Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sebastião Salgado | Genesis | Natural History Museum

Photo © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas
"It made me think we are destroying our planet to accumulate things for nothing. To survive and survive well, we don't need all this." -Sebastião Salgado
As I promised myself, I spent an enjoyable hour viewing the 250 magnificent photographs of Sebastião Salgado at the epic exhibition titled Genesis. It was crowded, but not uncomfortably so. The regular entrance price was the equivalent of $15...possibly a pittance what other museums will surely charge (especially those in New York City).

The Natural History Museum has a winner in hosting the global premiere of this incredible photographic project by Sebastião Salgado. It took eight years to complete, and shows us the flora, fauna and indigenous tribes that haven't been touched by modernity.

I'd say there's an equal number of monochromatic photographs of flora/fauna and indigenous tribes, and I naturally and instinctively gravitated towards the latter. There was large sized photographs of scarified Omo Valley tribeswomen (simple, with no demeaning floral arrangements on their heads as I've seen in other photographic work),  of Nambibian Himba people, of Amazonian tribes and of Upper Xingu people...of Papua New Guinea tribesmen and shamans, the Dinka of South Sudan, and so forth.

Under a plexiglass case, there's an enormous book of the Genesis photographs published by TASCHEN. There are two options: the first option is a limited edition (not more than 5 editions will be published) at $10,000 per book...the second option is another edition limited to 2500 at $4,000 per book. If Mr Salgado sells them all, the $ amount is over $10,000,000.

Another much more affordable version is the one below that retails in the museum shop for approximately $67.

Ultimate Survival - Alaska

There is a new show coming up in two weeks. It is called Ultimate Survival – Alaska. The show will air Sundays at 10PM on the National Geographic Channel starting May 12, 2013.


The premise of the show looks very interesting. It is supposed to take eight survival experts and just let them survive together in the Alaskan wilderness with what they have in their packs. From what I can see, there is no competition, no elimination challenges, or anything like that. It is exactly the type of show I would like to see. Here is what National Geographic has to say in their description:

“They are some the toughest, most extreme survivalists that Alaska has to offer. Going head to head, eight men of a rare breed are about to take the ultimate test of survival in Arctic conditions that only National Geographic could inspire. Dropped in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness by bush plane, with only their raw, mountain-man ingenuity, they’ll navigate through treacherous glaciated river valleys, barren ridgelines, and high mountain peaks, battling hunger, hostile predators, and perilous weather conditions along the way. Like the original National Geographic explorers, for those who succeed there is no grand prize, just the well-fought pride of having conquered the grueling challenges that Mother Nature can throw at them. It's an epic competition series where the only prize is survival.”

The spirit of the show seems very similar to other ones like the Alaska Experiment. It starts May 12, 2013 on the National Geographic Channel.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

POV: And Off I Go....

This ought to be the last blog post written in New York City as I'm flying to London, and on to Delhi to begin my two weeks Sufi Saints of Rajasthan & Kashmir Photo Expedition-Workshop. During this photo expedition, I shall keep my readers in the loop as much as I can.

I'll spend a few days in London where I have to look after some business, and I'm delighted to learn that The Natural History Museum is featuring the world premiere of Sebastião Salgado: Genesis, and which I'm planning to visit no matter whether it rains or the sun shines. He's one of my favorite photographers, not only for the beauty of his work but also because of his photographic philosophy.

Then it's a direct flight to Delhi where I arrive at 11:00 am on Friday May 3rd, and plan to meet with friends. I have much to do for the first few days prior to the arrival of the group of photographers who joined this workshop, and hope all will pan out as planned.

As is frequently the norm with my photo trips, the group members come from various corners of the world; the USA, the UK, Ireland, Bahrain, Denmark and Canada. 

Nine photographers all told...who, with their photographic and audio gear will work in Srinagar for 4-5 days in this unique Kashmiri city known as the land of Sufis Saints,  then to Ajmer in Rajasthan; the holiest of cities for Sufis, and where the shrine of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, equally revered by Hindus and Muslims, will witness the commemoration of the death anniversary of the saint in unparalleled manifestations of Sufi fervor and devotion.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

I can't wait to photograph incredible people such as the Sufi punkhawallah above, and start producing audio-visual stories at these locations. My gear has been cleaned, lenses polished, CF and SD cards checked, and hard drives spun and re-spun.

India, here I come.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Roy Del Vecchio | Rajasthan

Photo © Roy Del Vecchio-All Rights Reserved
As I'm about to travel to India to lead my Sufi Saints of Rajasthan & Kashmir Photo Expedition & Workshop which starts in about a week, I thought I'd feature Roy Del Vecchio's photography of Rajasthan.

Rajasthan is known as "the land of kings" and is the largest state of India by area. In my view, it's the one of the most colorful and photogenic of all the Indian states, with considerable diverse culture and a long history.

Roy's Rajasthan gallery has some lovely photographs; some of which were made in the streets of the blue city, Jodhpur. Others were made in its famous Thar desert.

Oh, and don't miss his Vietnam gallery as well.

Roy Del Vecchio is based in Amsterdam, and travels frequently, especially to Asia. He travels independently and usually wanders around, exploring places, talking to people, who are the main focus of his photographs. He worked in Europe, Surinam, Costa Rica, India, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Mexico, the USA, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Morocco. His client list include Lonely Planet Magazine, Columbus Travel Magazine, D-Zone, FAO, UN-Water, Privé, Travel Sri Lanka, Web Designer Magazine, Publish Magazine, DMO Amsterdam, Grazia, BNO Vormberichten, IRD, Digifoto Pro, Dar Erbe Unserer Welt Magazine and others.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Mario Testino | Alta Moda

Photo © Mario Testino-All Rights Reserved
I had little knowledge of who was Mario Testino, apart from knowing his name from the photo credits in fashion magazines (The New York Times T Magazine, which is really the only fashion publication I look at), but I was amazed at his latest photographic work which is titled Alta Moda.

Let me backtrack for a moment. Yes, I do peruse T Magazine to look at the fashion adverts, and perhaps get influenced by the fashion photographers' aesthetic, how they set up their shoots, and the postures and poses adopted by the models, the color schemes and the lighting. It would be an exaggeration to say that this kind of photography inspires me, but it certainly leaves a visual and subconscious residue which I reach for when I'm photographing in India, Bhutan or Bali, etc.

Now back to Mr Testino. Alta Moda is his most recent exhibition at his cultural institute in Lima, Peru. It comprises series of photographic portraits of Peruvians in traditional and festive dress from Cuzco, one of the highest regions of Peru. It's been described a change in pace for the famous photographer, and it seems he spent a considerable amount of time and effort in setting up each image. Alta Moda will be exhibited in New York in the fall of 2013.

Mario Testino is a Peruvian fashion photographer. His work has been featured in magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair. He's one of the world's most well known and celebrated fashion photographers, and his photographs have been featured in magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and V, and he has crafted and contributed to the imagery of leading fashion houses such as Burberry, Gucci, Versace, Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana, Salvatore Ferragamo, Estee Lauder and Michael Kors, among others. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Individual Carrot Cakes

Individual Carrot Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
I can always be tempted by carrot cake, they are a great adult favourite here and a few carrot cake postings can be found on my blog.  A while back I visited a lovely coffee shop in East Dulwich, they had made a huge tray of amazing carrot cake and I would have happily taken the tray home with me. For me, great coffee and a slice of carrot cake are a match made in heaven.

Spray the tins with cake release and fill three quarters full with cake batter.
This recipe isn't too sweet, is light in texture and packed full of flavour - perfect for us.

Mini bundt tins are recommended for this recipe but I used my tin from TKMaxx and half the recommended quantity of ingredients to make six cakes.

The recipe can be found on Edd Kimber's blog - Edd is a past winner of BBC2's Great British Bake Off.

Links to other cake postings:
Passion Cake
Mini Carrot Cakes
Mini Carrot Cakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Icing

The bundt tins recommended by Edd can be purchased from Amazon.

Jack Mountain Bushcraft Book List

Some of you might already be familiar with Jack Mountain Bushcraft. It is a wilderness living school started and operated by Tim Smith in Maine. The school is one of the few of its kind that takes this type of education seriously, providing long term emersion programs.

Well, earlier this week a fellow blogger pointed out that Tim Smith has put out a bibliography containing the book list provided to students of Jack Mountian Bushcraft as past of the student handbooks. It is an extensive list, that is divided into different categories. You can download the book list from Jack Mountain Bushcraft here, or go directly to the PDF file here.


As with most books, the content starts to get repetitive very quickly, so I’m not sure of the value of reading all of the listed books, but it is a great resource for when you are searching for good reading material in a particular category.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Antoine Raab | The Khmer Boxers

Photo © Antoine Raab-All Rights Reserved

Here's a special feature showcasing 22 portraits of Khmer boxers, ranging from 7 years old to 35, photographed by Antoine Raab a few minuted after their bouts. The series was photographed in Phnom Penh and in Battambang, in the spring of 2012.

The Cambodian boxing is called Pradal Serey, which essentially is kick boxing, and has nearly the same rules and style as Muay Thai. It's the national sport, and the Cambodian  national television networks features professional fights weekly.

Most  Cambodian boxers (known as Neak Pradal) are of a poor background, and compete to earn money to feed their families and themselves. Originally, the boxers were paid by the audience. If the crowds appreciated the boxer's efforts, they would reward them with money, food and alcohol. Nowadays, most boxers are paid in cash; from the equivalent of $25 to $100 and more per bout for each boxer.

Antoine Raab is a French photographer, currently based in Phnom Penh. He studied
photography in Paris, and has been an independent photographer for ten years. His work
has been published in several French magazines, notably in the daily newspaper Le Monde.
He also pursues his personal projects—particularly in documenting the current generation of young Cambodians.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Traditional Camping and the Environmental Ethic – A different Perspective

A few days ago, a fellow blogger, posted an essay by Steven M. Watts titled Traditional Camping and the Environmental Ethic: Trail Food For Thought.

The article attempted to present a different approach to environmental conservation to the one that predominates the outdoor community today, namely leave no trace. Steven Watts contends in his essay that the leave no trace principle is mistaken in thinking that it has less of an environmental impact than what he calls “traditional” camping, i.e. chopping down trees for shelter and fire, hunting and foraging for food, etc. In his opinion, the resources required to create the technology necessary for the leave no trace approach (stoves, nylon tents, etc) has much more of a negative environmental impact than traditional camping. Since the article is titled “Trail Food for Thought”, and yesterday being Earth Day, I figured I would put in my $0.02.


In my opinion, the article is overly simplistic in its approach to the topic, while at the same time overly romanticizing a golden age of traditional camping. I believe both of those things lead to misguided conclusions.

Let’s start with the romanticism. Steven Watts defines “traditional camping” as the type of camping done by people like Nessmuk, Horace Kephart, Daniel Carter Beard, Ernest Thompson Seton, Robert Baden Powell, Col. Townsend Whelen. In his opinion what they did was very different from what he calls “the tree-hacking, tin-can strewing hordes of chumps that literally hit the woods following World War II”. After all, let’s not forget that it was exactly those people that by the early 70s had rendered every publicly accessible piece of forest completely covered with garbage and fare damage.

Now, Mr. Watts distinguishes those people from “true” woodsmen like Nessmuk, Kephart, et al, in part because the woodsmen did not tend to go through the forest, but were more sedentary, a point which I don’t believe to be necessarily accurate, nor relevant to the discussion on environmental damage. The article is a bit vague on this point, so I’m not sure what the author intended.

But let’s leave that aside, and assume that he was giving men like Nessmuk and Kephart as examples of a more environmentally friendly type of camping. Mr. Watts is in fact correct that their gear made less of an environmental impact in many ways. Much of it was old equipment, made of natural materials. Granted, it is an oversimplified view, as both Nessmuk and Kephart had state of the art technology, many times from abroad, but let’s leave that aside and assume the best of them.

Even while looking with rose colored glasses however, even the most casual reader of the above authors will point out that their method of camping was not sustainable. For example, in his book, Nessmuk speaks of chopping down one fully grown tree each night for fire and another fully grown tree for shelter. During the only ten day trip he recounts, he writes of killing three deer, which he left to rot after eating some of the meat for dinner. Kephart on the other hand makes numerous references of mule trains carrying his equipment into the woods and how to chop and nail trees to make camp furniture. Regardless of whether their gear was made from fairy dust, it doesn’t take an environmental expert to figure out that if every camper and backapcker out in the woods today took the same approach, there wouldn’t be a single tree left standing in any of the forest of the US, nor will there be a single animal left alive.

I think a large reason for what I see as the error made by Steven Watts, is that the above romantic view of woodsmen from the past is mixed in with an overly simplistic approach to environmental conservation.

It may very well be the case, or let’s at least say for the sake of argument that it is, that each individual trip made by Nessmuk caused less overall environmental impact than does a trip by a modern camper because of the high amount of resources the production and transport of his gear requires. What Mr. Watts neglects however is that environmental impact can not simply be observed as abstract numbers. Pollution, resource depletion, etc have very different impacts on different areas and local environments. So, while the production of a nylon tent might use up many resources around the world, the two fully grown trees that were just cut down for camp were concentrated within the same local area. Overall the global production might have a larger environmental impact, but the local consumption of resources will have a much larger and more negative impact on the particular forest and its biodiversity. 100,000 campers using modern tents and stoves uses up fossil fuels, causes CO2 pollution, etc. 100,000 campers in your local forest, each using up two fully grown trees for camp each night and killing a deer for dinner, turns the forest into a parking lot within six months.

Now, we shouldn’t be overly simplistic in the other direction either. Conservation efforts require proper maintenance of wildlife, which includes cutting down trees and hunting. However, it has to be done within the modern method. The practices of men like Nessmuk, Horace Kephart, Daniel Carter Beard, Ernest Thompson Seton, Robert Baden Powell, Col. Townsend Whelen are not sustainable despite how much we may wish they were.

Back Story | The Recalcitrant Red Dzao of Sa Pa

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
During my Vietnam: North of the 16th Parallel Photo Expedition, I came across a Red Dzao vendor in a small village not too far from Sa Pa. Having an interesting face, not to mention her keen fashion sense of combining her traditional red head dress with a Burberry scarf, I thought she'd make an excellent model for some of the group's members who sought to have photographs of her standing on a rather rickety rope bridge.

She was sitting on the side of the dirt road which was the village's main street, selling some vegetables or fruits. Through an interpreter, I asked if she was agreeable to pose for us for a few minutes. She had a wide smile on her face all through the rapid to and fro, so I imagined she was about to agree....but I was mistaken.

Her response was that she couldn't leave her spot on the dirt road because she'd lose business. I pointed out that there was not a single soul visible, except for our group and we weren't interested in buying her  vegetables...and that the photo shoot would take a maximum of 5 minutes at most.

The to and fro with the interpreter started again, and I could feel the smiling Red Dzao was either really determined to drive a hard bargain or was just so accustomed to selling her small bunch of vegetables from the same spot, that she would never leave it for a minute until all was sold.

I didn't want to break my rule to pay for photographs, so I offered to buy her whole inventory of vegetables for what they were worth (probably $2 or so), against her acceding to our wishes. She hummed and hawed  for a while, but after I paid her for the vegetables and distributed those to some people in a nearby restaurant, she  finally -but still hesitantly- accompanied us to the bridge a few yards away.

To cut a long story short, we eventually realized that the tiny Red Dzao's reluctance to pose for us wasn't motivated by mercenary reasons at all...she was just scared by the thought of standing on the swaying old bridge.

It wasn't as bad as she thought it would be, and all ending well, she eventually returned home with the proceeds of her vegetable sales much earlier than usual...probably shaking her head at the crazy foreigners's persistence.

My being 6'3" tall meant I had to crouch a lot to be as short as Ms Red Dzao.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Ginger: Recipe

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Toffee Sauce and Ice Cream
There are many variations of Sticky Toffee Pudding, and here is yet another, but this time with a ginger twist.  If dates aren't your thing, a pudding studded with stem ginger may well entice you towards making this rich and delicious pudding.

The pudding is really light in texture and the outer crust is sticky. I decided to use a toffee
sauce recipe using evaporated milk, it's more lightweight than using double cream and I promise the sauce doesn't taste of 'evap'.

A fabulous recipe by Mary Berry from her book Mary Berry's Family Sunday Lunches.

I served mine with ice cream because I like hot puddings with a dollop of cold ice cream.......
Slightly adapted recipe.

Serves: 6-8 people

You will need:  greased and base lined baking tin measuring 26cm x 19cm.

75g soft unsalted butter, 150g light brown sugar, 2 large eggs, 175g self-raising flour, 1tsp bicarbonate of soda, 2 tbsp black treacle, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 125ml milk, 4 bulbs stem ginger in syrup chopped finely.

1. Heat the oven to 180ºC.
2. Place the softened butter and sugar into either a food processor or mixing bowl and beat until it is light and fluffy.
3. Add the eggs, flour, bicarbonate of soda, treacle, vanilla extract and milk - whisk or whiz until smooth and thick.
4. Pour into the baking tin, bake for 35 - 45 minutes until cooked.
5. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, turn out onto a baking tray.
6. Cut into slices - after cooling the pudding can be frozen or to reheat place on a plate and microwave for 30-40 seconds to reheat.

60g unsalted butter, 150g demerara sugar, 1 tbsp golden syrup, 150g evaporated milk

For the sauce: 
1. Melt the butter in a small pan.
2. Add the sugar and golden syrup to the butter.
3. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
4. Pour in the evaporated milk.
5. Beat until boiling.

To Serve:
1. Reheat a slice of pudding in the microwave for 30-40 seconds on high.
2. Pour the hot sauce over the pudding.
3. If you wish, serve with either a dollop of ice cream or some fresh cream.

For more of my yummy puddings:
Syrup Sponge
Plum, Rhubarb and Apple Crumble
Vanilla Rice Pudding with Blackberries & Plums
Brioche & Butter Pudding

Travel Photographer of The Year 2013

It's this time of year when Travel Photographer of The Year (TPOTY) is calling for submission to its 2013 contest.

According to the TPOTY website, the photo contest is run by photographers for photographers, and offers wide exposure for the entrants' photographic work. The awards are judged by leading photography experts, and the judging takes place over three rounds and the judges do not know the identity or nationality of any entrants.

Once again, TPOTY is partnering with the UK's Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), and the winning images will be exhibited in its gallery on the corner of Kensington Gore and Exhibition Road.

The 2013 TPOTY awards are open for entry, and close on October 1st. Its categories are as follows:

Three Portfolio categories - Monochromal, Vanishing & Emerging Cultures and Wild Stories.
Two single image categories, - One Shot and First Shot
New Talent category
HD Video category, Travel Shorts
Young Travel Photographer of the Year award (with two different age groups)
The Cutty Sark Award for the overall winner and Travel Photographer of the Year 2013
10 special single image awards, each with a different theme - 10 For 10

As always, I counsel a careful reading (and wide-eyed acceptance) of the contest's applicable rules.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

POV: Missing The Right Moment

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
We all have had these missed moments...and I have a lot of those, especially when I do street photography in the streets of New York City.

This one illustrates one of such missed moments...the choreography of pedestrians which could've  worked perfectly if the gods had been smiling, but they didn't...they frowned.

I estimated the walking pace of these two Hasidim on Avenue A would perfectly frame the woman crossing it, and snapped my iPhone shutter at what I took to be the right moment . But was not to be. The partially obscured man on the left who had been about to cross the street, suddenly stopped at this precise moment behind the second Hasidim. Damn!

Perhaps I was too quick...and should've waited for just a second or so. I might have caught the second Hasidim's shadow on the pavement, and the man might have decided to cross.  Just look at the shadow in the center...it looks like a bird.

But realistically, it would've been too late to catch the woman exactly where I wanted.

I looked at the display and I said...damn!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Living in Balance With Nature

This will be a short post that got prompted by a painting that I saw from the 19th century.

We often talk when it comes to bushcraft about living in balance with nature. Utilizing the resources she provides while not taking more than the ecosystem can afford. It struck me that there are two distinct ways to do that. The first is creating a balance with nature as an intentional goal. This can be seen in modern conservation methods, where how much game can be taken any particular season is determined by studying the population of the particular animal and the carrying capacity of the regional ecosystem. Then there is the model that we often refer to in bushcraft circles, and that is the type of balance achieved by indigenous societies. This balance is often created not by intentional conservation efforts, but by necessity. In simple terms, some indigenous societies have no express interest in managing wildlife. They take as much game as possible and use as many resources as possible without concern for overuse. The balance is created due to the fact that their methods for exploiting the resources at their disposal are very inefficient.  


The above is a painting by Alfred Jacob Miller created around 1860. It depicts Plains Indians driving buffalo over a cliff. While the painting is certainly an exaggerated portrayal of such a hunt, it was in fact a hunting technique in use at the time.

A balance with nature can be achieved either by intentional control of how much resources are taken, so that there is no overuse, or the balance can be created by having the intention to take as much resources as possible, but lacking the ability to do so due to limited technology. It’s just something I thought about when looking at the painting.   

Egypt's St. Anthony Monastery | Manoocher Deghati

Photo © AP Photo/Manoocher Deghati-All Rights Reserved (MercuryNews.com)
Through Zite, I stumbled on this very interesting photo essay about the Monastery of St Anthony in the Egyptian Eastern Desert. It's a Coptic Orthodox monastery lying deep in the Red Sea mountains, and about 200 miles southeast of Cairo. It is one of the oldest monasteries in the world.

The photo essay was featured by MercuryNews.com, and the photographs are by Manoochar Deghati, a well-known Iranian-French photojournalist, and also the brother of Reza, an Iranian-French photographer.

The monks at the St. Anthony's Monastery follow the saint's ascetic tradition, but even they won't be silenced amid the Islamists' rising power.

I think the MercuyNews.com reportage is quite timely in view of the recent attacks on Egyptian Christians caused by the increase in bigoted religious rhetoric by Islamists. Clerics and others on religious television channels in Egypt spread much of the bigotry and discriminatory rhetoric, and despite claiming to be otherwise, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, have stigmatized religious minorities, particularly Copts.

Christians or Copts form more than 10% of Egypt's population of 85 million, and lived largely peacefully alongside Muslims for more than a millennium. Sectarian tensions have steadily risen over the past four decades, and the prominence of the Islamists and the Islamist government raised tensions further, have exacerbated the sectarian frictions.

The Copts are the native Christians of Egypt, and are a major ethno-religious group in Egypt.  Christianity was the majority religion during the 4th to 6th centuries AD and until the Muslim conquest of Egypt.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sim Chi Yin | The Water Seller

Photo © Sim Chi Yin-All Rights Reserved

Here's an excellent photo story of a water seller in Myanmar by Singaporean photojournalist Sim Chi Yin. The young water seller's name is Chit Min Oo and this photo feature tells us about the hard life he leads in a country just unshackling itself from the chains of military autocracy.

Chit Min Oo lives in a slum about an hour outside of downtown Yangon, in a single-room hut with his mother, two brothers and a sister. At day break, Chit Min Oo and one of his brothers Pyay Sone Aung, head out onto the train tracks, fetch their buckets, fill them with blocks of ice and water from a nearby tank and jump on the Circle Line train, which remains the cheapest mode of public transport around Yangon.

They hop on and off these trains, weaving in and out of carriages offering their cups of water for mere pennies in the equivalent Burmese currency.

I wish the photo essay was accompanied by a soundtrack...imagine viewing the photographs along with ambient sound such as the rattle of the ancient trains on the tracks, the clicking of the mugs against the buckets, the yells of the sellers, the sound of people in the stations...!

Based in Beijing, Sim Chi Yin is a member of VII Photo Agency’s Mentor Program for emerging talents and was selected for the PDN30 – Photo District News’ top 30 “emerging photographers to watch” – in 2013. She photographs regularly for the New York Times. Since going freelance in 2011, she has also photographed for Le Monde, Newsweek, TIME magazine, Vogue USA, Financial Times Weekend Magazine, New York Times Sunday Magazine and Stern.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Trip Report: Wilderness Survival Challenge 4/13/13 – 4/14/13

You guys have probably noticed that I am posting about more trip reports than I used to. The reason is that I usually only post the ones that I think are more significant or interesting. Lately however people have shown interest in my random bumming around in the woods, so I figured I would post about a few more of my trips. This past weekend was one of them.

This weekend I was taking a hunting class up in the Catskills. The location is about a three hour drive from where I live and is right at the edge of the Slide Mountain Wilderness. I figured that instead of going to class on Saturday, driving back home, and then driving back up to the location on Sunday, I would just camp out in the woods after class on Saturday, and be there on location on Sunday.

On Friday, I was getting my pack together, and while doing that, I was going though some online forums. I noticed that on Bushcraft UK someone had posted a question about whether a person can survive a night in the UK woods without a rucksack full of gear (or something along those lines). The answer of course is that it is hard NOT to survive, but it gave me an idea. I figured, why not try to make my overnight stay a simulated survival situation?

Now, I have written before that I am not a big fan of unlikely “survival” scenarios where people just get to show off gear. You will virtually never get stranded in the woods with no backpack, but carrying a full size axe and fifty feet of rope. So, I figured that I would try to make it a bit more realistic. The set up would be a situation where I went out for a day hike, and got stranded in the woods. I would have with me the gear I usually have on a day hike.


Those things include food for the day, a Nalgene 1L bottle with a nesting Backcountry Stoic Ti Kettle, a Mora #2 knife, and a small pocket pouch in which I keep a Fenix E01 flashlight, a mini BIC lighter, and three Altoids Smalls tins. One of the tins holds my repair kit with a few fishing hooks thrown in on the bottom. The second tin holds some medications I commonly use and water purification tablets. The third tin contains tinder (waxed jute twine) and matches. On the pouch itself a have attached a mini compass. You can see the contents in the picture below.


The reason why I decided to carry food is that foraging for food is just an illusion in most simulated survival situations, and I didn’t want to pretend that a few fiddle head ferns and a handful of wood sorrow was enough for dinner. It’s not. People who simulate similar survival situation usually simply go hungry for the duration of the trip. That doesn’t really show anything other than create the illusion that the 50 calories they were able to gather somehow constitute food for the day.

So, all that being said, I went to my hunting class on Saturday. It lasted from 9 am to 5 pm. When I got out, I headed into the woods. I thought this would be a good simulation of a survival scenario because that’s the time of day when you usually accept that you are lost and start trying to do something about it. You rarely decide you are lost at 10 o’clock in the morning, holding a full size axe.

I carried my gear in a small daypack. Aside from the items you see above, and the clothes I was wearing in the picture, I had some extra clothing in the pack. It was the clothing I would carry with me on a day trip this time of year. It is simply my standard three season clothing. You can see a full post on it here. In the picture below, my REI Revelcloud, my hat, neck gaiter and Arcteryx Beta SV shall jacket are in the pack.


The weather around here was been warming up this month, but when I started out, I was in a valley where there was still some snow. The mountain further up looked clear of snow, so I headed that way. I had to cross a river, which required some rock hopping. 


I ran across some tracks that I couldn’t identify. They were old.


There was also some horseshoe fungus around, although I have never been able to figure out a good immediate use for it. It was too wet to be of any use in fire making that day.


Further up the mountain I found some deer scat. It was hard to tell how old it was because of how wet the ground was.


I followed one of the tributaries of the river I had crossed up the mountain so I could be close to water. The snow cleared up fast as I gained elevation. The ground however was still extremely wet from the snow melt.


I traveled about a mile into the woods. I didn’t want to go too far in because I didn’t want to be late for class the next day. Around 6 pm I started looking for a good camp location.

Now, as you can see, there are no large spruce trees for shelter. In fact there is no cover anywhere. Also, seeing how there was about an hour and a half till sunset, building a shelter of any sort, lean to or otherwise, was not a practical use of my time. My time would be better spent finding a sheltered location and gathering firewood. I finally found a spot that I could customize to my liking.


The spot consisted of a rock that could serve as a windbreak. It was situated within a tightly forested area, so the trees served to block most of the wind. I dug up a large rock that could serve as a heat reflector for the fire and placed it in front of the windbreak. There are no evergreens here, so a bough bed was not going to happen. Leafs could be used, but they were all wet. They would offer virtually no insulation. What I did instead was to find a large piece of birch bark and lay it down as a sitting area. It would not provide much insulation, but it would keep me relatively dry. I also used a piece of bark as a fire platform in front of the reflector rock.

This brings me to the next reason I chose this location, availability of fire wood. There was a lot of birch around, and in particular, some trees that were knocked down by the storms. Birch is not a good wood for maintaining a long burning fire, but under these wet conditions it is easy to light.


I gathered as much wood as I could before it started getting dark. I then light the fire, put on all of my clothing, and settled in for the night.


Now, I know that people tell you to make a long fire, and stretch out in front of it on a bough bed. That only happens in imaginary survival situations where you start working on your shelter and fire at noon. It is very hard to do when it actually matters. The resources around me would not allow for a bough bed, and maintaining a long fire through a ten hour night requires huge amounts of wood. Had I made a long fire, the woods I had prepared would have been gone by 1 am. The only thing that could be done is to make a small fire and use it to warm up when you get cold. It doesn’t allow for much sleep, but it works.

Now, the immediate question that get’s asked is, “Why not carry an axe?” After all, with an axe you might very well be able to gather enough wood for a long fire in the hour and a half before sunset. Or, “Why not bring a blanket?” It would still be minimalist, right? The simple answer is that there is no way I am carrying those items on a day hike. If I was going to carry all that weight, I would just bring my regular backpacking gear, and be comfortable all night. Think about it; for the same weight as a 5lb wool blanket, I can bring both my sleeping bag, and my shelter. For the weight of an axe, I could have brought my sleeping pad, pot, stove, etc. Replacing items from your kit with other poorly performing items does not create minimalist camping, or a survival simulation. It is just poor planning and gear selection. I wanted to keep this scenario as realistic as possible, so I only brought items I am likely to have on me in a real survival situation.

Another question that could be asked is “Why not bring a space blanket or poncho to use as a shelter?” That is a fair question. In the past I used to carry a poncho for that reason. However, after trying to spend a few nights out in the rain with it, I decided that it simply doesn’t work as a shelter. It only works when you are wearing it. Ponchos, in my experience are too small to offer adequate protection from heavy rain. The poncho shelters look good in pictures, but rain never comes down from one direction, nor does it come down in the direction you want. A bit of wind, and the rain will be beating right in your face as you lay under the poncho. The only way to keep dry with it is to wear it. That is why I had my shell with me. It protects better from the rain than an improvised shelter. It kept the snow off me just fine during the night.

The night actually felt surprisingly warm. There were actually some snow flurries during the night, which continued into the next day, but it never felt cold. It must have been right around 32F (0C) to allow for snow, but still feel warm. At one point I was actually able to let the fire die down to coals, and lay down to get some more sleep. I didn’t feel cold. I maintained the fire through the night just in case I needed it.

Oh, and I forgot to bring a spoon. I just used a flattened stick for my mashed potatoes which I cooked in the cup. Burning out spoons and doing party tricks of that sort is just not realistic in such a situation. There is simply no time.

The next day I cleared up camp and headed down the mountain.


As I was making my way out of the forest, and crossing the valley again, I ran across an old camp that someone had used. I’m glad I camped further up the mountain. It seemed colder in the valley.


Overall, there were no problems. I didn’t get enough sleep because of having to maintain the fire through the night, but other than that, there were no issues.

So, I suppose the lesson is that it’s not that difficult to spend the night in the woods with very little gear. It is not the most comfortable thing to do, but unless you are careless or very unlucky, it’s not too much of an issue. For most people it is a psychological issue, where being exposed during the night in the mountain is a frightening thought. However, once you have done it a number of times, it shouldn’t pose much of a challenge. I made it to my class on time.  

Delphine Renou | Ethiopian Donga

Photo © Delphine Renou-All Rights Reserved

"After days of car travel, I enter the territory of the Surma tribe...the small village of Turgit in the south east of Ethiopia..."
This is how Delphine Renou, a French photographer and video editor for a number of  television channels (Canal Plus, Arte, etc) starts her photographic essay in southern Ethiopia where she met with members of the Surma tribe.

Her interest in photography was evidenced on her first trip in Africa as part of a humanitarian mission to Benin, after which she decides to get into photojournalism. She travels to southern Ethiopia to meet the people Surmas, to Mongolia, Vietnam, Norway and Afghanistan.

Her photographic essay with the Surma tribe focused on the donga;  the Surma's stick fighting. Generally, the dongas are held so young men can find wives. The fights are held between Surma villages, and the fights have 20-30 people on each side. Many of these fights end within the first couple of hits, but can be dangerous with people dying from being hit. 

Delphine wanted me to feature The Eyes of A People,. a short film of Afghanistan that she and Remy De Vlieger produced. Here it is:

The eyes of a People - AFGHANISTAN - clip from DIGITAL MILL on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bakewell Tart: Recipe

Traditional shortcrust pastry topped with raspberry jam. An almond sponge layer topped with crunchy icing and a scattering of oven toasted flaked almonds - bliss. There are many variations of this delicious tart and this recipe gives a nod to the Bakewell Tart but I'm sure it is far removed from the secret recipe used by The Bakewell Tart Shop in Bakewell, Derbyshire.

You will need:

20/23cm loose bottom flan tin

For the pastry: 250g plain flour, 50g butter, 50g lard, 3 tablespoons chilled water

For the filling: 125g softened butter, 125g caster sugar, 3 eggs, 125g ground almonds, 3 tablespoons unsweetened raspberry jam

To decorate: 50g sifted icing sugar, 1 tablespoon water, 25g flaked almonds


1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, rub in the fat until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the water to make a dough, if it doesn’t come together add more water. Knead to make a smooth dough and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for 30 minutes.
2. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface, line the tin and dock the pastry. Take a piece of baking paper, scrunch up, place into the pastry case, and fill to the top with baking beans. Bake blind for 15 minutes; remove the baking paper and baking beans.
3. Take a bowl and beat together the softened butter, caster sugar, the beaten eggs and ground almonds until smooth.
4. Spread the jam over the base of the cooked pastry case. Pour the cake batter over the jam to cover. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
5. Add the sifted icing sugar to a bowl and mix with water to make a thin pouring consistency and spread over the tart whilst still hot. Scatter over the flaked almonds, return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Links to previous postings:
Quick Portuguese Tarts
Apple & Pear Crumble Tart
Pear & Almond Tart with Chocolate Sauce
Blackberry & Apple Crumble Tart

Sufi Soul | William Dalrymple

In anticipation of my soon to start The Sufi Saints of Rajasthan & Kashmir Photo Expedition-Workshop, which I described in an earlier post as  the first and only photo expedition-workshop whose objective is to record the commemoration of the death anniversary of a Sufi saint, I thought I'd feature the first part of William Dalrymple's Sufi Soul which appeared on Channel 4 in Britain, and which traces his personal journey into the mystical and musical side of Islam as he describes traditions of Sufi music in Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, India and Morocco.

It starts rather brusquely and clumsily with snippets of Western media reports on radical Islam; presumably to highlight the disparity beween this and the pacifist nature of Sufism.

For the followers of Sufism, music is a way of getting closer to God. The documentary traces the shared roots of Christianity and Islam in the Middle East, and presents Sufism as a peaceful and intellectual offshoot of Islam. It features many acclaimed performers, including the legendary Abida Parveen and Youssou N’Dour. 

Sufism is deeply rooted in Islamic cultures across the globe -- the Middle East, North Africa and the Indian subcontinent particularly -- and in each region has local characteristics.

Islamists ban singing, dance and musical instruments and regard them as diversions from devotion and subservience to Allah. In contrast, Sufi cultures are rich in these traditions, and few are better qualified to present this than writer, historian and longtime resident of New Delhi, William Dalrymple.

My thanks to Stephanie Ravel for having shared this with me.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Russian Family Lives Alone in the Wilderness for 40 Years

This story has been going around for a while, and has picked up steam in recent months. It is an incredible account of of a family that left civilization and went deep into the woods in order to avoid persecution. They lived there alone for 40 years before being discovered.

In 1978 a teach of Russian geologists, while flying near the Mongolian border in a helicopter, discovered a small hut with what looked to be a farm next to it in the middle of the taiga. After managing to land, they approached the hut and discovered a family living there. After some time and a few gifts, they were able to get the story of how this family had ended up in the middle of the wilderness, completely cut off from civilization.

Lykov-family-cabin-Lost-in-the-Taiga-500x363 Lykov-homestead-shot-from-Soviet-reconnaissance-plane-1980-500x414

Above pictures: Original hut and terraced farm of the Lykov family when discovered in 1978.

The family was lead by a patriarch, Karp Lykov. They belonged to an Orthodox sect called Old Believers. During the reforms of Peter the Great, and later the Bolsheviks, this Orthodox sect experienced significant persecution.

In 1936, after his brother being killed by Bolsheviks, Karp Lykov took his family, at the time his wife Akulina and two children, gathered all his household belongings, and started moving deeper into the woods. They created a succession of camps going deeper and deeper into the wilderness, gradually transporting they belongings to the location where they eventually settled and were discovered in 1978.

The Lykovs managed to transport a significant amount of resources with them, including a woods stove, pots, a spinning wheel, a loom, and agricultural equipment. At their final location, Karp and Akulina had two more children, for a total of two boys and two girls. They survived by farming, using seeds and plants that they had brought with the. Unfortunately, one year their luck ran out, and a storm wiped out their harvest. Akulina starved to death that winter, but everyone else survived by eating their shoes and tree bark. Miraculously, a single plant had survived the storm, from which they gathered seeds to replant for the following year.

The family suffered even greater tragedy after being discovered. In 1981, within a short period of time, three of the children dies. One of them died from pneumonia, refusing to accept medical help, and the other two died from kidney failure attributed to their poor diet. Karp Lykov died in 1988 from old age, leaving only his daughter, Agafia.

These days Agafia has been brought livestock as a gift, and has even acquired a shotgun to protect her from bears. Now 70 years old, she has stated that she has a hard time taking care of herself in the taiga, feeding the livestock, gathering firewood, etc. However, she still refuses to leave her current location, which which the help of volunteers has been expanded to several buildings.






Despite the unfortunate death of her siblings, Agafia, who still lives in the same location appreciates the fact that her family was discovered by the Russian geologists. When asked recently if she wished that the geologists who discovered her family in 1978 in the completely isolated wilderness of Siberia’s taiga forest had never found them, she shook her head. “I don’t know if we would have survived. We were running out of tools and food. I no longer had any scarves.” The reality is that by the time they were discovered, they had lost all their pots to rust, so cooking had become difficult, their clothing had fallen apart, and they were constantly living at the edge of starvation.

Here is a documentary about Agafia, showing her life in the taiga:

I think this story is amazing in that it gives us a realistic look into what subsistence living in true isolation looks like. As people who love the outdoors we often romanticize survival and living in isolation, but the reality is that it is brutal business and a constant game of Russian roulette. Constantly being at the edge of survival requires constant backbreaking work just to keep from falling off the edge. Ultimately, you can do it for as long as your luck lasts. One bad crop, one bad year of hunting, and death from starvation may be the only possible outcome without the presence of any type of safety net offered by a larger community. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

TRVL for iPad | Timothy Allen Special

I recently received a welcome email from Timothy Allen, the former BBC and Human Planet photographer, who wrote saying that TRVL was celebrating its 100th issue by featuring 40 of his most compelling photographs along with a long interview on his career as a professional photographer.

TRVL is the first iPad-exclusive magazine, and was started in 2010 by Joachim Wijnands and Michel Elings. Wijnands brought travel writing and photography skills honed at the National Geographic and GEO to the game, while Elings' technical knowledge was used to design the app.

Take it from me...TRVL is gorgeous.

I have enormous respect for Timothy Allen and his work, and I'm glad TRVL chose him and his work to celebrate it's 100th issue. 

Regular readers of this blog know I seldom put golden calves on a pedestal, whether in the photography field or otherwise, but Tim is certainly someone who earned my respect (not only for his fantastic photography) but also for having been quoted in the TRVL interview as saying:

"I am certainly not trying to highlight vanishing cultures or 'change the world' as some people have said. One thing I know for sure is that I love it when the people in my pictures like them too. It's a simple personal pleasure that I get through showing people my photographs."

What a refreshing take from a world-class photographer...and a change from the mealy-mouthed platitudes I hear or read from other photographers and photojournalists! Not many have Tim's candor and stand-up attitude.

Finally, I saw with great pleasure that my multimedia piece Milongas: The Seduction of Tango is featured on TRVL's Buenos Aires section, and is described as a beautiful photographic impression of the milonga.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rohit Chawla | Wanderlust

Photo © Rohit Chawla- All Rights Reserved

I've always thought that photographers with a fashion background most often produce phenomenal ethno-photography, because of their talent and flair in directing and cajoling people how to pose during specific photo shoots.

Rohit Chawla is one of those photographers whose sense in fashion and portraiture produces wonderful photographs of Rabari nomads in Gujarat, of Goa unusual-looking foreign travelers, of seemingly stoned sadhus and much more on his website.

The Rabari live throughout Rajasthan and Gujarat, and are mainly occupied in raising cattle, camels and goats. They have a very rich cultural past and present, and their women are known for their embroidery skills. Rabari women are easily distinguished by their long, black headscarves, which fall loosely to the ground, and the Rabari men commonly wear white dhotis and tunics, golden earrings and walking sticks in hand. Few Rabaris are still nomadic, due to the dearth of pastoral lands.

Rohit Chawla started his career in advertising before eventually moving out to start his own design and film production company. His solo exhibitions include Wanderlust, Tribute to Raja Ravi Verma, Klimt - The Sequel, Free da! - The Homage, Fine Art of Food & the most recent, Wearable Art Collection, which opened at the Volte Gallery in Mumbai. 

His work has been exhibited at various venues across the world and his photographs are a part of major private collections and museums. The central theme of his work is essentially travel, and he lives between Delhi and Goa.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Trip Report: 4/6/13 – 4/7/13

Unexpectedly this past weekend freed up for me, so I decided to spend it in the woods. I’ve been very sick for the past few weeks so I haven’t been able to do any challenging trips. This past weekend was no different. I decided to go up to Bear Mountain, and visit one of the areas where I used to backpack a lot back when I was in college. Since the weather was warming up, my plan was to just bushwhack through the woods in whatever direction I chose. I wasn’t going to cover a lot of distance, but this was the best way to stay away from people in the nice weather. So, I set out, bringing only my warm weather gear.


Now that the snow is gone, noticing animal sign has become much easier, and will continue to be so until all the greenery comes in. There was a lot of deer scat that could easily be noticed. That in the picture is probably a day old.


There was more throughout the area, so I decided to sit and wait for a while. Not long after I spotted two deer up on the ridge. I tried to get closer to them, but it was impossible to avoid making noise with all the dead leafs on the ground.


I kept going through the woods in no particular direction. Bushwhacking is easy this time of year at this elevation. There are no thick spruce trees, and the undergrowth is minimal. Eventually I reached a small lake. I figured I would stop for a bit, eat lunch, and cast the line a few times to see if I could catch anything. My hope was for perch or blue gill, but I had no luck at all.


From higher up the ridge I could see some sign of beaver towards the middle of the lake. I didn’t see any near the edge of the lake, at least in the are where I was fishing.


The downside to all this sign of wildlife is that the ticks are out as well. It wasn’t long before I spotted some making their way up my pant leg.

Eventually I got bored with fishing and got on my way. Spring is in the air, and so is sign of animals feeding. A bird clearly met an unfortunate end here. The knife you see in the picture is a Mora #2.



Eventually I reached an area where i figured I would camp for the night. Unfortunately, in this region, any level area is usually occupied by blueberry and huckleberry bushes. This time was no exception. I had to cut down a good number of them to clear out an area for my tent. I built a small fire, and since there was no fish on the menu I had some of my usual dried food.


The night was colder than I expected, so I had to sleep with all my layers on. It wasn’t so cold that it bothered me though.

The next day I woke up, made some breakfast, and got on the way. I wish there was something more dramatic to report, but there was nothing. A trip over easy terrain like this one, during this time of year does not create the most exciting posts, although it was enjoyable none the less.

As a not eon gear, I have decided to use my pee bottle year round. It is just nice not having to get out of the sleeping bag, no matter what time of year it is. In case you are wondering, for a pee bottle I use a 1.5L Nalgene collapsible wide mouth bottle. It is easy to store when it is empty, and easy to aim into.

As I was walking back, I noticed the skeleton of a dead deer.


It looks like it has been there as least since before the winter. A few more miles, and I was out of the forest and back at the car. Despite the fact that the warmer weather is attracting more people to the woods, by staying off trail the entire time, I managed to avoid all of them, which is my goal when I’m in the forest. As soon as my health recovers, I’ll try to plan some more challenging trips. Maybe I’ll give that Kaaterskill plane crash site another try.