Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Shoot the Locals

A couple of evenings ago I was down at the promenade in Dumaguete looking for things to shoot. After weeks of beaches that stretch as far you can see and more palm trees than sand, I really needed some new subject matter and a bit of inspiration. I started off by taking a few pictures of an ice cream vendor having a chat with his mate as the sun went down using really long exposures. A couple of curious kids came over and wanted to see the images on the back of my camera. These were children without much in the material sense of the phrase, they help subsidise their parents meagre income by selling peanuts and pork scratchings after school and on the weekends. Materially, they come from impoverished backgrounds. They sprawled out around me in a horseshoe, one of them laying his chin on the wrist that was supporting my camera as I flicked through the images. Their enjoyment at looking at the pictures, droll as they were, was contagious. As they giggled and elbowed each other for room a couple of adults came along to join them. Within a few minutes I had a dozen local Dumaguete denizens all identifying locations that I had been to that day. In turn this lead to a conversation with one of the children’s fathers. I asked him if he would like me to take a couple of images of his family. He was pretty eager for me to do so, then and there, but by this time the natural light was long gone so we agreed that I would come back the next evening at 5 o’clock.

It’s been a while since I did any portrait work so by about three o'clock I was beginning to get a bit nervous and rue the day I made my
agreement. Dutifully though, at the allotted time Nipun and I went down to the promenade armed with a shoot through umbrella, a couple of flashes and a light stand. Over the next hour I shot about forty images of three families. It was frenetic, the kids wanted to be in all the pictures, even if it was not their parents or siblings I was shooting. Their excitement was fantastic, this was a real adventure for them. When we reviewed the images on the back of the camera they were so animated that I spent more time watching them than looking at what I had been shooting. Nipun and I developed the pictures the next day and had the pleasure of handing out a few early Christmas presents in the evening. We did two prints of each image, which at the time seemed a bit over the top. When we were giving out the photos it transpired that one of the lady’s was ecstatic that we had done this. Her husband works in Manila and seldom manages to see his wife and his daughter. And this is a common theme - that’s where the work is. The gratitude we were shown was truly humbling. One of the ladies earns about 100 pesos per day, or about £1.30 to put it in perspective. She cut straight to the point, “For us, we wouldn’t be able to afford pictures like this. It is the small things that make all the difference here.” In total the whole shoot and post processing in Lightroom took up maybe a couple of hours in total. It cost us less than a tenner in printing. And for that we managed to give out three sets of family photos. The feel good factor involved outweighs all of that a hundred times over. And to boot we met three lovely families and I got to shoot something other than more sunsets with palm trees. More images here.

In other news we have managed to find a way off the island. Our initial plan was to travel all the way around Negros and then to Iloilo before getting a ferry back to Manila. Time is running low and our options were running lower a couple of days ago. At the 11th hour Nipun managed to find flights to Palawan, and so we’ll be flying out from Cebu on Wednesday and making our way to El Nido at the north of the island. And then on to Japan, the planning for which is currently underway. There is, however, so much to see on Negros where are at the moment. The island is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been to. In the last couple of days we have been to Dauin where we had hoped to organise a diving trip to Apo Island. Sadly this did not work out so today we headed further down the coast to Malapatan and then walked down the beach for about four kilometres to Zamboanguita. For the duration of the walk we hardly saw another soul. There was the occasional rural village and a fisherman or two, but for the most part it was us, palm trees and sand for as far as the eye could see. In front of us was Apo island, behind a mountain that pierced the clouds. We found our way back on to the road with the assistance of a local Filipino who insisted on bundling both of us on to the back of his motorbike and then continued further south to Siaton. Back in Dumaguete I keep on remembering bits and pieces from the local bus rides we have made recently: the “Fasten (your) seatbelt” signs in the absence of any seat belts, a neon light that flashed “Jesus Save Us” every time the driver used his brakes and blocks of plywood that serve as windows when the evening grows too cold, erm about 25 degrees in these parts! On the dashboard are effigies of Jesus and Mary, which makes a change from the Buddha’s that we have become so accustomed to over the last eight months.

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