One daybreak in April, I stood on the pedestrian walkway of the long Angat River Bridge, waiting for some universal force to fix me a picture-perfect scene. It was the closing days of the RIO DE QUINGUA NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY COMPETITION — a photo event featuring the deteriorating Angat River (formerly Rio de Quingua). I was hoping I could snap something and raise a few eyebrows.

The walkway clings just beneath the eastern deck of the bridge, which bears the North Luzon Expressway. From where I creep, it’s basically in-between a rampaging highway and a peaceful waterway.

I didn’t come here to fish, but they say good things come to those who bait. Weeks earlier, I set foot for the first time here in this Pulilan town, thirty miles north of Manila. Signed up for the competition, slipped into my life vest and embarked on a boat ride on the winding Angat river in search for a winning shot. The contest may be costly but there hasn’t been a photo event this pleasurable. To be out there is prize enough. As I have often insist, there ought to be a river ride in one’s lifetime.

After hours of shooting, I went back to Manila — unfulfilled. My images were just like everyone else’s. I skimmed through all my shots and found nothing. Except for a flicker of thought that would make me go back for a re-shoot: the waters of Angat are remarkably rippleless at the first flush of morning; in soothing jet-black tone; ebon as storm clouds. And there is no better angle to capture this beauty than from above. The Angat River bridge might just provide a good perspective.

I traveled back to Pulilan and headed right away into my ambush position behind the railings. The walkway felt like giving in to the violent surge of traffic as it spans the full breadth of the Angat. The jet-black river mirroring the half-lit skies as usual. Farther down the course, a figure splits into two. Boatmen!

One of them coasted into dimness, while the other paddled straight into my direction. A simple composition is all I’m after. The serenity of Angat river joined with a human element, that’s all. One piscator and that would be it.

I took a deep breath as he closes in on below me. Who knows how fleeting this would be. In a short while he’d be deep, hidden underneath the bridge, gone from my field of view.

My arms trembled with the heavy poundings on the bridge. I need to take the shot and I need it sharp. If the structure would come crashing down behind me, I don’t really mind anymore.

Suddenly, the boat stopped.

A brief commotion.

I clicked.

Another shot.

A third shot.

And he was gone.

THE PISCATOR by Elmer Nev Valenzuela
THE PISCATOR by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

The result ended up just as I have visualize it to be — simple and minimal. A bird’s-eye view to exhibit the placid waters and to lay bare his measly catch.

However, it was fortunate to have been charmed with a SURPRISE ELEMENT — the circular sprinkles created by the ringed trawl. It created a clashing effect with the perfectly still waters of Angat. It has become the most important detail in the scene. An essential feature that — I believe — made the impact. The x-factor.

On May 13, the image was awarded the second spot in the competition. Woot! Seeing the great number of pros who went out for the challenge and knowing the judges had a hard time picking the winners and considering my busted auto-focus and crappy eyesight, this has been a big, big, BIG deal. Whatevs, I have come a long way for this. Maybe one day I’ll ask myself how.


Life is so full of trouble you just got to freak out on those days when you’re in La-la-land

18 thoughts on “THE PISCATOR

  1. You are not only an excellent photographer, but a very good writer as well.  Bravo!

    From my Android phone on T-Mobile. The first nationwide 4G network.

  2. Congratulations! I loved your photo essay on the river…all the shots were memorable…well, I’m a fan, Great shot but that was expected considering the extra effort you made.

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