Monday, 26 June 2017

Nagi Yoshida | Ethiopia

Photo © Nagi Yoshida-All Rights Reserved
"Some children want to become pilots, some models, but my dream was pure and simple, to become African." -Nagi Yoshida
Looking back over my 10 years of authoring The Travel Photographer blog, I have seldom featured the work of a Japanese travel photographer. The reason is unclear since I'm always on the look out for fresh travel photographers, and particulalry those of Asian provenance. It's perhaps because the websites featuring Japanese photographers are mostly in Japanese? I don't know...all I know is they haven't crossed my radar screnn as often as I would have liked.

But this is now somewhat put right by my featuring the work of Nagi Yoshida, who set out to document African tribes in Namibia, Tanzania and Ethiopia to show to her audiences and viewers that the African continent is wonderful, and is worthy of visits. She tells us that every time she travels to Afican, the locals tell her that she's more African than they are. 

Not only content to photograph in India, Nagi has also photographed in Varanasi and Rajasthan, as well as in her native Japan.

Unfortunately, most of the websites featuring Nagi's work and achievements are in Japanese, so apart from mentioning that she had a photo exhibition of her images in Shibuya (Tokyo), all I can link to is Nagi's Facebook page.  

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Thrones of Semana Santa | Brandon Li




This is one of the best video-documentaries I've seen so far of a religious event/festival.

Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Spain is the annual tribute of the Passion of Jesus Christ celebrated by Catholic religious brotherhoods and fraternities that perform penance processions on the streets of almost every Spanish city and town during the last week of Lent, the week immediately before Easter. This annual tribute has been observed for the past 500 years.

The start of the documentary and its soundtrack reminded me of the blockbuster movies franchise; Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons and Inferno. The documentary clocked over 25,000 views on Vimeo, gained its Staff Pick and deservedly so.

Brandon Li describes himself as a nomadic filmmaker on an endless world tour to document various cultures. For those interested, his film-making kit is here

Friday, 16 June 2017

Hotel Photography : Using Staff As Models

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
I had the pleasure to be asked to photograph the fabulous Mandarin Hotel Kuala Lumpur (MOKL) during the Travel Photographer Society events in Malaysia a few weeks ago, and having spent the better part of day doing so, I can vouch that hotel photography is most certainly not as easy as it may appear to be.

Having the DNA of a travel-documentary photographer meant that I sought to have people in most -if not all- of my photographs. I recalled a ad campaign by Annie Leibovitz for The Peninsula Hotel (Hong Kong and New York City) some years ago, in which she produced monochrome photographs of the hotel's staff, and it was hailed as a huge success in the hospitality industry. That was to be my inspiration, and I determined I'd produce both color and monochrome versions of my images and leave it to the hotel's managerial staff to decide which to use.

There are innumerable photographers who specialize in producing stunning work of the hotel industry, with views of gorgeous interiors and exteriors, fabulous rooms and suites and more for hotels and resorts; whether 5-star properties, boutiques, and other categories. However, my view is that hotels' staff are as important as the facilities, and having their portraits add a "human touch" to otherwise "dry" productions. 

I sought to produce images that showed the warmth and hospitality of the hotel's staff whilst performing their duties, and eschewing photographs that highlight the rooms' bed linen thread count, views of the Petronas Towers or many of MOKL's other facilities and amenities. 


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
In common with photographers who travel on assignments, on workshops and/or to give talks, I've experienced the gamut of hotel accommodations ranging from dingy hotels with dodgy bathrooms to small boutique establishments to some of the most luxurious five-star hotels in the world...such as the Mandarin Hotel and the Shangri-La. What stays with me are not necessarily the good memories of lush bathrobes and of creamy shampoos (although that helps), or the bad memories of tepid shower water....but the hospitality and the "service-with-a-smile" of the hotel staff. That was my intention in focusing my MOKL assignment mostly on its staff, and have them as 'models' to convey the welcome which is experienced by its guests.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
The option to produce photographs of hotel staff is an easier one than to photographing its interior and exterior spaces. For exterior images, one requires an architectural approach, tilt-shift lenses and perfect natural light/time of day. For the images of the rooms and interior spaces, one would need wide angle lenses, tripods, soft lighting and a room stylist to ensure there were no errant electric cords, imperfectly made bed corners, slightly askew towels in the bathroom, bathroom amenities that were not perfectly aligned...or even light bulbs of different warmth...as these would be amplified in still photographs.

Having the staff re-enact their duties is much more simple, is faster, more enjoyable and (provided one chooses the right staff members) is effective when coupled with the static interior and exterior images.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
There's also an advantage when using this "photojournalism" style for hotels. Potential guests (or any consumer for that matter) can immediately recognize "authenticity" when they see it. When I first log on to a hotel's website, I check out the photographs of its rooms and bathrooms to satisfy myself that they are worth the money (or not) I am about to expend to stay there.

However, I also realize that these are produced by experienced photographers usually using room stylists, wide lenses, special lighting and other post processing tools to show these spaces in the best way possible. So the reality might not always meet my expectations.

I then check whether there are images of the staff on the hotel(s) website, and if available, these give me an idea as to the human element so critical in the hotel industry. Starched-looking staff, standing like mannequins in front of a reception desk, do not impart the warmth I would like to experience from a hotel....particularly as my hotel stays often exceed 10-15 nights. Applying this logic to my hotel photo shoots means that I must choose the staff as carefully as I possibly can, and pick those who are not only are photogenic, but who radiate a sort of inner warmth that can influence those potential guests, and tell them they'll be warmly welcomed and treated.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
As much as possible, I try to photograph the staff as they are; in their element without embellishment, ambient light and without setting up a specific location or using any props. In most of my hotel photography, I engage the staff but direct them as little as possible and let them work as they normally do...and when I see a moment or two that I like, the shutter is clicked.

I am grateful to Ms Akiko Goto of the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur for having facilitated my access to various areas of the hotel, and for her patience.

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Red Qi Pao | The Back Story...


Readers of this blog will know that I've been interested in adding another arrow to my quiver -photographically speaking- for quite a while, and I'm now earnestly starting a "chinoiserie" phase in my photographic trajectory.  As I wrote in an earlier post, "..it is not really about fashion and/or attractive models (although it's obviously nice to include them), but about a theme. The theme of "Shanghai-1940" is one that I seek to recreate through still photography and audio, and weave a narrative into stories...akin to short movies."

Whilst in Kuala Lumpur in 2016 participating in the annual Travel Photographer Society event, I was introduced to The Old China Cafe; an old café-restaurant that serves a combination of Straits Chinese and Malay dishes, and whose untouched pre-war ambiance and large traditional feng shui mirrors gave me the idea of constructing a fantasy story about a beautiful Chinese woman dressed in a clinging red qi pao or cheongsam appearing to an habitual customer and opium-addled Western photographer. This idea, refined on my return flight to the US, was conceptualized and led to producing The Old China Cafe audio-slideshow. I enjoyed this tentative experience of fantasy storytelling...quite a branching out from my previous involvement in factual "photojournalistic-travel" and "telling-it-like-it-is" documentaries.

On my return to Kuala Lumpur last month for another Travel Photographer Society event, I was eager to start some sort of sequel...a continuation of The Old China Cafe in which the woman in the red qi pao would appear to viewers and speak of her "relationship" with the drifter...the Western photographer who would be known as "gweilo" (鬼佬) in the sequel.

I enlisted the help of Stanley Hong; a resourceful talented part-time photographer in Kuala Lumpur who eventually introduced me to Tracy Yee, who was happy to take the lead role in the production of The Red Qi Pao. 

So on a rainy Saturday afternoon, off we went to The Old China Cafe near Petaling Street despite the ominous thunder. The restaurant was'nt too busy but we decided not to immediately start photographing Tracy in her red qi pao despite the inquisitive stares of the waiters and patrons, and wait until it got quieter. Unfortunately, that was not to be because of two events: the power suddenly went out, and the drainage system backed up from the incredible volume of rain and flooded the restaurant. 


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I knew of the Precious Old China in Central Market which also had a Chinese ambiance, old furniture sourced from Guangzhou, and 19th Century Chinese lattice painted panels. This place had no rain seepage and few customers...so I was able to photograph Tracy with little interference.

We decided we would return the following Monday (it being a national holiday) but that we would give up on The Old China Cafe which must have been damaged by the rain water. The Precious Old China was deserted when we did return that Monday afternoon, and we had the place to ourselves for quite a while. Sensing that we had overstayed our welcome, we then drove off to the Thean Hou Temple for more photo shoots. 

Incidentally, all the photographs during the shoots were made with the Fuji X-Pro2 and the Fuji GFX50s medium format camera.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
The work was not finished. I still needed Tracy's narration. A few days later, we all spent time recording the narrative late into the night until we all felt it was a wrap. The drfiter-photographer's narration was recorded on my return to New York City.

Finally...I reflect on how I got into this "chinoiserie" phase, and realize its seeds were probably sown during my many trips to Vietnam, and while I believe that my two years work on my photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam influenced my aesthetic appreciation for Sino-Vietnamese ethnic fashion (whether ao dai, cheongsam and the resplendent tunics worn by the spirit mediums during the ceremonies, I also dabbled in photographing friends willing to pose for my camera, such as Trần Hiền Trang standing in the courtyard of a Chinese Assembly Hall in Hoi An (below).


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved

Monday, 29 May 2017

Ofir Barak | Mea Sharim

Photo © Ofir Barak - All Rights Reserved
You'd be forgiven if you thought that the above photograph was taken in Saudi Arabia or Iran, but it's not. It's a street scene in the Mea Shearim settlement outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem in Israel, and part of the photographic project of the same name by Ofir Barak.

We are told that the settlement was established in 1874 and its name is derived from a verse in Genesis 26:12. To this day, it remains an insular neighborhood in the heart of Jerusalem with an overwhelmingly Hasidic population,  and its the streets reminiscent of an Eastern European shtetl. Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish religious texts. It is populated mainly by Haredi Jews and was built by the Old Yishuv (the Jewish communities of the southern Syrian provinces during the Ottoman period).

Interestingly, the numerical value of the words Meah Shearim equals 666, which allegedly has esoteric and kabbalistic meaning in Judaism.

When photographing the settlement and its streets, Ofir Barak felt he had to blend in, and altered his appearance and dress to do so. He grew a long beard, and dressed only in black. A short video of his photographs has been produced to publicize his effort to raise funds to publish a photo book. 



Ofir Barak was born in Jerusalem, Israel, and completed his B.A. in humanities ­(majoring in arts, and history). In 2014, he returned to Jerusalem, in order to photograph a multi layered project that would display the city and its people through his eyes.

A number of interviews with Leica Camera, Lens Culture, and FStop Magazine are available on his website.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Sam Sanzetti | Old Shanghai

Photo © Sam Sanzetti - All Rights Reserved
Working on my forthcoming multimedia project "The Red Qi Pao" has whetted my interest in Shanghai of the 1930s or so, and I stumbled on the work of a photographer born at the start of the 1900 in Russia, and who -for survival reasons - settled for a while in that city 20 years later.

The story is fascinating. Sam Sanzetti (born Sioma Lifshitz), a young Jewish Eastern-European made his way to China with his parents, and worked at menial jobs until having to flee to Shanghai during the Japanese occupation.

He was able to build up the most successful photography studio of the day in Shanghai, eventually opening up four branches throughout the city. When he left China for Israel after 30 years, in the late 1950's, he did so with 20,000 photographs in his bags.

In Shanghai, Sanzetti  started working at the studio of a local photographer, and after a few months became so interested in studio work that when an American business man offered to establish a studio for him in Shanghai he was quite willing to accept the offer. 

Sanzetti was said to be one of the best photographers in China at the time, and had managed to open four studios in 1922, including a flagship studio on old Nanjing Road dedicated to portraits of local residents. He took photographs of people from all walks of life celebrities, film stars, young couples, families and children.

He had married a Chinese and acquired a stepdaughter, but they did not follow him to Israel. He married again in Israel, and his stepson there inherited his pictures and his passion for photography.

A number of links provide more information of Sam Sanzetti's life and work, such as American Photo's The Unlikely Shanghai Portrait Studio of Sam Sanzetti, Shanghailander, and Photography of China.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Hiroshi Watanabe | Kabuki Players

Photo © Hiroshi Watanabe - All Rights Reserved
Kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese drama with highly stylized song, mime, and dance, now performed only by male actors, using exaggerated gestures and body movements to express emotions, and including historical plays, domestic dramas, and dance pieces.

This art form was created by a woman named Okuni, a shrine attendant, in the 17th century. Although greatly influenced by the aristocratic noh, kabuki was devised as a popular entertainment for the masses. A large part of the popularity of the early, all-female performances was due to their sensual nature. These performers were also prostitutes and male audiences often got out of control. As a result, women were banned from performing by the Tokugawa Shogunate, and only older males were allowed to take part in kabuki.

Hiroshi Watanabe, a Japanese photographer, features a wonderful gallery of square format portraits of non-professional kabuki performers in the small town of Nakatsugawa; located midway between Tokyo and Kyoto. He tells us that these perfromers do not get paid for their acting in the kabuki plays and have to dig deep into their pockets to pay for the intricate makeup, costumes and stage backdrops.

We also learn that the small town wasn't large enough to attract the itinerant kabuki troupes, so the town elders decided to have its own kabuki theater, hire the actors, make up artists and stage people. It became the town's tradition since the Edo period.

Hiroshi Watanabe was born in Sapporo, Japan and graduated from the Department of Photography of Nihon University in 1975. He moved to Los Angeles working in Japanese television commercials and later obtained an MBA from the UCLA Anderson Business School in 1993. Subsequently, he started to travel worldwide, extensively photographing and since 2000, has worked full-time at photography.

He produced five self-published books, then published I See Angels Every Day, monochrome portraits of patients and scenes from San Lázaro psychiatric hospital in Quito, Ecuador. This work won Japan’s 2007 Photo City Sagamihara Award for professional photographers. He won many awards for his monographs and books, and was invited to join a group of artists to photograph Venice for a project raising funds for that city.

Monday, 22 May 2017

An Afternoon With The Chinese Opera | Fuji X-Pro 2

Laosheng (老生, old man)
As another string to my 'Chinoiserie' phase, I've been very attracted (visually and culturally) for quite some time to the art of what is generally known as Chinese Opera. I speak no Chinese, but it (in its many different ethnic varieties) being centuries old and performed in colorful costumes make for an visually appeal that's hard to resist capturing with my cameras.



Following my 5-6 hour photo shoot of performers at the Yuet Wan Cantonese Opera Association in Kuala Lumpur a few weeks ago, I resolved to continue on the path that I hope might lead me to another long term project similar to my two year long Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam, and discovered from an ad plastered all over NYC's Chinatown featuring a Chinese Opera to be held at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Auditorium on Mott Street.

I booked my seat for May 21 and with my Fuji X-Pro2 and a a panoply of lenses, was at the door half an hour before the opening time of 12:25 pm. I showed my credentials at the door, and asked for Gigi (who was in charge of the show) for her permission to photograph the performers in their full regalia at the end of the show.

Clearly not in the mood of being helpful of allowing anything of the sort, she swatted my credentials and request aside as a bothersome fly, and told me to return at 6:00 pm. Knowing a brush-off when I saw one, I sat in my assigned seat resolving to make the best of the situation, and eyed various other possibilities where i could stand unimpeded. I was the only non-Chinese to attend the show.


I also realized as the performance started that I had a rather good view of the stage and performers, especially as no one was seated in front of me. A stroke of luck to make up for Gigi's ill temper.

One of the first characters to appear on stage was the clown and the old man (the latter possibly the character in the top image). Clowns can be male or female and are sly or stupid, sometimes mean, but invariably ridiculous and laughter-provoking. This one had the audience cackling at some of his repartees.

At various stages of the skits, the Dan (female) performers appeared, and sang and acted quite well. The Dan mainly depict middle-aged or young female roles, who usually wear heavy makeup. Their cheeks are mostly painted red to set off the powdery white of the forehead, nose and jaw. Heavy black greasepaint is used to highlight the eyes and brows, and red color is applied to the lips to demonstrate the classical beauty of Chinese women.


I found that using the X-Pro2 fitted with the 18-135mm Fujinon lens was just perfect to capture the action from my seat, and I had no need to stand or move to another location within the room. Most of my images were shot at an ISO of 1000-1200, higher than what I am accustomed to, but the noise on the images is hardly noticeable.

The Beijing Opera of China is inscribed on UNESCO's World Intangible Cultural Heritages List in 2001 (as is Dao Mau, Vietnam's Mother Goddess religion), and is a national treasure with a history of more than 200 years. It is the most influential sort of traditional operas in China. The performers' make up takes hours to apply, using the color red, purple, black, white, blue, green, yellow, dark red, gray, golden and silver, with each color representing a unique stereotype character.

I intend to pursue this project as far as it will take me. It might come to an abrupt stop should I be unable to find a "connection" to it, but all signs so far are that it may work out.
 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Wing Shya | An Influence

Photo © Wing Shya - All Rights Reserved
"Of course Wong Kar Wai yelled at me. Imagine some guy coming to photograph Leslie Cheung and everything comes out blurred. You'd wonder, what's this guy's attitude?"

Whilst thinking and working on one of my side projects (tentatively known as The Red Qi Pao), I sought the influence of Wong Kar-Wai's cinematography, especially in evidence in his seminal In The Mood For Love. Then discovered the photography of Wing Shya, known for his raw, smoky images from the golden era of Hong Kong cinema.

Reading various of Wing's interviews just a few days ago, I learned that he writes film scripts for his editorials, and that every photograph has a complete, fictional backstory. And this is what I started doing almost a year ago in my initial effort of that sort, and which I titled The Old China Cafe, and whose sequel will be The Red Qi Pao, currently a work in progress. 

I write about this very thing in a previous blog post, saying "My "chinoiserie" phase is not really about fashion and/or attractive models (although it's obviously nice to include them), but about a theme. The theme of "Shanghai-1940" is one that I seek to recreate through still photography and audio, and weave a narrative into stories...akin to short movies."

Wing Shya is a prolific contemporary artist best known for his award-winning film and photography. He studied at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Canada, and was appointed by film director Wong Kar-Wai to work exclusively as his photographer on several acclaimed films such as Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, Eros and 2046. 

It is out of these experiences that his photographs are imbued with so much  cinematographic styles. He used fashion photography as his primary style, and blurred the boundaries between still photography and movie making with his images appearing as captured stills from a film.

He is one of Asia's most iconic photographers, well known for his evocative images depicting tan erstwhile era of Hong Kong, and I look forward to further study his work. While my own project will not be restricted to a specific location (other than being a Chinatown and following my Chinoiserie phase), his work in fashion and Hong Kong will be of tremendous help.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Malay Princess | Fuji GFX50s & X-Pro2



I had many chances of using the combination of my newly-acquired ('medium format') Fuji GFX50s with a 63mm fixed lens, along with my favorite go-to camera X-Pro2 and the 16-55mm lens in Kuala Lumpur.

One of these opportunities to put the GFX50s through its paces was to produce a themed project involving a Malay young woman (Ms Sarah Dalina) wearing the traditional dress called kebaya. The kebaya is a traditional blouse-dress combination that originated from the court of the Javanese Majapahit Kingdom, and is traditionally worn by women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Burma, southern Thailand, Cambodia and the southern part of the Philippines.

Through the help of Ms Shuhada Hasim (herself a talented photographer), we settled on a traditional Malay house located on Jalan Datuk Keramat, in the center of Kuala Lumpur. This lovely house was the perfect backdrop for the project. While traditional Malay houses have diversity of styles according to each states, provinces, and sub-ethnics, there is some commonalities between them such as, being built on stilts (this one was not), having external staircases, partitioned rooms, vernacular roofs and colorful decorative accents.


The Malay Princess gallery consists of 4 GFX50s photographs, and 5 were made with the X-Pro2. Naturally, it'd be quasi impossible for anyone to distinguish between the two as these were processed using Iridient Developer 3 and toned with Color Efex Pro 4.

I particularly liked two of the photographs in this series: the one in which Sarah poses on the house's porch with a lantern in her hands, and the last photograph in which she sits curled up in an antique 'plantation-style' chair enjoying the cool air from an old floor fan behind her.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Thaipusam Festival In Singapore | Hendra Lauw


Here's an interesting and compelling slideshow on Thaipusam, the Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community during January or February. It's mainly observed in countries where there is a significant presence of Tamil community such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mauritius Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar.

Thaipusam is a celebration dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Murugan (youngest son of Shiva and his wife Parvati). 

This particular slideshow was made of a combination of color and monochrome photographs. Thaipusam is a rather striking festival with devotees shaving their heads and undertaking a pilgrimage along a set route while carrying out various acts of devotion, which may include self-mortification by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with skewers.

For my taste, the slideshow relies too heavily on the Ken Burns effect; presumably thought by the photographer to add focus to the scenes, but I thought was distracting. Nonetheless, the slideshow made of photographs from a Fuji X-T1, X-T2, and Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8, XF 23mm f/2.0 and XF 90mm f/2.0 lenses, provides a thorough view of the festival as it occurs.


Hendra Lauw is a Singapore-based photographer. With a background as programmer and IT project manager, he also won the Singapore Best Photography Blog Award in 2010, Best South East Asia Photoblog in 2007 and was finalist for the Best Portrait Photography Photoblog in 2007. He can also be followed on Instagram.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The Travel Photographer's Chinoiserie Phase

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
Chinoiserie (from 'chinois' the French for Chinese) is a style inspired by art and design from China, Japan and other Asian countries. Fashion designers, furniture makers, wallpaper designers, artists and photographers have consistently been heavily influenced and inspired to produce work that reflect this aesthetic.

My chinoiserie "phase" has been bubbling for quite a while. Certainly influenced by my travels over the past two years to Hanoi, and annual visits to Kuala Lumpur, it was triggered by a couple of visits to The Old China Cafe; an atmospheric eatery in KL's Chinatown's vicinity, and which in turn resulted in a short audio-slideshow bearing the same name.

My immersive experience in the Vietnamese Hầu Đồng rituals for my photo book was another push in this direction, especially with the fashion sense and the ethnic costumes of the mediums.

Yet another influence of mine is In the Mood for Love (Chinese: 花樣年華), the 2000 Hong Kong film directed by Wong Kar-wai, starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. It's moody theme is especially inspiring. 


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy -All Rights Reserved
Whilst in Kuala Lumpur in the past couple of weeks, I was fortunate to have the help of Stanley Hong; a part-time photographer, who shared my getting involved in a couple of "chinoiserie" projects, and made it possible for us to photograph at various exotic locations such as the Old China Cafe and Opium; both in Kuala Lumpur.

My "chinoiserie" phase is not really about fashion and/or attractive models (although it's obviously nice to include them), but about a theme. The theme of "Shanghai-1940" is one that I seek to recreate through still photography and audio, and weave a narrative into stories...akin to short movies.

What I also enjoyed during my photo shoots in Kuala Lumpur is 'directing'. Whether with Tracy Yee or Carolyn Yin, I conjured a storyline that could fit into a longer one, and that will hopefully and ultimately result into a multi-episode work.

For these photo shoots, I used the Fuji X-Pro2 and the Fuji GFX50s.

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 photograph...it 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.