IN THE SERVICE TO WIKIPEDIA

Some guys from PhilWiki Community eventually swayed me into taking the Wikipedia Takes Rinconada challenge — a photography hunting quest held in that 7-town area in Bicol called the Rinconada district.

The mission is to capture landmarks, heritage, people, cultural icons, traditions and a lot more and as much as a participant can at the specified competition period. It’s a street-documentary-portrait-travel photography in a whopping scale!

Wikipedia’s way of propagating photos from overlooked places and making them available online.

For more than a week, I have roamed all over this Rinconada district under the baking Bicol sun;over the hills and over the dales;under bridges and on people’s lives. Grew a beard. Burned skin. Soiled Canon.

Where has your camera been dragging you lately?

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ESCAPING CHRISTMAS

Niño Jesus is a backcountry of the city of Iriga. Barely populated. No signal. No videoke. No pushing and shoving. No Christmas madness. I doubt if the locals here even celebrate that most wonderful day of the year. Ironically, the place is named after whom the Christmas bells toll.

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We made a two-kilometer hike going to the Oliva family’s farmstead, somewhere unknown to Google map. Exhausting, but it sure is good to reap the rewards of three years of non-smoking. Feels like I can climb any peak again the way I do during those mountaineering days. I used to consume more than a pack of cigarettes back then and still, I can beat anybody in an uphill climb even with a 20-kilo load on my back.

Today I can only outrace what, two septuagenarians, one female, and a 10-year old kid.

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An hour of journey by foot is no trouble for Papu — the Oliva’s padre de familia. He made it with his snow white socks and sneakers without a spot. That’s hiking 101 for you. Manoy Jaime, the farm hand, received us with his betel nut paraphernalia in clutches, and the two sat down for a bottle of Emperador Lights afterwards. Probably the most popular drink in the country I haven’t tried yet.

And so today — due to my inquisitiveness as to how a local liquor company could create a colossal brand that would make them acquire Spain’s Fundador Pedro Domecq — I took a swig of this brandy for the very first time.

Wasn’t so bad at all.

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Manoy Jaime has his sons to do the heavy tasks. Although judging by how he brandish his bolo strapped around his waist, I believe the man can still hack the entire woodlands to the ground.

This year’s El Niño Phenomenon must have dried-up the acreage it left the family no choice but resort to producing copra. A tough job, his boy would confess. From coconut cracking to shelling to parring and finally to sun drying or — if the weather does not permit — direct heating. All the backbreaking job in weeks’ span and for a measly sum.

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Niño Jesus is a perfect hideaway from the holiday insanity. Materialism hasn’t corrupted the folks out here so far. I doubt if they even heard the Force has Awaken already. But I’d rather stay cool here in the quietude of this place than be trapped in the chaotic streets of Manila today; breathe the crisp air or take a whiff of cattle shit more willingly than make a pig of myself on every banquet. I would rather strum Ang Paskoy Sumapit under their humble hut.

We must simplify Christmas and go back to the real point of the occasion. Find your way to “Niño Jesus.”

PHOTO ESSAY: LONESOME TO LEGAZPI

September this year when the Philippine National Railways re-opened its line further down south to Legazpi City in what Bicolanos believed as the bringing-back-to-life of the Bicol Express — the ride which became the pride of Bikolandia. Is the PNR back on the rails?

At first light today, I took a trip from CamSur to Legazpi via this lonesome line. I find behind the glare of the engine’s headlight is just another freshly coated old and decrepit two-coached train. It’s time we stop, look, reason.

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At about less than an hour to destination, the train came to a sudden halt somewhere in the bushes of Culiat, in Daraga. Although it makes a few unscheduled stops here and there, this one is bad news: we have just rammed two motorbike-riding men.

Here, a local approaches the coach to inform of the accident as crowd gathers at point of impact, a hundred meters back.

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Fortunately, there were no casualties. Engine 5007 chugged along.

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WHOOPEE

From where I strut is the Rinconada integrated irrigation system — an outstretched waterway right at the foothills of Mount Asog here in Iriga; rendezvous for bathing or doing the laundry. Who says you can’t wash your dirty linen in public?

I started shooting around and the kids scampered to show off their platform diving skills.

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Meanwhile, a few meters up ahead on the same canal is a team of damulags enjoying the waters first-hand!

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MARBLE TOWN

Old folks used to tell about whenever babies look beyond you and giggle, they’re being touched by an angel. I think babies are angels themselves; their wings diminish as their limbs start to grow. When Michelangelo saw an angel in a marble, he immediately carved it right out of it’s stone.

Anyone can be an angel. In San Ramon, I took notice of this young man who was tireless in tending the needs of the people in the town cemetery. It was almost Todos Los Santos and everyone wanted their gardens well-prepared. He was everywhere. 

It’s awesome to be blessed, but some people really prefers to be a blessing. My way of giving the hand a big hand:

San Ramon Cemetery, Iriga City by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

IF YOU CAN’T SAVE TIME IN A BOTTLE

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When hell becomes workplace, heaven would be just across the street. Five hundred miles more and it’s vacation.

Vacay. Heaven.

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I looked back at the city and I see zombieland. Nice to be back to human flesh again. How do you savor every minute of it?

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You can’t save time in a bottle.

But you can take a walk with your camera.

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CREATIVITY AND CAMERA-DERIE

I have been going through my files from last Saturday’s Scott Kelby WorldWide Photowalk hoping I’d pick something worthy of an entry to the photo competition. Nada.

Not that I have failed though. It’s just that I had 200 shots that didn’t worked.

Still, I settled for this “headless” figure I came across the pavements of Sta. Cruz as I was about to take off from the engagement. A shameless submission actually.

The annual photowalk is a social event where we meet up with fellow photographers, walk around, shoot, meet new friends, dig the streets, and basically have fun. This year, I went out with the maestros and some noobs of Litratista sa Daan — the most prominent assembly of street photographers in the country.

We even feasted on a Chinese spread afterwards.

But somehow — amid all the camaraderie — I must have forgotten about that old magic wand called creativity.

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STREETRATO: SHARING THE BEAUTY OF BLACK & WHITE STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

MUNING by Ateneo Sta Ines

MUNING by Ateneo Sta. Ines

Ateneo Sta. Ines, or “Teni” to his circle, bumped into me one evening as I was getting high on a Rey Valera live performance inside this mall. This was during the kickoff of KLM Philippines and DPP Magazine’s OnAssignment photo competition where photographers will pair up as a team and show off their works in a video format. They’re giving away an all-expenses paid photography trip to Europe on this. As they always do.

So I asked if he’s got a teammate already and he said none and then asked me the same question. We ended up in a coffee and two weeks of photo-video-editing collaboration. Our finished product I labeled “STREETRATO.” From his own mind actually. A crafty amalgamation of street and ritrato (portrait).

Yet I was wondering all along how could it happen that such a big name in Philippine street photography be caught without a team. Teni — to SP — is a boss. If it’s by a roll of the dice that we tie up on this one, then I shall lead you to our entry — only if you’ll promise to hit the SHARE button and kick us both to Prague.

Without further ado, please enjoy https://www.facebook.com/elmernev/videos/10207992846763520/?pnref=story

PHOTOCOMMUTE MANILA

For this year’s Scott Kelby WorldWide Photowalk I will be joining Mr. Joel Mataro’s lead featuring a spin around the metro via the controversial railway systems: the Yellow Line(LRT1) and the Blue Line(MRT). That’s if these light rails would still be functional by October 3. It is essential we train our lenses on the trains.

The photowalk will loop around the Pasay Rotonda → Cubao → Recto Stations and back, plus a walk around each brief stops for some snaps. Click here for full details.

Now here’s the challenge: these are no-photography facilities. Light Rail Authorities are not too crazy over photographers hanging around their setup. Anyway, you know what they say about “If you obey all the rules…”

Aaand now, here’s a snack before the meal:

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FIVE ON THE FLOOR: STREET PHOTOGRAPHY GROUNDS, MANILA

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.

Arzobispo corner Anda Street, Intramuros. A drinking spree gone sour.

Arzobispo corner Anda Street, Intramuros. A drinking spree gone sour.

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.

Crushed-seashell textured walls of the Cultural Center of the Philippines

Crushed-seashell textured walls of the Cultural Center of the Philippines

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.

Mabini Street, Malate. Caffeine deprivation

Mabini Street, Malate. Caffeine deprivation

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.

Soutbound, northbound Quezon Boulevard underpass Quiapo, Manila

Soutbound, northbound Quezon Boulevard underpass Quiapo, Manila

1. Binondo
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.

Ongpin Street, Binondo. Don't let the beauty pass you by.

Ongpin Street, Binondo. Don’t let the beauty pass you by.

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.

When people ask me what equipment I use – I tell them my eyes, anonymous said.

When people ask me what equipment I use – I tell them my eyes, anonymous said.

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.

IRIGA CITY IN A SNAP

Iriga city is fairly an uncomplicated little town — you come in from one end and, before you know it, you’re already leaving on the other. Every destination is a walking distance; you get to chance upon the same faces anywhere you go. Most likely you’ll bump into the town mayor at 7-Eleven.

Fishball vendor rolling fast on Iriga-Baao Road, Iriga City.

The streets blare at daybreak and — in a short while — quiets back down when everyone’s gone about their businesses.

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Pedicab umbrella turned upside down in San Francisco, Iriga City

Crammed tricycle in Iriga City

By businesses, I include those “chores” that keep the locals absorbed in their thoughts.

Chess match on the street, Iriga City

Landscape artist, Iriga City

I make it a point to bring the camera with me all the time — even when taking out the garbage. There is no telling what phenomenons await the streets of Iriga.

But when the habagat kept me in for nearly an entire week, I somehow managed to find some window of opportunity for Streets.

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Or get butt-naked under the sun.

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Each morning I take the Cereal Killer to the Lads and Lassies Learning Center; with the camera at the ready (as umbrella is to rain). You can’t let grade-school moments just pass you by.

Unfortunately, the little man hates getting his pictures taken! So I turn to some kids hanging around instead.

Lads and Lassies Learning Center, Iriga City

Lads and Lassies Learning Center, Iriga City

Suddenly it’s nightfall all over again. Time flies when you’re having fun with your cam — on and off the beaten track.

Railway tracks, Iriga City

Tinagba Park, Iriga City

Tinagba Park, Iriga City

Iriga City is home-away-from-second-home. What the future holds here, it’s going to be a shot in the dark.

NOW BACK TO THE STREETS

I’ve just come from the land of siling labuyo. Where internet service is extremely poor and the weather was not so permitting for whoever walks with a camera. It’s good to be away from all the digitization for a while. At least I thought it would save me from this menacing “digital eye strain” sort. My eyes — of all the senses.

Alighting at Harrison Plaza, I tried a color test on this kaleidoscopic wall. I’m going back to the streets this long weekend. And, Taka Suzuki — if you’re getting this — message me, let’s go. Photowalk, anyone?

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GIVING

I traveled back to Pulilan a few Sundays ago in search for the piscator — the unwitting subject for my Rio de Quingua winning shot — and to surprise him with a tiny portion from my prize money. It’s called balato, in a classic Filipino sense.

He was asleep when I found him in their humble shack just underneath the bridge; so I introduced myself to the wife and kids instead and told them the whole story. She was so grateful when I handed her the small amount saying now we can buy rice!

But what really broke her down to tears was when she found out I have come a long way for this.

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