A Day in the Life of the Modern Filipina

September 30th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Two years ago, I was commissioned by Unilever to create a collection of photographs showing a typical day in the life of a modern Filipina. Because of the nature of the project, the photographs were never publicly displayed, but I was told that they have been shown to Unilever offices around the world, from London to New York. I’ve met a few people who have seen the images and they’ve said that the photos have given them a new appreciation for the consumers they create products for. The photo above is not part of the original collection, but it does capture the spirit of the original body of work. And just like the original set, it is a reminder of the wonderful things around us we can see if we are only willing to look.

Paalam, Ka Celso. We Shall Never Forget.

September 24th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Celso EstrelladoCelso S. Estrellado, War Hero, 1927-2009

While patrolling one night for his guerilla unit in his hometown of Luisiana in Laguna, Celso Suello Estrellado, Pfc., 3rd Co., Cadre Rgt., Tamaraw Unit, Marking’s Fil-Am Guerillas, was captured by Japanese Imperial soldiers and some members of the pro-Jap Filipino Makapili movement. He was stuffed inside a burlap sack and after arriving at the Japanese garrison, he was convinced he was going to die. Full of fear and regret, he was surprised when help unexpectedly came in the hours before dawn. A Makapili who knew his father cut his bonds and told him to immediately head for the hills; there would be no second chances. After a brief stop at his father’s house, he did as he was told. He would not see his family again until the end of the war.

During his flight, he met members of the Hukbalahap in the town of Nagcarlan. He joined their ranks and fought with the Huks during the Liberation of Sta. Cruz, Laguna. At Sta. Cruz, he was reunited with the Marking’s Guerillas. He went on to fight with them in Quezon. There, they united with American liberation forces to attack the Japanese positions in Bicol. He was among those who volunteered to take the fight to Okinawa, but was recalled when Japan finally and unconditionally surrendered. After the war, he found work as a schoolteacher and eventually became the principal of the Central Elementary School in Nagcarlan. I got a call today and found out that Ka Celso had already passed on and today is his interment. He just turned 82 last July 25. At the time of his death, he was the District Commander of the 4th Laguna Veterans District of the Veterans’ Federation of the Philippines.

Ka Celso and I met on a cold and rainy afternoon last January, at his home in Luisiana, Laguna. In a small thatched hut in the middle of his wonderful garden, I had carabao meat, cooked bulalo style, for the first time in my life. After interviewing him and taking his portrait, he brought me to the homes of three other Filipino WWII veterans. He drove me back to Sta. Cruz, just as the sun was setting. Before returning home, he told me one more time how he appreciated what I was doing for the veterans. He wished us both luck. I shook his hand one last time and said goodbye.

Ka Celso_FilcomKa Celso’s portrait on display at the Waipahu Filipino Community Center during the VALOR exhibits in Honolulu last July.

Wedding Photography and Me

September 16th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Ann DiptychAnne, June 2008

I have always been reluctant about getting into the business of wedding photography. I used to say that I didn’t want to get involved with the business part of it and that there’s no glory in capturing cheesy romantic moments, but that’s just obviously my unreformed biases refusing to get with the program. In general, I actually find shooting weddings and engagements a joy, especially if the couple exchanging vows are good friends and they’re game about giving people a peek into their crazy side. My opinion about the whole thing changed even more after I, too, tied the knot. I finally became a subject on the other side of the lens. Given that, the only thing keeping me from getting into the business of wedding photography is my decision not to do so. Things could be different tomorrow. Maybe. Who knows?

Breaking the Silence

February 20th, 2009 § 5 comments § permalink


Lolo Bining sat down on a small slender stool in the middle of his shack and waited for me to give him instructions. I had already made a couple of photographs of him, out in his rice field in the afternoon sun, but I didn’t feel I had what I wanted. This shack was special to him. He had a house in the poblacion, but he didn’t want to live there. This dark and creaky shack, with its dirt floor and thatched roof, filled with stacks of cardboard boxes containing farm tools and dusty clothes, smelling of stale urine and cat feces, was where he wanted to be. And so I had to create a photo of him inside it. It was a must-do.

I had initially planned to use strobes, but I was told when we arrived that there was no electricity in the shack. Gas lamps lit Lolo Bining’s nights. So there was only one thing left to do: Bring out the Reflector. I gave it to one of my companions, pointed at a golden pool of sunlight, gave her a few tips about the art of catching it, and, just like that, I had light. God would’ve been proud. The result is the photo above. Among the hundreds I’ve made over the last few months, it continues to be one of my favorites.

What HAVE I been up to these last few months?

Since early last year, back when the dream of having an African-American US president was still just that, and the words “stimulus” and “package”were used to connote other things in the halls of the US Congress, I had been going around the country, searching for surviving Filipino WWII veterans, for a personal project that’s been a long time coming.

During the last days of 1941, life completely changed for a generation of Filipinos. The Philippines had become engulfed in a war unlike anyone at the time had seen. For four long years, our country shed tears for the loss of treasured sons and daughters. But her pain was never in vain. Despite being trampled by the boots of invaders, her courageous children, mostly farmers and youths who have not seen enough summers, fought on. Through sickness and hunger, with ancient and broken weapons, in the wilderness, in secret, side by side with American allies, they made good on their promise to never let our country’s shining fields be dimmed by a tyrant’s might.

Today, we’re seeing a lot of our veterans in the news because of Obama’s fulfillment of a promise he made during his presidential campaign. But once the buzz has died down, these men and women will once again fade into the background. Time will come when even these remaining survivors will be gone. After that, they will simply be names on a stone wall or in a book. Their faces and their stories forgotten forever.

In the last few months, I’ve been doing what I can to keep these valiant men and women from simply passing quietly into the night. I’ve been visiting them in their homes and attending their gatherings to hear their stories and take their portraits, like this one of Lolo Bining, hoping to create a record of their contribution to the pursuit of liberty and freedom, and to honor their spirit and valor, which has not been diminished by old age and time. I have a few more photographs here. And this coming April 9, on the 67th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan, I’ll let you know how you can see more.

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