Friday, January 25, 2008

Another dose of inspiration...

I had the opportunity to meet this man at the VII workshop this past October. At that time Marcus Bleasdale was a guest photographer, but later became a part of VII. When he spoke, his words reflected the passion he had, and his photos spoke of the intensity of the conflict in the Congo. This is about a 12 minute piece, but every piece of the documentary--- the stills, the video, the interviews, and the audio keep you glued to the screen and after watching such a piece forces you to think... "What can I do?"

I think a lot of photojournalists get into the field because they want to somehow make a difference in the world-- they believe in the power of the image. And it amazes me to see photographs that reflect not only the person in front of the lense, but also the person behind it--their compassion, their strength, their heart, their eye.

Some people think--- I being one of them sometimes-- that being a documentary photographer isn't enough to help the person, people or cause they are reporting on. I fall into that internal debate telling myself, "Maybe what I'm doing isn't enough to help..." Then I come across a piece like this, and I REGRET even thinking that photography doesn't have the power to make a difference. Images bring stories to the surface... it is that droplet that causes ripples sometimes we ourselves cannot see.

Sebastian Salgado once wrote: "The documentary photographer must have to show one person's existence to another."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A year ago today...

Being thousands of miles away from the states I’m not in touch with the local or national news… so I forgot it was Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday, which in turn triggered memories of New Orleans.

Last January, I went with students from San Jose State University and met other college students from New Orleans, New York, Oregon, etc—all wanting to contribute their time and effort to help residents who have been forgotten after Hurricane Katrina swept their homes and their lives away.

Because of last year’s experience at St. Bernard Parish, every passing MLK Day will forever remind me of New Orleans.

One thing I do regret from that whole trip is not being able to produce a piece. I donated prints to the Gulf Coast Civics Works Project and got photos printed in the San Jose Mercury News, but I didn’t get to create a piece. I had so many photos, video clips and audio but I never got to put it together. Something was holding me back… time constraints because I jumped right into the Oakland Tribune when I got back from the trip? Laziness? I don’t know… I think I go through this internal debate after working on a personal project, telling myself that it has to be perfect, so I start it, but I keep on putting it off…not wanting to finish it because I know it won’t fulfill my own expectations… But its really unfair because the stories and photos don’t get to be shared with the rest of the world, and are trapped in my hard drive and is only found when nostalgia forces me to open up that folder and go down memory lane, only to spark emotions that I felt during that week in New Orleans.

A year has passed and I feel horrible that I havn’t created a piece… So, even though I know this is FAR from done, here is a snippet of what I started but never finished… i owe it to all the folks of Louisiana Winter 2007..(L-Dub!)Keep in mind, the quality is HORRIBLE as I am figuring out how to compress files, edit, and all that jazz...

Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Being that Bridge

I've had this conversation with a couple of people before, and I've been wanting to "blog" about this, but because I feel I am still in the process of figuring it out, I didn't want to put it out there yet. But everyday is part of the process, andeveryday adds to my book of observations and realizations that may contradict or support my prior observations, but I think I am at a point where I need to just put it out there... so consider this entry a part of the process.

Where is this all going??... well, it's about identity. A struggle I feel a lot of people are going through and figuring out themselves... Sure, everyone goes through the "who am I?" phase, but I'm NOT talking about self-discovery, but rather the identity one is forced to realize, because of what others are identifying you as...And in my case, it's being a Filipino-American.

When I first got to the Motherland, I was really struggling to figure out where I fit in here. It wasn't necessarily a goal of mine, nor was it a conscious decision to make it a goal of mine, but because of my own observations of how I was treated by my family, friends and strangers, my analyzations were on overdrive. And if I didn't figure it out, I would go crazy. And what helped me out was talking to other Balikbayans, and other friends of mine who have experienced the same situations in their own homelands.

There are certain stigmas and stereotypes that come with being from America. First of all, you MUST be wealthy, and according to a former mayor of Cavite, "you must be spoiled." I came across this man a month ago at a Christmas party and whose first words to me were, "All Americans are spoiled." And also according to this man, apparently I'm NOT Filipino. In fact, I'm American--- although, both my parents were born in the Philippines, went to school and got degrees in the Philippines, and my ancestors tilled and worked in the fields of the Philippines--including my beautiful grandmother who worked in the fields of Pangasinan at the age of 6 and had to go in hiding in the mountains when the Japanese invaded the Philippines during WWII-- despite all that history--- I am not Filipino, but rather American. "Well, I was born in America, but I got Filipino blood running through my vains," I said. "You are an American," he said with certainty, "And all Americans are spoiled."

Yes, those words and his attitude did upset me very much. But I had to let it go, because the truth is, everyone will have their pre-judgements about you, no matter who you are. I guess it hurt because it was a culminating point-when past statements by others were already building up, and his statement was the cherry on top. It was quite ironic, because that same day I had a conversation with my good friend Evelyn about self-identity. She was actually in her own motherland of Nicaragua as well, and we were both facing similar realizations.

"Neither Filipino, or American." When I'm in the states, I don't feel entirely "American", because I am a minority. My parents are both immigrants who came to America in search for better opportunities. My mom used to be a college professor here, and my dad used to work and travel all over the world. And now, they are working their hardest--my mom works overtime till sometimes 5 or 6am, my dad works two to three jobs at a time-- just to keep afloat in America's middle class. I feel like I am a Filipino in the states, yet, when I am in the Philippines, I am not Filipino, but rather American. So where is home and who, or what am I?

"A new breed," Evelyn said. But I like to think of people like us--whether Filipino-American, Nicaraguense-American, Japanese-American, Chinese-American, or Mexican-American... I like to think we are the bridges to both our cultures. We can't deny we are American, and we can't hide our skin color or our physical features...and it's not about picking one or the other, but rather bridging two parts of our identity, in order to establish a better understanding for both cultures, and for ourselves. On one side of the bridge, there will be people with stereotypes of people are on the other side of the bridge... and we're not tourists traveling on that bridge, but rather we are that bridge.

So with all this going through my head--and much more-- I was very interested in a multi-media piece that one of my mentors, Oakland Tribune photographer Ray Chavez, did about Mayans from Guatemala who immigrated to the Bay Area in search for jobs to support their families.

After seeing the piece, I had to email him. This is an excerpt of what I wrote:

"After watching the slideshows, looking at your stills, and reading the article I couldn't help but feel touched and very interested in the story because i feel its a story almost every immigrant goes through. I am here in the Philippines, and I'm learning a lot about myself, my family, and the struggles of my people. When I was reading the article, I kept on nodding my head in agreement, because everyone here looks to the U.S. not just for a better life, but just to make money for their families here. And its a struggle, to support one's self in the states, while trying to support their whole family in their homeland-- whether it being Guatemala or the Philippines. Not only does an immigrant have to face the financial struggle, but also the cultural differences and sometimes racism from others when working here in the states.

Another thing that popped out to me was the beauty of their homes in Guatemala and the simplicity of life. In the provinces in the Philippines, people get up in th morning and tend to their farms or the pigs and cows..and they are surrounded by acres and acres of greenery and mountains in the distance, and a river where they bathe and do their laundry... and some have to leave their children, parents, loved ones just to make money for their families."

Being that bridge, also means bridging stories that somehow correlate to yours. The world is interconnected in so many ways, and I figured the more one figures things out about themselves, the more one realizes how connected you are to the rest of the world...

Evelyn wrote about her experiences in her motherland, and I couldn't help but note the similarities between Nicaragua and the Philippines--two developing countries, and how a lot of other western-influenced countries are going through the same thing. Just replace Nicaragua with the Philippines or any other developing country, and its a boat that floats down the same path...

Photos by Evelyn Teresita Ibarra

Nicaragua is two worlds in one : a poor (real) world and a rich world where only a few hundred in the whole country are wealthy.

Unstable politics.
Crumbling economy.
People in pain, hoping for better, but getting nothing.
Politicians make promises...then break them.
Children hope, children dream, children cry.
Mothers hope their babies will make it through the night.
Fathers hope they'll make it home from work alright.
A Child dies, a mother cries.
A belly stretches from hunger.
A child washes windows for change.
A man shines shoes for a living.
A woman sells watermelons for a living .
Another woman sells candy.
Another woman sells herself.
Happiness and sorrow fills the air.
Prayers to God.
Prayers for better times.
No response..He must be busy.
Nothing to do but to live.
An illiterate child just picked another coffee bean.
Another teen committed suicide.
Another kid joined a gang.
More corporations.
Happy Meals for children..happiness in a box...but no one can afford it.
Pizza Hut.
American this..American that.
The fight for social change.
The desire for improvement.
The need for more.
The struggle to live.
Nicaragua is beauty surrounded by turmoil.
The culture stays strong. The people stay strong.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Quiapo Festival

The calm before the storm
Anticipation and energy building
feeling and knowing of what is about to approach
the screams getting louder, the energy becoming stronger
waves crashing harder

the storm is here, pushing fiercely current after current

motivated eyes. hopeful eyes.
pores drenched with sweat
arms and hands pushing,
just to be a part of the eye of the storm.

Friday, January 4, 2008


Once again, he ceases to amaze and inspire me. Mr. Dai Sugano photographed, produced, and edited this piece called, Uprooted. The shots, cinetography, and the way it was all put together in different chapters is simple, but creative. His way of storytelling, is amazing.... and like what Shaminder said, Dai shows that there is no formula.

To watch, hear, and learn the stories of two Sunnyvale residents who fought for their homes, but were forced to move regardless...or simply to be inspired by this six-month long project.... click here: