Meeting the Master (or How I Finally Got to Meet Romy Vitug)

March 9th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Old School Cool – Tata Romy always uses his light meter when lighting his sets, even when he’s shooting digital.

Ever since I found out that my friend, TV and Film Director Rahyan Carlos, has been working regularly with award-winning cinematographer Romy Vitug, I’ve been scrambling for a chance to finally meet him. Yesterday, on the set of Rahyan’s newest suspense opus, I finally got to shake hands with the maestro whose work has been winning at the FAMAS and the Gawad Urian since the 70s (As a bonus, I also met veteran actress Perla Bautista as well). Any words of wisdom from the old lighting wizard? To become a good cinematographer, you first have to be a great photographer. Ain’t that the truth.

5-Star Insider

March 3rd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I thoroughly enjoyed having breakfast at the Executive Club of the Westin Miyako in Kyoto. Every morning, I watched the fog from the mountains gently retreat from the sunrise, until I could finally see the tiled roofs of the temples of Nanzenji.

In almost all of my international trips, I’ve always had the pleasure of staying and dinning at five-star hotels. To date, I have enjoyed the tropical sun at the Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall Resort in Jamaica and at the Westin Resort and Spa in Puerto Vallarta. I have savored high-grade wagyu and otoro at the Westin Miyako in Kyoto and until today I still can’t forget the heavenly Hainanese Chicken Rice at the Meritus in Singapore. I have immersed myself in the warm waters of W Hong Kong’s 76th-floor outdoor pool (the highest in the city) in the middle of winter and I have beaten the heat of Ho Chi Minh City with overflowing cold drinks at the Club Lounge of the Sheraton Saigon. These great hotels are destinations in themselves, and as a tribute, deserve their own album of iconic photographs.

We Are The Treatment

November 21st, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

When James Nachtwey was awarded the TED Prize in 2007, he was given $100,000 and one wish to change the world. He wished to create awareness about the new and deadly mutation of tuberculosis — XDR-TB or extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis. A photography project and a website are the results of his wish. This is his testimony.

Found Art

November 17th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink


Taken with my Sony Ericsson W350i

Life is full of surprises for those with the eyes to see. I was browsing around the Art section of Fully Booked in Greenhills and came across this interesting juxtaposition. Whether intended or accidental, and whoever the “artist” was, I will never know. But it doesn’t really matter. It made me smile. Art is alive in someone. That’s all that counts.

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.

The Journey Begins Anew

August 22nd, 2008 § 3 comments § permalink

2008 is almost over and all I have to show are photos from this year’s Pulilan Carabao Festival. Compared to last year, I didn’t hit the road much this ‘08. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy.

When David Alan Harvey asked me a year ago about what I wanted to do besides travel photography, I actually didn’t know what to answer. My style of travel photography is already different from other photographers. I wasn’t just taking pretty pictures; I was making insightful images. He said I was doing a great job, so what’s this about doing more?

Not traveling as much this year (and not taking any travel photos as a consequence), I think I’ve finally figured out what David was getting at. I’ve been shooting a lot of other things lately. I’ve been shooting a lot of other things that I thought I would never shoot. The change is not just in my subjects — the way I make photographs and my vision of myself as a photographer have been infused with a lot of new discoveries, too.

I guess it’s along these lines that I decided to put up this blog. In the last few months, I didn’t just shift gears; I have begun a journey down a completely new road, with David Alan Harvey’s words ringing in my ears over the wind: “Just go out and do the work.” Build it, and they will come. (Oh, yeah!)

Regarding the pitiful state of my travel life in 2008, on the other hand, all is not lost. I’ll be in Singapore this October, and now that the Smart Mountaineering Club has just opened a new Training Season, I’ll be hitting high ground once again, among other things.

There are new Tales to be told. Are you watching closely?

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