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"
I was going through my files looking for an image from the 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela when I came across this one. I liked the chaos of the hands and arms, as well as the bold colors, but what was it all about? What was going on? Does the image work on its own as a graphic treatment of a moment in time? I don't think so.
Recalling that moment during the first of 8 days that we spent in Allahabad, while there to witness the world's largest gathering of humanity during the Maha Kumbh Mela, I went back and looked at the set of images I had taken. They showed a group of women, one who seemed to be the center of attention in her role as a "seer", performing a ritual puja on the banks of the Ganges. From time to time the woman in the red sari would go into a trance state and start shaking her head while the others attended to her. Seen in the context of the story, this image makes more sense.
I spent 15 minutes watching and photographing this whole session. I had gained their approval before taking one picture so was able to move in fairly close and record the whole event with a wide angle lens. After a minute or so I was invisible to them. From the 80 images that I shot I have narrowed the results down to 16.
On our train journey from Jaipur back to Delhi today, Indian Railways was running ahead of schedule so we had a 30-minute delay at Rewari Station in Haryana. I decided to set myself a project and spend those 30 minutes productively — to go out onto the platform and produce some meaningful images of some of the travellers in the seriously overcrowded train carriages in the warm setting sunlight. The following is my pick from more than 150 frames. I made a few friends in the process!
Recently I was approached by one of the participants from our recent Pixelchrome/EpicPhoto Tours tour to Gujarat. She had been reviewing her images and was feeling very nervous about sharing them with her peers on our group Facebook page.
With her permission, I would like to share the contents of her email and then comment at the end:
"I have selected a few photos I love in the categories I had preselected before the trip. Faces, Working, Street Life, Hands & Feet, Sharing and after being on the trip a new one, Animals. I am following the Facebook posts from the group and feeling a bit intimidated/nervous about posting my photos on Facebook and mentioning Pixelchrome/Epic Photo Tours; I am thinking only fabulous photos should be shown to showcase your company in the best light. Without post photo enhancement software, the best I can do is crop and a bit of highlighting…whatever Windows standard software allows."
First of all I would like to commend Lois on her foresight and on her wish to tell the story of her journey through Gujarat. What a great idea to try and tell that story with each of those categories in mind. This is certainly a good way to organize one's thoughts and a good way to plan the narrative — not that it would preclude her from photographing all of those random moments that would crop up that would not necessarily "fit" into those categories.
Secondly, having looked through the following collection of images, if I were a newcomer to the photo tour experience may I suggest that I might be intimidated by what I have seen here. This is quite a collection of images, one which I would certainly be proud to share with my peers, and indeed with the rest of the world.
Lois came on this tour as a fledgling photographer, and having been given the myriad opportunities which our tour offered, she stretched her photographic wings and soared.
I have arranged the images in galleries in the categories in which Lois had divided them, and at the top of each gallery I have chosen my favorite image from each collection. I have explained why in the caption — oh, and the first four images below are my pick of the whole bunch.
Please grab a cup of coffee and take some time to look through this body of work — one which you should be proud to have created Lois. Brava! (click on the images in each gallery to create a slideshow)
All images © Lois Brassart, 2015
Strong, bold colors, good composition and great use of shadows. Timing was a little off. I would have waited till there was a little more separation between the two men (see example). I would have also altered my position so as to create more of a diagonal with the kite strings (see example). As it is the white strings form a rather strong 50:50 division of the frame
I love the mood in this image and it is the "gestures" that are what really make it work — the woman washing her hair, the position of the hand of the woman standing, and the raised paddle as the woman beats the clothing — great timing! Great use of the reflection. Maybe get lower next time and include the whole reflection.
Fabulous portrait, great connection and beautiful light
Here I really like the use of the arms as the lead in to the image. The diagonals are very strong, the color is strong and all the elements come together to tell the story of this sale/trade. In a perfect world I would have moved my camera perspective slightly so as to get rid of the bright spot of earth in the lower mid frame.
Fantastic image. You know what I really like about it is the wonderful use of depth of field. The viewer is so drawn to the cows where the background could have been a great distraction — not so here.
Not sure what is going on here but whatever it is, I really like it. The textured "overlay" in the background is very complimentary to the image as a whole. The expression on the face of the man is engaged and the placement of the hand is very strong — the gravy is his red string bracelet.
I really like the unusual point of view. The light is nice and you have made a connection with the girl. Compositionally I would have included all of the ladle and given a little more breathing room between the tyre and the edge of the frame. The cut-off matchbox is not helping either.
Hands & Feet
Great shot. It fits beautifully into your category of hands & feet — a bonus having the woman in green in the background! Again in a perfect world there are a couple of things that I would have changed to make this perfect. A step to the right would have got rid of the merge of the womens' arms with the tree, and I would have preferred that the woman in the background had been one pace back so as not to be so close to the edge of the frame.
This image is really strong in part due to the mystery. What is it? Love the texture and pattern.
Great use of the telephoto lens to compress the image. Great colors
Nice barber shop image. It took me a second to see the reflection of the face in the mirror. I like the repetition of the hand gesture. A little step to the right and you could have had the reflection of the barber in the big mirror, and a little more space between the edge of the frame and the reflection of the guy being shaved would also have been nice.
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
Dal Lake in Srinagar is at 6,000 feet altitude and I think that height has possibly impacted the functioning of the houseboat owners where we are staying. In the 60's the Beatles stayed at Butts Clermont and smoked great ganja, sang and laughed and felt peaceful. Their houseboat is still there but sunken in mud, with peeling paint, totally dilapidated, lacking windows and really looks like a wound and not a relic. This sunken houseboat isn't a national treasure or an ancient ruin but an eyesore in a magnificent location. The houseboats are furnished in old carpets and the couches seem to be from my dead grandmothers apartment in Brooklyn. Bob and Ann, two extremely nice fellow travelers and photographers are staying at another one of the houseboats that is half on land and half in mud. When I asked Bob about his houseboat he said to him it was a plywood shack in mud and he was fearful that Ann who was in the next room would slip while taking a shower and wind up sitting on the toilet because of how the boat was lilting in the water.
The owners are a group of brothers who all love their inheritance dearly but aren't sure in what direction to take the houseboat complex. So it remains stuck in mud. As a tribute to their departed father they keep it untouched, an interesting business strategy for sure.
This place is in a time warp to the extent that they don't have a refrigerator. I asked how they are keeping the food cold and they said they shopped daily. Definitely from market to mouth while staying here. One of the toilets didn't work and after asking numerous times to have it fixed and offering to call my plumber in New York for technical support it was fixed which they proudly announced and became a source of animated discussion. I just wish that Peggy, who is shooting video, could have captured that scene. They spoke about the plumber for two days and how proud of the new toilet they were – I am sure John Lennon could have written a song about it. When I mentioned that the walkway should reach one of the far houseboats so that people shouldn't always be stepping in the mud/yuck they nodded excitedly and said "inshallah" (God willing) Gabe from Boston, who received this trip as a gift from his parents as a graduation treat, seems to have this yuck as permanent attachment to his feet.
The grounds are magnificent and the flower garden something to envy. The food is excellent and the kabobs far better than any I have ever tasted. The waiter is a wonderful man who has been there for 30 years and I feel honored to have shared his water pipe. The two chefs are constantly smiling and when I went in the kitchen to thank them for another meal they beamed – you could feel that Dal Lake love. Abdullah, the on-site barber, masseuse, and tailor has a work bag that mentions his numerous skills. For 200 rupees ($3) he gave me a scalp and shoulder massage which left my skull red and a memory for a lifetime.
The Beatles are no longer but Clermont Butts remains. When I travel I want a totally authentic experience and the Epic Photo Tours group is surely getting one. Everyone is smiling, in the trip zone, getting exceptional photographs and they all know that this is as good as it gets. I think I will fill out an employment application here at the Butts, but first they will have to find a pen that works…yes, I will return again…I love this place!
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
Jeremy Woodhouse is a professional photographer and traveller. He leads photography trips to all corners of the globe