The lasting remnants of Sto. Niño’s film photographers
There are eight film photographers that still shoot live photos at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.
There are eight film photographers that still shoot live photos at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.


The sound of a camera shutter echoes through the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. This is a shutter sound made by the mechanical movement of a camera shutter capturing a photo, not the fake shutter sounds smartphones make. 

Behind the lens is a photographer in a yellow and red vest, who has been capturing stories throughout the compound for decades. His old camera has witnessed over 40 years of Sinulog, a feat not shared by modern smartphones. 

The 82-year-old Matias Salasa is one of the remaining photographers in the Basilica Minore Del Sto. Niño, a rare site amid a sea of selfie sticks and phone flashes. 

Locally known as “maniniyot,” Salsa is among the photographers who have worked for decades at the Basilica compound to capture photos of people at P50 per photograph. The photos have to be developed and physically given to the customers. 

They roam around the Basilica capturing photos of tourists, families, children, and devotees. 

Flight from war

Before Salasa took a camera lens, he used to knead dough for a living. He worked as a baker in Negros before the Japanese occupation in 1941 forced him and his family out of the island. 

“Paggubat sauna, gikuha mi didto sa akong apohan kay daghan mang hapon sa Negros sa una," said Salasa.

(During the war, our grandparents took us out of the island because there were many Japanese in Negros).

They sought refuge in Cebu. Salasa grew up and needed to find a job to raise his children. Back then, photography was the craze. Everyone wanted their photos taken. 

So Salasa got a camera. He had no idea how to take a photo, but he took a shot and learned to take pictures on his own.

Over four decades later, Salasa would remain a photographer, despite the technological changes in photography.

Though the business has struggled with the arrival of mobile photography, Salasa said he would remain a photographer because he doesn’t know what else to do. In a day, Salasa can earn an average of P1,000, an equivalent of around 20 shots. This is enough to sustain himself, providing for his meals and necessities.

As mobile photography rapidly took pop culture by storm, Salasa said it has been difficult to find customers. Yet some people still approach him to have to have their picture taken because of the value of a physical copy of a picture.

Salasa said the difference between people using their phones and photographers is visitors who have their photos taken can keep a physical copy of their memories inside the Basilica which will last a lifetime.

The first official photographer

Noe Salvador could be the oldest photographer in the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, but he is the first. At 84 years old, Salvador is a living testament to the culture that surrounds the Basilica. 

Salvador started as a traveling photographer, spending around four years in Mindanao capturing different moments in various cities, including Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Iligan City, Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, Davao, Cotabato, and Zamboanga.

He later became an official photographer for Southern Mindanao Colleges in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur for a year. 

Salvador arrived in Cebu in 1965 after his friend informed him about the opportunities within the photography industry on the island. 

During that period, photographers were still waiting to be allowed to take pictures inside the Basilica compound, making it challenging for them to earn a buck. 

However, things took a turn when the late, multi-awarded veteran actress Gloria Sevilla visited the Basilica and requested to have her picture taken while receiving her blessing from the priests.

Salvador was called by the priests to take a picture of the actress. The photo became iconic. 

"Sukad adto di nako badlongon sa gwardya," said Salvador. (Since then, guards no longer bothered us.)

Priests allowed him to take photos within the church. 

But only Salvador was given such an opportunity. The other photographers were still prohibited from taking photos. That is until 1978 when the Basilica friars had a change of heart. 

In 1978, photographers had to apply for accreditation for them to be allowed to take photos inside the Basilica. Consequently, Salvador was also the first applicant.

For Salvador, photography is a fulfilling job because he meets new and different people every day. 

At present, though most of the tourists bring their phones, Salvador said some would still approach him to have their photos taken.

"Para nako tungod tingali sa gidugayan gyud nako diri daghan man kaayo ko'ng mga suki," said Salvador.

(Because of how long I have been working here, I already have accrued a lot of returning customers).


Salasa and Salvador are two of the eight photographers left at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño. Before, there had been 32 photographers. 

Salvador hoped the present generation would consider applying as official photographers and join them to preserve the tradition.

Salvador said the photographers were able to preserve the culture through the physical copy of pictures taken in Basilica.

Jem Cañada, a professional photographer, emphasized the lasting value of physical photos, reminding people of the memories that they can look back on.

"Physical photos have a deeper nostalgic effect compared to digital photos we see online in which we tend to forget easily in a span of a few minutes," said Cañada. S


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