Vietnamese Photographer’s Nudes Overcome Social Barriers

Thai Phien working with his models

Thai Phien is an award-winning Vietnamese photographer who’s works have been exhibited in over 60 countries. Phien (his full name is Nguyen Thai Phien), was born in 1960 in Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam.

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Among his many works, Phien’s publication of Vietnam’s first nude art photography book, entitled Buoc Thoi Gian (Steps of Time), was met with controversy in his conservative homeland.

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However, overcoming the initial controversy, the work went on to receive the VAPA Cup from the Vietnam Photographic Artists’ Association. This marked the first time the association has bestowed the award on a photographer for a collection of nude photos.

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According to VAPA jury member Duy Anh, “With low key lighting and monochrome techniques, Phien shows women’s physical and spiritual beauty.”

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Phien has been taking nude photos for 22 years. When he won the honor, he said, “I thought of those who worked as my models. They are behind the success of my photos and have bravely defied social stigmas against nude modeling,”

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Photo Opportunity: Thaipusam, a Hindu Celebration in Malaysia

Celebrant at Thaipusam with pierced cheeks

Althought the majority of Malaysia is Muslim, the country’s population includes more than two million ethnic Indians, most of whom are Tamil Hindus.

Every year, these Hindu communities celebrate Thaipusam. A public holiday, Thaipusam is a thanksgiving to Lord Subramaniam (also known as Lord Murugan) for answered prayers, and is also a day of penance. This important Hindu festival is held in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar (usually the end of January).

Sunrise In Batu Caves during Thaipusam festival

In celebration of Thaipusam, over a million Hindus converge on temples nationwide – the most famous being at the Batu Caves (an important religious site for Tamil Hindus on Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts), where hundreds-of-thousands gather.

Participants prepare themselves for the occasion by cleansing their bodies through fasting and abstinence, and usually observe a vegetarian diet for a certain period of time prior to the day of the festival.

Participants at the Thaipusam festival

But the feature of Thaipusam that makes it so fascinating for photographers is the way that the celebrants display their penance.

Skewered devotees at Thaipusam

Many devotees pierce their skin, tongues or cheeks with long skewers in a form of penance, or bear elaborately decorated frames called ‘kavadi’ – typically attached to their body using sharp metal spikes dug into the skin.

Tamil man paying penance at Thaipusam

If you plan on taking photos of Thaipusam, be prepared for a very crowded, hectic and sometimes even claustrophobic experience. However, the shots you get will make it well worth your while.

Hindu devotees at Thaipusam festival, Malaysia

Although Thaipusam is also celebrated in India and Singapore and other countries with large Hindu Tamil communities, in Malaysia it’s marked with a particular zest that makes it special.

Hindu man with skin pierced at Thaipusam

Travel Photography Spots in Shanghai

Electric Dreams III

Similar to other major Asian cities, Shanghai has some great locations for visitors to photograph. Whether you’re looking for modernity, or tradition, Shanghai has something for you.

Lujiazui Skyline

The Bund (along the waterfront of Huangpu River) is a great spot to take photos of Shanghai’s iconic skyline. The skyline is at its best at night with dazzling neon lights and lit cruise ships reflected in the river.

Around Old Town Shanghai

A fun place to visit is Shanghai Old Town. Very touristy, but the traditional buildings and markets combine to make a fun photo walk. (Just to the northeast of the old town is the splendid Yu Garden, whose landscaping and traditional structures offer some more subjects to photograph).

Shanghai Film Park

A unique photo opportunity is a visit to Shanghai Film Park. This is one of China’s largest active outdoor movie studios, with impressively open access. — you can walk around (and shoot) sets of old Shanghai, and if you’re lucky you’ll also see some actual actors scurrying about.

Qibao Ancient Town / Shanghai

If you have time, eighteen kilometers from Shanghai city center you’ll find Qibao, a typical China water town. Qibao is a wonderful place to take photos of ‘old China’. The old town is composed of two canals crossed by three stone bridges. These are surrounded by old stone-paved streets connected with many side lanes.

Many first-time travellers to Asia, particularly those on business, have asked about easily accessible photo opportunities in the cities they visit. This post is part of an ongoing series, each on a different Asian city, introducing a few photo locations for visitors with limited time.

Lang Jingshan – A Pioneer of Chinese Photography

Lang Jingshan
Photo of Lang Jingshan, Chinese photographer

The influence of Lang Jingshan (郎静山) on Chinese photography is indisputable. Lang (his family name) was born in China in 1892, and was first influenced by his military father who had an interest in both art and photography. While attending middle school in Shanghai, Lang received his only formal instruction in photography from his art teacher at age 12.

During the 1920s, Lang became one of China’s first photojournalists, working for newspapers and magazines covering news and events, shooting fashion spreads and advertisements, and publishing art photography and pictorials in magazines.

Yanbo Yaoting (1963)
Yanbo Yaoting – photo by Chinese photographer Lang Jingshan.

When the China Photography Association was founded in 1928, Lang who was one of the first participants, began experimenting with more artistic work including nudes – which was a first in China. “Meditation”, which he shot in 1928, is considered the earliest surviving Chinese artistic nude photograph. This was followed by the publication of the ‘Album of Nude Photographs’ in 1930 – the first of it’s kind in China.

Meditation
Meditation – photo by Chinese photographer Lang Jingshan

After briefly experimenting with a modernist style, Lang developed a style he called “composite photography” (jijin sheying 集锦摄影), whereby he printed different parts of various negatives on the same sheet of paper, resulting in seamless landscapes, still lifes, and portraits following the composition and style of traditional Chinese ink painting.

Left: actress Li Hua; Right: Chiin-san Long. Photos by Lang Jingshan.
Left: actress Li Hua; Right: Chiin-san Long. Photos by Lang Jingshan.

After the communist takeover of mainland China, Lang followed the nationalist government to Taiwan where he continued to create ground-breaking photographic works. He also spent 42 years as the director of the re-established China Photography Association in Taiwan. Throughout the remainder of his life, Lang committed himself to teaching and promoting the idea of a Chinese style of photography until his demise in April 1995.

September Photo Opportunity: The Masked Dancers of Korea

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Korea’s annual Andong Mask Dance Festival is an series of events celebrating the traditions of Korean mask dancing. If you’re lucky enough to attend, bring your camera, and get ready to get some really fun photos.

Yecheon Cheongdan-noreum, Andong Mask Festival
Yecheon Cheongdan-noreum, at the Andong Mask Festival in Korea

Originally a two-day event, the festival has expanded into a 10-day festival starting at end of September and continuing into the beginning of October.

Sandae-nori at Songpa, Andong Mask Festival, Korea
Sandae-nori at Songpa, Andong Mask Festival, Korea

The history of Korea’s Mask Dances reach back centuries. They were once used in shamanistic rituals, as local custom believed that wearing a mask warded off evil spirits. The performances of the masked dancers during the festival allow for some really interesting photos.

Byeolsandae-nori at Yangju, Andong Msk Festival, Korea
Byeolsandae-nori at Yangju, Andong Msk Festival, Korea

Each mask dance has it’s own significance, from making an offering to a goddess for health and wealth, to dancing for an abundant harvest, and finally a dance to chase away demons.

Goseong Ogwangdae at Andong Mask Festival, Korea
Goseong Ogwangdae at Andong Mask Festival, Korea

Andong, and its surrounding area, are famous as a center of Korean culture and folk traditions. If you visit during the festival, make sure to take the time to make some side trips with your camera. (Don’t miss the nearby folk village of Hahoe).

Masked dancers at the Andong Mask Festival, Korea
Masked dancers at the Andong Mask Festival, Korea

The First Indonesian Photographer

Kassian Cephas
Kassian Cephas

Outside of a small circle of historians interested in Indonesian culture, Kassian Cephas is scarcely known. A court photographer for Java’s Yogyakarta Sultanate in Java during the late 19th century, Kassian Cephas was Indonesia’s first professional photographer.

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Born in 1845 during Dutch colonial rule, Cephas was trained by a Dutchman at the request of Sultan Hamengkubuwana VI. (According to oral tradition, his father was Dutch and his mother Indonesian). By the early 1870’s, Cephas was appointed as court painter and photographer. His responsibilities were to take portraits of the royal family.

Borobudur temple panels
Borobudur temple panels

Recognizing his skills, the Dutch Archaeological Union commissioned Cephas to photograph Indonesia’s iconic buildings and ancient monuments for posterity.

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After the hidden base of the Borobudur temple complex was discovered in 1885, Cephas was requested to record the hidden panels with his camera. To expedite the documentation, the base was briefly uncovered in 1890, and then covered again in 1891.

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In recognition of his photographic contribution to archeology, Cephas was appointed as an “extraordinary member” of the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences following the completion of the Borobudur project. Subsequently, he was also made a member of the Royal Institute in recognition of his work with for the Dutch Archaeological Union.

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Along with his architectural photography, Cephas continued working as a court photographer. In 1896 he photographed a visit to Yogyakarta by Thailand’s King Chulalongkorm. Later, in 1899 he documented the four-year commemoration of the accession of Hamengkunegars III to the throne as Crown Prince of the Yogyakarta Sultanate.

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Cephas retired when he reached 60 years of age, and passed away seven years later in 1912 due to illness.

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Although he was an accomplished court photographer and architectural photographer, Cephas is mainly celebrated in Indonesia today as the first Indonesian to become a professional photographer.

 

Mumbai Offers Several Unique Photo Opportunities

Mumbai commuters
Black & white photo of Mumbai commuters (Photo by Rajarshi MITRA / CC-BY)

There’s a wealth of places you’ll want to take photos in Mumbai. Selecting which to visit can be a challenge for the traveler with only a little bit of free time. Here’s a couple of the most popular.

Gateway of India
Gateway of India, Mumbai (Photo by Jorge Láscar / CC-BY)

Although considered cliché by frequent visitors, the Gateway of India shouldn’t be missed by anyone new to the city. Visit early in the morning to get a shot of the monument without hoards of tourists around it.

Marine Drive, Mumbai
Marine Drive, Mumbai, at night (Photo by Madhav Pai / CC-BY)

Marine Drive, is best place to get a photo of the Mumbai skyline across a stretch of sea. Visit in the evening, and you’ll immediately understand why this area is also referred to as the Queen’s Necklace. Perhaps the most popular hangout in Mumbai, you’ll also find lots of couple and families hanging out here.

Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai
Laundry hung out in Mumbai’s Dhobi Ghat (Photo by Jon Connell / CC-BY)

The Dhobi Ghat is Mumbai’s infamous and huge outdoor laundry. Everyday, around 200 dhobis (washermen) wash thousands of garments that are then hung for drying on long lines throughout the area. This is a great place to get some memorable photos.

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Flowers for sale at Dadar Phool Market, Mumbai (Photo by Meena Kadri / CC-BY)

If color and flowers attract you, Dadar Phool Market is the place to go. This flower market is located in a small gully lined with flower stalls. The shop owners are used to photographers, but arrive early in the morning for the best shots of this bustling market.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai, at night (Photo by bWlrZQ== / CC-BY)

CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) station, is one of Mumbai’s iconic landmarks. Opened in 1887 to commemorate the Queen Victoria’s 50th birthday, the CST was originally named ‘Victoria Terminus’. If you’re looking to shoot chaos, bustling crowds, and lots of stalls, all against the background of incredible colonial architecture, a visit to CST is a must.

Many first-time travellers to Asia, particularly those on business, have asked about easily accessible photo opportunities in the cities they visit. This post is part of an ongoing series, each on a different Asian city, introducing a few photo locations for visitors with limited time.