you ask?

Well, it's best said in the words of its founders: "...we decided to build a map with everything a traveller could possibly need. Photographs, blogs, stories, flights, hostels, a way to talk to other travellers, volunteering opportunities, hiking paths, surf spots… you name it, we wanted to put it on the map."

Roughly 3 years ago, the founders of MAPTIA; none of who had written a line of code, applied for a grant from an experimental new business incubator run by the Chilean government, and received $40,000 to create this start-up. This incredible story can be read on Medium.

MAPTIA has managed to gather a number of incredibly talented photographers-storytellers, featuring their amazing photography and weaving interesting narrative into these photo essays. From David Lazar to James Morgan...from Cristina Mittermeier's photography to Pico Iyer's travel prose....it's all there.

Photo stories (large photographs!) from North Korea, India, Mozambique, Mongolia, Spain, Brazil, Myanmar, New York, Ethiopia and more. I could go on and on...but I'll let you explore.

One of my favorite continents on MAPTIA is Asia, with 310 photo stories which include 3 of mine; City of Ancient Temples (Varanasi), The Birth of Color (an Editor's Pick) and Incarnate Deities (Theyyam).

Seeing The Birth of Color on MAPTIA's website is a reminder that getting covered with colored gulal from head to toe on a daily basis during Holi was worth it.

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Travel Photographer's Favorites of 2014

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I'm perhaps jumping the gun; but anticipating an imminent flurry of "The Best of 2014" articles and posts, I decided to be ahead of the pack and feature my photographs which I view as being my overall favorites of this year. I'm not claiming these are my best. I leave it to others to make that judgement.

No, these are just my own personal favorites just because I like them, and because they remind me of the precise circumstances in which I was while making them...and I can "smell" and "feel" them.

One of these favorites is the one (above) of Flower H'mong women discussing the merits of a traditional skirt being offered for sale at the Bac Ha market in northern Vietnam. I processed it with Color Efex Pro4 software to give it this sort of blurry-glow effect, which I think works well with the dark wooden background.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Another of my 2014 favorites is a photograph made in the streets of Ha Noi's  Old Quarter. It's shot from the hip (as I often do when doing street photography), and shows two well-to-do affluent Vietnamese women doing their grocery shopping, while an older shopper uses her bicycle to carry her purchases. What made it one of my favorites is the contrast between the styles, the old and the new...the affluent and the less so. But despite the obvious contrast and different social status, both women in the foreground wear the traditional non quai thao conical hats, and shop at the same stores in the old neighborhood's maze of alleys and tiny streets.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
One of the streets of the Hanoi's Old Quarter is lined with traditional restaurants and coffee shops, and I spent a few hours ambling along it for photo opportunities to appear. Again shooting from the hip, I stood next to this woman waiting for the right scene to develop. I used a wide angle lens, and after a cursory look at me, she was oblivious to my presence.

I liked the contrasting scene of the older woman engrossed in a game of Candy Crush (I'm not kidding) on her iPad, while a woman street vendor approaches with a đòn gánh tre (bamboo carrying pole) perched on her shoulders.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
During my photo expedition-workshop to Vietnam in September, we spent a few days in Hoi An; one of my favorite towns in that wonderful country. I had arranged for a dawn photo shoot with a local photographer to photograph the traditional fishermen of Hoi An. We boated to the mouth of the Thu Bon River to photograph these large fishing nets, that are lowered into the water to catch fish during the night. They are slowly raised and lowered by the fishermen using foot-powered winches.

This is one of the many I made when the sun was rising at that photo shoot. I used my least favorite lens (18-135mm Fuji) with my Fuji X-T1, and was pleasantly surprised at its sharpness. The beads of water on the net prove that sharpness.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
While at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in La Antigua (Guatemala), I took to its cobblestone streets, and photographed during the annual fiesta of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala.

La Antigua's Parque Central is a magnet for the Maya vendors of traditional textiles, and this one was awaiting the influx of tourists and celebrants to peddle her wares. Her expression is that of resignation but I also saw a glint of hope in her eyes. The Maya face discrimination, isolation and poverty in Guatemala, and selling textiles and trinkets to tourists is often the only way to make a living.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Just before the parade started for the fiesta of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, this group of young women stood with their umbrellas deployed, waiting for the signal to march. I liked the way they were standing; anticipating the signal, nervous perhaps to take part in their town's main event... dressed to the nines in the Sunday best, and totally serious. It was not easy to photograph at this time of day, with intervals of bright sun and thick clouds.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
One of the most intense and difficult festival to photograph was India's Holi. Framing the frenetic action during the peaks of that festival, ducking handfuls of colored gulal, and avoiding being doused with water was a challenge, but one that -in retrospect- was not unenjoyable.

This particular photograph was made in the Banke Bihari temple, the "belly of the beast" and epicenter of Holi in Vrinadavan, the sacred city of Krishna. Unseen in this photograph is a stage where the Hindu priests periodically lift a curtain to reveal the deity, and every time the curtain is lifted the crowds go wild with fervor and joy. This sadhu caught a glimpse of the deity, and displayed his emotions by chanting and dancing. He might been also encouraged to overdo it by the presence of my cameras.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Here's another of my favorites made at the Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan during Holi showing the degree of faith and spiritual belief that has infused these three women in the presence the deity. Covered with colored powder, they had just made their way through the throngs of devotees and fell to the floor in reverence and supplication.

This photograph is one of many that exemplify the reason I am drawn to religious festivals in order to document the display of human beings' utter absence of artifice when in the presence of what they believe is a higher power.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
During my Sacred Cities photo expedition-workshop, we left the chaos of Holi in Vrindavan for a whole morning, and followed the pilgrims' trail for a few miles to the banks of the Yamuna river. It was there that I captured one of the pilgrims performing a personal puja by scooping water with one hand, and flicking her fingers. One can see the drops of water twirling above her head.

Contrary to what was happening just a few miles away in Vrindavan, this place was peaceful, and not a  sound marred its calm.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Not only is this photograph one of my favorites for 2014, but it was also made in one of my very favorite places in India; the dargah of Nizzam Uddin in Delhi.

Here again, this photograph was made by shooting from the hip. I was intrigued by the dynamics of this group of Indian Muslims, who had come to the Sufi shrine to seek some sort of spiritual fulfillment, and I captured the moment where the man in the center glared at the woman who is both recoiling and defiant at the same time. I don't know whether the man is her husband, father or a stranger she just sat next to. I don't know if he's rebuking her or whether he's coming on to her.

Whatever it is, it's certainly a story.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Tu Tran Thanh | Hầu đồng

Photo © 2014 Tu Tran Thanh-All Rights Reserved
While in Vietnam just two months ago, I literally stumbled on previously unknown (to me) religious ceremonies pertaining to Đạo Mẫu; the worship of Mother Goddesses in Vietnam. This unusual, but ancient, worship is commonly associated with spirit mediumship rituals—known in Vietnam as lên đồng.

Lên đồng (aka Hầu đồng) is a ritual of spirit mediumship practiced in Đạo Mẫu, during which followers become mediums for the various deities. The rituals involve music, singing (invocation songs to induce a trance in mediums), dance and the use of differently-colored costumes.

Photo © 2014 Tu Tran Thanh-All Rights Reserved
Whilst in Ha Noi, I was fortunate to have met Tu Tran Thanh; a photographer who discovered and shared my interest in Lên đồng and Hầu đồng rituals, and who also agreed to assist in developing my self-assignment of documenting these rituals during my forthcoming trip to Vietnam in March or April 2015.

As coincidence would have it, some of the streets in Ha Noi's Old Quarter were very recently the venue for a number of live performances such as ca trù, xẩm singing and lên đồng, and sure enough, Tu Tran Thanh was there to photograph some of the performances.

Photo © 2014 Tu Tran Thanh-All Rights Reserved
For decades, Lên đồng was restricted by French colonial and Vietnamese leaders, but the tradition is currently enjoying a flurry of popularity since restrictions were relaxed a decade or so ago. Whilst these were largely performances to introduce (or re-acquaint) the Vietnamese public to its cultural and religious traditions, authentic Lên đồng ceremonies are held and observed in Vietnam, and are the focus of my forthcoming self-assignment.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Old Stores of New York City

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I've thought of another photography project for the winter days...it won't be one that'll tax my photographic skills, but will certainly nudge me to read the many blogs and articles that focus on New York City landmarks.

Walking the West Village streets of New York City on a daily basis allows me to pass by (and in some cases, frequent) some of the few remaining old stores and restaurants that still exist in the neighborhood. It gave me with the idea to photograph these storefronts using my Fujifilm X-T1 camera to emulate a Rolleiflex's square format monochrome...just to give the resulting photographs a touch of "authenticity".

This project will not stop at the West Village, but will hopefully spread to various neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan. I already know more than a dozen stores that fit the bill....whether in Little Italy, Lower East Side or Chinatown.

I also intend to add a few historical trivia about each photograph whenever possible. For example, for the photograph of the Vesuvio Bakery in SoHo (above) that I made just yesterday,  there'll be this:

Vesuvio Bakery, (aka Birthbath Bakery), 160 Prince Street, New York 10012
The bakery opened in 1920 and was owned by Anthony Dapolito, who delivered Vesuvio bread on his bicycle as a child for many years before his death in 2003. Birdbath Bakery bought it, but kept the storefront as is.

I think that this sort of information would give context and historical texture to the photographs. I'm very far from being the first photographer or New York historian (professional or amateur) to think of, work on and complete, such a project...but it'll add to my personal appreciation of my adopted city.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

CGAP Photo Contest 2014

Photo © Tran Dinh Thuong-All Rights Reserved
I started to frequently peruse Hanoi Times online to find tidbits of information for my forthcoming personal project in Vietnam, and noticed that it reported that seven Vietnamese photographers had won won prizes and/or recognition in a photography contest organised by a World Bank affiliate.

The CGAP (Consultative Group to Assist the Poor) is affiliated to the World Bank, and its annual photo contest seeks "to showcase the different ways in which poor households manage their financial lives and to raise awareness about the importance of formal financial services for people at the base of the economic pyramid."

I never heard of CGAP - and whilst readers of this blog know my stance towards photo contests- I took a look at its results, and found that many of its entries are impressive. This year's contest received a record 4,820 entries from professional and amateur photographers in 95 countries.

I urge you to take a look at the results of the photo contest here. Not only are these photographs impressive in their own rights, but they're from largely unknown (at least to me) photographers...and what a delight this is. Fresh names, fresh work...and none of the usual suspects who regularly  participate in such photography contests.

CGAP also featured all of the entries (yes, 4818 of them) with the names of the photographers on this page. Most of the entries are environmental portraits...some more travel photographs than documentary, but the general quality is really quite commendable.

So happy browsing, and be prepared to be impressed.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Michael Švec | The Kingdom of Mustang

Photo © Michael Švec-All Rights Reserved
Mustang (derived from the Tibetan word Möntang) is the former Kingdom of Lo where Tibetic languages are still widely spoken and traditional Tibetan culture remains. It was once an independent kingdom, although closely tied by language and culture to Tibet. From the 15th century to the 17th century, its strategic location granted Mustang control over the trade between the Himalayas and India. At the end of the 18th century the kingdom was annexed by Nepal. Its monarchy ceased to exist on October 7, 2008, by order of the Nepalese government.

It's a weeklong hike from the nearest airport (usually Jomsom or Pokhara) to the capital city of Lo Manthang, which is is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the world, and which was  recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

The remoteness of Mustang hasn't discouraged Michael Švec from traveling to photograph its landscapes and people, and produce a wonderful audio-slideshow titled The Last Forbidden Tibetan Kingdom.

While Michael Švec is a digital art director in Prague, he is also a documentary and fine art travel photographer, who works on assignments in Asia, Middle East and Europe. He traveled the world for more than ten years, focusing his lens on documenting traditions of changing cultures around the world, human rights issues and spirituality within people and places.

He tells us that he likes to stay with the people of the regions he travels to, he lives with them, eats with them and shares their lives as much as they allow him to. He needs to be accepted by the community before taking the pictures. Nice sentiment, and a difficult to achieve sometimes.

Michael's portfolio includes an audio-slideshow of the Indian Kushti wrestling, as well as slideshows of the Kalash people of Chitral in northern Pakistan, of the Pushkar camel fair and of the tribes of the Kutch.

Delve a little deeper, and you'll find photographs of Rio de Janeiro, Rajasthan, Ethiopia, Nepal, Kashmir, Iran, Morocco and Kashmir amongst others.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Stephanie Keith | Vodou Brooklyn

Photo © Stephanie Keith-All Rights Reserved
The Guédé are the spirits of Haitian Vodou that include the powers of death and fertility. These spirits include Ghede Doubye, Ghede Linto, Ghede Loraj, Ghede Masaka, Guédé Nibo, Guédé Plumaj, Guédé Ti Malis, and Guédé Zaranye, and the festival of Fete Guédé is the Vodou religion’s version of Day of the Dead on November 2, however the Haitian spirits are more playful and lively.

Vodou believers observe Fete Guédé by laying out gifts such as homemade beeswax candles, flowers and bottles of rum stuffed with chilli peppers. It is in November that 
vodouists celebrate Gede, the spirit who embodies death and resurrection. Gede dances to the drums, blesses people, drinks liquor rubs talcum of his face.

Every November in Brooklyn, Guédé parties occur on weekends, and photographer Stephanie Keith entered the world of vodou by photographing these parties in the cramped basements of Canarsie, East Flatbush and Red Hook.

Stephanie Keith is an award-winning photographer/photojournalist whose work has taken her to all corners of the 5 boroughs plus the Middle East, South America and Norway. She has a degree in Anthropology from Stanford University, a certificate in photojournalism from the International Center of Photography, and received a Master’s of Photography from NYU in 2003. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time magazine and The Washington Post have all published her photos and photo stories. One of her photos was chosen by Time Out NY as one of the 50 most iconic photos of NYC.

The Caribbean Studies Press has just published her photos about Vodou as a book, entitled: “Vodou Brooklyn: Five Ceremonies with Mambo Marie Carmel.”

An interesting interview "The Vodou They Do in Brooklyn" describes how Ms Keith's fascination with vodou led her to these photographs and the book.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

POV: The Task I Like Best (Well, Almost)

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Collecting information, and then scouting, for a future photo expedition-workshop, is a challenging task that is time-consuming, and requires reliable contacts...and one that takes patience, cerebral stamina and luck.

During the past 2 to 3 weeks, I've been researching and gathering information for a particular self-assignment project in Viet Nam; one that seems to be quite tough to nail down from New York, but would have been reasonably easy if I were in Ha Noi instead.

This particular project is like unraveling seemingly endless rubber bands of a golf ball, one strand by one strand, with the added frustration of sometimes coming to a dead end, or unearthing a promising lead but receiving no response to emails and/or Facebook messages. Sure, there's a sense of accomplishment when I get a lead; especially one that leads to another lead,...but there's a lot of disappointment when it turns all to nothing, or even worse, when there's no response.

I often wonder what did we do before the advent of the internet, email, and the various social media? Photographers and photojournalists had to rely on local information supplied by friends, fixers, and various other contacts and sources...and that took time to arrive and be verified. We now have it much easier...but it's still an uphill struggle to get what we need. I enjoy the challenge, there's no question about that. It's a sort of information sleuthing; one that needs to be checked and double checked.

For this current research, I trawl Vietnamese websites and, while I appreciate Google Translate and/or the browser's translate option, the results are often hilarious and unreliable. Trying to accurately pin down festival dates based on the Lunar calendar is tantamount to nailing Jell-O to the wall. I'm already imposing on Vietnamese friends and contacts for translation and advice, but there's a limit on how many times I can ask for help.

Probably the most disappointing so far is the no-reply to my emailed request for assistance (contact sharing) from a USC professor who specializes in the type of religious festivals I'm seeking. One would think professors would gladly share information on subject matters that are important to them. Not that one.

Aside from the Vietnamese websites, I check every promising location on Google Maps, calculating the distances and directions from Ha Noi, or wherever my hub will be at that time.

I'd compare this research to erecting a spider's web. All strands will eventually (hopefully?) lead to the center. Writing the results in long hand in a Moleskin notebook seems to help me focus much more than using a computer or an iPad.

Once the information is sifted and verified, the actual physical scouting will occur along with making travel plans, setting up a budget, etc.

I really can't wait for that phase.

Ah, well...enough of this. I must go back to the hunt.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Last Anchorite | Egypt

An anchorite is someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely ascetic and prayer-oriented life. In other words, a religious hermit with a "fixed address'.

This 19 minutes-long documentary features the story of Father Anthony El Lazarus, a Coptic monk who lives in seclusion in the Red Sea mountains, in a 4th-century monastery about 200 miles southeast of Cairo, Egypt. He's former university lecturer in literature and philosophy, and spent 40 years as an atheist.

This is an ancient tradition since early Christians flocked to the Egyptian deserts where Copts had already embraced the idea of a solitary, devout Christian life. It's accepted that he early Christians were inspired by the eremitic (reclusive) traditions of the Hebrews.

The Coptic Church is based on the teachings of Saint Mark who brought Christianity to Egypt during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero in the first century. He was one of the four evangelists and wrote the oldest canonical gospel. Christianity was the religion of the vast majority of Egyptians from 400–800 A.D. and of the majority after the Muslim conquest until the mid-10th century and remains the faith of a significant minority population. 

With wonderful cinematic skills, filmmaker Remigiusz Sowa captures the essence of the reclusive monastic life led by Father Anthony and those like him in the isolated monastery in the Red Sea Mountains.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2015 | Bali, Indonesia

Eric Beecroft just announced the Foundry 2015 Indonesia early bird enrollment!

The workshop will be held July 2015 (exact dates to be confirmed soon) in Bali. The tuition is $475  for local photographers and $975 for non-local photographers.

From now until December 26, 2014, photographers can sign up simply by paying a nonrefundable $100 deposit. This amount will be taken off the remainder of the tuition, and it also guarantees first come first serve when the specific instructor choice and class registration are open.

I've often suggested that attending a Foundry workshop is not only about enhancing their craft with advice of some of the best (and certainly selfless) photographers and photojournalists in the business, or about the class they've chosen or even about their own stories and image-making, but it's also about rubbing shoulders with other participants, whether these are peers, or just starting their photography careers, or veterans, and with all sorts of other styles of image-making....it's about augmenting their exposure to different worlds, about exposing themselves to divergent thought processes, to varying points of view, and in doing so...grow as human beings (and yes, as photographers too).

Bali, needless to say, is an inspired choice of place for the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop. It's a superlative source of visual and sensory experiences, of unlimited photographic opportunities...from travel to hard core social issues, and overflows with unique cultural events ranging from deity purification ceremonies to cremations.

Here's one of the multimedia projects I've produced during my many travel photography workshops in Bali.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Anthony Pappone | Ethiopia's Omo Valley

Photo © Anthony Pappone-All Rights Reserved
"If you take a picture of a human that does not make him noble, there is no reason to take this picture. That is my way of seeing things."Sebastiao Salgado 
Readers and followers of my blog know of my distaste for the current spate of photographs that depict indigenous people who are encouraged (monetarily or otherwise) to wear decorative accessories that are not natural to them. Photographers who travel to the Omo Valley are particular susceptible to this 'disease', and are insensitive (but rarely unaware) to the impact transforming members of the various Omo Valley tribes into fashion models with outlandish headgear and accessories.

The exploitation of these tribes by some photographers, travelers and tourists, who view them as nothing but beautiful displays, continues despite the effort of well-intentioned travel companies.

Anthony Pappone's Portraits in The Omo Valley is certainly not one of these insensitive exploitative photographs. His photographs of Omo Valley tribal members are beautiful and simple. There is no artificiality in his portraits, nor is there accessories intended to dupe the viewers. The Omo Valley people are beautiful in their simplicity, and Anthony's photographs prove to us that there is no need for deceit in the representation of these people.

Anthony Pappone is an Italian photographer specializing in travel, festival, portrait, tribes and ceremony photography around the world. Just a traveler before becoming a photographer, he caught the bug during a festival in Ladakh, and he started on a career of following festivals and religious ceremonies wherever these occurred. From Ethiopia to Nagaland, from West Africa's Benin, Ghana, Mali to Yemen...he documented festivals and everyday life with his wide angle lenses.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Frédéric Lagrange | The Wakhan Corridor

Photo © Frederic Lagrange-All Rights Reserved
"You get older faster in the Wakhan Corridor."
The Wakhan Corridor, the region known locally as Bam-e Dunya (or roof of the world), is the narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. The corridor is wedged between the Pamirs to the north and the Hindu Kush to the south. Sparsely populated due to its harsh climate, the region has about 12,000 people and is a political creation of the Great Game, the strategic rivalry and conflict between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia.

It took many years for French photographer Frédéric Lagrange to plan and organize his month-long trek to the region, taking with him local porters, an Afghan guide, donkeys and 100 rolls of film. 

During his trek, Lagrange photographed and produced film footage that eventually became a 20-minute film, Lost on the Roof of the World.

Frédéric Lagrange started his career in 2001, focusing mainly on travel photography, then widening his work to include fashion and portraiture. His photographs have been featured in numerous magazines and ad campaigns around the world such as: Vanity Fair US, The New York Times magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue (Japanese, German, Spanish, Indian), The New Yorker, Louis Vuitton, Condé Nast Traveler, GQ (US, Japan), Anthropologie, Free People, and W hotels, among others.

Currently living in Brooklyn, he was chosen as Photo District News’s “30 under 30 Photographers to watch in 2003”, and was the recipient of many photography awards and his work is also featured in The American Photography Annual, The Society of Publication Designers Annual, and the PDN Photography Annual. He is also one of 30 photographers sponsored by Kodak worldwide.


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

POV: Leica M9 Monochromes "Outta De Box"

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy/Leica M9+Voigtlander 40mm
Let me say it up front so there's no misunderstanding: I'm not a "fanboy" of any camera beyond considering them as utilitarian tools I use to make photographs. Some are better suited for particular photographic work, others are better ergonomically suited to my hands and way of thinking, etc. I have the exact same attitude to cameras as carpenters have to their hammers or pliers.

That out of the way, I have an admiration for the Leica M9's monochrome image quality. I frequently use a setting that allows it to shoot a monochrome jpg and a color DNG at the same time, and I am quite amazed at the quality of the monochrome jpgs right 'out of the box'. The  above photograph is an example...nothing but in-camera conversion.

Yes, the majority of the monochromatic jpgs out of the Leica M9 are -at least to my eyes- just right. Unless I specifically want to enhance these jpgs by adding some vignetting or burnt edges, there's no need for spending any time on Silver Efex, Photoshop, Lightroom presets...nothing. Boom!

Does it mean that the Leica M9 (and a quality prime lens) is my primary camera? No, it isn't, but when I need (and feel like it) to shoot monochromes, I choose it over my other cameras. When I was in Sa Pa a few weeks ago, I deliberately chose it with a Voigtlander 40mm for a bout of monochrome photography in its streets and market. I did the same in Ha Noi.

There are many aspects of the M9 that are, in comparison to the X-T1 and the X-Pro, outdated...even primitive. It's widely recognized that its ISO is almost unusable above 800, that its LCD sucks and its battery life is a little better than abysmal. However, its CCD sensor (when coupled with quality glass) churns out admirable jpg monochromes.

I gripe about the M9...but despite its annoying limitations, it has become analogous to the well-balanced well-worn hammer that fits in the hand of the carpenter as if it always belonged there.

Ah! If only it had auto-focus! But using -when possible- the zone focus system resolves this to a certain extent, provided the ambient light allows the use of f8 or f16.

I'm not as sanguine about the M9's color images though. I realize I'm amongst a tiny minority perhaps, but I'm not as enamored with the color images I've seen out of the Leica M9. The images produced by the Fujifilm X-T1 are -to my taste- superior in color rendition than what I'm able to get with my M9.

Seeing where I am photographically at this time, I would buy the Leica M Monochrom if I could, and use it whenever I needed to produce monochrome images, and then rely on the Fuji X-Pro1, and X-T1 for color...or on the Canon system that's been gathering some dust in my closet.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The People of Tây Bắc Published on Medium

I've just published The People of Tây Bắc; a monochrome photo essay on the weekly markets of the ethnic minorities in Northwestern Viet Nam.

I've come to appreciate Medium, the rather new blog-publishing platform. Founded by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone in August 2012, it has evolved into "a hybrid of non-professional contributions and professional, paid contributions, an example of social journalism" as described by Wikipedia.

Although it's a gorgeous platform for photographers as well, it was originally designed for writers. I use it to upload large photographs...using the edge to edge option, which provides an attractive viewing display.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Mattia Passarini | Remote People

Photo © Mattia Passarini-All Rights Reserved
Here's photographic work that will gladden the hearts of many of photographers (and many that I know well) who relish portraiture of remote indigenous cultures. There are some that are environmental portraits, but the majority are just facial portraits...some posed and others not.

Mattia Passarini's portraits are from China's Sichuan, Yunnan, Pakistan's Northern regios, India's Chhatisgarh, Orissa, Gujarat, the Democratic Republic of Congo, from Baka and Bambuti Pygmies, Rabaris, Jats (notoriously difficult to photograph), Ahirs, the Ramnami, China's Miao, Myanmar's Dai and Muun, and Indonesia's Mentawai...they're all there.

And for those who agree with Survival International that British photographer Jimmy Nelson’s stylised pictures of African, Asian and Amazon Indian groups are “wrong”and “false and damaging”, this cornucopia of imagery doesn't have a whiff of artificiality. This is "what you see is what you get" ethnophotography.

Mattia Passarini's biography is sparse, but he started on his global photographic endeavors on moving to the United Kingdom. Over the course of 11 years of travel, he visited more than 35 countries across four continents, capturing images of the world’s tribal people, and of lives and places that exist in relative obscurity.

He currently lives in China completing a project on a local ethnic group.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Gabi Ben-Avraham | Jewish Holidays

Photo © Gabi Ben-Avraham - All Rights Reserved
I've been enjoying this photography website for a while, browsing and savoring its various galleries at a slower pace than usual,  and you'll understand why when you visit it.

Those who follow my work and this blog know that religious festivals, rituals and observances, wherever they occur and of whatever tradition they follow, are like 'catnip' to me. The more obscure and esoteric the more magnetic the 'catnip' is to me....especially if they're monochrome.

If you're like me; a fan of travel documentary work...of street photography...of dark shadows pierced by brilliant rays of sunshine...you're bound to like the broad compelling work of Gabi Ben-Avraham, an Israeli photographer who describes himself as a "hobbyist", and who only received a digital camera as a gift a few years ago.

There's certainly nothing amateurish in Gabi's work, and there are many galleries to admire amongst those he posted on his website.

The one I prefer is his Jewish Holidays, from which the above photograph is featured. It was shot during the Kapparot ritual when a rabbi swings a live chicken over the head of a woman to symbolically transfer her "sins" to the bird. Kapparot is practiced on the eve of Yom Kippur. There are also images made during the festivals of Purim, Sukkot and Passover, or Pesach. The images are brooding and dark; a perfect style for this sort of photography.

Drop by Gabi Ben-Avaraham's website, and you'll be sucked in its numerous galleries, ranging from pure street photography in Tel Aviv, to travel photography in Havana (Cuba), then to his light and shadows exercises.

Just make sure you have the time to delve in all of the galleries, and you'll agree with me. Gabi might describe himself as a hobbyist all he likes, but his work is as solid and as professional as they come.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Đạo Mẫu | Serendipity Then Research

One of the main interests that underpins my career as a travel photographer is the documenting of ancient religious rituals, ceremonies and festivals that are still observed and practiced around the world, and the primary objective of many of the photographic expeditions-workshops I lead is to document such rituals and festivals. This interest is somewhat of a brand for me; a brand that I cherish and nourish.

Following my gut instinct, and helped by a degree of serendipity, during my recent photo expedition in Viet Nam, I stumbled on an ancient religious ceremony called Đạo Mẫu, which I photographed on two occasions in Sa Pa and Bac Ha,  and have now uploaded a selection of color photographs on a gallery titled Đạo Mẫu: The Worship of Mother Goddesses.

These photographs were all made with a Fuji X-T1 and a Zeiss Touit 12mm.

Whilst photographing these two ceremonies (one followed the other over two days), I was hampered by a dearth of information regarding these ceremonies. Either the translation was inadequate or the information obtained by those involved in the ceremonies was sparse and superficial...even the name of the rituals differed.

Hearing chants and music coming from the Gia Quoc Cong Vu Van Mat temple in Bac Ha, but finding no one that could understand English, I asked patrons in a nearby restaurant what the ceremony was about, and one finally understood my gesticulations, and told me that it was hầu đồng...words I recognized from my earlier photo-shoot in Sa Pa.

All I knew at the time was that the ceremonies revolved around a medium who communicated with spirits), trances, and religious songs....and I photographed the unfolding ceremony in the Bac Ha temple, as I did earlier in Sa Pa. With other things relating to the photo expedition-workshop on my plate, I hadn't the time to research it deeper than a cursory internet search with the little information I had. Otherwise, I would've sank my teeth in the research like a bull terrier.

I have since started research Đạo Mẫu, or The Worship of Mother Goddesses in Viet Nam, and the rituals of Lên đồng (or Hầu đồng), the practice of spirit mediumship in this type of worship. There are scholarly texts that associate Lên đồng séances to extremely ancient indigenous rituals, which possibly included rites of human sacrifice of mediums possessed by evil spirits.

One of the sources of basic information is Wikipedia, which describes the main ritual, which may last from two to seven hours, as beginning with petitions to Buddha and to the deities for permission to proceed with it, after which the medium sits in the middle of four assistants, whose job it is to facilitate the medium's incarnation of different deities and spirits. Musicians and singers perform invocation songs to induce trances in the medium, at which point he or she is ready to incarnate different spirits. The assistants help the medium to change costumes, and hand over the various props such as swords and torches.

This is precisely what I witnessed during the ceremony (actually, they were two ceremonies back to back) in the Bac Ha temple. The two mediums were flanked by four assistants, and musicians played songs in a corner of the temple.

The color of the medium's four costumes represents a deity who manages a part of the universe. Heaven is red, Earth is yellow, Water is white and Forest is green.

My interest in Đạo Mẫu is certainly piqued, and I intend to continue gathering information on it, online and through friends in Viet Nam. My knowledge of Southeast Asian religious traditions is not as broad as I would've liked, and with Đạo Mẫu serendipitously appearing on my radar, it's certainly time to redress this.

That said, the rituals of Lên đồng (or Hầu đồng) are not easy to photograph. The temples where I witnessed the rehearsal and the ceremony were small, and had devotees sitting on every inch of the floor, so it was difficult to move about and get different angles, especially as the altars are large. The ceremony itself was held at night, with poor and uneven lighting. Although the costumes are gorgeous, with the medium performing unusual rites such as throwing small denominations of cash to attendees, puffing on cigarettes and twirling swords and flags, the rituals are somewhat repetitive, and finding different angles is a must. The mediums appear to be fascinating characters, and would offer interesting insights into this belief system.

In short, Đạo Mẫu is on my list. 

Friday, 24 October 2014

Peter Ansara | Winner of The Travel Photographer's Street Photography Contest

Photo © Peter Ansara-All Rights Reserved

Photo © Peter Ansara-All Rights Reserved

Photo © Peter Ansara-All Rights Reserved

I'm happy to announce that Peter Ansara of Tacoma, WA has won The Travel Photographer's Street Photography Contest. The win was quite decisive, and was determined by the readers of this blog who gave Peter's photograph (top) the most votes.

The two top black and white photographs were made in Seattle, Washington while the third was made in Monument Valley, Arizona.

Peter retired from the United States Air Force with 25 years service in 2002, and has photographed for some 35 years. He loves street photography and photographs in Seattle 3 or 4 times per month. He also runs and operates a non profit organization in Tacoma, Washington.

The runners-up were Jeff Oftedahl and Anthony Pond.

Congratulations to Peter who will soon receive the WotanCraft Ryker Urban Classic 001.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Diana Mayfield | Hà Nội Noir

During the just completed The People of Tay Bac Photo Expedition-WorkshopI gave its participants
the assignment of photographing the bustling street life of old Ha Noi, shooting from the hip, or on the fly, as much as possible to capture fleeting expressions, and the ever changing scenes of this exciting city.

The assignment also included of converting the resulting photographs to monochromes (hence the name Ha Noi Noir), and to produce a short photo-film with ambient sound recorded during their many walks in the streets and alleys.

This is Diana Mayfield's project, which mixes interesting snippets of street life...some humorous and some realistic. Ha Noi's street life centers on eating, busy traffic and small shops. One finds all of these in this short movie.

Diana Mayfield has a pedigree in travel photography that spans more than 20 years, and is one of the  original photographers contracted to Lonely Planet Images in 1998. Her photographs are widely published in books, magazines, brochures, advertisements, newspapers, web, etc. Her buyers include Qantas, Air France, Thomas Cook, National Geographic, Diners Club, Sunday Times, The New York Times, Le Monde, Rand McNally, Macmillan Educational and others.

She's represented by Getty Images, and has led photo tours to Italy, Greece and Spain for 8 years. She's now concentrating her cameras on S.E. Asia and India, with a particular interest in remote tribes and marginalised societies.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Dan Eckstein | Horn Please

Photo © Dan Eckstein-All Rights Reserved
The first time I traveled in India I had the rather unnerving experience of riding in a bus from Jaipur to Jodhpur in pitch darkness. I shall never forget my growing terror in watching an incoming truck blinking its signal light which I thought meant it intended to turn right into the path of my bus.

It was an enormous relief to realize the truckers were doing so to indicate their presence (and the limits of their carriages) to other incoming vehicles.

The Indian truckers usually belong to a certain caste, and are generally treated with contempt by their employers. Their trucks are often decorated with beautiful artwork, colorful gewgaws, religious icons and slogans, making a convoy of such vehicles look like a circus is moving to town. These long-distance lorry drivers transport cargos of freight across the whole of India; tea from Assam, computer parts from Bangalore and exotic flowers and vegetables from the southern states of the country.

Dan Eckstein's project Horn Please documents the trucks, drivers and roadside culture of India.  Having driven 10,000 kilometers over two years to document these truckers, Dan produced "Horn Please: The Decorated Trucks of India"; a book that is to be published by powerHouse Books on December 2nd, 2014.

Dan is is a photographer based in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, who spent four years studying photography at Skidmore College. He assisted Magnum photographer Bruno Barbey in Paris. His work has been widely published and exhibited and he was included in The Collector's Guide to Emerging Art Photography. He was awarded Best Photo Essay in PDN's World In Focus photo contest and included in American Photography 30.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Music Man of Tho Ha

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
As all photographers know full well, serendipity plays an important role in offering photographic opportunities that are rarely repeated. I'm not talking of serendipitous events that happen in a flash, and that lucky photographers manage to capture in a blink of the eye by just happening to be there when it happens, but rather of unexpected opportunities that can arise from asking the right questions, sometimes from taking the wrong turn, and sometimes just a few seconds before giving up and returning home.

During The People of Tây Bắc Photo Expedition-Workshop, I decided to break off from Ha Noi's street photography schedule, and drive to the village of Tho Ha, about 45 kilometers from the capital city.  The village specializes in producing rice paper, used for spring rolls and other Vietnamese culinary dishes.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
While the village is known for its photogenic setting, we didn't find it that interesting, and were on the verge of leaving it when our interpreter Huyen stopped at an old house to ask for directions, and we were introduced to Việt.

We were welcomed in his house, and were offered brain-numbing rice wine, thankfully in small goblets. It didn't take too long for Việt to grab his many traditional Vietnamese stringed instruments, and start playing melancholic tunes. An accomplished musician, and to a certain extent, a passable good singer, Việt was very proud of his musical heritage. and we were made to understand that he served with the Viet Cong during the American (Vietnam) War, and he played music for his fellow soldiers.

Việt owns a small enterprise producing rice paper in the village, and he 's extremely proud of his son who works for a Ford assembly factory  in Hai Duong, as he is of his grandson who may have his musical talents.

The đàn nguyệt ("moon lute") being played is a two-stringed Vietnamese traditional musical instrument, is used in both folk and classical music, and remains popular throughout Vietnam. It's related to the yueqin, also known as the moon guitar, a traditional Chinese string instrument.

According to Xuan Tran (friend and travel agent supremo), the song is titled "Người ơi, Người ở đừng về", and it's a type of Quan Họ traditional music.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Christian Bobst | Meskel in Lalibela

Photo © Christian Bobst-All Rights Reserved

Meskel is an annual religious holiday in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church commemorating the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Helena (Saint Helena) in the fourth century. It  is celebrated for two days beginning September 26th, and commemorates the legend that in the year 326, Queen Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the cross upon which Christ was crucified.

It is in Lalibela, one of Ethiopia's most religious towns, that Christian Bobst photographed the ceremonies and rituals observing this fascinating religious festival. During the ceremony, a priest rubs the pilgrims with the holy Lalibela Cross to heal diseases or drive out devils of the bodies of the believers. The Lalibela Cross is thought to date to the 12th century and is considered one of Ethiopia's most precious religious and historical heirlooms.

Christian tells me he used two Fuji X-T1 camera bodies and prime lenses between 14mm to 35mm, as well as using the cameras' wi-fi capabilities to capture high angle shots. He also appreciated the lightness in weight,  smaller size and the retro look of the Fujis.

He also tells me that during the ceremony, one of the pilgrims saw the pictures on the screen of Christian's iPhone while taking the high angle shots on the X-T1 he had perched on a monopod. The pilgrim liked the photographs so much that he persuaded the presiding priest to allow Christian to photograph right in the center of the crowd.

Christian Bobst is a Swiss documentary photographer who originally studied graphic design. For almost 15 years, he worked for advertising agencies like Young & Rubicam/Switzerland and Jung von Matt/Germany as an Art- and Creative Director, before deciding to move on into documentary photography in 2010.  He now works as a freelance photographer, and is a member of 13 Photo in Zürich.

Monday, 13 October 2014

The Three Finalists In The Travel Photographer's Street Photography Contest

Photograph A. Photo © Peter Ansara-All Rights Reserved

Photograph B. Photo © Jeff Oftedahl-All Rights Reserved
Photograph C. Photo © Anthony Pond-All Rights Reserved

Which Photograph Wins The Travel Photographer's Street Photography Contest?
Photograph A
Photograph B
Photograph C
Poll Maker

It was a tough job to choose three finalists from the numerous entries I've received over the past weeks...but here they are, and it's now up to the readers of The Travel Photographer's blog to choose the winner of the Street Photography Contest, who will receive the WotanCraft Ryker Urban Classic 001 camera bag.

The voting will come to an end on October 24th...when the winner will be announced.

The rules for the contest were simple and easy to follow, and were listed in this post.

WotanCraft Atelier's website has full information and details on the WotanCraft Ryker Urban Classic 001 bag.