Friday, 21 April 2017

And On To The Travel Photographer Society

I will soon be on my way to Kuala Lumpur to attend the many events at Travel Photographer Society; whose mission it to promote the work and expertise of photographers from across the globe, as well as providing enrichment programs such as workshops, talks, photo contests and photography exhibitions.

I am scheduled to give a 6 days workshop on 'telling stories with photographs and audio'; a sort of simplified multimedia workshop for photographers and photojournalists.

I shall also give a 40 minute talk on "The Joys (And Angst) of The Personal Project"; during which I will share how I immersed myself in the world of Vietnam's Hầu Đồng rituals, and the joys (and disappointments) in producing Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Vietnama 170-page photo book, over the course of 18-24 months.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Experimenting With The Fuji GFX50s

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
I had been ruminating getting involved with medium format photography for quite some time. In fact, I had used the analog Mamiya 645 many years ago, but when I tried to have its defective shutter replaced a few months ago, I was told that the lack of readily-available parts would make it difficult, lengthy and potentially costly. Then I reflected on having to get involved in buying films, have them processed, scanned et al. So that impulse came to a halt.

I've been using the X-Pro2 (and a panoply of prime and zoom Fuji lenses) as my primary go-to camera since mid-2016 and was (and still am) perfectly content with the quality of its images. I also used -to a lesser extent- two Fuji X-T1 cameras which came in handy when I needed them for certain situations. So my gear needs were more than satisfied in terms of image quality and job requirements.

Nevertheless, the medium format itch was still there. I read all the reviews that were available on various photography websites. Many were obviously overly-gushing in their praise of the camera, whilst a few were more sensible and measured in their recommendations. 

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
My just acquired "new-car-smell" GFX50s was in my hands on March 21st in Tokyo. When testing it at the retailer, I immediately and instinctively understood the menu (almost identical to the X-Pro2's), and the ergonomics felt perfect. I did think a couple of buttons were awkwardly placed, but reading through the online manual, I assigned the function of playback to the down selector button (as one example).

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I thought fitting the GFX50s strap could wait until I was back in NYC, bought a hand strap/cord fitted to the tripod mount, and carried it in a should bag. I tested it quite a lot in Senso-ji, the famous Tokyo  shrine, and in the streets of Kyoto. 

I did not find it too heavy to carry or to hold. As I said earlier, it's lighter than my Canon DSLRs, and its ergonomics are comfortable for hand-holding. That said, it's certainly not an X-Pro2 for street photography, and it's auto-focus is not as fast; with or without the face-detection option. I managed to shoot a few on-the-fly photographs of people walking about, but, for the time being and until I get the hang of it, it's not ideal for the kind of street photography I am used to. This too will have to wait.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Other than that, the GFX50s performed flawlessly when I used it to photograph rather static subjects and the not-so-static but very willing young women posing in their kimonos in Kyoto and Tokyo. Its image quality is superlative, but I found I needed to choose the aperture/iso wisely as its heft/weight meant that on occasions my hand-holding was not steady enough for pin-sharp photographs.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Whether on my laptop or desktop, I used Iridient Developer 3 to process either the GFX50s' RAW or jpgs with no difficulty at all. If need be, I used Color Efex Pro 4 to add some saturation and vignetting to the images.

A few months ago, I've written a blog post titled 'Can The X-Pro2 Do The Job Of The GFX50s?', and now that I have both, I believe it can (despite the variance between the X-Pro2's 24 megapixels and the GFX50s' 51.4 megapixels -which matters to pixel-peepers-).
However, using the medium format will push me into an ancillary trajectory to my "travel meets photojournalism" niche, and merge fashion-travel photography style into it, and it will allow me to photograph thematic ethnic fashion wherever I travel.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Terri Gold | Still Points In A Turning World Exhibition

Photo © Terri Gold - All Rights Reserved
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 work “Still Points in a Turning World,” is a life-long series of images exploring our universal cross-cultural truths: the importance of family, community, ritual and the amazing diversity of its expression. The images are from Niger, Namibia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and China & India, and will be shown at a forthcoming exhibition here in New York City: 

It's one of many well deserved recognition of her talent and energy, and of her unwavering commitment to her craft. Her work has garnered many awards, is shown in galleries internationally and has been published extensively. Recent exhibitions of her work have taken place in Spain, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Colorado, Vermont and at The Annenberg Space for Photography in conjunction with the "No Strangers" exhibition. Recent awards include the International Photography Awards, Prix de la Photographie, Paris (Px3), Humanity Photo Awards, and the Black and White Spider Awards.

Terri's work has been published by Random House, Penguin Putnam, and Henry Holt, featured on numerous high profile photography blogs. She is represented by Getty Images, and has taught at the Cape Cod Photo Workshop and ICP. Terri is also a member of ASMP and National Association of Photoshop Professionals.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Tokyo Noir With the X-Pro2/18mm

As all large metropolitan cities (and this one is the largest and most populated), Tokyo has proven to be a 'gift that keeps giving' for street photography. This megapolis has super modern skyscrapers, neon lights (that rival NYC's Times Square), unusual fashion sense, faceless salarymen (and women) with surgical masks, temples and narrow alleys from the 1940s, small eateries that ought to have samurais in full regalia as patrons, occasional kimono-clad ladies and an eerie cleanliness....and everything seems to work efficiently, painlessly and politely.

Wandering the various distinct areas of Tokyo such as the famous crosswalk intersection in front of Shibuya Station; Shinjuku, Japan’s largest red light district, and the narrow alleys of of Golden Gai and Memory Lane; the red light district of Kabukicho; Harajuku and its crowded Takeshita Dori; Ginza, the capital's most famous upscale shopping district; Asakusa with the incomparable Sensoji temple; and Tsukiji Market, one of the largest fish markets in the world and its surrounding stalls and eating places, are all areas 'created' for taking street photographs.

I found that the Tokyo-residents were generally not as 'photo-friendly' as other Asian nationalities. As an example, some of the cos-play dressed young women walking in Harajuku covered their faces when they saw my camera. Most of the “maids” advertising Maid Cafes in Akihabara also covered their faces with their hands or their pamphlets whenever they noticed cameras pointed at them....understandably perhaps, as dressing up in maid costumes, and enticing young men (mostly) to go to their cafes is not exactly well-regarded....but it's a job.

My style of "shooting-from-the-hip" worked well in the streets of Tokyo. I managed to capture a lot of facial expressions that wouldn't have been there if I had raised my Fuji X-Pro2 to my eye, and composed normally.

Friday, 7 April 2017

The Greatest Show On Earth With The X-Pro2/18mm

In his 2013 episode of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain called the Robot Restaurant as "The Greatest Show On Earth". It is in the narrow streets/alleys of Kabukicho, Shinjuku, that the Robot Restaurant's facade immediately assaults one's senses, by standing out in its utter glitzy gaudiness amongst its more "normal"neighboring establishments.

Since Bourdain got the shock of his life here, it has become a magnet for foreign visitors seeking to experience the same "buzz' he had. the cabaret show is reported to have cost in excess of $10 million (some say $100 million, which beggars belief), and provides an overwhelming LSD-like experience of robots, loud thumping electronic music, strobing neon lights, giant animatronics, hyper pop songs and naturally, scantily-clad shapely dancing girls whose names range from Namie Osawa, Love Katase and Rin Tanba.

While the whole atmosphere looks more like the interior of a very gaudy cruise ship and more lights than Las Vegas, the show is unique and mind-boggling (or mindless). It's very popular despite that it's $60 per person to watch the 60-minutes show. Imagine robots engaging in mock battles with beautiful bikini-clad, drumming and ninja fighting Japanese women riding neon tanks and giant fembots; while other robots roller-skate and dance swathed in a rainbow of neon lights.

I had read somewhere that photography with "large" cameras was prohibited, and that's perhaps the reason I was freely able to use the small X-Pro2 and the Fujinon 18mm 2.0 during the whole show. Its small size let it slip under the radar. l just pushed the ISO almost as high as it would go and, almost instinctively, snapped away as fast as I could with little disregard to composition. The blinking strong multi-colored lights often fooled the camera's exposure system.

I wasn't optimistic at the number and quality of the resulting images, so was extremely surprised that there many more that were completely usable...way more than I expected. I knew Fuji cameras have been known for their high ISO performance, but I am very pleased with the performance of the X-Pro2 and the 18mm Fujinon lens (at its largest aperture) at such a venue with disparate light intensities, and rapid movement of the performers.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Travel Photographer Society Awards 2017

© Zarni Myo Win-Courtesy Travel Photographer Society
It has been a pleasure and an eye opening experience to be part of the jury that adjudicated the Travel Photographer Society Awards 2017. The entries were incredibly powerful, beautiful, compelling and imaginative. And it's extremely gratifying to have Zarni Myo Win of Myanmar winning the overall prize with his monochromatic photograph of three boys jumping off a mythical lion statue into the Irrawaddy river near Mandalay's Mya Thein Tan Pagoda, .

It is infrequent to see a monochromatic image submitted to travel competitions, and the composition of the scene is "balanced". The sense of timing is perfect. I also liked the toning done to the gives the clouds an ominous look, but the waters are dark but calm, and the unmistakable insouciance of the youths gives the overall image a wonderful feeling.

Congratulations to all the winners, and for more of the top 45 TPS Awards, click here.

Some of the other and equally talented category winners are:

Category Winner Landscape/Environment. © Giuseppe Mario (Etna Eruption)

Category Winner Travel/Documentary: © Yen Sin Wong. (Suri)
Category Winner: People/Culture. © Corneliu Cazacu (Girl With Bear Skin)

Category Winner: Street. © Moin Uddin (The Man’s Stare)
As for the Editors' Choice Winners, these are:

Landscape/Environment: © Jan Pusdrowski. Flames of Herostratus
Travel/Documentary: © Nick Ng Yeow Kee (A Day’s Work)
 People/Culture: © Suhaimi Abdullah (Color My World)
Street: © Maria Kassimatis. (British Commonwealth)

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Short Break In Tokyo And Beyond

It's thrilling -and sometimes disconcerting- to be in a country that is totally both new and so different in its complexities. That said, the politeness and kindness of the Japanese are heartwarming and dispel the presumption of stiffness and formality.

The young lady in her rented kimono at the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa is emblematic of the youth of this fascinating society. 

I will try to post as the days go by....however at a lower frequency than usual.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Hầu Đồng Ca | Le Thanh Tung/Ngoc Nau

It certainly seems like my photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Vietnam and the subsequent inclusion of Đạo Mẫu (the Mother Goddess religion) in UNESCO's List of Intangible Heritage has ushered an increased awareness and interest in this indigenous faith-based tradition in Vietnam and elsewhere (excluding New York-based Asia Society's shameful and incomprehensible cold shoulder). 

Many local and foreign artists are embracing this wonderful ancient tradition, and some are emerging from the "wilderness" they had been in because of the past disapproval of the Vietnamese government towards it. It took time for this attitude to soften, and Đạo Mẫu is currently no longer under a cloud.

I thought I'd feature two distinct art forms celebrating Đạo Mẫu and Hầu Đồng. The first is an eclectic project by two Vietnamese artists; Le Thanh Tung and Ngoc Nau as per the above short movie of a wireframe of Ngoc dancing in a 3D environment.

The purists and traditionalists might not appreciate it, but I believe if it brings the "new" into the "old", the tradition will grow stronger. It mixes the lovely tradition chau van music/song with a sort of electronic musical track, and the 'dancing' is by Ngoc Nau. Le Thanh Tung is an Art Director who successfully has been working on commercial projects with international brands. Nguyen Hong Ngoc is an artist who combines the use of photography, light and experimental video.

Painting © Tran Tuan Long - Courtesy VN Express International
The other -but much more traditional- is by Hanoi artist Tran Tuan Long, who just unveiled two decades of lacquer paintings depicting the deities and spirit mediums of Đạo Mẫu. VNExpress International newspaper recently featured his work in an nicely written article by Ms Trang Bui Quynh.

I was fascinated to read that Long first stepped in the world of Đạo Mẫu and Hầu Đồng in 1995. In the dark of night, he witnessed a group of mediums quietly offering furtive calls to the Mother Goddess as police and farmers quietly slept.

Three years later, he painted his recollections of the experience on a wooden board. For the next 20 years, mediums in colorful costumes became the protagonists of Long's 26 lacquer paintings, each of which took a month to complete.

I'm looking forward to see the work of more Vietnamese artists celebrating their nation's heritage and indigenous faith, whether in photography, painting, installation and music.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Christian Rodriguez | Xiếc (Vietnamese Circus)

Photo © Christian Rodriguez - All Rights Reserved
I've always thought that circus performers had sad lives. Perhaps it was becasue of the clowns with their tragic-comical faces and makeups. So I'm not all all surprised that Hanoi’s prestigious state-run circus, a relic of Vietnam’s Marxist past, lost a third of its budget and will have no government funding at all by the end of the decade.

It is reported that a majority of circus artists suffer occupation-related illnesses.Common conditions include broken limbs, fractured bones, spine curvature, and stomach ailments, while bruises and bleeding occur on a daily basis. And circus artists in Vietnam are paid poorly, face numerous health risks, and even suffer life-threatening, debilitating conditions from their lifelong dedication to their profession.

Christian Rodriguez brings us close to the backstage lives of these Vietnamese circus performers in his compelling Xiếc photo essay. He spent eight months in Vietnam over the years of three trips from 2009 to 2012, and managed to produce intimate images of these workers by living amongst them; taking up residence for four months in an abandoned theater in Hanoi, where the performers had to build their own rooms out of wood and plastic. 

He tells us that the circus artists in Vietnam make about $150 a month, plus another $4 for each performance. This is not enough to live on, so most of them augment their salaries by performing at private parties or nightclubs. The Vietnam Circus Federation was founded by Mr. Ta Duy Hien (1889-1966) on January 16, 1956. However, things change and although circuses are still popular in Vietnam, especially in small towns and villages, the Vietnamese in the larger cities have found other forms of entertainment.

Christian Rodriguez is an Uruguayan photographer, whose work focuses on issues related to gender and identity. He studied different drawing and painting techniques, and worked as cameraman at VTV (Uruguay). He joined the staff of the newspaper El Observador (Uruguay), and collaborated with various news agencies such as France Presse, AP, EFE, and Reuters. He also produced fashion and advertising campaigns. Amongst his assignments were the coverage of the conflict between Israel-Hezbollah in the southern Lebanon. In 2011 he was nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass of the World Press Photo. His work has been published in different international media such as The New York Times, ​The Guardian, The New Yorker, El Mundo, Yo Dona, Esquire, La Nación, El País, Página 12, ABC, El Observador, and Lento, among many others; and it has been exhibited in Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, United States, Spain, France, Italy, UK and Cambodia. 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Leonid Plotkin | The Bauls, Men of Heart

Photo © Leonid Plotkin | All Rights Reserved
I've lost count as to how many times I have featured Leonid Plotkin's work on The Travel Photographer blog. 

His latest work is Men of Heart, and is on the Bauls who are a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal (Indian State and Bangladesh). The Bauls are members of a syncretic religious sect, and a follow a distinct musical tradition. A very heterogeneous group, with many sects, but their membership mainly consists of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims. They are often identified by their distinctive clothes and musical instruments. 

Baul music celebrates heavenly love, but does this in very earthy terms, as in declarations of love by the Baul for his female partner. Baul devotional music also transcends religion and some of its famed composers criticized the superficiality of religious divisions.

The music of the Bauls and its lyrics carry influences of the Hindu bhakti movements and a form of Sufi song exemplified by the songs of Kabir. Their music represents a long heritage of preaching mysticism through songs in Bengal.

Apart from his compelling photographs, what I like about Leonid's work is that he adds very informative captions under each of his photographs, so take the time to read each one as it'll give you a very good idea about this musical genre.

Leonid Plotikin is a freelance documentary photographer and writer. His work has appeared in publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The Economist, Penthouse Magazine, Student Traveler, Budget Travel, Discovery Magazine, and others.


While leading the Kolkata's Cult of Durga Photo Expedition/Workshop in 2011, we were fortunate to photograph a private -and mesmerizing- performance by the Baul Satyananda and his partner Hori, a Japanese woman who was fluent in Bengali. I believe that Leonid's photograph featured on this blog post is of Satayanda. 

Here is mine.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Friday, 3 March 2017

Corentin Fohlen | Haiti's Karnaval

Photo © Corentin Fohlen | All Rights Reserved

Every year in the small port of Jacmel, in the south of Haiti, the most important festival is held with residents wearing incredibly colorful and fantastical costumes. The festival is called Karnaval and for more than 100 years, it has been held in various cities around the island to showcase the island's unique creole culture.

Corentin Fohlen began to photograph Haitians by creating a makeshift studio on a city sidewalk near the Karnaval celebrations, where he could create portraits of each unique costume. 

The Karnaval festivities were traditionally considered sinful to Protestant Haitians, and participation was discouraged by their churches.  The festivities were criticized for condoning sexually-suggestive dancing, profanity-filled plays, music lyrics mocking authority, and vodou music rhythms.

As with other Mardis Gras carnivals, the festivities in Haiti enabled its people to enjoy the pleasures of life before the beginning of the Catholic Lent season, a period of 40 days and nights of fasting and penance leading up to Easter. The tradition was imported to Haiti and elsewhere in the Americas during European settlement. 

I am always fascinated at how Haitian Creole has absorbed French words, and morphed them into its own language. For example, here is a phrase used during the Karneval:

mete menn' anlè which in French is 'mets les mains en l'air' ('put your hands in the air').

Corentin Fohlen is a French photographer, whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Monde magazine, Paris Match, Libération, Stern, Polka Magazine, Le Monde, le Figaro, 6 Mois, Le Point, l’Obs, le JDD, l’Express, Marianne, Le Temps, L’Hebdo, Die Zeit, la Vie, les Inrockuptibles, Jeune Afrique, Afrique Magazine, le Pèlerin, Causette, La Croix, Le Parisien Magazine, Wondereur. He has also worked for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Handicap International, le Haut Commissariat aux Réfugiés (UNHCR), ASMAE-association Soeur Emmanuelle.

Since 2012, he has been involved in long term projects in Haïti. He is endeavoring to show a different view of the island nation. As a consequence of his 19 stays in Haïti,  he produced the book HAÏTI, published in January 2017. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Giselle Natassia | Thailand's Vegetarian Festival

Photo © Giselle Natassia - All Rights Reserved
This blog post will lead to a photo gallery that featured graphic and possibly disturbing images.

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is a nine-day Taoist celebration starting on the eve of the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, and is observed in a number of Asian countires, including Thailand.

In Thailand, this festival is called thetsakan kin che or the Vegetarian Festival. Celebrated throughout the entire country, it is at its height in Phuket, where more than a third of the population is Thai Chinese. The festival honors the nine Taoist emperor gods. During the Vegetarian Festival, Thai people practice jay, or veganism.

Men (rarely women) participate in this self-mutilation ritual, and are called masongs. They are men possessed by gods or deities during the festival. Only pure, unmarried men without families of their own can become a masong.
 The deities inside them protects them from feeling any pain, and allows them to walk across hot coals or exploding fireworks and bathe in hot oil. They pierce their mouths, cheeks, ears, and arms with fish hooks, knives, razor blades and bamboo poles.

Often, a person is contacted during a dream, vision, or period of long illness, and are told they have been chosen to become a masong. There are several reasons that a masong is chosen. The chosen person may be close to impending doom or death, and becoming a masong extends their lifetime. Also, such a person may be rewarded for maintaining good moral qualities during their lifetime.

After this preamble, you might be ready to view Giselle Natassia's Vegetarian Festival.

Giselle Natassia is an Australian photographer specializing in advertising, documentary and entertainment photography. She has a BA in Creative Advertising Design and a Bachelor of Creative Industries. She won numerous awards and has been published both at home and abroad. The publications include National Geographic, Vice Magazine and Pilerats. 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

In The Courtyard of The Beloved

IN THE COURTYARD OF THE BELOVED by Tewfic El-Sawy on Exposure

Ms Fatima Bhutto, daughter of Benazir Bhutto, recently wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times bemoaning the gruesome event of an attack by the so-called "Islamic State" on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan, and described the Sehwan shrine as "... an egalitarian oasis formed by the legacies and practice of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism merging into one.

The shrine of Moin'Uddin Chisti is another.

Over the course of about a week, I photographed -virtually non-stop- at this shrine during the annual Urs (commemoration of death anniversary) of the Sufi saint Moin'Uddin Chisti. The shrine is in Ajmer, Rajasthan (India) and hosts one of the largest Muslim pilgrimages in the world. 

It was most certainly one of my three most intense photographic experiences. 

The 'ecosystem' feeding off the shrine consists of pious pilgrims, vagabonds and charlatans, sightseers, mendicants and beggars, fakirs, shoppers, established and opportunistic vendors, pickpockets and thieves, the poor, the wealthy, the venal and the innocent...who come here during the Urs to seek spiritual salvation, riddance of 'jinns', money and entertainment. Even the transgendered hijras come to Ajmer to take part in the veneration of Gharib Nawaz. 

The pilgrimage is populated by Muslims (Shi'a and Sunni, Sufis and non Sufis), Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians and non-believers, who all congregate to pay homage to the most important Sufi saint of South Asia. 

This blog post and an update to the gallery was prompted by the recent news that a suicide bomber affiliated with the so-called Islamic State attacked Sehwan Sharif, one of the most revered Sufi shrines in Pakistan, killing more than 80 people, including 24 children, and wounding more than 250. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Shinya Arimoto | Portraits of Tibet

Photo © Shinya Arimoto - All Rights Reserved

I don't think I've featured the work of a Japanese photographer on The Travel Photographer blog before, and especially not one who traveled a number of times in Tibet.

Tibet, on the situated on the Tibetan Plateau on the northern side of the Himalayas, is an autonomous region of China. It shares Mt. Everest with Nepal. Its capital, Lhasa, is site of hilltop Potala Palace, once the Dalai Lama’s winter home, and Jokhang Temple, Tibet’s spiritual heart, revered for its golden statue of the young Buddha.

While some quarters argue that China’s invasion of Tibet ended feudal and theocratic rule and started a liberation process, the fact remains that Tibet has been subjected to an old-fashioned colonization. The invasion by China produced tens of thousands of refugees, manmade famines, and attempts to wipe out local culture, religion, and language. It also brought in thousands of Chinese Han immigrants, and ruling officials.

However, let me set aside the geopolitics and introduce the work of Shinya Arimoto whose galleries of Tibet are mainly monochrome and in the square format.

Arimoto has three galleries: Portraits of Tibet, Why Now Tibet, and Tibetan Way (color). He visited and photographed in Tibet from 1994 to 1998, and published these monochrome photographs in his first photo book “Portrait of Tibet” in 1999. He revisited Tibet in 2009 to start another project which is still ongoing.

Shinya Arimoto learned the fundamentals of photography in a photo school in Osaka. He mainly uses a Hasselblad 903SWC, however, he used a Rolleiflex 2.8F when traveling in Tibet. He was photographing in India, and met a Tibetan in Dharmasala who motivated him to continue northward (illegally) into Tibet. 

He is currently teaching photography at the Tokyo School of Visual Arts, and has supervised and led the artist-run Totem Pole Photo Gallery since founding it in 2008.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

POV : Photojournalism's Uncertain Future

The New York Times recently featured two articles concerning the future of photojournalism, through interviews with Donald R. Winslow (editor of the National Press Photographers Association’s News Photographer magazine and newspaper) and Leslye Davis, a young video journalist and photographer for The New York Times.

In essence, the viewpoint of a veteran and an another  from an 'emerging' photojournalist.

Some of the statements made by both interviewees just jumped at deja vu for me. Why deja vu? Well,  because I said exactly what they said during my classes at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshops and more recently during my 2016 talk at the Travel Photographer Society in Kuala Lumpur.

The statements that mirror mine (or vice versa) are:

"If you’re going to earn a living now, you have to be a photographer who occasionally does photojournalism. You have to be able to do wedding photography, corporate photography or event photography." (Donald Winslow).

"There were a few hundred people, mostly white men, who could make a good living internationally by parachuting into other countries." (Interviewer James Estrin of the NYT)

"You should be published, and you should also be able to do that if you’re black and you live in sub-Saharan Africa. Or if you’re Indian, or if you’re Japanese— your unique perspective is valuable, and it’s to the benefit of us all that it be shared." (Leslye Davis)

I said these words...almost verbatim to the photographers -veterans or emerging or non-professionals- who attended my workshop classes (and my photo talk in KL), and I started to say them in 2011. 

In January 2011, I was leading a workshop in Gujarat (India) and watching every night the Tahrir Square demonstrations that led to the Egyptian Revolution, and read and re-read the non-stop coverage in various on-line newspapers and magazines.

Many of the news outlets quickly dispatched their "top-notch" (most of them "white" men) photojournalists to Tahrir...but the so-called battled hardened conflict photographers had no real idea where to go, so they just 'parachuted' amongst the masses of the demonstrating Egyptians, and sent their photographs back to their employers. To me, most of their images seemed to have been taken by a camera affixed to a rotator...automatically clicking the shutter every seconds of the surrounding crowds.

And then I saw compelling images of Tahrir in Egyptian newspapers...made by young, and perhaps still inexperienced, local photojournalists with crappy cameras, and borrowed flash cards...who knew where to go in the crowds, in the back alleys of Tahrir...and get the real stories. They stayed...while the "parachutists" decamped in a couple of days when things got too risky for them. And slowly, these compelling images made their way to the world's media.

It was there and then that I realized that the age of "parachuting white" photojournalists" ended, and the era of talented non-Western photographers and photojournalists was on the upswing.

I had the pleasure of meeting many different ethnicities in my workshops and classes, and repeated my point of view that now was their time to shine....their time to break the monopoly (or oligopoly)...the grip that Western photojournalists had on the stories...on the "I bear witness" stories...and some of them did.

Is the grip completely loosened? Almost but not quite. 

I remember recently seeing a powerful photo essay by a well-known Australian photographer and photojournalist (and a regular contributor to The New York Times) covering the war on drugs in the Philippines, where thousands were killed since Rodrigo Duterte became president. The photo essay deservedly won first prize at the 2017 World Press Photo Contest, however I also saw an equally compelling photo essay by Raffy Lerma, a Filipino photojournalist which didn't receive much attention.

So, as in my own personal experience with the blinkered Asia Society has proven, the dinosaurian gatekeepers, editors or curators are still trying to have the ultimate say in who gets published, featured or gets a chance to succeed.

However, this too will not last long.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

POV: NYC's Asia Society & The Age of Ignorance

Readers and followers of The Travel Photographer blog are probably well aware of my immense disappointment at the inertia demonstrated by the Asia Society in NYC in acknowledging my letters suggesting it recognizes the Vietnamese Mother Goddess religion as an important event in this Asian nation.

As background; I had sent over the past 60+ days two letters to specific high-placed staff members highlighting that the indigenous Vietnamese Mother Goddesses religion (known as Đạo Mẫu) and its rituals (known as Hầu Đồng and/or Lên đồng) had been included on the UNESCO's List of Intangible Heritages, and urging the Asia Society to recognize this by organizing some sort of event at it New York City (or elsewhere) location.

However, there was no reply, no acknowledgment, no reaction of whatsoever nature emerging from the Asia Society. Not even a "thank you, but we are not interested" email or voice mail. And certainly no event or recognition of any sort was held...not even, a short post on its blog.

Mind you, the Asia Society claims that it "is the leading force in forging closer ties between Asia and the West through arts, education, policy and business"

I was bothered at the lack of civility of not responding to my obviously serious approach, which conveyed an important cultural happening in Vietnam...but finally, as seen above, I (60 days post fact) managed to get a terse acknowledgement from someone at Asia Society as a Facebook message. This came about after my many social media posts castigating it for its rudeness.

This three line response may have assuaged my discomfort at the absence of response from his/her employer, but what about the larger scheme of things?

I searched for the Asia Society's mentions of Vietnam on its website, and found precious little. But I did find some Vietnamese trinkets for sale in its shop, but little else. That's outrageous.

Here's another stunning example of its obliviousness: the ancient art of Ca trù, a genre of chamber music featuring female vocalists, with origins in northern Vietnam, and recognized by UNESCO in 2009 as a Vietnamese Intangible Heritage, is not mentioned anywhere by the Asia Society. That's ridiculous.

In contrast, a Japanese musical group known as the Hougaku Quartet is scheduled with great fanfare to perform at the Asia Society this week. So it is receptive to Japanese arts and music but not Vietnam's?

I am really at a loss to comprehend its demonstrable lack of interest in Vietnam's cultural vibrancy. Does its staff know anything about Vietnam? India, China, Japan are all well covered...but what about this Asian country of 90 million people, with all its history and exquisite culture?

The ignorance is baffling.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Yvan Cohen | Chinese Opera

Photo © Yvan Cohen - All Rights Reserved
I've been interested in Chinese opera for quite a while; way before watching Farewell My Concubine. As a photographer, I'm attracted by its visual aesthetics and by its colorful make up and costumery...but I am also interested in its history and its influence on other similar art form in Asia.

For instance, I've photographed a performance of Hát Tuồng in Hanoi a few years ago. Influenced by Chinese opera, it is one of the oldest art forms in Vietnam, and is said to have existed since the late 12th century. I wanted to spend much more time in photographing its performers, but was constrained to do so as I was leading a photo workshop, and couldn't set aside enough time for it.

Together with Greece tragic-comedy and Indian Sanskrit Opera, it's one of the three oldest dramatic art forms in the world. I won't go into much background detail about the art, as it is widely -and more ably- described on scholarly websites, as well as on other blogs (including in previous posts on my own blog.)

Here's a wonderful photo essay by Yvan Cohen on Chinese Opera which combines traditional photojournalism and closeups of the performers' faces and make up. Presumably photographed in Bangkok's Chinatown where opera companies, hired by local Chinese shrines, perform mythical stories in Mandarin to observe celebrations marking the Lunar New Year.

Don't miss his photo essay on Bangkok's Chinatown which he has been photographing for some 7 years now – visiting once or twice a week, mostly at night.

Fluent in English, French and Thai,
 Yvan Cohen is a photojournalist based in Bangkok who works mainly in Asia. As a freelancer, he has been published in international publications including covers for Time Magazine and the New York Times. His work includes fashion, features and commissioned portraits. Other credits include The Sunday Times, Forbes, L'Express, AsiaWeek, La Vie and others.

He is also a co-founder of the LightRocket media management platform.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Chinatown Noir | Street Photography With The X-Pro2

CHINATOWN NOIR by Tewfic El-Sawy on Exposure

I am lucky to live in a neighborhood within easy walking distance to New York City's Chinatown. A mere 15 minutes or so, and I'm in Asia. It's as if I am walking in the cacophonous streets of Hong Kong, perhaps with a tiny smidgen of Hanoi thrown in, but without its motorcycle traffic madness.

My Fuji X-Pro2 with its 18mm f2.0 dangling from my neck, I take in the visual, aural and olfactory vibes of this quintessential Asian ambience, rub shoulders with its Fujianese and Cantonese residents; try to avoid and ignore the slow-walking sidewalk-hugging out-of-state out-of-shape tourists who gawk at them, and concentrate on catching interesting interactions and expressions.

I wear all black, with a dark scarf to sort of mask my camera. It might be a superfluous "precaution" since no one so far has noticed, nor minded me, taking pictures. They are far too engrossed in their daily to and fro, mostly shopping for seafood, vegetables and fruits. The overriding preoccupation in the streets of Chinatown is how and where to obtain the best and freshest (and cheapest) produce and household well as lining up for fresh tofu.

It is said that a street photographer is an extension of the flaneur, an observer of the streets. In my view, this is an apt analogy and one that I -by living for so long in a pulsating city such as New York- can do effortlessly and almost instinctively. 

A word about the monochromatic photographs in Chinatown Noir: I am not fond of Fuji's Acros film simulations, so I shoot in color and post-process using Silver Efex Pro 2.0 to achieve the 'look' that I like. My usual settings are Exposure Compensation Value of -1, an iso of 640, and the Fuji 18mm at either f5.6 or f8.0.

This is the first of what I hope will be many Chinatown Noir photo galleries. My readers can also view Hanoi Noir which I produced about two years ago in the Vietnamese capital. At that time, I used a Leica M9 and a Voigtlander 40mm lens, and a Fuji X-T1 and a Zeiss 12mm lens.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Sam Barker | Charro

Photo © Sam Barker Photography -All Rights Reserved
Let's go south of the border with the charro. These are Mexican horsemen (the horsewomen are known as charra) typically dressed in an elaborately decorated outfit of close-fitting pants, jackets, and sombrero.

The charro originated in the ce
ntral-western regions of Mexico, and participate in the charreada; a form of rodeo riding that has become an official sport in that country. It is a competitive event quite similar to the United States rodeo, and was developed from animal husbandry practices used on the haciendas of old Mexico.

According to scholars, there is perhaps no better representative of the country's combined cultures and history than the horse trained for "charreada." Charros believe that Mexicans were originally conquered by horses, but gained independence with horses, so are inseparable from their steeds. 

The horses preferred by the charros are a combined breed: the American Quarter Horse, descending from European thoroughbreds, and the native horses descending from the various stocks brought by the Conquistadors in the 16th century..

Sam Barker brings us a colorful gallery of horsewomen wearing the striking costumes when participating in the rodeos..

Sam Barker is a commercial photographer who shares his time between London and New York. He also shoots travel stories and personal projects in Iraq, Ethiopia (don't miss it!), and Columbia and Bhutan.

For his commercial work, he was commissioned for campaigns in Europe and the US for the likes of Hugo Boss, Glennfiddich and Landrover amongst others ,shooting subjects as diverse as Matt Damon to Lewis Hamilton, to tribal chiefs in Africa and the Americas. He began his career in photography in 1997 whilst attending the London School of Printing.

His work was spotted by The Telegraph, and work started to follow from the likes of The Sunday Times, GQ Magazine and Harpers Bazaar. He is also contributor to the National Portrait Gallery where he has 12 portraits in the permanent collection.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Mercer Street | Street Photography With The X-Pro2

I am a creature of on the days I decide to photograph in the streets of my NYC neighborhood, I follow a certain route that takes me from the streets of SoHo to Chinatown. Sometimes, I deviate and hit the East Side and the Bowery, but normally I stick to my normal trek, and alter my walks within the confines of this SoHo-Chinatown 'map'.

My Fuji X-Pro2 with its 18mm f2.0 dangling from my neck, I walk and imbibe the vibes of the city, and the human diversity that populates it. I normally shoot from the hip, since I seek fleeting expressions as much as I can. This obviously means that my success rate is very low, but it is what I like doing. 

I don't want to get into a debate as to whether SFTH (shooting from the hip) is unethical or not, and whether photographing "a la sauvette" (as Henri Cartier-Bresson described his on-the-sly photography) is right or wrong. I choose what to photograph, and never have photographed a homeless person or disrespected anyone's dignity. I am very comfortable with my style of street photography.

But back to my walk on Mercer Street.

Incidentally, I usually have set the Exposure Compensation Value on my Fuji X-Pro2 at -1, and the iso at 640, and the Fuji 18mm at either f5.6 or f8.0. 

On that particular day, I hesitated before walking up Mercer Street because it's usually very quiet with few pedestrians, but for an unknown reason, I did. Turning the corner from Howard Street, I encounters a whole block of people standing in line for what must've been an audition of some sort, or a fashion show, or a hip-hop event.

What a wonderful opportunity to photograph these interesting individuals, and their diverse racial and background mix, sporting cool and imaginative outfits! The whole walk took about 8 minutes or so, and for once I was very glad that a New York City sidewalk was so crowded. I didn't want to attract attention, so as to maintain the candid scenes as I saw them.

I used Iridient Developer 2 (which is now my go-to software) and fiddled with its toning settings to get the look I wanted. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Lee Cohen | A Three Hour Tour

A Three Hour Tour by Lee Cohen on Exposure

The Circular Railway is a local commuter rail network that serves the Yangon (previously known as Rangoon) metropolitan area. It extends over 28 miles, and serves 39 stations in a loop system.

The railway has about 200 coaches, runs 20 times and is said to sell 100,000 to 150,000 tickets daily. The loop, which takes about three hours to complete is heavily utilized by lower-income commuters, as it is (along with buses) the cheapest method of transportation in Yangon. It is also a way to see many areas of Yangon.

It runs daily from 3:45 am to 10:15 pm, and the  cost of a ticket for a distance of 15 miles is about $ 0.18, and for over 15 miles is $ 0.37. These prices are for the locals. The cost for a one-way tocket for non_burmese is $ 1.00.

The circular train stops at each and every station for only a minute or two, forcing passengers to quickly clamber on board, with all sorts of luggage and belongings. It returns back to Yangon’s city station before making the same journey over and over again (about 20 times) throughout the day.

The young boy seen on the cover of the Exposure gallery (above) has his face smothered with thanaka; a cream made by ground bark, and used by the Burmese  for over 2000 years. It is known for giving a cooling sensation, and for providing protection from sunburn.

Lee Cohen has taken the Circular Railway and narrates his experience. He also does not recommend tourists buy the more expensive air-conditioned train/cars, which the locals do not ride. The worthwhile experience is to rub shoulders and interact with the locals who ride the cheaper cars.

Lee Cohen has been working on educational issues around the world for the past ten years. he has a background in policy, monitoring and evaluation, creative and non-fiction writing, and documentary photography.

Monday, 30 January 2017

NEOCHA | The Puppets of Myanmar

Photo © Chan Qu | Courtesy NEOCHA 
The string puppets of Myanmar (previously known as Burma) are called Yoke Thé ( meaning "miniatures"). It originated from royal patronage and were gradually adapted for the wider populace.

The puppets or marionettes are intricately made, and require considerable dexterity as they are "controlled" by 18 or 19 wires for male and female characters respectively, especially as each puppet can only be controlled by only one puppeteer.

It is thought that Burmese marionettes originated around 1780 and were introduced to the courts of the time by a Minister of Royal Entertainment, U Thaw. Little has changed since the creation of the art, and puppet characters are still used today. However, the art went into decline during the colonization of Upper Burma by the British in November 1885 following the Third Anglo-Burmese War.

It is said that because the puppets were mere wooden dolls, their ‘speech’, although voiced by humans, was allowed more freedom during the various reigns of monarchs, and even during the more recent periods. It is curious that all thorough Myanmar's history, the puppets were the only ones who enjoyed some freedom of speech. 

Interestingly, as puppet troupes traveled from village to village in the olden days that had no newspapers or radio, their shows brought news of the capital and other larger towns through the puppets' songs and stories to villagers. Puppet shows were also used to express discontent with the rulers, but cloaked by the voices of the puppets.

A typical Burmese puppet troupe has 27 character figures. These puppets are carved, polished, sanded and painted, before being dressed in hand-stitched costumes; the entire process requires around twenty days of production from start to finish.

You can read more about this art form on NEOCHA.

View this short movie till its end...the agility of the puppeteers is breathtaking.

NEOCHA was stablished in 2006 by a group of Shanghai-based musicians, visual artists, programmers, and entrepreneurs, and has grown to become an award-winning company dedicated to celebrating culture and creativity in Asia.

Its online magazine tells stories by and of these creators, and shares them with a global audience on a new multilingual platform that showcases and celebrates Asia’s burgeoning creative class.