My own 'mystery of chance'

"One of the greatest mysteries of the world is chance. You wait for a photo to happen, and it just will, if it's meant for you." -Sonny Yabao

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Before I learned what photography really is, all I want is to shoot a close-up photo of a person or a thing with a blurred background.

Everything changed in 2009. During my internship at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) that summer, the organization held a 3-day workshop/training on photography and citizen photojournalism. We were taught by some of the officers of the Photojournalists' Center of the Philippines Inc. (PCP) including Jimmy Domingo and Alex Baluyut.

That was the first time I heard the names Dorothea Lange, Lewis Hine, Eduardo Masferre, among others. That was the first time that I held my Sony Cybershot and attempted to take photos that did not involve my friends or family members which I won't be posting on Multiply, Friendster or Facebook just because I want to.

I took photos that I did not really intend to take -- a series of shots showing my jeepney ride on my way to the bus station. (See slideshow here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lethargicaviatrix/5081189591/) And that was the first time that someone told me, "Ang galing!" with a passion, like he wanted to say an expletive.

I thought the man who told me that my photos were good was just half-drunk, half-insane old man with wrinkled shirt and a bad smoking habit. But he was the first man whom I've met who is driven by nothing but passion. For a moment, I wanted to be like him, a documentary photographer.

This man I was talking about is no other than two-time National Book awardee, Alex Baluyut whom I can't help but admire all the time. He seems like the rockstar father I wish I had.

I remember that UP Lantern Parade in 2009 where I saw him and he said, "You were the one with the rear-view mirror set, right?" I thought my heart would melt.

Alex eventually become my mentor in documentary photography. Fast forward to 2011, I enrolled in his masterclass in documentary photography and was able to showcase some of my snaps in an exhibit where photographers and artists whose names I only knew from newspapers, readings and online sites attended. I was given a chance to be part of a community of people with huge hearts, great artistry and by golly, unparalleled alcohol tolerance.

Then I stopped taking photos as I was keen on pursuing a career in science journalism. I was momentarily detached to the world of Filipino photographers and artists. From time to time, I would see Alex during events or had a few minutes of chat with him on Facebook.

On Thursday, amid heavy rain, I attended his book launch. I knew some of my friends will be there as well since they were also part of the project.

A daredevil, Rocel Ann Junio, who is also a friend, managed to put together some of the biggest names in Philippine photography and created a coffee table book titled Mysteries of Chance. I came at the book launch as a friend and a supporter of this worthy endeavor.

Rocel said she wanted to move the Philippine photography and Philippine art forward. I asked why. She said, "But now is the best time." Such idealism that people like Rocel (and perhaps me as well) do not want to let go of.

Rocel was just a few years older than me but I still owe her a huge deal for teaching me how to write a decent news story. She was one of my "ates" in our college. She continues to inspire me in many ways--like getting a tattoo from a mambabatok in Kalinga, or taking freelance jobs (Oops!), and just going after my dreams.

Two other photographers featured in the book were also dear to me. The first time that Jose Raymond DG Panaligan, or simply Bogsie, saw my photos was during our pre-exhibit critique in 2011. He was introduced as a photojournalist who went up the mountains of Mindoro to shoot the Mangyans. Bogsie said he liked my set. A positive comment coming from an accomplished photographer is nothing short of inspiring. He kept on telling me to continue shooting photos. (Bogsie, para sa inyo ni Sir Alex, hindi ko iiwanan ang documentary photography.)

Luis Liwanag is a friend of many of my friends. I sually see him during parties, exhibits and events. Recently, during a friend's birthday party, he was talking about street photography and he blurted out,"Hindi naman ito lecture. Happenings ito." I admire this man for his generosity to share what he knows. All the time.

I was trying to stop myself for being emotional during the book launch. Perhaps it was the red wine kicking in, but I was really overwhelmed. I was rubbing shoulders with the pillars of Philippine photography and I felt so proud.

Mysteries of Chance is an aptly titled book for such a huge endeavor of putting together some of the biggest names in the industry, including Alex Baluyut, Luis Liwanag, Jose Raymond DG Panaligan, Al Benavente whose photos have been showcased in many books, Sonny Yabao, an award-winning photojournalist whose works were reminiscent of French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, and US-based documentary photographer Rick Rockamora who is also a trail-blazer in the art of iPhone photography.

Maybe this is the only book I might be willing to buy even if it will cost me some thousands of pesos. It's a historical endeavor and it is something the Filipino people need. Rocel was right in saying that "at the time of instant gratifications, we need tangible testaments." I was excited to flip through the pages of the book samples during the exhibit. I felt being transported in time and brought to places I have never been.

Nowadays, we are constantly bombarded by images on social media. In the age of selfies and OOTDs, there are very few images we see everyday that could move us. It was as if we have reached our saturation point of visual information. But to be able to touch the photos inside the book, and stare at them for a few seconds, even minutes is almost similar to standing in front of an artwork in a museum. It is not just a visual feast but it was like being warped in another dimension where and when the photo took place. Each photo--from Benavente's "Mistica" series of the Rizalistas, to gripping images of Mendiola Massacre by Luis Liwanag, to Bogsie's Mangyan photographs, to Rick Rockamora's version of Quiapo, to Sonny Yabao's small-town life documentary "Consider the Lilies" to Alex's restrospection in "Static Grain"--is like the Daily Prophet in the Harry Potter series. Each character leaps out of life. I could romanticize the experience all day. But you have to see the images and experience it yourself.

Documentary photography is not just about taking photos as it happens but it is about capturing life in a frame. Looking at the different perspectives the six men featured in the book is nothing short of amazing.

I have said this in a blog entry a few weeks back but I believe that every person sees the world differently in our tiny pinholes called eyes. The Universe did a good job in letting the book happen. I am also thanking Fate for letting me be a witness, an observer to a historical event in Philippine photography.

Going back, I only wanted to take a photo with a blurred background and a subject popping out. I can do that now. I just can't help but get lost in deep thought as I try to reckon how did I even get to where I am right now and why do I know these people. It's one of my own "mysteries of chance."

For information about the book, please email voicesofvisionbooks@gmail.com or text/call 0923-3696398. You may also check out this site for reservations: http://voices-of-vision-publishing.myshopify.com/.

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