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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Naked Eye: Leica M9 vs FujiFilm X Pro-1





Another poll for those who like playing the game.

Here are JPEG #A and JPEG #B; one is made with a Leica M9 at 200 iso with a Leica Elmarit 28mm at f2.8while the other was made with a Fuji X Pro-1 at 200 iso with a Fujinon 18mm (equivalent of 27mm) at f2.0. The photographs were made within a few seconds from each other under the same lighting conditions, and using an automatic shutter speed.

The lower two are the same images after using Auto Fix in Photoshop. No other processing was done to either of them.

So what's your call? Which image was made with the M9, and which with the X Pro-1?

After having handled the M9 for about 15 months and the X Pro-1 for just over a week, I feel that both have a place in my tool box.  It took me a few hours to understand the ins and outs of the X Pro-1, and I haven't had frustrations to speak of once I ironed out its quirks. In contrast, the Leica M9 is a difficult camera with which I had considerable frustrations (and some pleasures) so far.

I am neither a Leica cheerleader nor a X Pro-1 groupie, and as I imply earlier, I consider them both to be useful tools for different jobs. That said, while the M9's build is better (more solid) than the X Pro-1, its many shortcomings (lack of AF, abysmal display, image quality issues at ISOs higher than 640, etc) are difficult to tolerate with the appearance of the X Pro-1 that is also well-built, has reasonable quality glass, has good image quality to 6400 iso, and a lovely display, apart from its many other technical advantages, such as its revolutionary hybrid viewfinder as one of numerous examples.

"Will the FujiFilm X Pro-1 dethrone the Leica M9? "

Sure, the Leica M9 not only has a mystique, but more tangibly, also provides a special 'feel' to the  photographs it produces...but the X Pro-1 image quality is excellent. Does it have the Leica "feel"? No it doesn't. The M9 is a full frame camera, and the X Pro-1 isn't. However, it has an APS-C sized sensor, which produces images that are said to be equal, if not superior, to those of full-frame cameras.

Will the FujiFilm X Pro-1 dethrone the Leica M9? I doubt it...but it's a very serious contender, and fills a niche for photographers who seek to add a digital rangefinder-like camera to their gear, and do not want to spend upwards of $7000 for a body to do it.

And for those who have voted in the previous poll in which I ask for the readers preference between photographs made with a Leica M9, a Fujifilm X Pro-1, a Canon 7D, a Canon 5D Mark II and a Panasonic GF1, the results favored the Leica M9 which got 38.5% of the votes, then the X Pro-1 which got about 33%.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Charlotte Rush-Bailey: Blood & Turmeric

Charlotte Rush-Bailey is a photographer who migrated to the world of photography from a corporate career that covered three decades of marketing and communications positions in a variety of global industries including energy, financial services, media, conservation, technology and professional services. This gave her opportunities to work with people all over the world, and to learn to appreciate cultural nuances and the influences of socio-political forces.

She has just produced her audio-slideshow Blood And Turmeric of her stills and ambient sound recordings made during the festival of the Oracles in Kodungallur whilst participating in my The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition/Workshop™.

So hold on to your seats, you'll get sweaty palms perhaps...but I'm certain you'll be bowled over by it.

The festival is called Kodungallur Bharani, a wild and unusual localized religious festival near Kochi. It is here that once a year the so-called Oracles of Kodungallur meet to celebrate both Kali and Shiva. By their thousands, these red-clad oracles arrive in this area of Kerala, and perform self mortification acts by banging on their heads with ceremonial swords repeatedly until blood trickle down their foreheads, and daub the wounds with turmeric.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dougie Wallace: Road Wallah

Here's a movie -or what photographer Dougie Wallace calls- a "photo film" on Kolkata's unorganized (aka chaotic) transport modes. He has chosen to show us the tram drivers, the rickshaw pullers, the yellow taxis, the passengers, the pedestrian and vehicular traffic that criss-crosses this teeming city along with a soundtrack (produced by Rosie Webb) that just pulsates and throbs.

The buses, the most commonly used mode of transport, are run by government agencies and private operators, and as the photo film describes them, are haphazard to say the least. Kolkata is the only Indian city with a tram network, which I've greatly enjoyed when I was there last October. Almost all of Kolkata's taxis I have seen were old Ambassador cars, with little if any modern amenities. Hand-pulled rickshaws are extensively used by the public for short trips.

 Dougie Wallace is London based but grew up in Glasgow. He lived in east London for 15 years but spends a lot of time travelling abroad. I suggest you view his project titled Reflections On Life which features scenes from the daily commute in a number of cities ranging from Lisbon, Egypt and Eastern Europe, including Sarajevo, Ukraine and Albania.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wotancraft's Camera Bags

Photo Courtesy Wotancraft Atelier

I'm more of a simple canvas Domke F-8 camera bag (and a cheap canvas shoulder bag from a US Army Surplus store) kind of person, but having chanced on Wotancraft Atelier's website, I have to admit that its camera bags are just gorgeous...and yes, quite expensive.

Its bags are constructed from top quality materials, and manufactured by experienced artisans, their bags are strong, reliable and beautiful. It appears that the Wotancraft products are handmade by only 4 artisans in Taiwan, and are rigorously inspected before they're shipped to buyers.

The smoky photographs on its website are just magnificent. Those that accompany the Urban Classic 005 Safari bag (shown above) feature Leicas, and another rangefinder to impart the sense of quality, Old World attention to details and high quality manufacturing. This is a well thought out pictorial layout; perhaps in the smilar vein as the ads for Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren products, but aimed at owners of Leicas and other high-end cameras.

The Scription blog has a full story on Wotancraft, which makes for interesting reading.

As a footnote, I have a Billingham camera bag which is equally well made, and resembles in some way the Safari bag, and is a classic for many photographers for its durability and functionality...but it also requires a long lead to be broken in, and I just didn't have the patience.

Note: I have no direct or indirect relationship with Wotancraft and/or its distributors.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mitchell Kanashkevich: Ethiopia

Photo © Mitchell Kanashkevich-All Rights Reserved

“Will I ever come back to Ethiopia?”

A question asked by Mitchell Kanashkevich after spending over four months in that country, crisscrossing it on a motorbike.

He doesn't ask it because of logistics, or because of practicalities...but rather he wonders if he would want to ever come back to Ethiopia. I chose to feature his post to counter balance my earlier post on Holland Cotter's Ethiopian experience because they are so divergent.

I won't go into the details of Mitchell's reasons for his largely negative personal experiences in Ethiopia since you can read it directly on his blog, but these range from onerous restrictions and regulations imposed by authorities to make some money off foreign visitors to "money hungry scheming locals" in Lalibela and other religious towns.

Mitchell Kanashkevich is amongst a handful of travel photographers who are truly intrepid, experienced and who produce consistently excellent imagery, so his experiences in Ethiopia ought to be heeded by independent travelers who want to visit Ethiopia the way he did. I'm not suggesting that travelers ought to be put off by his current mindset, but they certainly ought to pay attention to what he tells us...and prepare themselves for potential difficulties.

It is one thing to travel to Ethiopia (and wherever else) on assignment with The New York Times, and quite another to travel the way Mitchell did. Fixers, hotel accommodations, transportation are a world apart between these two.

As for the obnoxious and puerile comments that Mitchell's post seems to have generated, it's unfortunate. Some people don't realize the service that Mitchell has provided...they may disagree with it, they may not like it...but he related his personal experience, and he's free to express it as he sees fit...wherever and whenever he wants.

I traveled to Ethiopia in 2004, and my experience was different. But that was 8 years ago, and I traveled differently. However if I were to return to Ethiopia, I'd reread Mitchell's post very carefully.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

FujiFilm X Pro-1: A Few More Quick Thoughts...

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- Click To Enlarge

Well, I've shot a couple of hundred images with my newly acquired FujiFilm X Pro-1 so far, and I thought I'd post a few more of my brief impressions about its performance so far.

Firstly, FujiFilm updated the firmware of the X-Pro1 and the three X-mount lenses that accompany the camera. The updates reduce the aperture 'chattering' that was experienced when using the camera. I updated yesterday, and the "chatter" was eliminated.

My pet peeve with the X Pro-1 is this: when I shoot at the 6 frames per second mode, the resulting frames do not appear in sequence on the display. The first frame appears with a small thumbnail of the remaining frames. I consulted the manual and haven't found any mention of this, or how to cancel it so that I can review the frames on the display as in other cameras. From my reading of other reviews, it seems that frames shot in continous mode are numbered differently and won't be directly accessed on playback review. FujiFilm engineers ought to come up with a solution to this crazy irritant.

Note: Magnus H. Amundsen, based in Oslo, was kind enough to tweet me and guide me to page 64 of the X Pro-1. Viewing the frames shot in continuous mode can be seen in sequence by pressing the selector down, then either right or left depending of the order chosen. Problem solved. It's counter-intuitive, and in my opinion an unnecessary step...but it works.

The other possible issue with the camera seems to be the life of a single battery charge. I read that it's sufficient for 350 images, but it certainly hasn't been the case. However, I'll keep an eye on it in the coming weeks. Its auto focus is not infallible, especially when I use the camera to shoot from the hip. It missed on a few occasions but generally speaking, it nailed a lot more than it missed. The click of the shutter is virtually imperceptible.

Something else I didn't like is the placement of the exposure compensation dial. I found that I inadvertently move it with my thumb when I shoot from the hip. I'm thinking of taping it to the -2/3 mark. I am also thinking of ordering the Thumbs Up CSEP-2 for it instead of the Fuji hand grip. I have a Thumbs Up for my M9 and it makes a huge difference.

The Fuji RAW converter (SILKYPIX) that comes with the camera is clunky and sort of primitive. Fujifilm has another so called professional converter which can be downloaded free for a 30 days trial. It's also clunky. I can't wait for Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop to soon come up with an update for the X Pro-1.

I read that some photographers find that having the battery and the SD card at the bottom of the X Pro-1 is a design flaw. However, it's identical to a Leica in that respect. Exactly.

Having now looked at a couple of my good images from the X Pro-1, I believe their quality to be really stellar. I use the Fujinon 18mm f/2.0 XF R lens which I'm very comfortable with. It's the equivalent to a 27mm and fits my style of shooting, especially in the streets of New York City. But I would prefer a lens equivalent to a 24mm f2.0. I explored the various film simulation modes it offers, and was especially impressed by its Velvia-like mode...a vivid high saturation mode. The image accompanying this post was made using that film mode.

So far so good.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The New York Times: Aksum & Lalibela

Photo © Damon Winter-Courtesy The New York Times

Here's what I found to be a very well made (and thoroughly researched) feature by The New York Times titled Aksum And Lalibela: A Pilgrimage with the prose of Holland Cotter and the photography of Damon Winter.

"Lalibela was conceived as a paradise on earth."

Cotter tells us that he had longed to see two holy cities in Ethiopia: Aksum, the country's center of Orthodox Christianity, and Lalibela, a town of extraordinary churches carved from volcanic rock in the 13th century, for a long time and he did visit it recently.

The treat in this interactive feature are the panoramas of Gondar, the monasteries of Lake Tana and Lalibela. I was in Ethiopia in 2004, and these panoramic views brought it all back to me as nothing else could. I wasn't very impressed by Gondar then, but the majesty of Lalibela churches and the beauty of the reclusive monasteries of Lake Tana made my experience in Northern Ethiopia exceptionally memorable.

An exceptionally engaging article by Holland Cotter is here. He has been a staff art critic at The New York Times since 1998. Don't miss Damon Winters' dozen photographs of Lalibela, Aksum, and Gondar which accompany the articles.

And since I mentioned that I've been in that region some 8 years ago, drop by my own gallery Footsteps In Abyssinia. Oh, how I wish I had my multimedia knowledge and tools then!!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Poll: Which Do You Prefer M9, 7D, 5DMK2, XPro1, GF1?

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Canon 5D Mark II)
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Canon 7D )

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Panasonic GF1 -20mm)

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Leica M9)

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (FujiFilm X Pro-1)
It's been raining in NYC for a couple of days, so I thought I'd have some fun with my photo gear and compare interior shots from the Canon 5D Mark II,  the Canon 7D, the Panasonic GF1, the Leica M9 and the FujiFilm X Pro-1. All of these images have not been processed in any way (except for being resized) and are jpegs out of the cameras.

While all of these have been shot at f2.8 and at an iso of 200 (the exception is the GF1), and at roughly the same time, there's obvious difference in many aspects between all of them. Another factor is that I had a 28-70mm f2.8 for the Canons, a 20mm for the GF1, a 28mm prime Leica lens for the M9, and a 18mm (equivalent to 27mm) on the X Pro-1.

This is hardly a scientific or a technical experiment, or an attempt to portray my preference...but just a quick look at what these different (in quality, price, type, etc)  cameras and lenses can produce, using an off-the-cuff methodology. In particular, take a good look at the images produced by the M9 and the X Pro-1.

So have some fun as well, and take the poll!!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Oracles Of Kodungallur

The Oracles of Kodungallur celebrate their festival in the Bhagawati temple, which usually occurs between the months of March and April. It involves sacrifice of cocks and shedding of the Oracles own blood, to appease the goddess Kali and her demons who are said to relish blood offerings.

"It was one of the most intense photographic experience I've had in a long while."

The festival is overseen by the aging King of Kodungallur where hordes of Oracles (Vellichapads in local Malayalam) stampede around the temple waving their curved swords while chanting abuse at the goddess.

This 4 minutes movie (using SoundSlides for the still photographs and Audacity to edit its audio, and then converted to a movie file) was made of material gathered during my The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition/Workshop™. I struggled with putting its audio all together, and it's still far from perfect, and I intend to refine it in weeks to come, but it will do the time being.

It was one of the most intense photographic experience I've had in a long while, even surpassing the intensity of the Maha Kumbh Mela in 2001. The seeming abandon with which the Oracles injured themselves by repeatedly striking their foreheads with their swords was disturbing at first but, in due time, I realized that their companions made sure that it didn't go too far, and took care that in the heat of their trances, the Oracles didn't injure anyone else.

Not for the fainthearted, it was also a draining experience over two long days for all the participants in my workshop, and I admired the women in our group who immersed themselves in photographing and documenting this event...not an easy task in view of the density and raucousness of the crowds. We returned every night to our hotel, exhausted, filthy, sweaty, thirsty and covered with turmeric powder...but exhilarated by what we saw and photographed.

And that's the image of the SoundSlides' interface. I print and use it as a scratchpad/storyboard...jotting down timings etc.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Walk About With The FujiFilm X Pro-1

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Shooting From The Hip/Crop)
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Shot Thru The Viewfinder)

Well, I've had the FujiFilm X Pro-1 equipped with a Fuji 18mm f2.0 lens for about 48 hours, and I thought I'd jot my initial impressions down in a brief blog post. First off, I only skimmed the manual very quickly so don't expect any in-depth review. These are merely impressions from using it during a walk about on 14th Street in New York City, then a few moments in Washington Square. Some of the photographs were made shooting from the hip, while others were made by peering through the viewfinder.

Interestingly, I had a conversation with a photographer in Washington Square who asked me if it was a Leica. It certainly looks quite similar, but it's not a Leica in more ways than one.  Superficially-speaking, the Fuji X Pro-1 has much more to offer in terms of digital enhancements than the M9. Apart from its auto-focus, it has a plethora of options that purists may not particularly find useful...its shutter is softer and much more discreet than the's much lighter but is still a handful...its lenses are also much lighter than those made by Leica or Voigtlander.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Shot From The Hip)
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Cropped. Shot From The Hip)
I had no difficulty whatsoever in adapting the X Pro-1 to my style of shooting from the hip. It's as unobtrusive as the M9, and the success rate is much higher with it than with the M9 because of its auto focus, which I chose to keep on single shot mode.

It seems to have a number of (possibly irritating) quirks, but I'll have to work with it a few more days before deciding if these are really camera quirks or whether they are caused by my inexperience.

As for the quality of its images. There's no question the quality of images made with an M9 equipped with Leica glass is really stellar, and their "feel" is different...I guess that's the renowned "Leica feel". The images from the X-Pro 1 are excellent, but they're more akin to the images by the Canon 5D Mark II (as an example). The images I've captured so far are very impressive in terms of quality especially from a crop sensor APS-C camera, but they can't be mistaken for images made with an M9.

Once again, this is not a scientific analysis nor an in depth review at all...just an initial impression when using the X Pro-1 and looking at the images I got from using it for a couple of hours. I did not intentionally choose specific scenes, but did what I usually do when I have my M9 around my neck.

What I didn't particularly like is that the X Pro-1 has the tendency of overexposing, so I dialed down by as much as half a stop and sometimes by 3/4 of a stop. And, there's isn't Lightroom or Photoshop RAW support for it yet.

I have found that I am shooting more and more wide angle, so the 18mm f2.0 lens is just perfect. It's perhaps early to say, but so far I like that lens a's fast and accurate.

As I said, this blog post is only partially peeling away the first layer of the X-Pro 1 "onion".

I've been asked what will I do now with the M9.  Already! I'm not a Leica fan-boy nor a X Pro-1 fan-boy either, so my answer is simple...I wil continue to use it along with the X-Pro 1. I can easily see myself using both in Vietnam and Thailand in the coming few months.

As I'm fond of saying....cameras are nothing but tools for the photographer. Exactly like a claw and ball-peen hammers are tools for carpenters who use them for different jobs...the M9 and the X Pro-1 will be used for different styles of photography. When everything is spot on, the Leica excels. Otherwise, it's not a forgiving tool. In contrast, I think the X Pro-1 will be much more forgiving.

More to come next week.

Constantine Manos: Personal Documentary

About 12 years ago, I had joined a workshop in Havana with Constantine Manos which, if I recall correctly, was sponsored by the Maine Photo Workshops. It was the second photo workshop I attended, and was quite different from the first in which I learned virtually nothing.

Constantine's (or Costa's) workshop in Havana was centered around the so-called decisive moment in street of the many photographic disciplines I knew absolutely nothing of. It was in the pre-digital days, and we had to shoot film and have it processed in these 2-hour processing shops. I recall that our group had to show Costa individual portfolios, and having taken a good look at mine (mostly portraits of India and Bhutan), he frowned and told me "...your pictures are too simple...".

This advice still resonates with me....and I worked hard to make my photography more complex since then....sometimes succeeding and often failing. Leading my own workshops now,  that's one of the lines I use the most often....

This short movie, narrated by Costa himself, is produced by Magnum In Motion and Leica. By the way, there's a's spelled Ku Klux Klan.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Travel Photographer Is Wibbitz'ed!!!

This is really cool! Click the arrow, and you'll get The Travel Photographer's "Breaking News"!!

Wibbitz seeks to leverage existing text-based content into video and converting readers into viewers. It's Text-To-Video Platform matches the best visual representation for the text, adds voice-over narration and generate an engaging video out of it. 

Using Wibbitz, almost any article, post or feed on the web can be instantly turned into a short video clip.

What does this have to do with travel and documentary photography? Nothing...but it's really cool. I love stuff like that...don't you?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Travel Photographer's The Vedic Disciples

This is the second of my multimedia (audio slideshows) projects of stills, audio and video made during my The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition/Workshop™. It's of the activities at an ancient Vedic 'gurukul' (or training/boarding school; very similar to the Buddhist monasteries for novitiates), where we were treated to a demonstration of this way of teaching sacred Vedic scriptures.

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

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

You can watch The Vedic Disciples on Vimeo as well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

645 For iPhone And A Boom Mic

I've had the iPhone 4S since late October, and despite my previous reluctance in having such a device, I'm head over heels with it. Well, this might be an exaggeration because some of my friends and peers have really gone "extreme" with its photographic apps, and I'm not.

 That said, I do like to use the various apps such as Instagram, Hipstamatic, Snapseed and the like that I have on mine. The lastest to appear is 646 Pro for iPhone whose claim sounds interesting. It claims that the app has been designed for professional and serious amateur photographers, and is the first and only iPhone camera app to give TIFF image files that have no in-app post-processing applied and no JPEG compression.

Its JPEGs are enhanced by 645 PRO's seven Film Modes, inspired by classic film stock as used by top photographers. It's still being considered for approval by Apple, but from the claims it makes, I'm sure many serious iPhone photographers will lap it up (subject to its meeting these claims and depending on a sensible price, of course).


As for multimedia photographers enamored with the iPhone, here's the iPhone Boom Mic, a small microphone that provides iPhone videos "professional" style sound. The microphone attaches to the iPhone's headphone jack. It's very lightweight, has a broad directional and a super-directional setting for more precisely focused recording.

Note: I have no direct or indirect relationship with either of these manufacturers and/or products.

Monday, April 16, 2012

18 Days In Egypt

A power struggle of epic proportions between various political factions is currently underway in Egypt...essentially a troika of conflicting interests, the power struggle is manifesting itself overtly and covertly. Overtly, the battle for power is over the presidency, and is between the Muslim Brotherhood, (a comparatively pragmatic Islamic movement) the Salafists (a regressive Islamist faction), and the military establishment. The secular forces seem to have been marginalized, even though it was its youth who sparked and carried through the revolution in 2011.

That said, it's not over till the fat lady sings...and there will be more twists and turns to this story as it enfolds over the days and weeks to come.

I thought the 18DaysIn Egypt documentary being worked on by filmmaker and journalist Jigar Mehta is working on a new kind of documentary is especially timely in such a fluid political situation. It's a crowd-sourced interactive documentary project aimed at capturing the history of the revolution in Egypt.

The context of this documentary is simple enough. In the 18 days of Egypt's uprising that began on January 25, 2011 and that ended with the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, thousands of Egyptians turned to their cell phones, digital cameras or social media sites to document the events unfolding in Cairo and across the country.

Tapping into this wealth of material, American documentary filmmaker and journalist Jigar Mehta co-founded 18DaysInEgypt.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Shuchi Kapoor: "Oh My God!"

Photo © Shuchi Kapoor-All Rights Reserved

Shuchi Kapoor is a photographer currently based in Chennai, which is quite a distance from her native Gujarat, and who describes herself as a storyteller minus the frills. She worked for a decade in advertising until she found her calling in photography as well as in she may also be described as an emerging photography talent.

Some of her stories have been published by Femina, The Sunday Guardian, The Lonely Planet, Spiceroute, and TAXI.

Have a look at her Oh, My God gallery, whose photographs of Dasara, an important festival celebrated in India, is the most compelling of her work. This gallery features this festival as it is celebrated in Tamil Nadu, and during which men dress up as the goddess Kali, and impress the throngs of onlookers with their dance abilities, as well as their make up and costumes.

Shuchi corrected me, as I thought Dasara was Dusshera, but it seems that it's a different festival. It is also different than the Durga Puja festival celebrated in Bengali communities.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Poll: Which Should Go On My Wall?

Living in New York City means that space is at premium, and while my office walls are literally covered from ceiling to waist-level with my photographs, paintings, etc., I still have a spot where a 20x24 inch frame can fit....but it has to be a vertical frame!

People who photograph with me know that I much prefer landscape/horizontal format, but a vertical space is all I can find on my crowded office walls. I like the above photographs equally so I need your involvement in choosing the one.

The top photograph is of a posed full length portrait of a Kathakali artist, while the lower one is of a trio of Oracles who I persuaded to stop their trances, and pose for us. Both were made during The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition/Workshop™.

I plan on having the elected photograph printed commercially on Kodak Professional Glossy paper then in a dark wooden frame...either black or dark brown depending on the photograph.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Anthony Pond: 10,000 Verses

Anthony Pond has just produced another audio slideshow of black and white photographs made at the Vadakke Madham Brahmaswam Vedic Institute in Thrissur, Kerela, India where young novices spend five years learning Vedic chants.

It was made during my The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition/Workshop™ when I arranged a photo shoot at this ancient Vedic gurukul (a training and boarding school very similar to Buddhist monasteries for its novitiates, or Muslim madrasas) in Thrissur, where we were allowed to attend demonstrations of this way of teaching and reciting sacred Vedic scriptures.

One of the suggestions I make during my workshops was that essays produced by its participants ought to have intriguing titles. I certainly think Anthony did well with his one.

Anthony worked for more than two decades in the criminal courts in California as an attorney for the Public Defender’s Office. Now pursuing his passion for travel and photography, he travels repeatedly to South East Asia and India, amongst other places, to capture life, the people and the culture.

You can view more of Anthony's audio slideshows on his Vimeo page.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

TIME's LightBox: Oded Balilty

Photo © Oded Balilty/AP-Courtesy Time LightBox

“If I see photographers in one corner, I go away. There is no need to take the same picture as five other good photographers." -Oded Balilty

It's no surprise to me that TIME LightBox is, in my estimation, one of the most exciting and interesting photojournalism blogs out there.

It recently featured Oded Balilty's The Art of Storytelling which consists of 35 wonderfully composed photographs of the Jewish ultra orthodox communities, which includes a series on a traditional Hasidic Jewish wedding, as a funeral of a leading rabbis. and the preparations for Passover.

I especially liked this photograph of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathering for the burial of a rabbi in Israel. It's very clever how Oded bisected the scene into two parts; the crowd surrounding the gravesite, and the solitary man presumably on his way to attend the burial.

Oded Balilty is a photographer for the Associated Press, is based in Tel Aviv and describes his work as something between art photography and photojournalism. He also won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 2007 for his photograph of a solitary Jewish woman struggling to defy Israeli security forces in the West Bank.

Monday, April 9, 2012

POV: WTF? Will They Change?

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

"...the lack of grace by the surly keepers of the Cheraman Juma Masjid was jarring..."

I can hardly be described as a critic of Islam, since I've always been constructively supportive of its world-class religious traditions and its admirable moral values, and of Muslims in general. 

However, I must say I was spectacularly discomfited by the reception and attitude of the individuals involved in the Cheraman Juma Masjid; the oldest mosque in India and in Kerala's Kodugallur district. On one of the last days of my The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition/Workshop™, I decided to take my group to visit and photograph this historical mosque.

We were coming from an indescribable "high" from photographing the Bharaini festival of the Oracles, (not too far away from the mosque itself) for two solid days, and where we had been welcomed by the excitable crowds of worshippers, helped by self-appointed guides, and always smiled at. Not once was I (or to my knowledge, anyone else in our group) treated brusquely or rudely.

Not so at the venerable mosque.

I was brusquely gestured at by the security guard to go to an empty office...directive that I ignored. He wasn't pleased, and was nonplussed when I asked him if he was a Muslim. He wasn't, and the question stunned him long enough for me to continue walking towards the mosque itself....leaving him scratching his head.

The women in our group wore the required head scarves, but were prohibited from entering the main hall of the mosque, and shunted to a dingy side room where there was nothing to see.

Our driver, a Muslim himself, was roughly scolded by a couple of Islamic scholars who were passing through because he was removing his shoes where he shouldn't have. Actually, his "trespass" was about two inches in.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Now, here's my take on this. The Cheraman Juma Masjid is the oldest mosque in India and worthy of  pilgrimages and visits by Muslims and non-Muslims for its venerable history and status. It's also in dire need of donations and of funding. One would think that the peptic keepers of this moque would exude charm, hospitality and proffer a welcome mat to all visitors the hope of donations.

But no. Quite the opposite.

So here's what I would tell the keepers of this mosque, and beyond. Fatimah, the favorite daughter of the Prophet of Islam, prayed alongside him in Mecca. His wife, Khadija, was a self made business woman. To treat women of whatever persuasion as inferior is anti-Islamic and in direct contradiction to the actions and values of the Prophet himself. They can disagree all they want...they can risk a collective apoplexy...but that's the truth.

Here's what I would tell the two scholars who chided our driver. I would tell them that God is all forgiving, and it would have been more in keeping with Islamic traditions to be gentle if someone made an unintended mistake. And minding their own business would be even better, since it would avoid having others like me chiding them for wearing unkept beards, and lecturing them on real Islamic values.

How could I explain to the members of my group why we were welcomed with no discrimination at Hindu religious gatherings, but faced with surliness and boorish behavior at the Cheraman Juma Masjid?

I couldn't.

So the question of this post is pertinent. Will these delightful young boys who were so pleased to see us, and excitedly pose for us at the nearby Islamic medresa, change when they get older? Will they also be surly and unwelcoming to non Muslims?

And if yes, why?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

MSNBC's Easter

Photo © Darren Whiteside. Courtesy MSNBC Photo Blog

Photo © Darren Whiteside. Courtesy MSNBC Photo Blog

Most of the "big picture' blogs have yet to feature photographs of Easter celebrations, however MSNBC's Photo Blog has done so with a number of images. The two that caught my eye are by Darren Whiteside, and were made at the Church of Holy Sepulcher during Easter celebrations in Jerusalem's Old City. 

I wish the best to all my readers who celebrate Easter and Passover.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My Work: The Fishermen of Punnapra

Here's one my audio-slideshows titled The Fishermen Of Punnapra, which was made during my The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition-Workshop in March 2012.

Fishing is one of the main sources of income in Kerala, and the fishing communities are found along its beaches and backwaters. This short audio slideshow features the arrival of the fishing boats on Punnapra beach and the frenetic auction activity which follows.

The light was extremely harsh on Punnapra beach, but that was the time when the fishermen generally returned with their catch, and sold it at what appeared to be impromptu auctions. The men who carried the catch in large baskets were mobbed by young children hoping for a fish or two to fall into their hands.

I had the choice to either convert the stills to black & white and exploit the harshness for contrast, or apply a sort of Lomo-like process to them in Lightroom. I opted for the latter. The audio slideshow was made using SoundSlides and Audacity Audio Editor, then converted to a movie format.

Friday, April 6, 2012

POV: What Worked What Didn't. The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition-Workshop

Photos © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

As a prelude to what equipment worked for me and what didn't on The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition-Workshop, I thought I'd put up two photographs of the musical gear used by the traditional puppeteers. One was made with the Canon 5D Mark II and the other with a Leica M9. These are both jpegs out of the cameras with no post processing except for the same amount of sharpening.

So what's your vote?

UPDATE: For The Correct Answer, Check It Out On My FB Page.

Here's what worked for me on The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition-Workshop and what didn't. The list of my equipment was as follows:

A Canon 5D Mark II, a Canon 7D, and a bunch of lenses (28-70mm f2.8, 70-200mm f2.8, 17-40mm f4, and a 24mm f1.4), along with a Canon flash 580ex. A Leica m9 with a Leica 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit, and a 40mm f1.4 Voigtlander lens.

For audio, I had a Tascam DR-40 Recorder, an Audio-Technica ATR6250 Stereo Condenser Video/Recording Microphone and Sony headphones.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy - All Rights Reserved
What worked for me and what didn't on this trip:

1) Both the Canon 5D Mark II and the 7D were used 90% of the time, especially during the festivals when capturing the action, sometimes in less than ideal lighting conditions, was needed.

2) As for lenses, I used the 17-40mm f4 (as in the above photograph) on the full-frame Canon 5D Mark II around 60% of the time, while the 28-70mm f2.8 was used for most of the rest. The 70-200mm f2.8 was used no more than on a couple of special occasions. If I hadn't brought it along, I wouldn't have missed it.

This is part of my evolution as a photographer. I started out (as some do) by using the 70-200 mm as my primary lens wherever I went. Eventually, my lenses got shorter, and my current favorite is the 17-40mm. At some point, I'll probably get the 16-35mm f2.8mm which is a great lens.

3) The M9, and its 2 lenses, was used whenever I sought to make environmental portraits, or when I had the time to compose and focus properly. In low light, it would have been close to useless, and during the frenetic action of the festivals (especially of the Oracles), I might have missed many shots had I used it.

4) I didn't use the prime 24mm f1.4 at all on this trip, and used the flash for only a few shots of the Peacock dance. Other than that, it stayed in my room.

5) I liked my new Tascam DR-40 Recorder. It performed well and the quality of it recordings were satisfactory. That said, I really needed a "dead cat" to reduce wind noise, especially when I was recording on the beaches of Kerala where there was wind.

6) Both Audacity and Soundslides were used during classwork, and both worked flawlessly as they should. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Angkor Photo Festival 2012: Submission Calls

Angkor Photo Festival is calling for submissions with a deadline of May 31, 2012!!!

The festival's 2012 program will present works photographed throughout the world through exhibitions and slideshows in Siem Reap, with no imposed theme.

The submissions guidelines and form contain all the information needed on how to submit work for this year’s festival. 

The festival will be held from December 1– 8, 2012 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The deadline to submit the application is May 31, 2012, and all photographers will receive an answer by the end of July 2012.

Since its inception in 2005, more than 180 young photographers from all over Asia have been selected to participate in the annual free Angkor Photo Workshops. Conducted by renowned international photographers who volunteer their time, the Angkor Photo Workshops provide participants with firsthand training, invaluable exposure and a chance to perfect their art.

Over the years, the workshop has highlighted emerging talent from the region, and many previous participants go on to embark on successful photography careers both regionally and internationally.

I attended the Angkor Photo Festival last November and one of my photo essays The Possessed of Mira Datar was featured at the festival. 

I was greatly impressed by the Angkor Photo Festival's evenings at the FCC, and by the quality of the curating. Francoise Callier and Jean-Yves Navel were not only paragons of hospitality, but were instrumental in making a success of the event, along with the assistance of Camille Plante and Jessica Lim.

This is a phenomenal opportunity for all photographers, emerging and established. Submit your work for inclusion in the Angkor Photo Festival. You'll never regret it.

Foundry Photojournalism Workshop: Scholarships Announced

The Foundry Photojournalism Workshop has announced the winners of the Foundry full tuition scholarships for its 2012 Chiang Mai workshop.

Eric Beecroft, Director of the workshop, stated that the amount of entries was unprecedented, and the quality of work received was stunning.

The awardees are:

Arif Setiawan, Indonesia

Saw Banyar, Burma/Thailand

Barat Ali Batoor, Afghanistan

Ajit Bhadoriya, India

Enrique Leopoldo Benedicto Cruz, Philippines

Satirat Dam-ampai, Thailand

Nguyen Thanh Hai, Vietnam **

Ekkarat Punyatara, Thailand

Roger Anis, Egypt

Fabian Weiss, Germany

Ilkin Huseynov, Azerbaijan

Simona Pampallona, Italy

**Nguyen Thanh Hai is also known as Maika Elan, and I'm especially pleased she will be working with me on my Vietnam; North of the 16th Parallel Photo Expedition-Workshop this coming September.

If any of my readers are still on the fence with this unequaled opportunity to attend phenomenal classes with top-class photographers and photojournalists, and expand their network with their peers and others, I really can't urge you strongly enough to get off that fence and join!!!!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

John Spillane: The Fishermen of Kerala

John Spillane is from Cork, Ireland and works in IT Network support in the pharmaceutical sector. A landscape photographer, John has recently diversified into travel and people photography and to that end, traveled to Italy, Cuba, Namibia and well as his native Ireland.

His interest in photography started when he was 8 with a Kodak 126 Instamatic. In the 80s, John moved to an Olympus OM10 with a 50mm lens until the early nineties when he started shooting slide film, used a tripod and started working with graduated filters and polarizers for landscapes. He started his digital photography in 2006 with a Nikon D200 purchased while passing through Singapore.

During my The Oracles Of Kerala Photo Expedition-Workshop, John worked on a number of multimedia photo projects and has now published his very first attempt at Soundslides with his The Usual Catch; an audio slideshow of black & white stills of the fishermen of Punnapra in Kerala.

It was his first travel experience to India. And he certainly got his India "baptism" in an unusual but unforgettable fashion when he encountered the so-called Oracles at the Bharani festival. Covered in turmeric powder, and his Nikons dangling at his sides...he told me he had never imagined it would be like that.

I was promised a pint (perhaps two) of Murphy's Irish Stout if I visited County Cork. It's a worthy inducement.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Wakhan Corridor

The Wakhan Corridor is a slender area in the far north-eastern Afghanistan which forms a land link between Afghanistan and China. The corridor was a political creation of the Great Game, and a result of agreements between Britain and Russia in 1873 and between Britain and Afghanistan in 1893. It currently has 12,000 inhabitants, who live very much the same as their ancestors did centuries ago.

In 2011, inspired by an article published by the New York Times, Fabrice Nadjari and Varial, two 33 year-old authors, photographers and childhood friends, decided to embark on a journey in the Wakhan region. It is here that they decided to take photographs of the inhabitants of the Wakhan villages. The portraits made with their Polaroid cameras developed odd hues, and their quality deteriorated quite rapidly due to the altitude.

The photographers also produced the Traces of Time book project (to be published in May 2012) which they claim "presents a vision between a current and tangible printed reality that already ceases to exist and an uncertain present resembling the past. This is the perspective of travellers who steal a snapshot of life and leave behind a trace that could change the lives of those they've passed."

As is seen in the trailer (listen to the haunting soundtrack!!) above, the photographers convinced Ismaili children, young women, and housewives, opium smokers, village chiefs and simple peasants to pose for their Polaroid cameras.

The show Wakhan, An Other Afghanistan will be featured at the MILK Gallery, 450 West 15th Street in New York (May 18-23, 2012).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Verdict: The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition-Workshop

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

"...the uniqueness of this photo expedition-workshop..."

That's how one of the group members started to express his satisfaction in having attended The Oracles Of Kerala Photo-Expedition-Workshop while bidding goodbye to me and the rest of the group.

Uniqueness! It's precisely what I strive for when I structure my itineraries and programs for my photo expeditions/workshops. Are all of those based on unique itineraries? Of course not...but most of them are. The Oracles Of Kerala Photo-Expedition-Workshop was based on two main Hindu religious festivals: Thirunakkara Arattu Utsavam, a 10-day temple festival, and the Kodungallur Bharani, a wild and unusual localized religious festival near Kochi. The former is a Hindu religious extravaganza with elephants, while the latter surpasses the famed Kumbh Mela in intensity. To my knowledge, no travel photographer has ever dared to conduct a photo trip/workshop covering these two festivals. 

This uniqueness of this photo expedition-workshop, as well as the positive group dynamics among its group members, certainly places it amongst the top three I have ever organized and led so far.

Spice Godown-Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Now cutting to the chase, here are the planned photo shoots that worked well:

1. The Fishermen of Punnapra. 
2. The Vedic School in Thrissur.
3. The Thirunakkara Arattu Utsavam Festival. (Drummers & elephants galore)
4. The Shadow Puppets near Cheruthuruthy. (Excellent!)
5. The Kathakali performance at the Kerala Kalamandalam. (Superb!)
6. The Kodungallur Bharani aka The Festival of Oracles. (Incredibly Intense).

Vedic Gurukul-Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Although the group members liked the photo shoot at the Mattencherry spice godowns, it was rather mundane, at least from my perspective. The photo shoot at the Kochi Chinese nets was passable. The photo shoot planned at the oldest mosque in India known as the Cheraman Juma Masjid was a total failure from a visual standpoint. Nothing of its original structure remains, and its artefacts are copies of the originals (lost or pilfered). I can add to this that no one can make non Muslim visitors feel more unwelcome to mosques as blinkered Islamic clerics. The short visit to the adjacent Islamic school was, in contrast, a pleasant experience with delightful young students.

I fault myself for not having double checked the information provided by our guide which resulted in our being late in attending the last day of the Thirunakkara Arattu Utsavam Festival. The local policemen saved the day by getting some of us through the throngs of people. They were very helpful, and wanted us to get to the best vantage points, and as close to the elephants as possible.

Logistically, the photo expedition worked well. All the hotels were of high standard (mostly in the 4-star category), and their staff were very helpful. I must mention here Mr Bijou, the restaurant manager at the ABAD Whispering Palms Resort, who is an encyclopedic source for Keralite religious festivals. I wished he had joined us on the trip. 

Temple Lighting-Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

It was a little disappointing that the ABAD Whispering Palms Resort in Kumarakom didn't have an alcohol license, but we nevertheless managed to procure the bottles of beer so necessary for our well-being after long photo shoots. That said, the hotel provided us with a conference room where we met daily to work on our slideshows, and edit our it more than made up for its lack of alcohol license!

The vehicle used to transport us was more than adequate, and was driven with skill by Haris Aziz, a delightful and reliable young man with a good sense of humor. He quickly became our group's go-to-man for whatever we needed. In contrast, the guide allocated to us by the local travel agent was ineffectual, and was out of depth. He was more suitable for elderly tourist groups interested in museums and history, not for a bunch of gung-ho travel photographers. I couldn't find it in me to fire him, but I should have. 

Lastly, it was immensely gratifying to witness how seriously all of the group members worked at their multimedia projects; often while exhausted. Two of the 7 photographers in the group had already attended my previous Kolkata workshop, so had a substantial head start but worked as diligently as the rest. One of us had an extremely uncooperative laptop that crashed frequently, but who never lost his sense of humor nor his interest in learning multimedia. 

To be assured that the 7 group members were fully familiar with SoundSlides and Audacity, I suggested they completed a 2-3 minutes multimedia project in less than 3 hours.

They did.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rasha Yousif: The Vedic School

Rasha Yousif is a photographer from the island nation of Bahrain, and is only the second Middle Eastern participant in my photo expeditions-workshops since I started them 10 years or so ago. She is a portfolio manager, and has a Masters in Finance from DePaul University.

During my The Oracles Of Kerala Photo Expedition-Workshop, Rasha worked on a number of multimedia photo projects and is one of the first to publish her very first attempt at Soundslides with her Five Hundred Years Vedic School.

In most of her projects, Rasha has easily connected with people and used this ability to add personal voice clips to her sound tracks. You'll hear such a clip in her Vedic School project.

She is quite adept in using her iPhone for on-the-fly photography, and to record the progress of her work during the two weeks in Kerala.

Photo © Rasha Yousif- All Rights Reserved

I had arranged for a photo shoot at an ancient Vedic (or training/boarding school very similar to the Buddhist monasteries for novitiates, or a Muslim madrasa in Thrissur, where we were treated to a demonstration of this way of teaching the sacred Vedic scriptures.

POV: Is May 10 The Day For Leica?

Photo Courtesy GIZMODO

May 10th.

That's when Leica will announce a "whole range of product launches" in Berlin. Am I waiting with bated breath for these new products? Not at all. But having a M9 and very much aware of its strong points and shortcomings, I'm interested in seeing what will Leica come up with. It's more from a business side than from a photographic one since the German company is under assault from Fuji and others that are treading on its turf.

I was recently sent a heads up by Zeyad Gohary on a new all-white $31,770 M9-P model with a Noctilux f/0.95 50mm lens. Ridiculous of course, but perhaps it will sell well amongst the moneyed elites, celebrities and collectors. I had a chuckle imagining it in my grubby hands had I had one and used it during the recent festivals I was at in India. It would have turned black (with yellow turmeric and red stains) very quickly. Maybe the Kardashian sisters and their ilk would buy it, but Leica must've done its market research and concluded that it'll make money peddling this all-white model.

That said, I wonder what a "whole range of product launches" will mean. It's reported that the Fuji X-100 clobbered Leica's X1 model, and I predict that Fuji X-Pro 1 will become a favored tool for photographers who won't shell out $8000 or so to buy a M9 (or more in case of a successor). Leica is run by hard headed businessmen who look at the bottom line, and hopefully look into the future...and the future is for cameras that look, smell, cost and work like the Fuji X-Pro 1. Leica's investors know the future as well, and making white M9-P is a cute gimmick, but will not bring in the kind of cash inflow that satisfies these investors.

The range of new products may mean a successor to the M9, lenses and -if my gut feel is right- a new line of mirrorless cameras to directly compete with the Japanese products. A new M10 (improved focus, better LCD, better ISO, etc) and/or a new range of EVIL-like cameras.

That's my call.

Update: The Oracles Of Kerala

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
As I always do on completion of a trip, I shall be writing a comprehensive 'post-mortem' on The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition/Workshop™...what worked, what didn't, comparing my expectations to what was the reality, etc. in a few days. And for the Leica crowd, whether it was a good idea to take my M9 along with me.

In the meantime, I can very comfortably say that this two weeks expedition was, in many ways, one the best I ever led.

Whilst I generally preferred northern India to its south, this trip changed this view.