In ’59, Vivian Maier walked Manila — regarded as Paris of the East once upon a time. The place was a lot nicer then: people don’t tinkle anywhere, and the streets don’t reek of humanure. If it’s street photography that brought her here, we have yet to lay eyes on her opuses. And we’re looking forward to it all — big-eyed. How was it from the lens of the enigmatic photographer..
For all we know, it’s awesome to have her roaming the place (like, of all the gin joints in the world she comes into mine). Although apparently, Manila has been an ideal place for urban photography even before your Lolo began courting your Lola. You don’t believe me.
Today, Manila has gone to the dogs. But still a classic hole for street photography nonetheless. You see, street togs are strange species. And if Vivian Maier were to walk Manila today, she would surely fall for any — if not all — of these popular, most frequented, photowalk-worn SP grounds:
5. Luneta & Intramuros
The Walled City is generally a peaceful place to walk your camera. Don’t mind the image below, it’s just an isolated case of a drinking spree gone sour. Rizal Park and Intramuros taken together is a tourist area and, as such, a photographer’s turf. People roam with cameras hanging around their neck here if that would make you feel better about the place.
4. CCP Complex & Roxas Boulevard
The Cultural Center of the Philippines structure is a favorite among the graphic or impressionist types mainly because of its architectural patterns, shadows or textures. If there is one most street-photographed edifice in Manila, this could be it.
And the joy doesn’t stop there. There is a lot of visual experience around the complex and into the stretch of Baywalk in Roxas Boulevard. The promenade is perfect to train your eyes in picking subjects from a crowd. Go pick your jump-off point.
3. Ermita & Malate
What used to be the red light district of Manila back in the days is holding on to its reputation. A when-life-is-making-you-lonely-you-can-always-go place. A bit treacherous area for the not so street-smart. Still, one of the choice street photography grounds in the city that, well, never sleeps.
2. Quiapo & Sta. Cruz
The most popular street photography ground in Manila. Feast your lenses in this area of organized chaos of trade, culture, religion, street foods, spiritualism and lawlessness. Although these places are — for the most part — safe for doing streets, never let your guards down, ever.
Probably the best place to document the walks of life in Manila. Escolta to Chinatown to Divisoria. Manila’s most densely populated area where social order is a jumble; a convergence zone of commerce, underground economies, traffic, awesome food strips and — again — criminal elements. There’s a mother lode of stunning street photography in this district in store only for the inspired eye.
Make no mistake, street photography in Manila is not limited only to these five venues in the same manner as Street Photography is not defined only to “streets.” It’s a big city and the wellspring for creativity is almost boundless.
What used to be a city so small people put it simply as the north side of the Pasig River and the south side of the Pasig River was also referred to as the Queen of the Pacific. So many reasons for Vivian Maier to shoot around. But that was way, way back the Rolleiflex era. When anyone can create postcard-worthy snapshots of the capital like nothing.
And then, Manila became a dump. Nothing is worth photographing anymore. Thanks to street photography, we were able to squeeze some art and fascination out of the mire this city has sunk into.