Tu Tran Thanh | Lên Đồng

Photo © 2015 Tu Tran Thanh-All Rights Reserved

Some of my readers will recall my March personal project in Ha Noi which centered on documenting the rituals of Hầu đồng -also known as Lên đồng-, when I was provided invaluable assistance by Tu Tran Thanh; a photographer who also discovered and eventually shared my interest in these traditional Vietnamese rituals.

For decades, Lên đồng was restricted by French colonial and Vietnamese leaders, but the tradition is currently enjoying a strong resurgence in popularity since restrictions were relaxed a decade or so ago. It takes some effort to find and attend the authentic Lên đồng ceremonies. since these are not widely publicized, are often performed at the virtual drop of a hat and are dependent of availability of the pagodas allowed to hold such ceremonies.

I think it is about time I feature Tu Tran Thanh's photographic work “Lên đồng: Spirits' Journeys of Vietnam” which was published on the visual storytelling platform Exposure. There is quite a number of her fabulous photographs of the various ceremonies which she attended before, while and after I was in Ha Noi. It is not an exaggeration that Tu Tran Thanh is now seen by many Hầu đồng mediums as a trusted photographer for their ceremonies.

I am glad Tu Tran Thanh's role is assisting me is far from over. She's also helping me to complete my own ongoing Hầu đồng book project.

Kares Le Roy | Buzkashi

Photo © Kares Le Roy -All Rights Reserved

Buzkashi! The word just fills the mouth with an exotic flavor, doesn't it?

It literally means “goat dragging” in Persian, and is is a Central Asian sport in which horse-mounted players attempt to drag a goat or calf carcass toward a goal. Originally, free-for-all games could last for several days, but in more regulated tournaments, the games are time limited.

It is popular in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Some mistakenly attribute the game of polo as having its origins in buzkashi, but the two are two separate types of horse riding contests. The goat (ideally, a calf) in a buzkashi game is normally beheaded and disemboweled and has its limbs cut off at the knees. It is then soaked in cold water for 24 hours before play to toughen it. Occasionally sand is packed into the carcass to give it extra weight.
Kares Le Roy was in Tajikistan, and features his Buzkashi gallery on his website.

Kares travelled for 2 years through a dozen countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia and Middle East.  The countries he photographed in range from Tibet, Nepal, India, Bali, Cuba, Cambodia to Morocco. He traveled through 56 000 km of land and humans: faces, smiles, eyes, monuments, cultures, and events. He has recently started his travels again, and we look forward to see more of his extraordinary work.

Fabien Astre | The Goroka Festival

Photo © Fabien Astre-All Rights Reserved

The Goroka festival is probably the best known tribal gathering and cultural event in Papua New Guinea. It's held every year close to the country's Independence Day on 16 September in the town of Goroka, the capital of the Eastern Highlands Province. About 100 tribes arrive to show their music, dance and culture. This traditional festival is called a sing-sing, and is the biggest of its kind in the world. 

The feathers of birds of paradise are heavily featured in the festival, either used for decorative head gear or ceremonial dress, and it is often noted how extraordinary that so many feathers can be squeezed on a traditional headdress. The dances and songs during the festival reflect the behavior of the birds of paradise in the wild, which represent beauty and seduction to the tribes.

Fabien Astre documented the Goroka festival, and his colorful photographs appeared in a number of publications such as The Daily Mail, Rough Guides, and Bored Panda amongst others.
Fabien is a French photographer who started traveling in earnest about 10 years ago. He worked in
New Caledonia and backpacked his way in both Australia and India. Returning to Australia, he became interested in travel photography, and currently spends most of his time in Asia and in the Pacific. Currently living in the Solomon Islands, he's combining travel, diving and photography.

Nigel Morris | Tribes of South Ethiopia

Photo © Nigel Morris-All Rights Reserved

I've criticized, on a number of occasions, a handful of photographers who feature images of tribes in south Ethiopia and the Omo Valley, depicting them in elaborate (and contrived) headdress, and setting them up to freeze in front of their cameras in awkward poses, and in so doing rewarding them with lavish gifts of money for every photograph made. I traveled to the Omo Valley in 2004 at a time when this was the exception rather than the norm, and when the tribes were willing to have their photographs taken against a modest donation being made to the heads of their villages.

With a very few exceptions, the recent photographic work I've seen has been of overworked imagery, with the Omo Valley tribespeople overly made-up and fetishized by making them wear incongruous head gear and unnatural accessories. So it's with pleasure that I stumbled on Nigel Morris' Tribes of South Ethiopia on PDN (which led me to his website) since his portraits are free of these artificial accoutrements which, in my view, are demeaning. 

According to the PDN interview,  Nigel Morris's gear during his two week long trip to Ethiopia was a Phase One 645DF with my P40+ digital back and 80mm LS lens; two small cameras, a Fuji X100s and Fuji XT1; one flash unit, a Profoto B1; three light modifiers, an Elinchrom Rotalux 69-inch OctaBox, a Paul C Buff Soft Silver Para, and a Westcott Apollo; and two light stands. 

He tells us that he mainly photographed four tribes—the Daasanach, Mursi, Hamer and Bodi. He employed a fixer and a driver, and just rolled in the Omo Valley. He is a portrait and editorial photographer from Brooklyn, New York.

Hanoi | Bali (Foundry Photojournalism Workshop)

Well, it's the time of year again when I finalise travel plans to join the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop's faculty, as I have done since its inception in 2008 in Mexico City (with one exception, Sarajevo which I had to miss to other commitments). This time it will be held in Bali from July 19-25 and it promises to be another roaring success.

I shall teach “The Travel Documentary: Sound & Image“; a multimedia class that allows its participants to concentrate on the story, rather than on the application. The purpose and aim of the class is to show photographers how to make quick work of slide show production (rivaling in content and quality the more complicated processes), using their own images and audio generated in the field, to produce a cogent travel documentary under the simulation of publishing deadlines.

I plan to drop by Hanoi for a few days to do some further research into the practices of Hầu Đồng, and to add to my already existing inventory of images of these unusual ceremonies.

As my readers know, I am also working on what I hope will be an interesting photo book on Hầu Đồng and its mediums, whose cover will resemble the above tentative mock-up. It potentially could be printed in Hanoi, but it is still premature to determine the location of its production at this stage.

All this makes for an exciting summer 2015!