Saturday, 18 April 2015

Diego Ibarra Sánchez | Children of Shah Daulah

Photo © Diego Ibarra Sanchez - All Rights Reserved
Followers of this blog and of my photography work will know of my visual and cultural affinity to South Asian Sufi shrines, and my interest in this particular branch of Islam from a historic standpoint. I have photographed at quite a number of Sufi shrines in India, but never in Pakistan, and documented a variety of its festivals, rituals and cultural phenomena.

Whether it was in Ajmer during the death anniversary of the Sufi saint Chisti or at the shrine of Mira Datar, I witnessed manifestations of mental illness by pilgrims who went into trances when nearing the tombs of the saints, and I saw first hand the venality of the shrines' keepers who exploited the visiting pilgrims, and conned them out of their meagre savings.

But I never imagined what seems to occur at the shrine of Shah Daula Shrine located in Gujrat in northern Pakistan. It is here that women wanting to bear children come - as others have done for more than 400 years- and pray at the saint's shrine. If their prayers are fulfilled, they have to donate their first-born to the caretakers of the shrine. Thousands of such children have been left here, and forced by the caretakers to wear iron caps on their skulls for the first 12 years of their lives in order to look like rats. They are called the rat children or chuhas.

Shah Daula, a beloved Sufi Muslim mystic, was said to be a kind man who surrounded himself with children born with microcephaly, and the caretakers seek to populate the shrine with such disfigured individuals since pilgrims believe that being touched by these unfortunate individuals will bless them and have them bear children.

Diego Ibarra Sánchez's gallery Children of Shah Daula features photographs made at this shrine.

Diego is a documentary photographer currently based in Lebanon. Graduating with a degree in Journalism in 2005, he has published many of his stories in numerous newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times and Der Spiegel among others.

In 2006 several grants made it possible for Diego to spend a year in South America to improve his storytelling process. Upon returning to Spain he worked for two years for the Catalan newspaper Avui, while still continuing his own photography projects. In 2009 Diego moved to Pakistan where he developed a strong visual body of work. He also continued travelling to several other countries including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Libya, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

He left Pakistan in 2014 and he is currently based in Beirut, Lebanon.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Hà Nội Color | Exposure | Leica M9 & X Pro1

I've just published Hà Nội Color on the Exposure platform, using a Color Efex Pro 4 "soup" to punch the colors up, and boost their saturation. The photographs were made with a Leica M9 with Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 and the Fuji X-Pro1 with a 18mm Fujinon f2.0. Most of the photographs were shot from the hip.

The streets and alleys of Hà Nội's Old Quarter (referred to in Vietnamese as Phố Cổ) are enormously interesting in terms of history, culture and visual vignettes of everyday life; life that is carried out in the open for all to see. Whenever I could, in between long and frenetic photo shoots of the Hầu Đồng assignment, I would wander around somewhat aimlessly...just waiting for life snippets to happen.

Perhaps because I was in Hà Nội in September 2014, and roamed these streets as well, I was a lot more discerning in what I photographed this time....principally looking for colors.

I have no idea if I actually walked all of the Old Quarter's 36 streets, but I did smell the famous grilled fish on Cha Ca, glanced at the silver trinkets on Hang Bac, ignored the endless displays of shoes and sandals on Hang Dau, the silk boutiques on Hang Gai (where my hotel was), entered one of the wonderful old houses on Ma May, passed by the bamboo products (Hang Buom), peeked in a shop selling medicinal herbs on Lan Ong, pushed my way through the female crowd on Hang Dao the "underwear" street and was tempted to drink beer on Ta Hien street but didn't.

After perusing Hà Nội Color, you may want to drop by Hà Nội Noir which is a selection of monochromatic photographs also made in the Old Quarter.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Hát Văn Singer | Trịnh Ngọc Minh

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
"My life is a calendar of memories." -Trịnh Ngọc 'Tony' Minh
Hát Văn is a form of ritual music played by musicians known as 'cung van' as an offering to the various deities pertaining to the cult of Mother Goddesses in Vietnam. The songs and musical accompaniment call the deities to attend the Hầu Đồng rituals, and create the right atmosphere for the medium to go into the requisite trances welcoming these deities.

These musicians require considerable training and stamina; often helped by various traditional concoctions, since the rituals can last as long as 8 hours with non-stop music and singing.

At the start of my two-weeks stay in Hanoi, I was fortunate to be introduced to Mr Trịnh Ngọc Minh, known to all as Tony, a very generous man, who not only is a well-known (and a very talented) Hát Văn singer, an excellent musician and expert in the two-stringed đàn nguyệt, but also one of the better Hầu Đồng practitioners I've seen during my almost daily attendance of these rituals.

During one of our many meals together, along with other friends, he also displayed his talents as a fortune-teller and palm reader, and I was quite happy to learn that I was blessed in having four lines in my palm rather than the normal three...and other stuff that has no relevance to this post.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Trịnh Ngọc Minh studied literature and theater in 2006, and since then has been singing, teaching, researching and writing songs on a daily basis. He's passionate about his chosen profession, especially as it requires a high degree of spirituality. The study of Hát Văn takes 2-3 years, and to be reasonably proficient, one has to study and practice it for at least 5 years. My understanding is that there over 2000 singers in Vietnam, but only 10 of them can write and sing this traditional style of music.

He also delighted his audience at an all-nighter Hầu Đồng ritualistic performance at the Đền Tam Phủ temple in the outskirts of Quang Ninh. Members of the audience were ecstatic despite the late hours (or early morning hours), and he -to use a Western expression- rocked the place.

At Hanoi's wonderfully atmospheric Văn Miếu (Temple of Literature), we had the opportunity of photographing Tony playing the two-stringed đàn nguyệt (top photograph), and I recorded a Hát Văn song.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Ca Trù | Vietnamese Sung Poetry

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
One of the most authentic cultural performances of Northern Vietnam has to be Ca Trù (pronounced 'Ka Tchoo'); a complex form of sung poetry using lyrics written in traditional Vietnamese poetic forms. It flourished in the 15th century when it was popular with the royal palace, and was a favorite activity of aristocrats and scholars. It was later performed in communal houses, inns and private homes.

I was first introduced to Ca Trù during my 2012 Vietnam Photo Expedition-Workshop when I spotted a pamphlet in our hotel lobby. I gathered the group, and we attended one of its evening performances in Ha Noi's Old Quarter. Due to a time conflict, I wasn't able to attend one in September 2014 during another Photo Expedition-Workshop, but I vowed I'd do so when I was next in Ha Noi...which was last fortnight.

Thanks to Ms Trần Thị Thanh Tú, a Ha Noi-based photographer, I attended two Ca Trù performances and photographed at will. Ms Phạm Thị Huệ is a virtuoso practitioner of the art, and is actively engaged in preserving, reviving and popularizing this cultural heritage.

Ca Trù singing is a traditional Vietnamese folk art, and is believed to have religious origins. It is said that it is a very noble and elegant form of art, not just singing but also for its poetry.

Not understanding a word of Vietnamese, the beauty of the sung poetry is lost on me but I was nevertheless always impressed by the overall atmosphere of these performances, by the poise and talent of the singers/musicians and by the elegance of their costumes.

For further background on Ca Trù, drop by THE ANCIENT ART OF CA TRÙ; a gallery of my  large photographs made during my recent visits to the Ca Trù Thang Long Club, at 28 Hang Buom Street, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi.

And take a listen to one of the songs performed by the group on April 2, 2015 which I recorded live.


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

France Leclerc | Nomads In Ladakh

Photo © France Leclerc-All Rights Reserved

"I have always been a traveler and a wanderer. Travel for me is not about vacations; it is my way to learn about a world that I care deeply about."
Here's the latest from a peripatetic photographer, who's unflinchingly merging ethno-photography, pictorial anthropology and travel photography together in interesting and informative blog posts and galleries.

France Leclerc has been everywhere, and puts other seasoned travel photographers to shame in terms of their geographical coverage. Let me try to list where she's been: India (including Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Assam, Nagaland, Maha Kumbh Mela, Kolkata and Varanasi of course), Philippines,  Myanmar, Ethiopia's Omo Valley, Namibia, Cambodia, and yes, even Paris.

Based in Chicago (when she's not on the road), she developed a passion for photographing the more remote regions of the world, and sharing her experiences visually and in her writings. A self-taught photographer, she describes herself as a traveler and wanderer, and is turned by photographing people...not just portraits but what she calls 'snippets' of their lives...sort of environmental portraits that tell stories about the people.

Her latest blog entry is Nomads in Ladakh; about the Changpa (also called Champa), a semi-nomadic Tibetan people she encountered whilst traveling in the Rupshu valley, a high altitude desert in the southeast of Ladakh. They are high altitude pastoralists, raising mainly yaks and goats. Though only 100 miles or so from Leh, the Rupshu valley is only accessible by driving many hours and travel over the Tangla La at an altitude of over 17, 000 feet.

Mostly a color photographer, France seems to have adopted the monochromatic look for her latest work of Ladakh. Let's see if that trend continues.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Foundry Photojournalism Workshop | Bali 2015

You'll have the time of your life. That's it...a few simple words that sums it all up.

In my view, this is the best photojournalism workshop for the advancement of emerging photographers/photojournalists, already emerging ones, established ones, mature ones and veterans.

Mind you, it's not only the phenomenal experience of working cheek to jowl with some of the best and selfless photographers-instructors in existence such as Maggie Steber, Ron Haviv, John Stanmeyer, Matt Black, Thorne Anderson, James Whitlow Delano, David Storey, Michael Robinson-Chavez, Andrea Bruce, Kael Alford, Adriana Zehbrauskas, Henrik Kastenskov, Paula Bronstein, Claire Rosen and Neal Jackson....but it's also enhancing your craft by rubbing shoulders with other participants, whether peers, or just starting their photography careers, or veterans, and with all sorts of other styles of's also about augmenting your exposure to different worlds, about exposing yourselves to divergent thought processes, to varying points of view, and in doing so... grow as human beings (and yes, as photographers too).

It was a little over 7 years ago when I received an email from Eric Beecroft inviting me to join as faculty member the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop which was still be established, and that would take place in Mexico City. It was 2008... and the workshop has been going from strength to strength since then, holding annual events in Mexico City, Manali, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Chiang Mai, Sarajevo, La Antigua...and now Ubud, Bali.

I was (and am) privileged to have been chosen among the thousands of photographers who are certainly more deserving than I am to be part of the faculty, especially as I'm a travel photographer rather than a conflict -or otherwise- photojournalist.

My involvement in the Foundry since its inception, meeting and viewing the work of my fellow instructors, as well as that of the students, has inspired a shift in my travel photography trajectory...and caused an evolutionary progress in my way of seeing...from the narrow focus on stock travel photography to a more documentary type of travel photography.

This is my take on the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop...honest, unbiased, and straight.

So join and you'll see I'm right.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Hanoi Report 6

Well, here I am at the end of a wonderful, extremely enjoyable and highly productive 12-13 days in Ha Noi. I entered a world that perhaps few non-Vietnamese are familiar with, and made friendships that I wouldn't have made otherwise had I not traveled on my own.

It was capped last night by a Ca Tru performance at the Guan Yu Temple on 28 Hang Buom Street in the Old Quarter.

I am bracing myself for the extremely long flight to New York with a stop over in Hong Kong, and for the re-entry in a much colder environment. It was in the upper 90s in Ha Noi yesterday.

All Photos © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Hanoi Report 6

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
My stay in Ha Noi is unfortunately nearing its end, but yesterday's hầu đồng was, at least in my view, truly the apex of the practice of this ritual of spirit mediumship practiced in Vietnam.

Having had to travel to Hải Phòng (approximately 60 miles from Ha Noi) was a tiny price to pay to witness such as spectacular performance by one of the leading partitioner of the craft. Less modest than the other performances I've seen before, this one was an extravanagza of costumes, flamboyant gestures, make-up worthy of Hollywood movie making and even extras to give more depth to the proceedings.

I was welcomed as a friend, and shared breakfast and lunch with all the crew and followers. Despite my utter ignorance of Vietnamese except for a few mispronounced words, we managed to communicate with sign language and smiles...and I didn't feel being an intruder. It has nothing to do with luck, but all to do with the relentless efforts of Ms Tu; who made this all possible and convinced all the practitioners of hầu đồng that I was a trusted friend who admired the traditional culture of Vietnam and its depth.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
This particular performance struck me as being quite different than those I've seen before. The Hát Tuồng Vietnamese Opera influence appeared to be very strong in the costumes, headgear and some of the mannerisms adopted by the medium. Even the elaborate make-up reminded me of it. Naturally, Hát Tuồng is influenced by Chinese Opera as well.

From a photography perspective, I wished there had been a black curtain to hide the bright sunlight or if this performance had been held at night (of course, I'd have to contend with other light issues then), but one gets what one can. 

As I mentioned before, I had some frustrating issues with the focusing for the X T-1. Principally because of the movement of the medium, flickering candles, and light extremes. I tried various techniques to compensate and redress these issues...some worked on occasion, but still frustrating. Ms Tu used a Canon dslr, and experienced more or less the same issues...but appeared more stoic about them, and captured some exquisite shots.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Hanoi Report 5

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The past few days were a maelstrom of non stop activity. I determined that traveling on my own without the responsibility of having other photographers in tow was liberating, and thought I could control my own time...wrong! I'm in Ha Noi for a purpose, and that purpose is the one that controls me.

After the exhausting Hau Dong all-nighter (see my previous post) of Friday, I attended another of these ceremonies at a nearby pagoda called Binh Nguyen in Gia Lam. I was invited there by the gracious Ms Mai; owner of the Golden Silk Boutique Hotel, who had learned of my interest in this ritual of spirit mediumship practiced in Vietnam. Not only was I invited (along with Ms Tu) to the ceremony, but we shared a lovely traditional Vietnamese dinner with Ms Mai, her husband and friends.

The ceremony was performed by a Buddhist monk who took the role of the hầu đồng; to my understanding, this is quite a departure from the norm, as the mediums are usually laymen or laywomen. In contrast to the previous ceremonies I've attended so far, this was rather more poised...more sedate, and much wealthier as evidenced by the enormous amount of offerings and by the new bottle of Chivas Regal used for the ceremony's rituals.

As a said note, I was told that the monk (or bonze) had two names; his real name is Đỗ Công Điển  while his temple name is Thích Tịnh Đức

I chose this particular photograph (above) to demonstrate the difficult lighting conditions of these ceremonies. A mix of different types of light sources, some quite harsh and suspended at different heights, make it a a tough task to photograph particularly with the limited access we have. Stomping over seated spectators to get a shot is never a good idea, so contortionist skills are mandatory.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
This afternoon, invited by Tony Trinh, a hát chầu văn singer, we dropped by another hầu đồng ceremony performed by a woman medium (Bà Đồng). Here the light situation was easier to work with, despite the harsh sunlight coming through the open doors.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

In between all these ceremonies, I'm attempting to squeeze a few moments of street photography in the Pho Co (Old Quarter) neighborhood. I still haven't found my groove, but it's slowly coming back. In any event, I still have a few days left in Ha Noi.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Hanoi Report 4

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Little did I know last September in Ha Noi that I'd return in 6 months to pursue a personal project...little did I know when I walked in Sapa, heard music originating from a temple and photographed a Đạo Mẫu ceremony that it would kindle an interest in the worship of mother goddesses in Vietnam, and little did I know when I stumbled on a Lên đồng (or hầu đồng) ceremony in Bac Ha that it was part of this cult (for lack of better word) in which followers become mediums for various deities.

I have had the incredible good fortune of meeting Ms Tú Trần Thanh, who's being photographing hầu đồng ceremonies, gaining access through her many contacts with its community, and her friendship with Ms Lê Ánh Tuyết, Mr 'Tony" Trinh, and Ung Anh Tuan to name but a few.

So here I am in Ha Noi for the past week working on this particular project, whose probable apex was yesterday.

I can't recall the last time I pulled an all-nighter (except for the 16 hours flights from NYC to Hong Kong and beyond) but last night was nothing short but incredible.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Driving from Ha Noi to a temple called Đền Tam Phủ in the outskirts of Quang Ninh was not too long, and was well worth the distance. When we arrived for the private hầu đồng ceremony, I realized that there were four of these ceremonies being held at the temple. It seemed March 27 was an auspicious day in the lunar calendar, and the whole day and night would see consecutive ceremonies. The private ceremony I was invited to would start around 11 pm and continue well in the wee hours of the morning.

Yes, hầu đồng ceremonies can last for up to 6 hours. To cut to the chase, we started photographing the ceremonies at around 4:00 pm, and ended at 5:00 am...or thereabouts. Not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination, especially as the lighting conditions at the temple were challenging (no, make that atrocious), and we had only a few clear and comfortable angles to shoot from.

Photo © Tewfic EL-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
So it was certainly not a walk in the park. The rapid movements of the mediums (sometimes unanticipated, sometimes slow...others frenetic...not really following a set pattern and perhaps capricious to a certain extent) coupled with the bad lighting make it very difficult.

I mostly used my XF 18mmf/2 R pancake lens mounted on the X-T1, which gave me the angle necessary to capture as much of the scenes that I wanted. I tried to use the XF 56mm f/1.2 R but it was struggling in the low light because of the flickering candles used by the mediums.

That said, I am disappointed that XF 56mm f/1.2 R let me down. It's a gorgeous lens for portraits but it doesn't seem suited for action (even deliberate) shots. I hardly used the XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6R LM OIS WR (too slow) or the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 (too wide).

Am I finished with the hầu đồng project? Not at all. But after the all-nighter, it'd be wiser to pass on today's ceremony in Hoa Lac, and wait for the next one on Sunday.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Hanoi Report 3

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Yesterday's photo shoots (as arranged by Ms Tu, aka "the Guardian Angel") were held at the Dinh Kim Ngan Jewellery Communal House, then at the superb Temple of Literature, and the purpose was to photograph two of my newly minted friends 'Tony' Trinh and Ms Lê Ánh Tuyết.

Ms. Lê Ánh Tuyết s a very well known Vietnamese singer, while Mr. 'Tony' Trinh is a Hau Dong singer, teacher and musician.

I was pleasantly surprised that none of the locations we chose required any prior permits or even casual permissions. We just walked in, unpacked our cameras and Ms Tuyết  and Mr Tony changed into Vietnamese traditional clothes.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I've mentioned this elsewhere, but my Hanoi experience as a solo traveler/photographer is immensely liberating. No responsibilities but my fact, I'm someone else's responsibility to a certain extent, and the feeling of not having a photographic group to take care of is a little disconcerting.

On these two photo shoots, I felt something was missing and felt they were over incredibly quickly in comparison to my previous workshops. Obviously the feeling was because there was no group photographers taking turns to shoot, and my directing the subjects on their behalf.

On a technical front, I am using the Fuji X-T1 as main camera with a whole range of fixed primes and one zoom, as well as the X-Pro1 as a second body to use when I deem it necessary. I found that my favorite lens for this type of photo shoots is the Fuji 56mm, but I occasionally experienced somewhat of a delay when the camera struggled to find the correct focus. 

These two photographs were made with minimal post processing. Perhaps at some point, I'll clone out the yellow electrical cable visible in Mr. Trinh's photograph. I used the Zeiss Touit 12mm for that one.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Hanoi Report 2

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The gods of good fortune continue to grace me with their benevolence, and the past few days have been exceptionally fruitful in terms of adding to my self-assigned project.

In Ha Noi, I favor staying at the Golden Silk Boutique Hotel, which I consider my home away from home. I came to know most of its staff by name, and they are exceptionally helpful whenever I need. Its location is perfect as it sits right in the Old Quarter; known here as Pho Co. Around the corner from it is Ly Quoc Su, where the small and inexpensive Pho 10 restaurant offers one of the best pho bo I've ever consumed.

Since my last post, my daily calendar has been filled with photo shoots. Along with the indefatigable Ms Tu, I attended another Lên đồng ceremony performed by quite a famous medium (Ống Đồng)  called Phung Minh Tri and an exceptionally pretty female medium (Bà Đồng).

Bà Đồng
This morning, I was expecting to fill the day with some street photography but I had to re-arrange my priorities when advised that Ms Tu and I were expected to photograph a Ca Tru musician in Hoan Kiem. Naturally, the streets of Ha Noi will wait for me....and we drove off to the lake.

We spent couple of hours photographing Ms Hường Đặng, a Ca Tru musician that I met when attending one her performances a few nights ago. In my Facebook post recording this photo shoot, I wrote that I had gone to Heaven for an hour or so. The backdrop of the Ngoc Son Temple in the middle of the lake was just perfect, and the cloudy weather fully cooperated with us.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Hanoi Report 1

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

I scarcely know where to begin this brief post. From the moment of my arrival at Ha Noi airport this past Saturday, I've experienced the most wonderful of assistance, unstinting help and undeserved generosity from so many people that I am still awestruck.

In a recent Facebook post, I wrote that I must have done something really good in my life because from the moment my feet touched Ha Noi's ground, I've already been warmly welcomed to two incredibly intense religious ceremonies (known as Hau Dong) and treated with the utmost courtesy and friendship.

Much of the credit for all this is owed to Ms Tu; an accomplished photographer herself, she developed significant expertise and established strong contacts in the Hau Dong and Ca Tru communities. A fearless motorbike driver, she navigates the streets of Ha Noi (totally ignoring my freaking out on the back of her machine, and giving me pitying looks if I overdo the freak outs) with aplomb and care...and ferries me where and when she sees fit.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

David Yarrow | South Sudan

I'm not in the PR business, so I normally don't advertise gallery openings, but I received a rather floridly-written email announcing that David Yarrow was about to show one of his South Sudanese photographs in full color.

I had never heard of Mr. Yarrow before, so I didn't really know what the big PR fuss is all about, but it intrigued me and I found a video interview with him including a number of his monochromatic photographs made in South Sudan, which are truly splendid and are certainly worth your viewing.

David Yarrow is based in London, and after being named Young Scottish Photographer of the Year, he has since specialized on the natural world to capture its harsh and endangered beauty.

He is the author of two fine-art photography books: Nowhere and Encounter. Many of the monochrome shots that feature in Encounter were captured in East Africa. His photographic travels have given him insights into environmental and geopolitical issues which he has put to use into the leading African conservation charity, for which he is the affiliated photographer.

I particularly enjoyed by Mr Yarrow's Indigenous Communities galleries, which include monochromatic photographs of the Dinka, the Inuit and Omo Valley tribes.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Nour El-Rifai | The Nubians

Photo © Nour El-Rifai - All Rights Reserved
The Nubians are a distinct ethnic grouping of people of southern Egypt and northern Sudan, settling along the banks of the Nile from Aswan. They have a long history dating back to dynastic Egypt, and  founded a dynasty that ruled Upper and Lower Egypt during the 8th century BCE. It is estimated that they number about 300,000.

For many years, many Nubians found employment in the wealthier households of the main Egyptian cities, where their work ethics, and honesty were highly valued. However, for many years after the building of dams and the High Dam in Aswan, many were marginalized and unsuccessful in their efforts to return to their original homeland.

That Nubian displacement began early in the 20th century, when a series of dams built by the British along the Nile engulfed swathes of Nubia and uprooted thousands of Nubian farmers and fishermen from the banks of the Nile.

Egypt's new constitution  pledges "to bring back the residents of Nubia to their original areas and develop them within a decade." Now, tens of thousands of Egyptian Nubians feel they might have their chance.

Nour El Rifai's The Nubians is a collection of photographs of Nubians who live on Seheil island  about 2 miles (3.2 km) southwest of Aswan.

While Nour El Refai is a self-taught photographer, he also obtained a degree in architecture at Cairo University and is working as an Architectural photographer. His interest in travel made him explore documentary and cultural photography. He worked as a documentary photographer on stories and assignments in Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, India, and Turkey. He taught architectural photography within the academic field in various Egyptian universities; and is currently teaching photography in many cultural and art centers.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

My Reasons To Love The World | #1

BBC Travel recently had a brilliant feature titled 50 Reasons #To Love The World in which it asked a range of people, from writers and chefs to musicians and photographers, to share one experience from the last year that truly inspired them. A travel experience that reminded them why they love the world.

It provided me with the inspiration to do my own Reasons to Love The World series, which will consist of photographs of my travel experiences over the past decade or so, that left an indelible impression on me, and that made me love the world we live in.

In no particular order, I started the series with a photograph made in a tango milonga in Buenos Aires during the 2011 Foundry Photojournalism Workshop. I sought to produce a multimedia project of the tango culture in the capital of Argentina, and was fortunate to meet generous people (one was a student of mine) who helped me in understanding the intricacies of the dance rituals.

Whilst photographing in the milonga halls, I imbibed the rhythm and melodies of this incredibly complex and sensuous dance, and although my Spanish is imperfect, I understood the sadness of many of its songs. The rituals followed by both men and women; often strangers, were fascinating...a sort of theater scene in which the protagonists had to follow the rules.

The experience, albeit not profound, filled me with a sense of wonderment, and an absolute love for this world.

More photographs of my Reasons To Love The World will periodically be posted.

The Seduction of Tango multimedia project:

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Smithsonian | 12th Annual Photo Contest Finalists announced the finalists of its 12th Annual Photo Contest. These photographs were selected from over 26,500 entries, and were submitted by photographers from 93 different countries.

There are ten finalists per category—Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile—and it is up to the public to determine the Readers’ Choice winner.

I decided to self-appoint myself as a member of a jury for the entries in the Travel section, and selected two photographs which, in my view, ought to win.

One is by Pham Ty of women in a village near Vinh Hy Bay in Vietnam, busily fixing fishing nets while their husbands are out at sea. The other is by Jorge Fernandez of priests celebrating Orthodox Easter in Lalibela, Ethiopia, in May 2013.

Both Pham Ty and Jorge Fernandez have their work on websites, and very much worth a stop over.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

POV | Shortlisted Gear For Hanoi Project

In less than two weeks, I'll be in Ha Noi working on a personal project, and the feedback so far is that the necessary scouting has been done, strong contacts within that special community have been made, and the vital groundwork has been set very I'm very lucky to have been assisted so ably and so reliably by wonderful Vietnamese people.

I have researched all I could find on this project, and also spent -quite enjoyable- hours using the Google Translate tool to understand Vietnamese websites. I have a thick notebook filled with handwritten information, which should be useful if and when I interview people involved with this project.

Naturally, the fearsome Murphy's Law hovers over all arrangements... but crossing fingers, all systems are go.

I don't want to divulge the project details at this stage, but photographing it will occur in different venues and at different times. Consequently, I have to give a lot of thought as to the equipment I will take with me...more so than usual because, as I haven't been to these venues before, I'm literally "flying" almost blind at this juncture.

My choice of equipment at this stage is this:

1.  Fujifilm X-T1, along with the XF 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 zoom, the Zeiss Touit 12mm f2.8, the XF 56mm f1.2 and possibly (not shown here) the XF 18mm f2.0.

2. Leica M9, along with Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 and possibly the Elmarit 28mm f2.8 (mostly for the street photography days).

3. A film Mamiya 645 Super with a Mamiya-Sekor 80mm f2.8 as I am toying with the idea of making formal portraits of the project's protagonists.

4. Tascam Field Audio Recorder.

I might swap the Mamiya 645 for a Canon 5D Mark II (and a 24mm f1.4 Canon lens) since I may produce some multimedia, and will need its video capabilities. If so, I'll also include a SONY shotgun microphone.

I will probably change my mind a few times before departure, and regret the choices once I'm there....but that's the upside and downside of such projects.

Friday, 6 March 2015

All of Asia Photo Contest | Winner

All of Asia's Second International Photo Competition has recently announced its winner.

Roberto Fenanti won the “All of Asia”, the second international travel photography competition organised by with his monochromatic photograph of Bagan in Myanmar, which in the opinion of the judges, captured the perfect moment under a unique light.

Photo © Roberto Fenanti- Courtesy
In an email, Matteo Vegetti (a photographer himself, and one of the founders/organizers of the contest) graciously asked me whether I concurred with the choice...and having had the chance of viewing the other submissions, I do. It wasn't an easy task though because of the quantity of wonderful photographs, but this one stood out.

The judges also agreed to award four honorable mentions to photographers Jakub Rybicki, Chee Keong Lim, Neil Herbert and Muhammad Mostafigur Rahman.

These submitted photographs aptly convey the sense of Asia, with two scenes of Myanmar, one of Afghanistan and from Bangladesh.

The three members of the jury (aka the judges) were Matteo Vegetti, a travel and documentary photographer, Javier Arcenillas, a humanist freelance photographer and Johnny Miller, the cofounder of Maptia.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Jeremy Suyker | House of Strength

Photo © Jeremy Suyker - All Rights Reserved
I was introduced to this extremely interesting work recently featured as Editor's Choice on Maptia, and it's from a region I have rarely covered on this blog: Iran.

House of Strength is the body of monochromatic work by photographer Jeremy Suyker, and is about the pahlevani; the traditional Persian system of athletics originally used to train warriors that combines martial arts, calisthenics, strength training and music.

Wikipedia describes it as also merging elements of pre-Islamic Persian culture (particularly Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Gnosticism) with the spirituality of Shia Islam and Sufism. The traditional gymnasium in which this type of wrestling is practiced is known as the zurkhaneh, or house of strength.

The implements used by the pahlevani are a pair of wooden clubs, a bow, a shield and a bar.

The Persian pahlevani influenced the virtual identical traditional wrestling practiced in India known as Pehlwani or Kusti. This wrestling style was developed during the Mughal Empire by combining native wrestling techniques and the Persian pahlevani. I've photographed the pehlwan wrestlers in Delhi, Varanasi and Kolkata, and the styles seem very similar.

Jeremy Suyker is a French photographer and reporter specialized in sociocultural issues. He reported on the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war, and on the historical changes in Myanmar.

He has been to Iran on several occasions since 2013, and is pursuing personal projects around the Black Sea region, Central Asia and Istanbul. His works can be found in publications like Geo, Washington Post, Newsweek Japan, Der Spiegel, L’Equipe magazine, Le Temps, Figaro, 6Mois, l’Actualité, A/R magazine and Vice.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Khari Baoli | Exposure | Leica M9

I've just published Khari Baoli on the Exposure platform, using a post processing workflow on the photographs by combining Alien Skin Exposure 6 and Color Efex Pro 4. The photographs were made with a Leica M9 with an Elmarit 28mm 2.8.

Old Delhi's Khari Baoli is the largest wholesale spice market of Asia, but it's the small and medieval-looking Gadodia Market that is the subject of this gallery. This small circular courtyard is perpetually crowded with traders, and wholesalers looking for the best and cheapest spices, such as turmeric, ginger, saffron, and pepper. Few people can enter the area without sneezing, coughing and tearing up. The laborers who load the heavy sacks of turmeric and ginger seem immune to the pungent smells that assail the senses.

The market is also up on the first floor, but the dark stairs are sometimes slippery with phlegm spat by the laborers and porters who continually walk up and down carrying the heavy sacks of spices.

The larger Khari Baoli market was established at the time when Fatehpuri Masjid was built in 1650 with the patronage of Fatehpuri Begum, who was one of the wives of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.

As a footnote; my Leica M9 is not artificially weathered. It's weathered for real. See my previous post  regarding the newly announced Leica.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

POV: Is That For Real, Leica?

I've mentioned this on my Facebook page, but I thought I just had to mention it (for posterity, you know) on my blog.

Here's what it's all about: "Leica has officially announced a new limited edition “Correspondent” version of the Leica M-P digital rangefinder, designed by Lenny Kravitz. The musician, actor, and designer came up with a styling for the camera that offers a luxury product in an artificially aged package."

But easy things first. I have no idea who Mr Kravitz is; I never heard of him nor have I seen his his input insofar as a camera is concerned is totally lost on me.

Reading the press release, I stopped at this gem of prose: "The Leica M-P ‘Correspondent’, a desirable collector’s piece in the style of legendary reportage cameras, was created in collaboration with the artist. Thanks to deliberate, carefully executed wearing by hand, it appears as if it had been in constant use for decades and would have countless stories to tell."

I am pretty much convinced that no self-respecting photographer (even those able to fork out the $24,000 price tag on this baby) would want to be seen with this "artificially aged camera." They'd be the brunt of endless jokes and jibes.

I wonder what type of person would buy the LEICA M-P ‘CORRESPONDENT’? The legend is that orthodontists are the main buyers of high-priced Leicas, but I think in this case it'd be collectors with money to burn. Possibly Russian oligarchs, Chinese real estate tycoons, oil sheikhs...and the like.

That said, if these characters are interested in buying a well-used naturally aged M9, I have mine to sell at a price a little less than the $24,000 price tag of the Kravitz' model.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Ken Hermann | Beauty of Omo Valley

Photo © Ken Hermann - All Rights Reserved
I'm certainly glad to have photographed the Omo Valley in 2004 at a time when the influx of tourists and thrill-seeking photographers was considerable less than what it is now. What I've often seen coming out of the cradle of humankind (as the Omo Valley is often called) has been overworked photographs, with its tribespeople over made-up and fetishized by having them wear incongruous head gear and unnatural accessories.

So a trace of skepticism accompanied my initial look at Ken Hermann's Beauty of Omo Valley; fully expecting to see the same style of photography...but I was pleasantly surprised. No fetishized or Disney-fied versions of these handsome people in this gallery...just beautiful photographs made of equally beautiful people. While obviously staged with care, using paraphernalia such as umbrellas, reflectors and flashes, and photographed with digital Phase One 654 camera, the photographs are simple, and reflect Omo Valley people without the overbearing artifices used by other photographers.

Ken Hermann is based in Copenhagen, and works for a diverse range of clients including leading brands, agencies and media corporations. With a degree in advertising photography, Ken's work was published by a number of magazines and exhibited around the world. One of his projects made him the winner of Hasselblad Masters 2012.

According to an interview with the German GEO magazine, Ken describes that tourism to the Omo Valley has significantly increased over the past few years, and with the improved infrastructure comes the constant tour buses to villages with people jumping out, making photos, jumping back, and driving to the next villages.

For a back story kind of look into Ken Hermann's Omo Valley photo shoots, view the short video below:

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Jan Møller Hansen | The Sadhus (Monochrome)

Photo © Jan Møller Hansen - All Rights Reserved
I missed this year's Maha Shivaratri (or just Shivratri) in Kathmandu! Celebrated on February 17, 2015 by Hindus all over the world, it glorifies the Hindu god Shiva, believed to be the lord of cosmic destruction and dance.

It's described as starting with a night vigil leading up to the day of the festival during which many Shiva devotees fast and offer special prayers. Shiva is worshiped in the form of a lingam, a vertical, rounded column, representing the male creative force and the infinite, indescribable nature of God, and the yoni which represents female creative energy. Together they represent the union of organs, and the totality of creation.

And listen to this: flowers, incense and other offerings are made, while prayers are chanted. Bhang, an intoxicant made from the cannabis plant is consumed by many on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri.

How could I have missed it?

Anyway, to partially redress the disappointment is Jan Moeller Hansen's The Sadhus,  a monochrome gallery of about 50 portraits of these itinerant ascetics in Kathmandu; some of who attend the Maha Shivaratri festival with considerable zeal. After all, Nepalese authorities are said to have spent almost Rs 900,000 in cash, food and blanket donations to the 5000 sadhus who had come from various parts of Nepal and India to celebrate the festival at the Pashupatinath Temple premises.

It was estimated by the Nepali newspapers that around a million devotees from India and Nepal thronged the ancient Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu on Maha Shivratri festival on February 17.

Jan Møller Hansen is a self-taught photographer interested in social documentary and street photography. A senior diplomat working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Jan is presently based in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Around 24 galleries of his photographs (some color and others in monochrome) are of Nepal. Jan also photographed the Rana Tharus who live in the Tarai, a narrow strip of land which extends across 550 miles of the southern border of Nepal, next to northeast India, and whose ethnic origin are said to be  Rajput, members of a high caste in Rajasthan.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Vedic Disciples | "Wet Plate" | Exposure

I've just published The Vedic Disciples on the Exposure platform, using a digital wet plate preset to give the monochromatic photographs an ancient appearance which befits the location.

The photographs (originally in color) were made at the Vadakke Madham Brahmaswam Vedic Institute in Thrissur, and is of the activities at an ancient Vedic 'gurukul' (or training/boarding school; very similar to the Buddhist monasteries for novitiates), where the young students follow this way of teaching sacred Vedic scriptures.

There are four Vedas: Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda. The Vedas include more than 100,000 verses and additional prose.

It is an ancient Indian educational system; currently being rejuvenated with the assistance of the Indian government. The young boys who populate the Vedic school belong to a caste of Keralan Brahmins, and are responsible to carry on the age-old tradition of chanting Vedas during religious rituals or functions. The chanting is learned by practice, and nothing is written down. 

The rhythm of the Vedic chants is followed by the young boys' moving their bodies in cadence to the verses, which reminded me how the Buddhist novices recite their mantras, or how the Islamic students recite the Qur'an at their madrasas...and how Jewish worshipers sway during their prayers. 

The tradition of Vedic chanting is often considered the oldest unbroken oral tradition in existence, while the Vedic texts date to roughly the time of Homer. It is said that the Vedas -as they are called- are a vast collection of hymns that were heard by ancient Indian sages when they were in a deep meditative state.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Kurt William Kamka | Plain Manila

Photo © Kurt William Kamka - All Rights Reserved
There are some photographers who espouse the notion that they must be invisible when shooting in the streets for their images to be successful, candid and "in the moment"...but there are also others who have no such compunctions. To me, I've got my feet firmly planted on both sides of the "aisle" provided the photograph tells a story.

Plain Manila is a collection of over 50 monochromes of the daily life in this gigantic Asian metropolis by Kurt William Kamka who, through these images, shows the people and provides us with a sense of the place, as if we roamed its back streets. As the photographer himself puts it, he sought to document "the day-to-day complexities of community life in the barrios of Manila".

Despite my frequent travels in Southeast Asia, I confess not knowing much of Manila, other than it's one of the most high-density cities in the world; even denser than Kolkata...which is a surprise. Perhaps I ought to remedy this shortcoming, and extend the trajectory of my travels to include the Philippines.

Kurt William Kamka is a commercial, documentary, street, non-profit and NGO photographer who relocated to Asia in 2011. Currently based in Manila, he document his view on the human condition.
His photos have been shown in the Leica gallery in Singapore, multiple locations in Manila and in Chicago. He has worked in advertising for some of the largest global brands including P&G, US Bank, Firestone, Bayer, McDonalds, Nikon, Samsung, UCB, Delta Airlines and others. 

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Eugeni Gay Marin | Vietnam

Photo © Eugeni Gay Marin- All Rights Reserved
I just love this gem of a photograph. The melancholic expression of both the musician and his muse (?) are so expressive that I can construct so many stories by just looking at this photograph for a few seconds....and that's what storytelling is all about. Is it a story of unrequited love? Is she remembering an old flame? The musician's overly dyed and carefully coifed hair tells me he could be a washed-up performer, now playing his instrument in cheap joints...still clinging to his youth.

To my mind, this is a Vietnamese fado scene;  the Portuguese music genre characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics.

Eugeni Gay Marin's Vietnam gallery has a few more of his photographs in this lovely country, but unfortunately too few.

However, his photographic project of documenting Punjabi Sikhs is also very interesting, and I've enjoyed viewing it, especially as I haven't had the opportunity of visiting Amritsar or Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) yet.

Eugeni Gay Marín is a Spanish photographer whose images were published in various media such as El País Semanal and Lonely Planet. He participated in two collective books and has been selected to show his work in several festivals. He co-founded El Observatrio project, specialized in monitoring photographic student work and in 2014 he began Fotoholica, a digital retouching company for photographers. In 2014 he won the photography FNAC New Talent in Spain for the work “From Quantum Island”. This project was exposed in the Voices Off festival in Arles and won the “Le prix Révèlation SAIF 2014”.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Tewfic El-Sawy | Interview | Langly

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
"I’ve visited India over twenty times over the past 16 years, and every time I visit I discover a new layer. Discovering India is like peeling an onion, one layer at a time reveals another layer, and there are probably millions of layers." 

I was recently interviewed by a staff member of Langly; a manufacturer of camera bags started by Evan Lane, a working photographer and director based out of Los Angeles. The camera bags are said to have been inspired by the life of the freelance photographer, nomadic professionals looking for something to protect their gear and look good doing it.

You can read the full text of the interview here.

I gather the Langly people saw my Exposure website, and liked what they saw...especially the photo essay on the Northwest India, and suggested an India-centric interview.

Langly camera bags was funded through a Kickstarter campaign, and successfully raised $88,000 from the public in summer of 2012. Although Langly bags appear to be fine products, I was not asked to endorse them nor was it suggested that I get remunerated in any way for this interview to appear on its website.

The photograph on this post of this unblinking girl is probably one of my many favorites of India. These three girls were part of a nomadic family in the Rann of Kutch, and sold tribal jewelry. 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Monique Jaques | Miss Muslimah

Photo © Monique Jaques - All Rights Reserved
To counter the gory headlines of the recent current events in the Middle East, the photo essay on Miss Muslimah may be a relief. It's an award competition that seeks to be the opposite of a beauty pageant, and which took place in Yogakarta, Indonesia in 2014. It's for young Muslim women who are judged to have shown dedication, reputation and concern for Islamic values and community development.

With Indonesia being the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, the event is popular and is attracting an increasingly international lineup. Entrants from Trinidad, Nigeria, Iran, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and many Southeast Asian countries take part. 

The hijab is a controversial topic amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike. While the Qur'an requests Muslim women to dress modestly, it does not specifically institute a dress code. However, most Islamic legal systems define modest dressing as covering everything except the face and hands in public. Wives of the Prophet Muhammad are said to have been hidden behind curtains from the rest of the Muslim congregation because his home was constantly visited by people. Muslim women started then to emulate this tradition by wearing veils and face covers.

For more background information and other images, drop by Al Jazeerah America 's High Heels & Hijabs.

Monique Jaques is a photojournalist based in Istanbul, who spent the past four years focused on documenting issues in the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and India. She graduated from New York University's Photography and Imaging program, and was nominated for the Prix Bayeux- Calvados ‘Young Reporter’ award. Her project ‘Growing Up on The Gaza Strip’, was first published in the New York Times. She was selected as one of the recipients of the PROOF Award for the Emerging Photojournalist for her work in Post-War Libya and featured in the Bursa Photography Festival. She was also featured in the Ian Parry Scholarship show in 2009 and received an Honorable Mention for the 2008 New York Photo Awards. Her work has been published by The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, GEO, The Guardian, and CNN, among others.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

It's Thaipusam Time...!

Photo © AP Phots/Joshua Paul - All Rights Reserved
A few days ago, the festival of Thaipusam was celebrated in various Hindu (mostly Tamil) communities in Asia, but its epicenter was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as it has been for the past 125 years. It's a highly symbolic festival celebrated annually with a procession by devotees seeking blessings, fulfilling vows, offering thanks, celebrating Lord Subrahmanya or Lord Murugan, who represents virtue, youth and power to Hindus and is the destroyer of evil.

In Asia, more than a million Hindus thronged temples to celebrate this festival,  during which many display their devotion by piercing their bodies with hooks and skewers. On the day of the festival, devotees shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of heavy burdens, while others may carry out acts of self mortification by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with skewers and sharp hooks.

The devotees perform “Kavadi”, an act of faith where they suffer the pain of dozens of hooks and spears piercing their body during the 272 steps that bring them to the cave temple.

Yahoo News has featured a collection of photographs taken a various photographers (some photographs are rather gruesome) on its News webpage. These are arranged in a slideshow format.

It is said that there an incredible amount of photographers and photojournalists during the processions and at the Batu Caves; and it takes a lot of doing to avoid taking photographs with other photographers in them. I haven't noticed photographers in the slideshow...but I know full well the amount of effort (and frustration) it takes to do so.

Self mortification rituals are performed in a number of religious traditions; the Shi'a mataam on the day of Ashura is one of them. And I photographed the Kodungallur Bharani, a wild and unusual localized religious festival near Kochi, during which devotees symbolically strike their foreheads with swords till blood trickles down their faces.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Shah Zaman Baloch | Shrine of Abdul Latif Bhittai

Photo © Shah Zaman Baloch - All Rights Reserved
Eons ago, I worked for a US international bank that saw it appropriate to send me to Karachi for about 9 months; an internship kind of thing to learn the tools of the trade. Whilst I enjoyed it (and probably learned absolutely nothing of value), I had no interest at the time in photography nor did I seek to immerse myself in a foreign culture. I was just out of was my first job, and rather myopically, I was only focused on being a banker.

Foolishly, I didn't travel to Lahore or to Peshawar...I stayed put in Karachi and its surrounding region. I regret not having the intellectual and visual curiosity at the time to explore the immensity of what Pakistan has to offer...especially what has become one of my photographic obsessions: Sufism.

One of Pakistan's premier Sufi saints is Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, whose Urs (death anniversary) is widely observed, and is said to be attended by half a million pilgrims. But through of the talented work of photographer Shah Zaman Baloch, I've come across this wonderful image of the shrine of the Sufi Abdul Latif Bhittai.

Abdul Latif Bhittai was Sindhi Sufi scholar, mystic, saint, and poet,  and is considered to be greatest poet of the Sindhi language. His death anniversary is held in a small village not far from Hyderabad, and about 200 kilometers from Karachi.

Shah Zaman Baloch's website portfolio consists mostly of single frames of his native Pakistan. Although he originally wanted to be a painter, he saw a newspaper advertisement of admission for Bachelors in Film and TV at the National College of Arts in 2005, and started his career. While his website has a photography gallery, his main area of expertise are in the fields of Direction and Cinematographer. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Niqita Gupta | Baiga: The Vanishing Tribe

Photo © Niqita Gupta - All Rights Reserved

I came across some members of the Baiga tribals in Chhattisgarh, but they're mostly found in Madhya Pradesh, as well as Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand.

The Baiga are known for an almost reclusive culture, as they don't interact with other related tribals in the region, such as the Gonds.  They are totally dependent of the jungle for their survival, believe in a hand-to-mouth existence, have no interest in education, rarely eat outside their community, or associate with others. Following a death in the family, the Baiga just leave the house and build another. The Baiga consider themselves as people of the forest, who can only live on the produce of the forest.

A distinguishing feature of the Baiga tribals is that the women are famous for having tattoos on almost all parts of their body. Both men and women get their hair cut only once in a life time, as they take immense pride in their long hair as a tradition.

Photographer Niqita Gupta features a gallery Baiga: The Vanishing Tribe, and provides us with a brief glimpse into their simple life.

Niqita is based in India and can work worldwide. From the dense tropical forests of Kanha where the Baiga tribe lives, to the private lives of drag queens in London, she strives to work with communities and examine their relationship with each individual. 

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.