A few years back, the ‘WIDE OPEN STREETS WORKSHOP’ trooped to the summer city of Baguio to walk up and down it’s sloping streets and shoot the vibrant and diverse life that it offered. The ‘WOW’ as we fondly call it is a Street Photography workshop that I formed with some friends about six years ago. I have been facilitating the workshop ever since and it is now about to have it’s 48th batch of participants and what better way but to return to the city I have come to love since I was a kid.
The activity in Baguio spurred an exhibit and the following images made it .An eclectic collection of the daily life in the streets of Baguio.
Watch out for the Baguio Workshop Weekend! For those interested, you can register now by emailing me at email@example.com or text and call me +639194852870
Work in progress
A mother cries in anguish as she sees the lifeless body of his son who was seen walking aimlessly in the dark alleys of Tondo until he dropped dead in a gutter.Witnesses say an unidentified assailant shot him several times in the body.
Dateline Manila: September 2016. A few months back, before Rodrigo Duterte had even assumed office as President of the Republic, lifeless bodies started appearing daily like clockwork signalling the start of the anti drug-war in the country. I detached myself from reliving my days of ambulance-chasing and felt numbed from the outgoing and the new leadership’s promises, so I temporarily restrained myself from chronicling the events.
In the early days of my career as a news photographer, I was almost a fulltime resident in Manila’s police headquarters. I spent days and nights covering the police beat as a stringer for a newspaper.I slept in a couch at the press office behind the reception desk of the then Western police headquarters. Documenting daily ocurrences of human misdeeds and tragedy can creep in your system and it wasn’t too long before all kinds of quirky things started happening as I walk the streets of the metro, a habit that was special to me because I loved documenting daily life on the streets in my free time. In one of my walks, a group of men started fighting and stabbing each other with forks and spoons…one time as I sit calmly in a bus, the engine would burst in flames in front of me. One night as I went home past midnight while I was distraught with some office problems, I accidentally boarded a jeepney which was about to be held up. My instincts signaled me that something was wrong but it didn’t sink in enough as my mind was deeply preoccupied. luckily, the hold-up men were professionals and I was able to put across that I was from the ‘PRESS’ and my gear didn’t belong to me so they let me go…but not without giving them my watch. The cameras ,two-way radio were all spared from their crime as I jumped out of the jeepney when they made a detour into ome of the dimly-lit side streets in Espana in Manila.
Manila, 2016: It finally dawned on me that the killings related to the Duterte’s drugwars is a significant point in history that I could not miss specially when the only thing I know well (photojournalism) is being questioned or branded as destabilizing the country. So I dusted off my beaten camera gear and started hanging out with the other journalists maintaining their nightly vigil at the Manila Police Department Press office.
There is a saying about photojournalists when I was just starting out that goes “We don’t take sides, we only take pictures”. Maybe that is partly true because ‘news’ is supposed to be based on truth and facts. Things have changed and in my journey as a photojournalist and a documentary photographer, I knew and felt from deep inside my heart that images should be compelling, provocative and to somehow spark changes in our lives. Every photograph is a reflection of the person who captured it. there will never be identical images from every photographer even if they were all herded together in one spot looking at one subject. Working on my own and without commisioned assignments, I am more free to post images with just simple captions or datelines…It is difficult to verbalize every image that I capture because not all of them are literal…sometimes my images are just abstractions of what is happening before me.
I try to go and cover whatever unfolds for the night and shoot it and approach it clearing any biases I have . No image is ever objective but on this personal project, I am being careful not to add or remove anything from the visual landscape and let who ever views them to complete the equation on their own. The narratives will unfold with the passage of each night.
Next: Continuing saga
After meeting early in Quiapo, the group walked around Sta.Cruz and ended up in Binondo to have a hearty lunch at the photographer’s favourite pokestop, Wai Ying . Needless to say that the place is part of the ritual to taking good street photographs.The following are excerpts from the two-day activity. The workshop aims to enhance the way photographers look for pictures.
Since Street Photography has evolved from the classic to the contemporary form as it is now known, it is then safe to say that the genre is in flux.
The traditional SP that we have come to recognize as leaning on the edge of Art and Documentary is now undergoing a gradual process of transformation. I for one have slowly veered towards injecting my own sensibilities and beliefs into the genre (I call it a genre but is a debatable term). I myself have failed to come up with a definition for Street Photography so whenever I discuss it among my students in the” Wide Open Streets Workshop” or “Wide Open Workshops in Street Photography” I always explain it to them in 1001 different ways evry time.
I started out as a photojournalist shooting general and spot news in the early 80’s and in between these assignments, we fill the gaps by engaging myself in long walks around the city and shoot what was popularly called as ” Human Interest”. An old term for a category that is now known as “Daily Life”. which is a lighter a lighter, feature type of photography showcasing facets of life in the streets. As we know, humans can display a wide variety of notable activity and the photographer has the power to capture them in equally limitless ways. The photographs then become documents of history, social change, and or personal expressions without any public ambitions .
At this point, it is important to also mention that Street Photography has also given birth to different schools of thought and styles…personally, I believe that SP need not be just derivatives of the old and classic images…everyday we must strive to find new imagery and directions. The unbelievable and dizzying surge in digital technology and the real time postings on social media have given birth to the photographers in all of us. We are all photographers now. When we were just starting out, you can even count the practitioners by hand.
Enough with these random ramblings for now..what I am really trying to say is that in my next workshop on August 27-28 2016, I would be trying to discuss how to repurpose Street Photography and veer in different directions.
SP as a tool to record:
- Changes in social conditions
- an expression of Defiance and or Resistance (political or ideological)
- Intellectual and pure artistic expression
- Critique of society
I am not trying to revolutionize Street Photography but will try to make it more relevant to the change that has been promised by our leaders.
In the last few Street Photography workshops we had, in one of them I collaborated with a group of creative writers on Facebook called “FLOW” spearheaded by a friend Ime Morales, an extraordinary writer and single mom. We decided to bring along her posse to observe out field exercises on street photography and at some point react to what they see and write anything about their observations.
Ime sent me several short blurbs accompanied by images captured by the workshop participants.and here it goes:
“My inspiration for the following text came from Henri Cartier-Bresson himself when he said, “…you picture their lives, what they’re about to do, what they’ve done, where they’re going…” These are stories that arise out of the pictures, but are not necessarily about the pictures themselves. In that sense, it adds depth to the photograph by adding a layer of story, fiction or otherwise. It tells a separate reality, or an alternate fantasy, to further widen the depth of field and possibly demystify a little the captured moment.”
It’s true…another year has passed and I have neglected this visual and personal journal of mine. A lot of milestones have passed in my life and most of them have been personal and family crises. Struggle is not enough to describe what I went through with my family and kids.Thankfully, we have proven to be of sterner fabric and rising above all these…light finally shone through.
To overcome the stress, I have sustained my biking and brought it to another level and I have adopted swimming as an integral part of staying alive longer. On top of my life’s agenda now is to promote well-being through physical activities.
In my bucket list are new projects involving long rides to different and far-flung places and adventures with my trusty steed “Trololo”.