Friday, 30 January 2015

Felipe Jácome | The Last Amazonas

Photo © Felipe Jacome- All Rights Reserved

The series of beautiful monochrome portraits of The Last Amazonas by Felipe Jacome is to document the struggle of indigenous women defending the Ecuadorian Amazon from oil exploitation by large oil exploration companies, backed by the government.

The portraits are accompanied by statements from the women themselves, explaining their history, culture and traditions. The color decorations are drawn using the same natural dyes used by the tribes to decorate their faces.

Faced by relentless exploitation, the Amazonian indigenous people have taken their case to their country's government, and have started muscular actions against oil companies operating in the region. These native indigenous groups accuse oil production for river pollution and soil contamination.

Felipe Jácome is a documentary photographer born in Ecuador, whose work has focused on issues of human mobility and human rights. He won the Young Reporter Competition of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and his photos have appeared in publications such as Foreign Policy Magazine, The Guardian, Vice Magazine, CNN Photo Blog and the Miami Herald. His photographs have also been exhibited in London, Geneva, Amsterdam, Quito, and Washington DC.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Theyyam | Tewfic El-Sawy


Being stuck indoors because of a 'monstrous' snowstorm in NYC has some advantages, after all. I pulled some of my photographs made in 2009 at various Theyyam performances in the region of Kasargode in northern Kerala, picked those that appealed to me and published "Theyyam: When Men Become Gods" on Exposure .

These performances were some of the most unusual I've ever witnessed...not in terms of violence (real or manufactured) because there was none of that (except for chicken sacrifices), but because of the sudden metamorphose of essentially what are human actors into weird creatures that adopt eerie mannerisms and surreal voices. These were not trances...just a morphing into weird beings.

The term Theyyam is derived from the Malayalam “daivam”, or deity. It is a religious event practiced only in India’s North Kerala, observed by its rural inhabitants, and follows a cult consisting of several thousand-year-old traditions, rituals, and customs. Virtually all castes and classes of Hindus in the region are involved in the cult, and its adherents consider Theyyam performers as incarnations of local deities. During these performances, they are granted the power to foretell the future, to give counsel, and to resolve minor communal disputes.

The amount of care and meticulous artistry that produces the face-painting, the costumes and the building of the headdresses are nothing short of breathtaking...mostly everything is made at the location of the performances a few hours before.

Theyam performances are only held during the early months of the year, and are indigenous to the rural regions of north Malabar.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Amer Kapetanovic | Whirling Dervishes

Photo © Amer Kapetanovic -All Rights Reserved
The Whirling Dervishes is one of the many branches of the Islamic Sufi tradition, and is generally associated with the Mevlevi order in Turkey. The most well known Mehlevi Sufi ceremony is the Sema, which is one of many different Sufi ceremonies performed in order to achieve religious ecstasy.

Sema means listening in Arabic, and is performed as "zikr", which means the devotional remembrance of glorifying God and the Prophet Muhammad. The use of music and song can range from somewhat raucous and repetitive (as the Egyptian zikr) to the more subtle (musically-speaking) of the Sema in Turkey. In the same vein, the Gnaoua (or Gnawa) of Morocco perform their characteristic African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms.

It is said that performing the Sema is a way to spiritually meditate through melodies and dancing. It brings out a person's love of God, purifies the soul, and is a way of finding God. It represents the mystical journey of individuals on their ascent through mind and love to union with God.

Although I photographed the Gnawa Sufis in Morocco, the Badawi Sufis in Egypt and various Sufi manifestations and ceremonies in India, I was only able to photograph the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul along with hundreds of tourists; a delightful experience but not one that I found particularly intense at all . Due to time constraints, I wasn't able to visit Konya; the city where the Sufi saint Jalaluddin Rumi is buried. 

Until I do visit Konya, the wonderful (and large) monochromatic photographs of a Whirling Dervishes sema by Amer Kapetanovic will suffice. 

Amer Kapetanovic is based in Sarajevo (Bosnia & Herzegovina), who's been photographing for over twelve years. Apart from commercial work, his personal photography gallery featured work from India, Turkey, France and Sweden.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Travel Photographer Blog is 8 Years Old!


I suddenly realized The Travel Photographer blog is 8 years old today...approximately 2929 days have gone by since I decided to start a blog. It was the 24th of January 2007 in London and on a whim, I thought it'd be a great idea to have one.

3213 posts later, The Travel Photographer blog is still going strong...has attracted millions of views, and has 2262 Google followers. My Google+ page has been viewed 543,584,919 times ( I don't believe it, but it's sounds cool), and I've been recognized in the streets of New York City by strangers who ask me "You're The Travel Photographer, aren't you?".

Through my posts on this blog, I've come to know the work of fantastic photographers and photojournalists; through it, I made new friends in that industry; I've used it as a marketing platform to launch my photo expeditions-workshops; it expanded my visual, intellectual and cultural horizons; and influenced my own photographic direction.

So with a well-deserved pat on my back, I thank my readers and all those who contributed directly and indirectly to make The Travel Photographer blog what it is.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Mosa’ab El Shamy | Egypt's Mawlid |TIME LightBox

Photo © Mosa’ab El Shamy- Courtesy Time LightBox
"Mawlid" is the Arabic word for birthday, and in the context of this feature, is a religious birthday. The most celebrated in the Muslim world is the birthday of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. However, there are many others religious birthdays that are observed in some countries, such as Egypt.

Although the majority of Muslim scholars favor the observance of Muhammad's birthday, the more orthodox do not. In some countries, such as Egypt and Sudan, Mawlid is used as a generic term for the celebration of birthdays of local Sufi saints as well. Around 3,000 Mawlid celebrations are held each year and attended by tens of thousands of people.

The largest Mawlid in Egypt attracts up to three million people, and honors Ahmad al-Badawi, a local 13th-century Sufi saint. It is easy to forget that Egypt was once the seat of the Fatimid Caliphate, a Shia Islamic caliphate, which left exquisite examples of Islamic architecture such as the Al Azhar University, the Al Hakim mosque and the El Hussein mosque (Masjid El Imam Hussein).

The largest Mawlid is that of Ahmad Al-Badawi, the founder of the Badawiyyah Sufi order, a Moroccan Sufi who fought the Crusaders in the 13th century.

Exploring The Mawlids of Egypt is the work of Egyptian photographer Mosa’ab El Shamy, a Cairo-based independent photographer who covers daily news stories, as well as in-depth cultural and social documentary projects. In 2013, TIME picked one of Mosa'ab's photographs among its best 10 photos of the year. He won an Award of Excellence from Pictures of the Year International competition and then selected by PDN among its 30 Emerging Photographers in 2014, as well as one of the Guardian’s Top 10 Youth in Digital Media.  

He also won the Egypt International Photography Contest and Arab Union of Photographers competition and was shortlisted for numerous awards including the Terry O’Neil award, Hasselblad and Professional Photographer of The Year.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Travel Photographer Asia | Contest


I'm very pleased to introduce the Travel Photographer Asia Contest to my readers.

As I've always evangelized, travel photography is a complex and varied discipline that includes a wide range of genres and subjects, from cultural events to food, from architecture to people and from reportage to wildlife. Travel photographers must be able to capture these diverse genres using all sorts of techniques, and resources.

Spearheaded by Ahsan Quraishi, the Travel Photographer Asia is a travel photography contest aimed at professional and amateur travel photographers who have travelled in Asia. Through the submitted photographs, it seeks to highlight the undeniable vibrancy of the people, places, food and festivals in Asia.

The best 50 photographs will be chosen by a panel of judges, and will be exhibited for a week at one of Kuala Lumpur's best exhibition venue, MapKL@Publika and the winners will be unveiled in a gala prize giving ceremony on the opening night.

I am also very glad to have been chosen as one of the 4 judges on the Travel Photographer Asia panel, which includes photography heavyweights Khaula Jamil, Eric Beecroft and Rahman Roslan. The winning entries will be first shortlisted by the judges, then chosen via social media.

The rules governing the contest are simple and straightforward. Submissions to the contest start on January 21, 2015 and all entries must be submitted on or before midnight on 20 April 2015. The winners will be announced on May 29, 2015.

The prizes are very generous, but I would be remiss if I didn't highlight that both the Winner and First Runner-Up will be each awarded a spot in the fantastic Foundry Photojournalism Workshop (held on 19 -25 July in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia) inclusive of tuition fees, 7 days 6 nights accommodation and return flights (ex KL).

There's no question there is an incredible amount of photography talent amongst Asian and non-Asian photographers who make images in Asian countries, of cultures, people, its food, festivals, religious events and its landscapes. I am certain that this contest will brings phenomenal imagery to the forefront, and will introduce new names to the multitude of people who love photography.

So if you traveled to and photographed the Asian continent, participate in this inaugural photo contest, and let us see your photographs!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Rickshaw Wallahs | Tewfic El-Sawy


I've just published Rickshaw Wallahs on the Exposure platform, with some of the photographs I made during the Kolkata’s Cult of Durga Photo~Expedition & Workshop which I organized and led in late 2011.

Since the end of the 19th century, hand-pulled rickshaws have been transporting Kolkata residents in its crowded streets. These ‘vehicles’ have remained an integral part of Kolkata’s fabric for more than 100 years. The word ‘rickshaw’ originates from the Japanese word jinrikisha. They were invented in Japan in 1860, and appeared in India a few years later.

Despite protestations, this archaic form of transport continues to be popular, despite ongoing debates regarding ethics and traffic-flow efficiency. During Kolkata's monsoon, the streets flood regularly, and only hand pulled rickshaws can carry people where they need to go. It is also regularly used by housewives for shopping, by small businessmen to carry merchandise, and by families to get their children safely to and from school.

Whilst in Kolkata, I photographed Muhammed, a rickshaw puller and to capture a few frames of him pulling it from a passenger's perspective, I sat on it. 

The sight of Muhammed straining to pull me these few meters upset me, and I asked him to stop, and got down. I suppose there is a difference between the hand-pulled rickshaws such as those in Kolkata and elsewhere, and the bicycle rickshaws in Old Delhi. I have ridden the latter; grudgingly perhaps, but I haven't felt the same way.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Omo Child | Mingi



"I am one of the victims of mingi. Last year my daughter was declared teeth mingi because her teeth showed from the top first instead of the bottom. In my mind it was unthinkable to drown my own child in the river. I swore to God no one would kill my own flesh and blood. I will be the first Kara man to stand up to the elders." -Hylo Ari 

Mingi is the traditional belief among the Karo and Hamar tribes in southern Ethiopia that adults and children with physical abnormalities are ritually impure, and some of them believe evil spirits or a “curse” will bring ill fortune to their villages if Mingi children are not killed. Mandated by the tribes' elders, the afflicted child will be left alone in the bush without food and water, or will be drowned in  rivers.




Filmed over a five year period, the film makers of Omo Child followed Lale Labuko, a young educated man from the Karo tribe and his relentless journey with the people of his tribe as they attempt to change an ancient practice. Labuko, a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, learned about the practice of Mingi and how he made it his life mission to end ritual infanticide in his tribe's culture.

Omo Child: The River and the Bush has been selected for the DC Independent Film Festival and will premiere February 25th, opening night of the festival.


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Terri Gold | The Nomads of Niger

Photo © Terri Gold-All Rights Reserved
Infrared photography and off-the-beaten path nomadic people...this is exactly what photographer Terri Gold features in her new Nomads in Niger gallery.

She photographed the Wodaabe; nomadic cattle-herders and traders in the Sahel, who periodically migrate from southern Niger, through northern Nigeria, northeastern Cameroon, southwestern Chad, and the western region of the Central African Republic. The number of Wodaabe is estimated to be 100,000 and are widely known for their beauty, elaborate attire and rich cultural ceremonies.

Terri tells me there has been no tourism in Niger for 6 years now, and her photography group numbered less than five. The Wodaabe festival she attended had no fixed date, so it was a matter of crossing fingers and being patient. Her group had to have 18 guards armed with Kalashnikovs and a 50 mm machine gun on each truck. 

The Guérewol festival is an annual courtship ritual competition among the Wodaabes, when young men dressed in elaborate ornamentation and made up in traditional face painting gather in lines to dance and sing, vying for the attentions of marriageable young women.

Terri Gold is an award-winning photographer and artist based in New York City, and has built an impressive reputation for her infrared imagery of rituals, rites of passage, festivals, celebrations and portraits from all over the world.

Her artistic creativity and energy were patently obvious during my Tribes of South Rajasthan & Kutch Photo~Expedition™which she had joined in January 2010, as she moved from one photo shoot in a village to the next photographing with her two cameras; one "normal" like those used by the rest of us, and the second professionally modified to shoot infrared.

Friday, 9 January 2015

POV: No, I Can't....



"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.
And that is my way too.

I've waited until the murderers of Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists were done with to express my personal view on this blog.

Readers of this blog, people who know me either personally or through social media, know of my interest in documenting world religions, unusual religious ceremonies and cults....the more esoteric the better.

 I am completely irreligious, and yet I'm profoundly interested -from a visual, intellectual and cultural standpoint- in these manifestations of faith. And it's for these exact reasons that I am not going to join the "I Am Charlie" flood.

I respect all manifestations of faith...whether I agree with them or not. How can I not, if I photograph them every chance I get?

During the horrible events in Paris, the concept of freedom of expression and of the press have been bandied about in the media, and many individuals have understandably been quick to express their support by commenting and displaying various avatars in support.

I'm one of the many who believe that freedom of expression ought to apply to all faiths, religions, beliefs...spiritual or secular. To select one and not the others is -to me- a form of discrimination and racism. 

But I also believe that scatologically smearing a group’s race, identity and beliefs (whether Muslim, Catholic, Jew or Hindu, etc) is an unreasonable thing to do, and is not the mark of a civil society.  I don't care if Charlie Hebdo's satire is a French "tradition" that even precedes Voltaire, the satirical polemicist who, by the way, was a strident anti Semite. If wielded with a heavy hand, it leads to hate.

And while I'm on Voltaire, he is incorrectly credited in having said "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." These were the words of his biographer. Check this to make sure.

Criticism of any religion can (and ought to) be done using intellectual and thoughtful discourse...rather than using pornographic/crass lampooning as was done by Charlie Hebdo. 

That is -in simple terms- why I am not, and will never be Charlie.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Northwest India | Tewfic El-Sawy



I've recently published Northwest India on the Exposure platform, with some of the photographs I made during one of my photo expeditions-workshops in a corner of northwest India; a region that is rife with tribal communities.

The Dungarpur-Poshina- Baneshwar-Bhuj region of Southern Rajasthan and of Gujarat‘s Rann of Kutch is sufficiently distant from the mainstream tourist circuit that compelling photographs and great photo-opportunities can be made in the small rural villages scattered in that geographical quadrangle.

I've chosen to feature portraits more than anything else in this gallery; portraits of members of tribal communities such as the Bhils, Banjara,  Gowdia and Garacia, and Rabaris.

I've also chosen to process the digital images using Nik Collection's Analog Efex Pro 2 filters, which gave them an analog look.

The photographs I made in the tiny village of Madhwa (midway between Bhuj and Bhachau) are those that stayed with me the most. The village is home to charcoal makers, living in abject poverty and were rather reclusive... however, when seeing cameras the women of the village quickly changed into their finest and cleanest, and stood with the poise of experienced models the minute when lenses were pointed their way.  Handsome people, with beautiful dark eyes...and yet dealt the harshest of cards in the desolate shrubs of the Kutch.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Andrew Stanbridge | Taungbyone Nat Festival

Photo © Andrew Stanbridge- All Rights Reserved
As readers of this blog know well by now, I'm attracted, photographically and culturally, to the especially unusual religious ceremonies and festivals in Asia and elsewhere. The French language has a word that's better suited than 'unusual', and it's insolite, and it is these that are pure catnip for me.

One of these unusual events is the Taungbyone Nat Festival, which is held near Mandalay every August (or thereabouts ).  This festival is known as the major gathering spot for spiritual mediums based on an ancient legend involving two Indian brothers. The cult of the nats is Myanmar's ancient animist religion.

Hundreds of mediums ( known as Nat-Kadaw) and thousands of pilgrims come once a year to Taung Byone, to commemorate the brothers' spirits. It is the most impressive Nat (spirits) festival in Myanmar. The Nats are spirits worshipped in Myanmar in conjunction with Buddhism. There are 37 spirits of  human beings who met violent deaths according to the legends.

It's certainly one of the festivals I plan photographing at some point (it has been on my bucket list for quite some time), especially as it's similar (as far as the involvement of transgender mediums) to the worship of Mother Goddess (Đạo Mẫu) that I'm hopeful to be soon photographing in Vietnam.

On Roads & Kingdoms, which is a popular and independent journal of food, politics, travel and culture, I chanced on the work of photographer Andrew Stanbridge on the Taungbyone Nat Festival, and which is titled Sauced Spirits; a remarkable and an in-your-face photo essay on this event, and on the people who attend it.

Andrew Stanbridge has been traveling and photographing throughout Southeast Asia for the past ten years. He documented the continuing modernization of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, and he has more recently concentrated on addressing the physical, emotional and cultural scars left from various wars fought in these countries. He has also started to photograph postcolonial communities on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe as well as creating a visual survey of Ethiopia beyond the well-known images of drought and starvation. Most recently, he was involved with image making in Syria. 

His work has been exhibited and published internationally and is held in several prominent collections. It has been supported by many grants and he frequently visits colleges and universities in America lecturing on the aftermath of war. 

PS. A couple of minor quibbles about the captioning: I'm not sure Burmese ladyboys are called kaoteys ; a term used in Thailand, and the popular stimulant used in Myanmar is betel nut, not beetle nut.)

Friday, 2 January 2015

Carlos Esteves | Bhaktapur

Photographs © Carlos Esteves (CE-TOP Photography)- All Rights Reserved
I start the new year with photographic work from Carlos Esteves, a Portuguese photographer who, in some of his galleries, merges travel photography with an aesthetic akin to fashion photography.

I particularly liked Carlos' work from Bhaktapur in Nepal, where he not only photographed in the streets of this ancient city, not far from Kathmandu, but also photographed what I presume are dancers in traditional Nepali court costumes. At first glance, and seeing some of these dancers looking out of ornate windows, I thought that they might have been Kumari Devi (the "living goddess" who are pre-pubescent girls considered to be the earthly incarnations of the goddess known as Taleju in Nepal), but they were dressed as such.

Bhaktapur is known as the 'City of Devotees' and is considered as Nepal's cultural gem. It is one of the three royal cities in the Kathmandu Valley. The others are Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and Patan.

Carlos Esteves has a degree in Computer Science and a Master in Business Administration, and is  mainly a self-taught photographer. His portfolio is certified by the Associação Portuguesa dos Profissionais da Imagem. He's passionate about traveling, and travel photography is a large component of his portfolio, and photographic interests.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Canang Sari | Tewfic El-Sawy


This might be the my last post for 2014, and I chose to feature a few of the photographs I made during a handful of photo expeditions-workshops I led on the island of Bali.

These photographs represent a sampling over the course of the past few years, and some are purely stock travel images in style, whilst others have a somewhat more documentary flavor to them. This is in a way intentional, to show the evolution in my style of shooting during these past years.

Once again, I chose the Exposure platform to feature Canang Sari; a collection of 15 full sized color photographs.  Canang Sari is one of the many daily offerings made by Balinese Hindus to thank and praise the supreme deity. We have all seen these offerings in the Balinese temples, on small shrines in houses, and on the ground or as a part of larger offerings.

I look forward to 2015. A new year marks a new beginnings, new people to meet, new adventures to enjoy and new memories to create.

The Travel Photographer wishes you all a Happy New Year!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Sara Hylton | Holy Town

Photo © Sara Hylton-All Rights Reserved
Vrindavan; the holy little town not far from from Mathura, Krishna's birthplace, and a refuge for Bengali widows, which earned it the nickname of 'city of widows. I visited it some years ago, and -against the odds- was able to photograph at the ashrams where these impoverished 'cast-offs' congregate to earn a few rupees by singing devotional verses for visiting pilgrims. I called them White Shadows because widows in India have to wear plain white saris, with no adornments whatsoever.

During my March 2014 photo expedition-workshop to Varanasi and Vrindavan, my group and I were not allowed to photograph there due to stricter regulations, possibly triggered by bad publicity. It is estimated there are about 20,000 widows living on the streets of Vrindavan, many of whom have spent over 30 years there.

Sara Hylton spent about a year documenting a small community of these widows in Vrindavan, and produced Holy Town, a gallery of 15 large color photographs of these women, achieving a remarkable degree of intimacy with them. As Sara tells us, their story is one of perseverance, resilience and humanity in an environment of poverty and neglect.

Sara is a Canadian documentary and portrait photographer based between Brooklyn, New York and New Delhi, India. She first became interested in photography in 2011 while working with an international humanitarian organization in Uganda. She began taking photographs to document the organization’s work in the field, and discovered a love of visual storytelling. She's especially drawn to portrait photography as a way to share people’s stories.

She holds a Master of Arts in International Conflict Studies from Kings College London, and also recently completed a post-graduate certificate in Photojournalism and Documentary from the International Center of Photography (ICP).

I normally don't include my work on blog posts about other photographers, but I make an exception here since the more exposure given to the plight of these widows the quicker their circumstances might improve. "White Shadows" on my Vimeo channel.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

POV | 2014's Highlights | The Travel Photographer

Your Year In Review (or something like that) is a new trend on Facebook that allows it to pull any user's 2014 activities, and create a personalised timeline of the highlights of the year complete with photos and statuses.  Users can customise their  timelines as well, with Facebook allowing users to add up to four photos for each month in the year.

Since I have no intention of letting Facebook getting involved any more than necessary in my timeline, I thought it to be an idea to do my own...briefly listing some the highlights of my photographic timeline of 2014.

From a technical standpoint, I think my decision to reduce my reliance on the heavy Canon DSLR system I have been using for over 15 years to the lightweight mirrorless system in the form of the Fuji X Series (X-Pro1 and X-T1) and the Leica M9 is one that's at the top of the list.  I was particularly impressed by the X-T1's performance during my September photo expedition to Vietnam.

The two photography expedition-workshop that I led to India (to cover Holi festival) and to Vietnam were by and large very interesting but very different. The former was very technically challenging, while the latter was not.

On a personal level, teaching at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop is always a phenomenal experience. This year in Antigua, I had the pleasure of working with 8 talented photographers of diverse backgrounds and experience.

The memory of getting literally hosed with cold and colored water during Holi was one that will remain in my subconscious for quite a while, but the pleasure in meeting lovely people in Ha Noi's Hoan Kiem lake will remain for far longer.

Finally, discovering, and then researching and documenting, obscure religious rituals performed in Northern Vietnam's Red Delta region which will hopefully be included in my 2015 photo expeditions.

So I hope I was prophetic in my earlier message...may the next year be filled with superb light, exotic travel, colorful festivals and new (and even better) photo-taking devices!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Season's Greetings!


I wish my readers a very merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

May our next year be filled with superb light, exotic travel, colorful festivals and new (and even better) photo-taking devices!

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Dancing Monks of Bhutan |Tewfic El-Sawy


My first photo expedition to the Kingdom of Bhutan was in 1999, and was coincidentally the very first formal photo expedition I organized and led. The trip was over 20 days or so, and included India (Delhi, Dharmasala and Varanasi), Kathmandu in Nepal and finally Paro and Thimpu in Bhutan.

I returned to Bhutan in 2006, 2008 and 2009 and during these years, I witnessed the immense change (sometimes known as progress) that affected the country. In 1999, there were only a handful of hotels; two of the better ones were owned by Druk Air, the Kingdom's airline. And there was no television, no easy access to the internet and the Bhutanese women in the two main cities still wore their hair in page boy cuts, and hadn't yet been influenced by the daily Bollywood movies.

In 2009, in the small town of Jakar I had the pleasure of having cups of very good espresso and cappuccino, and had a wonderful Tibetan dinner of momos. That was 5 years ago, and I gather that more "progress" has invaded Bhutan...but at least, it has been at a slower pace than in other countries in the region.

Over these four trips, I gathered quite a large inventory of photographs and I recently decided to showcase a color selection focusing on The Dancing Monks of Bhutan on the Exposure platform, joining 8 other galleries of photographs from India, and Vietnam.

As many of my readers know, tshechus are annual religious Bhutanese festivals held in each district of Bhutan. They are also large social gatherings, and include large commercial markets as well. I've attended the large Thimpu tshechu in 1999, and even at that time, it was a tourist destination. Over my last three trips, I was fortunate to photograph a tshechu in the small village of Prakhar, and the interesting  Jambhay Lakhang.

I recall seeing a GEO magazine photographer at the Thimpu tshechu, who had gone to great lengths to set up a portable studio in a small corner of the grounds...and was photographing some of the dancers. I thought nothing of just standing behind him, and essentially 'poaching' some of the shots. I wasn't being surreptitious at all, and the German photographer didn't seem to mind...even waiting for me to finish a shot or two before asking for another dancer to pose.

It was a different world then.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Scott Irvine & Kim Meinelt | Vietnam


The cover of Scott Irvine & Kim Meinelt's book had me fooled for a moment because I thought it was an ancient collodion processed photograph; but then I noticed the modern plastic chairs.

I chanced on Vietnam, the self-published book by this husband-wife team, on my Facebook feed and because of its wonderful aesthetics, I wanted to have it featured on my blog. Although I've been to Vietnam leading my photo expedition-workshop just this past September, I still miss it and this book eased the itch a little bit.

Vietnam consists of over 90 photographs in that country and neighboring Laos, and these are made entirely with an iPhone.

I settled back, adjusted my monitor and "flipped" through the book's pages, savoring each one...a combination of street photography as well as travel photographs (markets, ethnic markets, etc), and tried to pinpoint where they were made. Perhaps my imagination is on overdrive but I thought I recognized one of the two young women in white on the book's page 6. I photographed her -or someone like her- wearing an identical outfit in a coffee shop in Ha Noi's Old Quarter.

Scott Irvine and Kim Meinelt live in Brooklyn, and have been photographing as a husband wife team for about 4 years under the name "Waxenvine". Both photographers for over 20 years, they've been using film cameras and traditional darkroom techniques. They have both recently been featured on Instagram,  on The Selby, and have self published 3 photography books together from past trips.

Scott graduated with a BFA in photography and sculpture from RIT in Rochester NY. He currently works as a freelance photographer in NYC.

Kim attended the North Carolina School of Arts with a degree in set design, scenic painting and photography. She works at Eileen Fisher and holds the tittle of Creative Concept Director in NYC.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Prantik Mazumder | Guatemala

Photo © Prantik Mazumder -All Rights Reserved
The play of light and shadows!

A few months ago, I was in Antigua (Guatemala) at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop, and realized how visually interesting the contrasty play of shadows and light was in this part of the world, especially when the sun is at the top of the sky, and creates strong and compelling shadows.

And here comes a gallery of monochromes featuring just that...black and white photographs made in various towns of Guatemala; from Sacatepequez to Chichicastenango. Essentially street photographs made by a photographer that I regard as extremely adept at capturing the contrast of shadow and light, and its nuances.

Prantik Mazumder is a self-taught photographer, originally from Calcutta, India, and moved to North America for his graduate studies. Currently settled in Ithaca, New York, he's pursuing a career in scientific research.

This is not the first time I feature Prantik's work on this blog, but it's the first time that I choose his monochrome work.  He shows us work from Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, New Orleans and of his native Calcutta.

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.