It is time to take a breather and reflect on the year gone by. 2016 was a very busy time with 15 international trips to all corners of the globe including Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Romania, Sardinia, & Botswana. I thank everyone who has been a part of these photographic adventures, and I hope that we will have an equally fulfilling time in 2017. Here is a selection of 15 of some of my favorite images, one from each trip.
Rajasthani Mystics Running through Hot Coals, India
Receding Wave and Calved Ice on Black Beach, Iceland
Woman in a Chador Walking Past a Mural of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran
Man Walking over Puddle During Easter Procession, Guatemala
Plaza de España at Dusk, Spain
Portrait of Alessia in Traditional Dress of the Village of Tresnuraghes, Sardinia
Elderly Woman Cutting Grass with a Sickle for Animal Food, Romania
Travel Photographer of the Year Competition
I am happy to say that, after 6 years as a Finalist, the image above, from one of our 2016 tours to Romania, was chosen as the Best Single image in a Portfolio "Mankind" in the 2016 Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY) (see above). Another, photographed in a bakery in Viñales, Cuba was Highly Commended in the One Shot Category, "Shaped by Light" (see at the end of this post).
Farm Workers Loading Fresh-cut Hay on to a Horse-drawn Cart, Romania
Gelati Monastery Interior Showing Medieval Frescoes, Georgia
St Blaise’s Church and the Cathedral at Dusk, Croatia
Young Golden Eagle Hunter Holding his Bird, Mongolia
Man Grinding Millet to Make Flour for Chapatis, India
A Bride Leaves and a Bride Exits from the Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum, Uzbekistan
Male Cheetah Using a Tree as a Lookout, Botswana
Bathing Huts at St James Reflected in a Tidal Pool, South Africa
The Cake Decorator, Cuba
Travel Photographer of the Year Competition
"The Cake Decorator" - 2016 Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY), Highly Commended One Shot, "Shaped by Light"
The plan was to head down to the shipbuilding yard at Mandvi, on the banks of the tidal estuary of the River Rukmavati, to see where they were building the massive wooden cargo boats. It was evident that most of our group were soon bored with this so one by one they wandered off. Someone shouted back at me as I entered the hull of one of these wooden monsters, "come and check out the fish market!" I thought that in a moment, I would.
A half an hour later I remerged from the skeleton of the boat and headed towards the market. What a surprise — one of the most colorful, most friendly markets I have ever been in — small and compact, yet bustling with people and vendors selling all manner of wares from fruits and veg to fish both fresh and dried.
A further lesson never to under estimate the photographic opportunities that sneak up upon you around the next corner. To quote my travel partner and friend, Herb, "I love this shit. This is why we travel!"
I have just returned from an Epic Photo Tours/Pixelchrome photography tour in Gujarat in India. For two weeks 11 participants, myself and Herb Leventon, and our super guide Pravin Dangera visited cities, tribal villages, mosques, temples, Royal Palaces and much more.
It was a wonderful tour with a warm, compatible group, great weather and a huge variety of subjects to photograph. Below I have posted a few more images from the tour (see also here) — please enjoy them!
We all walk the road, most of the time routinely, but Kumbh wasn't one of those [times], it left memories and this clip adds substance to what I felt there…PK Bhatnagar
The Meaning of Kumbh
The literal meaning of Kumbh is a pitcher, but its elemental meaning is something else. Even as a symbol of pitcher, Kumbh is synonymous with holy activities as in daily life a pitcher (or kalash) is an integral part of all sacred activities in Hindu culture, and this pitcher is a symbol of Kumbh.
Holy scriptures say that in a pitcher, its mouth (opening) symbolizes the presence of Vishnu, its neck that of Rudra, the base of Brahama, all goddesses in the center and the entire oceans in the interior, thus encompassing all the four Vedas. This itself establishes the significance of the Kumbh as symbolized by the pitcher.
Different Forms of Kumbh
We shall not dwell upon the literary meaning of the word Kumbh, but we would like to mention the synonyms and origins. The Kumbh is a pitcher. Kumbh is the human body, it is the abdomen, and the sea, earth, sun and Vishnu are synonyms of Kumbh. The pitcher, sea, river, ponds and the well are symbols of Kumbh as the water from these places is covered from all sides. The sky has the cover of the wind, the sun covers the entire universe with its light, and the human body is covered with cells and tissues. That is why it is Kumbh. Desire, that is longing, is also Kumbh. God Vishnu is also Kumbh as He pervades the entire creation, and the creation pervades in Him.
Elemental Meaning of Kumbh
Kumbh is the confluence of all our cultures. It is the symbol of spiritual awakening. It is the eternal flow of humanity. It is the surge of rivers, forests and the ancient wisdom of the sages. It is the flow of life itself. It is the symbol of the confluence of nature and humanity. Kumbh is the source of all energy. Kumbh makes humankind realize this world and the other, sins and blessings, wisdom and ignorance, darkness and light. Holy rivers are the symbols of the lyrical flow of humanity. Rivers are indicators of the flow of water of life in the human body itself. In the human body that is an embodiment of home, nothing is possible without the five elements. The elements – fire, wind, water, earth and sky – symbolize the human body. The great sage-poet Sant Kabir has explained this sublime thought in his typical manner.
The Himalaya is the abode of the soul of the gods. The Holy Ganga embarks upon its journey from there, encompassing the forests, the mountain sages and the culture of the villages. The Yamuna is a co-traveler as it puts an end to all sins, and it is known variously as Tripathga, Shivpuri and other names. This is the Ganga that liberated the children of the Suryavanshi king Sagar. Its holy water is considered nectar itself.
Kashmir: Trapped in Conflict
India , Pakistan , and Kashmiri separatists continue their increasingly dangerous struggle over Himalayan territory that once delighted residents and travelers alike.
This article was written about Kashmir in the Sept 1999 issue of National Geographic. The story is a good introduction to Kashmir itself and to its relationship with India and Pakistan. Check out page 16. It mentions Butts Clermont Houseboat where we stayed.
GUEST POST BY HERB LEVENTON
I love Islamic Srinagar. I love how early in the morning the flower seller will pull up to my houseboat in his shikara over and sell me fresh cut flowers. I love the 200 year old wood and brick three and four story mud brick structures that all seem to be leaning over at twenty degrees. I love the smiles on the 10 year old girls and how the hijabs they wear make them look so regal. I love the silver stubble on the mens faces. I love the waffle like bread and how the ridges are made from the bakers finger tips. I love the voices of the Sufi singers. I love how in a darkened storefront a man sits all day in the same chair that his grandfather sat in and sells rosewater. I love how our guide Lassa speaks in a near whisper and shares tales of his city. I love the earth tones, the bridges that span the city, the calmness…
…Srinagar is a special place.
GUEST POST BY HERB LEVENTON OF EPIC PHOTO TOURS
It is five o'clock in the morning and the group is rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Coffee and tea is ready in the dining room. We are on the way to Tiksey Monastery for an early morning photo shoot. The high altitude doesn't deter the mellow group of 11 and super photo leaders Jeremy Woodhouse and John Isaac…
As we walk the ramp leading to the the prayer room we hear the trumpets and can feel the air change. In we go, all get in the lotus position and scan the somewhat darkened room which has a sweet smell of juniper. Children as young as six and men as old as eighty are chanting, the bugles blow, the drums get banged. The little novice monks fill small bowls with rice in front of these serene praying Buddhist men. Straining to carry the big bowl we watch him fulfill his daily task. As soon as that is done he walks with a heavy copper pitcher carefully pouring warm milk into into each bowl.
The chanting continues, all prayers are for peace. The group is mesmerized, some scenes need to be permanently recorded, this is one of them. This is Ladakh at 11,560 feet and we are the only foreigners here. We are blessed to have at the opportunity to experience this. Definitely an Epic Photo Tour moment. The group is smiling, we are feeling peace.
GUEST POST BY HERB LEVENTON
In Srinagar if you want to get the shots you need to get up while it is still dark and get on the lake. So, eleven hardy folk were up at 4AM floating three people per shikara towards the floating market. Dark and cold we floated for an half and half in silence with the boatmen rowing away.
Passing the mosque, the shore line dotted with three-story, two-hundred-year-old wooden houses in different states of disrepair, we all knew that we were very far from home. As we got closer, out of the darkness came small wooden boats loaded with tomatoes, eggplants, cabbage, cauliflower and some vegetables I have never seen before and with names I could never pronounce.
The small channels led to a big opening which was filling with grizzled men with grey beards that were weighing their vegetables on scales that probably were worth lots more that their lot. Lots of bargaining, yelling back and forth, rupees passing hands, handshakes, sealing the deal.
Joining this disorganized chaos were seed sellers and a really cool shikara painted with a sign that screamed "Delicious Man", who rowed up to our group of 5 boats, and in perfect English, tried to make a hard sale – the cookies, baked just an hour before, tasted of cinnamon, and were way to good to pass up. The seed man had packets to sell which many in the group bought in the hope that they will grow, bloom and have them dreaming of this morning on Dal Lake long after they will have returned home.
A GUEST POST BY HERB LEVENTON
Image © Jeremy Woodhouse. The friendly face of Kashmir – a local leaving the floating vegetable market after buying his supplies
All I could think of was how when you have a camera you have a passport to the world
Hailing from Canada, California, Connecticut, Caracas and points in between, 11 photography enthusiasts with a passion for travel met in Delhi and took the first flight out to Srinagar. Not known to most, this city in the far north of India straddling the border with Pakistan is Islamic, located on mirror like Dal Lake, and just re-emerging as a tourist destination to those in the know. With former chief of UN photography services John Isaac and intrepid photographer Jeremy Woodhouse leading, the group was immediately engaged and in the thick of it.
If you are a curious photographer and want to get an immediate jolt, the best places to start is the market. The group walked the narrow streets of the market shooting the men with henna beards, the old wooden storefronts, the baker, the butcher and the life of a city very alien to us. Some girls were shy and hard to engage but if you want to get to know people you need to join them and a few of us jumped on a school bus loaded with girls in green uniforms and had an immediate interchange. These kids all pulled out their cheap Nokia phones and as we shot them they giggled and photographed us. All I could think of was how when you have a camera you have a passport to the world.
After just a day and a half this Kashmir trip has been be fantastic, the people are friendly, the house boat we are staying on is full of ambiance (and a few spider webs), the muazzin's call to prayer is our clock, and the beauty of Dal Lake puts you immediately at peace. Srinagar feels serene, not sure whether it is because the people have been through so much hardship and are all depressed or they are a spiritual people whose goodness comes from their belief system.
Image © Jeremy Woodhouse. Beautiful Dal Lake
ANOTHER GUEST POST FROM HERB LEVENTON
Traveling and photographing in India is so special because interacting with the people is so warm and human.
I have now been to India three times over the course of the last six months and my friends at home joke that I am now commuting there to work. I am starting to believe that if you go to India it will help you become a better person. Seeing Indians living in abject poverty will not help you appreciate things back at home because once at home you immediately fall back into your routine and self absorbed lifestyle. What India does do is help you step outside of your self and observe things and see things differently. I believe that how, and what you photograph is changed because of this.
Today was spent traveling across the parched northern zone of Gujarat. A few simple interactions along the way made a long ride a source of laughter. After two hours in the car we stopped at a small village where many tribal people and non tribe merchants live and work. Walking down the dusty main street everyone seemed to be smiling at me and random people would pull up along side of me and say in broken one word english, "German", "England", "America" all wanting to know where I was from. One guy made my day by asking me what village I was from. I said New York and he replied, oh, good village.
When checking into the hotel I heard that the drivers room didn't have a fan and I asked the receptionist why not. With out a blink she said because of the earthquake. I smiled at her and told her that that was in 2002. If this was back at home I probably would have asked her if she was crazy, here in India all I could do was smile. An hour later walking in beautiful, atmospheric Buhj the far northern city in Gujarat I stopped for an ice-cream. As I was eating it I saw two kids looking at me and I bought them ice cream as well on a day when the temperature hit 106. Within seconds about fifty kids were around me. I didn't buy them all ice-cream but did take lots of photos of them and they all seemed to be happy. The ice-cream vendor smiled at me and offered me another ice-cream and said it was an honor to give me an ice-cream for free.
As anyone who has ever been to India will tell you electricians have turned wiring a room up into an art form. In my room near the bed were six switches, each wall had two more, the bathroom had four and to figure out how to lower the a/c you would need to be a mensa. After fifteen minutes of trying to figure how to turn the light off in the bathroom without success and lowering the a/c I reluctantly called the desk and a sweet, soft spoken girl came up and I asked her to help me. Five minutes later she called downstairs to get help as she couldn't figure it out either. Within minutes another girl came up bearing towels. I told her we needed help with the lights and not towels. She said she didn't know anything about the lights in the room but extra towels always make guests happy. I think I will go sleep in a freezing room with the lights on.
Jeremy Woodhouse is a professional photographer and traveller. He leads photography trips to all corners of the globe