SHADOW SELFIE: OVERTURE TO STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

There was this shutterbug whose blogsite I stumbled upon not so long ago, the guy makes great street photography and in fact, one of his works, a set of Manila urban shots, once made it to the most coveted Freshly Pressed. Although I failed to bookmark the site and somehow can’t find it anymore, I remember imparting something like step outside, it’s where the real thrill is comment because — here’s the rub — he was shooting from the comforts of his car.

And then there’s this budding street tog who rides, shoots and never steps out of the jeepney for fear of camera snatchers prowling the streets of Quiapo. I share her worries, Manila is malignant with lawlessness. And so she asked me how did I ever have the morale to shoot in public places. My reply was simple, but first, a story:

Exactly a year ago today, I was with a bunch of gentlemen at a luncheon table in Bayleaf Hotel as we take a short break from the first ever Shutter Games — an on-the-spot photography competition arranged by Digital Photographers of the Philippines. The food was heavenly, but I was more absorbed by the group’s conversation especially when one of them, a silvery-haired man who speaks as though everyone on the table is involved in their business, talked about black and white photography, street photography, Bresson, Maier, black and white street dot com etc. I’ve never been so engrossed in nosing around. That night, I googled every topic they had and I landed on tons of fascinating black and white street shots. This was how I got stung by the street photography bug. So this is year one for me in this brand of photography and as a fledgling street tog, allow me to take a crack at answering one of the many FAQs in SP: how to overcome fear in street photography?

As briefly as I can now: In this day and age when camera has pervaded everywhere — air, land and sea — and picture taking has become commonplace as a coffee break, how is it that street photography (the genuine 24-karat street photography that is) can still be a very daunting task, especially for newcomers? What is so scary in capturing street scenes?

Aside from dealing with the fear knowing there are hideous elements out there who might find your gear too hot, street photography in part, is about being a social odd bird. A street photographer tends to focus not on conventional subjects, and this raises eyebrows; he finds beauty in the most mundane, which makes him subject of scrutiny; he shoots candidly in private and public places, causing suspicions; he crosses one’s space, making him atrocious. In other words, SP is risky business. Once a street tog goes into action, he is out on a limb. But that’s just simply the challenge of street photography. Chew over Robert Frank’s words:

If an artist doesn’t take risks, then it’s not worth it.

So, without further ado, how do we overcome fear in street photography?

My answer is simply –one must first make himself be an innate part of his playing field. Whether it’d be a street, a train or a village green, he must melt with the multitude, be immersed to the situation and, attached to the setting as dust is to a pavement. Be it a gospel truth that as there are vendors and pedestrians, there are street photographers as well. It’s nothing short of acclimatizing. Every time I set foot on a ‘gathering place’ with the camera around my neck, I always make it a point to allow a few moments of lolling, observing and taking in the pressure of the place, the distressing gazes. And when everybody goes back to minding their own business, I knew I have become “part” of the scene, a fly on the wall, and then calmly shoots.

As to the fear of getting into unpleasant situations (thank heavens I haven’t been into one), so far I haven’t heard of a good street shooting gone terribly bad. Or a battle royale arising from SP. There will always be some minor incidents, your subject going into an angry outburst, a dirty finger on you, or a run-in with the guards. As per street photographer Kip Praslowicz, it’s more likely for a cheerleader to get into an accident than for a street photographer to get punched.

The net is loaded with extensive tips and tutorials on coping with fear in street photography. I think Eric Kim’s short and simple 5 TIPS will suffice. IF at the end of the day, you still can’t seem to find the courage for this artistic endeavor, don’t give up just yet, every cloud has a silver lining.

When I first started doing street, I found myself playing around with one of the most ‘uninteresting’ subjects at hand — my own shadow. Now I have gathered a few stocks here from my first months on the street featuring that sparring partner of mine, and my take as to how a simple practice as shadow selfie could be a good ice breaker for budding street togs.

Elmer Nev Valenzuela, street photographer, shadow selfie

First of, shadow selfie is fun and easy. Creativity starts out of the classroom and here, there is no failing grade. People have been doing selfie for 175 years now so there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Besides, you can do this all day without fear of getting into trouble since you’re not being an inconvenience to anybody but your dark side. For now.

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One amazing thing about street photography is that it involves cryptic, enigmatic, or bizarre images. As for London-based street photographer Nick Turpin: “A series of street photographs may show a ‘crazy’ world, perhaps ‘dreamlike’. This is, for me, the most fascinating aspect of Street Photography, the fact that these ‘crazy’, ‘unreal’ images were all made in the most ‘everyday’ and ‘real’ location, the street.”

Your shadow is a creepy thing. You can create your own dreamlike scenes by simply picking a ‘crazy’ spot for which to juxtapose your surrealistic shade.

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It’s all about the light, light, light. The more intense the light source, the sharper the figuration, the more you’ll learn to be appreciative and beholden to light which — after all — is the SOUL of photography. Then perhaps you might begin to share my fondness for taking photos at times when shadows are the longest.

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Acquaint thyself with the street by taking your shadow for a walk. (Folks from the field of spiritual psychology would refer to the shadow as our Dark Side. The Negative Ego.) Take pictures of your Negative Ego out on the street, in the park or in the ghetto. Before you know it you’ll be in harmony with the street and pretty much gone, broken, snapped off from your comfort zone.

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PEOPLE, the essential element in street photography. The component of greatest importance. Gary Winogrand is unrivaled here, imho. Let your shadow mingle with the crowd just to allay your anxiety. Go down the line if you have to. Embrace the human element of street photography. Maybe then you’ll never have to be afraid of your own shadow.

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I believe that the shadow is one of the greatest gifts available to us, Carl Jung said. It is the opponent within us that exposes our flaws and sharpens our skills. It is the teacher, the trainer, and the guide that supports us in uncovering our true magnificence.

The fear associated in doing Street is but a natural sensation. I say, introduce yourself to the street first, make friends with the street, feel the street. Bite the bread of street photography. Shadow-selfie might just provide a warm up. It will walk you through the fundamentals of street photography the easy way and, ultimately, create astounding shots.

That’s without the shadow of doubt.

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HUMANS OF ILOCOS

Another year has come to pass for KLM’s On Assignment photo contest. Among the three finalists is “The Little Details of Vigan” by Julius Andres Manzano. Superb photography! (And so are the other two) Why my spotlight goes to his photo narrative is simply because I, too, banked on Vigan City as my subject for this year’s competition. Except that my photo narrative dwelt more on Ilocos region in general AND — it sort of failed to put the judges under a spell. But it’s clear, I think I was right all along in picking Vigan — being the picturesque city that she is — as my entry of choice. For she does have a fighting chance.

In other words, I have it all locked in on the target and –bang! Missed.

Moving on now and to wrap up my mini-series on the Ilocos expedition, here is a collection of street shots from Laoag to Vigan featuring the locals themselves, the Ilocanos. “Saluyot,” as my favorite journalist Max Soliven, may he rest in peace, would often refer to this folks. Saluyot (local spinach) is a green leafy vegetable that grows just about anywhere. Nutritious, easy to prepare, cheap. “In a way, resilient as the Ilocanos.” Manong Max — the saluyot himself — reputed.

Ladies and gentlemen, the saluyots:

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_1

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_2

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_3

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_3b

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_4a

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_5a

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_5b

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_10

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_6

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_7

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_7a

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_2d

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_7b

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_8

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_4

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_11

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_6a

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_8b

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_5

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_4b

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_3a

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_8a

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_9

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_2e

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_2c

HUMANS OF ILOCOS by Elmer Valenzuela_12

TRANS – ILOCANDIA DRIFT

In the closing days of summer, we hit the Pan-Philippine Highway for a journey across Ilocos Region — home to “G.Is“,  pinakbet, and baking hot sand dunes.

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_6

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_1

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TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_5

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TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_11

The idea is to drive all the way up north to the Patapat viaduct in Pagudpud, then ride back down to Vigan, sweeping every points of interest, one after another. The road is a long stretch of rocky beaches on one side, and tobacco fields the other.

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_12

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_13

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_14

We met this band of young ladies at the Bantay-Abot Cave who could make good tourism executives. Soiled and barefooted, they cared enough to remind visitors: “ingat sa pagbaba” or “ingat sa pagakyat!” Even offered to shoot for us. And how they handle the camera is amazing.

We left the place with their friendly bid, “ingat sa pagmamaneho!”

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_16

Pagudpud by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

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TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_17

On the other side of the hill is the Maira-ira Beach, cove to the Blue Lagoon. The zip line — to which the other end fades into yonder — is my only shot of the place. The Lagoon is so inviting I had to settle the camera down and surrender to the sea.

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_18

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_19

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The Bangui windmills. Every town seems to have something to brag about. God made the country and man made the town.

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TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_24

 

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I have never seen a formation of behemoths in this magnitude.

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Or a beach, lonely as space.

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The wind farm stretches to two towns — from Bangui to Burgos. There is no escaping these monsters.

BANGUI WINDMILLS by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

BANGUI WINDMILL by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_20

Time constraints forced me to omit some places from the order of business. Or replace one with another.  For instance Kapurpurawan Rock Formation for Kaangrian Falls. Tough call.

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KAPURPURAWAN ROCK by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Why do you come here
why do you hang around

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_32

 

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_22

Nightfall in Cape Bojeador

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_38

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_40

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_41

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TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_42

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ILOCOS NORTE SUNSET by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

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NIGHTFALL ILOCOS NORTE by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Time flies fast as the Ilocos wind. Halfway through this expedition I realized we’re nearing the beginning of a journey’s end. The conceptualization and the planning stage are actually the most breathtaking part of every adventure, I never wanted it to end. Once you set foot on the road, time erodes like earth on torrents.

We found this comfy joint somewhere in the nooks of Laoag City and — undoubtedly — heaven is a hoisted tired feet and an ice cold beer. In the morning, we were back on the road for Vigan — Ilocos’ Old World City.

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TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_44A

 

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VIGAN by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

VIGAN by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_3

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_54

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TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_56

VIGAN by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_2

What really knocked me out in this journey is how motorists in Vigan would come to a halt, courteously keeping themselves off from the photographer’s shooting path.

TRANSILOCANDIA DRIFT by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_57

VIGAN by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_6

VIGAN by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_5

Before heading back to Manila, we were treated to a ringside view of the mesmerizing Dancing Fountain at the Plaza Salcedo, courtesy of the Governor himself. The night became more richly colored than the day.

We may have failed to see everything there is here in Ilocos. We have seen not even half of it. But I think it’s a good point to let some of those mysteries remain as they are. And leave having a good reason for a return.

VIGAN by Elmer Nev Valenzuela_7

We fade into the darkness with a last-song-syndrome from the fountain show ringing in my head — Andrea Bocelli’s Con Te Partiro.

(Let me extend my acknowledgments to Joe America for having Malate in the Library of The Society of Honor. Pleasure con pressure. Thank you sir, now say something pls)

ILOCOS FOCUS

Ilocos Norte is a tedious 10-hour land trip from Manila. When I am no longer the indefatigable traveler I once was who would endure a lengthy ride without the heavy-eyes, my usual recourse now is to curl up in the backseat and comatose for the whole duration of the trip. I used to take pleasure in the journey more than the destination. But that was twenty or thirty years ago. Now, it’s the other way around. You say mellowing. No, this isn’t about advancing in years, or a forty-something infirmity I assure you. This is more like a travel burn-out (3 long journeys in 4 weeks so far).

Advancing in years is my septuagenarian boss who loves reading out loud every signage, posts, notes, ads or any writings his eyes could lay into on the road. Once, on a trip back to Manila, there was this long line of cars by the roadside, each boldly marked FOR SALE. As we passed by these merchandise, he goes: “For sale. For sale. For sale. For sale..”

ILOCOS FOCUS by ELMER NEV VALENZUELA

So we took the midnight cruise on our way to Ilocos Norte. Sleep the ride away and wake up to the view of endless rocky beaches on one side, and tobacco fields the other. This is the closest we could get to teleportation. This expedition is in part aimed in collecting a good deal of materials for a project I’m working on for KLM’s ON ASSIGNMENT. A photo narrative I would later call TRANS-ILOCANDIAN WIND. The idea is to travel across Ilocos Region, sweeping major points of interest one after another. All in a short 3-day span.

OnAssignment(Philippines) is an annual battle royale of Pinoy photographers, professionals and enthusiasts. Stuffed with fabulous prizes, the competition is heavily contested every year. And with so many aces out there, I’m taking my chances here like a suntok sa buwan. At any rate, this Ilocos trip, is itself, a reward enough. To see places is a reward enough. Every travel is a great affair.

Ilocos Norte FTFT. My first tread here on this skirt of Luzon. If on a map the island of Luzon is like a mitten with the thumb on the left, I have been all over it except on the index finger. That’s been settled today and — the first time is always electric.

Unfortunately the camera misbehaved. The shutter won’t fire and the lens won’t focus. There’s just no sign of life. I rushed outside the St. William Cathedral and tried to figure what’s going on as calm as a millpond. I am no stranger to this sort of bug anymore and I trust my Youtube science will spot the glitch. And it did. And of all the bummer — I have a busted flex cable! To the unacquainted, camera flex cable gives you the POWER of auto-focus.

See what it’s like for a purblind to be without the autofocus:

ILOCOS FOCUS by ELMER NEV VALENZUELA

See what is life like without the flex cable.

ILOCOS FOCUS by ELMER NEV VALENZUELA

I came, I saw, I conked out. But of course there’s always the MANUAL focus. More on Ilocos Region up next.

PHOTOWALK IRIGA CITY

I was thinking how excellent it would be to have a Mexican hat on during photowalks in these scorching summer days. There is just no better buffer against the sun. Though none is available at the nearest cowboy shop right now. Globalization has yet to deliver one of those oversize sombreros here in the Philippines.

The Holy Week saw me taking on the hot weather in Iriga City. Together with my Cereal Killer who is always ready on his feet each time I break into Let’s take a walk! — I set out for some street shots around the place.

As always, the best time to play with the sunlight is at the first blush of the morning or later in the afternoon. Either case, light changes instantaneously one needs to think of subjects pronto or try again the next day.

Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

A tricycle in full throttle and the closing of day for a store attendant. Business in Iriga City usually ends with the sundown.

Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Streets In Color: Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Iriga City photowalk Day 2, featuring an unreceptive look from a needle worker. Don’t be misled. Irigueños are friendly as a granny. The old lady actually sees her world in vivid colors. Below, another missus has been framed.

Streets In Color: Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Streets In Color: Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

On Good Friday, we were treated with the same old, same old Passion Play. As a young boy growing up in Malolos, I remember, this is the time for a family get-together. All eyes stuck on the boob-tube for the whole duration of the well-worn Ten Commandments starring Charleton Heston. The only intermission is when a Passion Play passes by.

Streets In Color: Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

I don’t usually look at street performers or street acts as subjects for street photography (for the simple reason that they are easy subjects and are most commonly photographed). Only, if I could squeeze something from them other than what is being presented.

In the scene below, I tried to juxtapose the Cross with the railroad cross on the pavement. (I believe this would be a winner if only I captured the cross from a more clear-cut angle.) The intent is to exhibit a  twist of sort other than the play itself. Which makes the street presentation out of the subject. That is the challenge of street photography.

Streets In Color: Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

And in the evening, I set a Praetorian’s hair on fire.

Streets In Color: Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Streets In Color: Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

TRAINSPOTTING. I came across an article recently which I believe would go well with my image below. It’s an Inquirer piece titled THE SAD SAGA OF THE PNR. About the woeful fate of the railway system in the Philippines.

Streets In Color: Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

The trains here in Iriga City has long been out of whack. Billions of taxpayer’s money can’t provide a decent railway system. What was the once iconic and pride of Bicolandia — the Bicol Express — has now been reduced to a hot and spicy Bicolano dish. Today, the tracks serve as a perfect ground for ukay-ukay market.

Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Just outside the city proper is an idyllic setting where I drove for some air and quietude. Serenity is a medication, see. I would rather be in the fields listening to Chuck Mangione’s instrumental part on the classic Love Is Stronger Far Than We. If summer is a song, that would be it.

Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

Still on the Mexican hat, I can only imagine their faces if I have one on.