Saturday, June 02, 2007

Photojournalism: Introduction

[Note: Photojournalism has been a part of the division, regional, and national press conferences since 1989, and as a result, schools are finding ways to train their staffers in the field of photography. If you’re a schoolpaper adviser, staffer, or a student taking up a course with a curriculum that requires photography like Mass Communications, Fine Arts, Interior Design, or you’re interested in photography as a hobby, this series is definitely for you.]

I fell in love with photography when I fell in love with Hollywood actress Candice Bergen way back in my high school days in the 1970s.

You might know Candice Bergen as the star of the TV situation comedy “Murphy Brown,” but to my generation, we knew her as the lead star in the hit movie “Soldier Blue.” She played the role of a strong willed, resourceful woman who as a child, was raised by Apache Indians after her family was massacred. After being assimilated into the Indian culture, she returned to her American relatives in New York (if memory serves me right). But fate intervened, and the payroll convoy she was in was attacked by another group of Indians on the warpath.

As the soldier played by Richard Strauss was pathetically weeping over the massacred US cavalry soldiers and reciting Tennyson’s famous lines from the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (“Ours not to reason why, Ours but to do and die”), Candice Bergen was busy camouflaging herself and finding a way out of that horrible situation. Based on a historical incident, the movie ends with the massacre of hundreds of Indian men, women and children by US soldiers, with Strauss bound in chains for helping the Indians, and Candice Bergen leading what remained of her adoptive family into the reservation.

I saw this movie about three times and I simply couldn’t have enough of Candice Bergen. Imagine my delight, therefore, when I saw a copy of Life magazine with several full page pictures of Candice Bergen. I cut out her pictures and pasted them on my notebook. Believe it or not, but I still have that notebook with me after all these years! Two smaller pictures in that Life magazine showed her holding a camera and shooting pictures of a boxing match and flowers in a garden. The magazine article said that she was a very accomplished photographer. That image of Candice Bergen holding a camera remained in my mind throughout my high school and college years.

College days

Rizal High School gym 1992; B-setting; photo by Atty. GalacioI spent part of my college days in Philippine Christian University, where I graduated with an AB English degree in 1979. That teenage crush I had on Candice Bergen developed (no pun intended) my love for photography; the problem was, I didn’t have an SLR camera. One PCU student at that time was the unofficial school photographer, covering various programs, shooting candids of students and professors, etc. Every time I’d see him along the corridors, in the library, with his camera slung on his shoulder, I would wish that I also had my own camera.

Since I couldn’t afford to buy a camera, I became content with looking over and over again at Time and Newsweek magazines that carried a lot of advertisements for cameras. I couldn’t understand then a lot of the technical terms and descriptions about cameras. I didn’t know, for example, the difference between a “35 mm camera” and a “camera with a 35 mm lens.” I just loved looking at pictures of Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Olympus and Pentax cameras, wishing all the time that I had my own single lens reflex camera.

I also began to love looking at things, situations and people, imagining myself taking pictures. One time, I saw an old woman rolling two huge truck tires all by herself up a street across the public market in Mandaluyong. I told myself, “Hey, this would make a good picture!” Another time I came across about a dozen CEU nursing students, waiting to cross the street, looking prim and proper in their white, neatly pressed uniforms with pink gowns. I thought that if I took their picture, I’d caption it, “In the Pink of Health.”

Going to PCU in the morning and coming home in the afternoon, I would always pass by P. Guevarra street in San Juan where I loved looking at the big, old houses. One two-storey house, rather worn out at the time, intrigued me so much. It must have been a gallery since it had a lot of paintings hanging on the walls (it’s now a fancy restaurant). Near the stone steps leading to the 2nd floor was a garden of sorts. I was reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s stories at the time, and my lively imagination told me that this garden, especially in the rain, looked like the secret garden in his story “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”

What really attracted my attention to this house were the numerous statues of Jose Rizal in various poses, strewn about the garden. Everyday, when I passed by that house, I’d wish that I had a camera so I could shoot those statues and that house. I already had a caption in mind: “We Need More of Him.” Sometimes I’d have the urge to open that gate, talk to whoever the owner might be and ask permission to haul the statues to our house in a nearby street.

The house on the hill

We lived in an old, two-storey wooden house perched on top of a hill, blessed with a sweeping view stretching from the faraway skyline of Makati to the buildings on Roxas Boulevard in Manila. In the afternoons when I had no classes and after I had fed the pigs in our backyard, I would lie down on a window ledge and stare at that great view for hours.

There was a santol tree in our front yard, and in the afternoons after I have helped my mother bring the refreshments she sold in a nearby elementary school, I would climb the tree and watch the sun setting down behind a mountain across Manila Bay. One time, as I watched the late afternoon sun bathing that mountain in golden sunlight, it suddenly occurred to me that mountain must be the one shaped like a sleeping woman that Nick Joaquin described in his story, “The Woman Who Had Two Navels.”

We don’t live in that house anymore, and one of the great regrets in my life is that I didn’t have a camera then to take a picture of that mountain.

Photography and philosophy

Amang Hall 1992; shooting at night; photo by Atty. GalacioI love watching old movies, and one movie that increased my desire to learn about photography was Michaelangelo Antonioni's “BlowUp.” The movie (based on a story by Julio Cortazar) opens with a scene of then popular European model Veruschka in a photo session and tells the story of a photographer who shot some seemingly innocuous pictures in a park. Upon blowing up the pictures, the photographer begins to think that he has inadvertently shot in one of his pictures a murder which occurred in the park.

He begins investigating whether the murder actually took place, blowing up his pictures more and more. The pictures seem to tell him that indeed he had recorded a murder, but his investigation leads him towards a blank wall. At the end of the film, the photographer goes back to the park one early morning, and he comes upon two gaily dressed mime artists playing tennis without rackets, without a ball, without a net, without a sound. As these two people began playing, serving, lobbing an imaginary ball over an imaginary net, the movie ends as a flash of recognition, of deeper understanding crosses the photographer’s face.

What attracted my attention most about this movie were the scenes showing the photographer developing his pictures in the darkroom. It was only after I’ve read Francis Schaeffer’s book “A Death in the City” did I come to fully realize what director Antonioni was trying to say through his movie. Philosophically, through the photographer’s failure to come up with empirical evidence of the murder which he thought he had captured on film and through that imaginary game of tennis one early morning in the park, Antonioni was saying that there was no absolute moral standard in the universe, that everything was relative.

Photography and philosophy ... what has Candice Bergen done to me! In l983 the film “Gandhi” starring Ben Kingsley and directed by Sir Richard Attenborough won as the Oscar Best Picture of the Year. A minor character in the movie based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi is that of Margaret Bourke White, a world-famous photographer for Life Magazine and the first woman to be accredited as war photographer during World War II. Guess who played that role? Who else but Candice Bergen!

Rizal High School; learning by doing

RHS class picture taking; natural frames; photo by Atty. Galacio Sometime in 1985, I bought my first and only SLR camera, a Canon AE-1 Program camera. Finally, I had a camera! At that time, I had just left Quezon City Science High School as journalism teacher and schoolpaper adviser and had transferred to Rizal High School (where I worked until 1995).

My beloved Canon AE-I Program
camera with Vivitar 28-210 mm zoom
lens; I used it for 19 years to shoot
more than 10,000 pictures, including
all the black and white pictures
in this photojournalism series.
I learned about photography through trial and error, asking for help from other photographers, and reading books and magazines. Every time I had the money, I would go to all the sidewalk stalls in Avenida to buy photography magazines. I would start from Recto, opposite Odeon Theater and then transfer from one side to another of Avenida until I reached Plaza Sta. Cruz.

I enrolled in a 15-Saturday workshop in black and white photography. I was only able to attend about four classes, but I learned enough to start developing films and printing pictures on my own.

I watched photo exhibits, and I learned by asking myself what made these pictures good enough to be exhibited. I integrated photography into my journalism classes to make them more interesting to the students, and seeing several of my students begin to take photography seriously inspired me to learn more.

Photojournalism and the various school press conferences

RHS folk dancers; shapes; fill the frame; photo by Atty. Galacio Photojournalism has been a part of the division, regional and national press conferences since 1989. Last year, I was the lecturer and contest judge in photojournalism for the following seminars or press conferences:

[1]
Photojournalism seminar, Maria Montessori Christian School, Pembo, Makati, August 19, 2006

[2] Photojournalism training and contest, District 5, Division of Pasig City and San Juan, Caniogan Elementary School, September 7 and 8, 2006

[3] Photojournalism contest and Division Press Conference (grade school level), Division of Pasig City and San Juan, October 5 and 10, 2006

[4] Photojournalism seminar, Santolan High School, October 20, 2006

[5] Photojournalism lecture and contest (high school level) Division of Pasig City and San Juan, November 7, 2006

[6] Regional Schools Press Conference, Region III, Talavera, Nueva Ecija, November 14-17, 2006

Schools are trying to find ways to train their staffers in the field of photography. A lot of schools and students are hampered however by the high cost of photography books and the lack of training workshops. What’s worse, some schools do not even have cameras; they rely on their students to provide the cameras.

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What worsens the problem of raising the level of photography is the lack of training, of materials, for the schoolpaper adviser. It is a fundamental principle that a person cannot teach what he or she does not know. A lot of times, schoolpaper advisers simply assign as the schoolpaper photographer any student who shows even just a cursory interest in pictures. That student is then left to fend for himself or herself, to learn photography, find a camera, and sometimes, even to fork out the money to buy the film. In the 1993 National Secondary Schools Press Conference held in Rizal High School in Pasig, for example, a lot of the photojournalism contest participants approached me, asking for help in loading and unloading their film, advice on what shutter speed to use, etc. These are the basics, the fundamentals that schoolpaper advisers should have taught their staffers.

If you’re a schoolpaper adviser, staffer, or a student taking up a course with a curriculum that requires photography like Mass Communications, Fine Arts, Interior Design, etc, or you’re interested in photography as a hobby, this series of postings is definitely for you. It’s my hope you’d be really inspired to learn more on your own about photography.

I’ve, however. used the term “photojournalism” in a rather loose but restricted way in this series. Loose because photojournalism is the application of photography to a class of events people would classify as “news.” The topics we will discuss however are the basics, the foundations of photography. It’s restricted in the sense that I have limited the term to “campus news photography.”

Photography is a hard taskmaster

Like any other art, skill, or talent, however, photography is a hard taskmaster. If I may borrow the words of the late writer Maria Luna Lopez, photography, like journalism, is a jealous and demanding mistress. To learn photography, you should invest time and effort in it.

One other specific area I wish I could really contribute is in disabusing the minds of some advisers and editors who believe that articles are always better than photographs. These advisers and editors (who are in the very small minority, thankfully) love to fill their publications with columns upon columns of text, with almost no pictures at all. As a result, their publications have a lot of “gray pages.” The modern trend in publications worldwide is the use of bigger and bolder graphics (pictures, drawings, headlines, etc.), without sacrificing of course, substance, and depth in the articles. This trend is influenced by the impact of television, computers, and other forms of electronic communication on our everyday lives.

Marshall Macluhan, world-famous author of the book “The Medium is the Message” once said that electronic media has brought about a new form of illiteracy. A lot of people today are visually literate and sophisticated but have lost the ability, the skill or the patience to read full length articles or books.

I am not advocating of course, this “New Illiteracy” as Macluhan described it. What I wish to emphasize is a philosophy in journalism known as “editing by design.”
Simply put, this philosophy stresses that contents and design must always go hand in hand. Advisers and editors must work together with photographers, art directors and layout artists. Any publication, whether a schoolpaper or a yearbook, must not only “read well” but also look good.

The power of photography

World literature tells us the tragic story of Faust who vowed to bargain away his soul if he could find one perfect moment of happiness. He would eternally forfeit his soul if upon finding that one perfect moment of happiness, he would say the words, “Stay, you are so beautiful.” He couldn’t find that happiness in his relationships, in society, in achievements, but he did find it in a small village by the sea, with the sun setting down and mothers calling upon their small children to come back to their homes. In the simple joys of these village folks, Faust found his one perfect moment of happiness. At last, he said the words, “Stay, you are so beautiful!” and his soul was eternally forfeited.

RHS girl scouts Class 96; fill the frame; photo by Atty. GalacioPhotography has the power to capture not only our perfect moments of love and happiness but also searing images of cruelty and poverty. It has the power to preserve in a rectangular frame the beauty of a thousand sunsets, the joys of parents seeing their child just learning how to walk on its own, the sublime happiness of students graduating after four years of hard work and sacrifice.

Unlike Faust, however, we do not have to bargain away our souls in order to capture our perfect moments of happiness. We only have to pick up our cameras, look at the world through the view-finder, and as life passes before our lenses, capture these perfect moments of happiness on film, as we say in our hearts and minds, “Stay, you are so beautiful!”

1 comment:

mrc said...

hey sir,
I bumped into your site while i was googling about photojournalism.

We have a lot of things in common pala.
I also have my canon ae1 program. (I'm using it for the photojournalism contest, nice old camera). I'm still learning though.

I will be reading your posts about it. Thank you in advance.