Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Travel Photographer's 2009 Picks

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy |Traders of Kochi-All Rights Reserved

Rather than imitating the "Best of 2009" photographs that are put together by various media blog sites, I thought that I'd show those photographs that are best reflective of my photographic style and interest, which were made while on my Photo~Expeditions™.

The galleries in which these photographs appear are linked in the credit notice under each photograph.

The first photograph is of a pensive worker at a trader's "godown" in Mattencherry (Kochi). The area is where trade in spices such as pepper and turmeric, as well as ginger and tea was conducted. It still has remnants of this trading activity, but it's not what it used to be.

The worker wasn't posing...he was just standing there against this beautifully colored background.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy |Theyyams-All Rights Reserved

Theyyam is a unique ritual which is performed only in Northern Kerala. After a complex preparatory ritual involving elaborate make-up and meditation, the performers are incarnated as deities, and dispense advice and counseling to the throngs of devotees who attend these rituals. It's a living cult of several thousand-year-old traditions, rituals and customs, and is observed by all the castes and classes in this region.

I have never been so close to a living deity before!

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy |Kathakali-All Rights Reserved

Another favorite photograph was made at a Kathakali school in Thrissur in Kerala. I had arranged to spend half a day at the school to photograph the preparations for a Kathakali performance, and had total access to the performers being dressed for it. It was interesting to see that rigid wholesale plastic bags for basmati rice were used to fashion petticoats for some the dancers. These provide support and lift to the pleated yellow skirt seen in the photograph.

Kathakali is one of the oldest theater forms in the world, and originated in Kerala and in which dancers/actors take part in performances based on Hindu mythology, such as the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy |Gnawa!-All Rights Reserved

The Gnawa (or Gnaoua) Music Festival 2009 in the coastal city of Essaouira was a sensational visual and aural experience, and an opportunity to photograph musicians belonging to the mystical Sufi religious order in Morocco. Descended from former slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa, these musicians perform a particular rhythmic (some say cacophonous) style of music, part African, part Berber and part Arab. Many of the hard core devotees of this music experience trances and loss of consciousness.

The photograph was made during a performance by Ganga Zagora, a Gnawa group from the south of Morocco, at the ancient zaouia of Sidi Bilal within the walls of Essaouira. The large castanet-like hand cymbals used by the Gnawa and seen in the photograph are called querqab.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy |Street Barbers of Manali-All Rights Reserved

This is a simple portrait of a Rajasthani woman, whose magnetic but innocent beauty just jumped at me. I was photographing at a Rajasthani encampment in Manali while teaching at the Foundry Photojournalism Workhop, and there she was, under a tent and tending to a small child. I was told that the Rajasthani families in the camp were seasonal migrants, coming to Manali to work and escape summer's torrid heat in their home province. Apart from her radiant smile, she was very shy.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy |Dancers of Tamshing-All Rights Reserved

One of the many photographs I made while on my Bhutan Photo~Expedition™ during the Tamshingphala tsechu near Chamkar in the heartland of the country. This dancer was rehearsing his steps for the dance of the stag and hounds (Shawa Shachi), and his agility was such that his jumps were almst to fast for my camera to capture.

I was glad to photograph his spinning as much as he was willing to do, as these photographs were used to create the illusion of movement with the "flip book" technique in a slideshow.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy |Budhha's Apprentices-All Rights Reserved

One of my favorite photographs of Bhutan made during the aforementioned photo trip last October. Photographed a the Chimi Lakhang monastery in Wangdue, and proving that Buddhist novices (usually called monklets) are still children. Here, a novice is perched on the window sill of the abbot's room, watching an Indian television serial. Fearing of being discovered, his companion runs away.

Being dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, the Divine Madman, the temple is popularly considered to be a temple of fertility.

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