Photojournalist Raffy Lerma at The Oarhouse Pub. Photo by Ben Razon

Artifacts of friendship
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - June 25, 2017 - 4:00pm

Last March, a photo exhibit at The Oarhouse Pub of Manila featured documentation of the consequences of EJK operations.

Participants were photojournalists Ezra Acayan, Patrick Adalin, Jun Arañaz, Noel Celis, Kimberly dela Cruz, Czar Dancel, Dante Diosina, Linus Escandor II, Carlo Gabuco, Jay Ganzon, Vincent Go, Raffy Lerma (“We are not against the war on drugs. But kill drugs, not people.”), Eloisa Lopez and Jun Santiago III.

Oarhouse proprietor Ben Razon wrote: “This exhibit is the Oarhouse Pub’s collective tribute and acknowledgement to the work of this group of photographers who have witnessed and documented the nightly killings of people in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, primarily in the streets of Manila. It is intended purely to bring a closer reflective and visual face not so much to the dead, but more for and of the living who have been affected by the deaths of their brothers and sisters, parents and children, friends and acquaintances. Their output is about the emotional and psychologically difficult situation which they have seen, photographed, and have attempted to make any kind of sense and understanding of this nightly carnage that has unfolded before them in the course of their jobs as working journalists.”

This fave bar of mine in Malate (on J. Bocobo St. off the corner of Malvar St.) has often been likened to Disneyland, as the happiest place in the world if the number of camera clicks per hour are to be counted — of denizens in various manifestations of convivial joy.

But on the night the exhibit opened, the grisly nature of its theme certainly presented a diametric opposite to what usually provokes a finger to assign a memorable moment to posterity. Such is the range of choices for camera lenses. And photographers. 

They may be drawn to frontline conditions or the safe confines of a concert hall, trot through the gamut of human emotions, from tragedy to comedy or pleasure, relate to habiliments or absence of, as with high fashion and nudity. Sometimes photographs are void of human presence, as with most landscapes, albeit these still make a statement, on how an environment can be so blissfully radiant, absent human hands.

Beauty, grossness, the ludicrous and the classic “decisive moment” — all the stuff that catch the eye — are captured and preserved as aesthetic representations of life on this planet.

Photographers also happen to be the most sociable among creative people. They get along chummily with everyone, not necessarily just their staple subjects. The painter, the ballet dancer, the architect — all palaver with photographers well beyond any shoot. Writers in particular are buddy-buddy kissing cousins, for sharing experiential narratives, street talk, a disdain for most politicians, and comfort comestibles as Bourdain’s choice sisig washed down with beer and other spirits.

In Oarhouse alone, fellow poets and journalists often partake in table “groufies” with photog-philosopher-porchetta supplier Razon, whisky-and-rhum provider Wig Tysmans, Palace lensmen (or ex) Joe Galvez and Gil Nartea, Fujifilm vetter Angie Silva, plus a host of regular barflies that include Sonny Yabao, Little Wing Luna, Nash Tysmans, Alecs Ongcal, Nap Jamir, Neil Oshima, Butch Perez, Ernie Enrique, Boboy Yonzon, Alex Baluyut, Claro Cortes, Jun-jun Sta. Ana, Rod Samonte and Jes Aznar (our “endangered” photojournalist of the hour, thanks to fake news).

Come to think of it, other than writers, most of my own artist-friends have been photographers. My modest art collection includes many photographic works by old friends, among these the legendary Eduardo Masferre of Sagada. Then there are gifts or purchases from among the celebrated prints of Boy Yñiguez (a shot of himself reading a newspaper with the headline screaming “Marcos Flees!” before the tyrant’s mega-bust on Marcos Highway), Tysmans pere (an early Baguio silverprint), Peque Gallaga (a hand-colored portrait of a lady holding up a blue rose), Godi Gutierrez (now Brazil-based, and putting out a book soon), Mimi Nolledo, Vics Magsaysay and Sta. Ana (these last three are of the international Bangaan group), Reuel Aguila (bird photo with poem), Orland Punzalan (watercolor-ed photo), Annabelle Lee Adriano and Tim Tomlinson (both underwater shots), Gerry Cornejo (an abstraction), and recent Oarhouse-exhibit works by Silva and Ongcal. 

I’ve sat or stood for portraits by Jaime Zobel (have kept a signed print), Lita Puyat (by the Penguin Café bar), Nap Jamir (shot from behind, while observing rice terraces), Vincent Pozon (digitally crafted), the late Bebot Meru (wish I had kept a copy), and Raymund Isaac (which still appears as my Philippine STAR online mugshot). And I wouldn’t mind adding other memorabilia to this trove, perchance from other old friends like Oshima, Boldy Tapales (who taught me darkroom ways), Tommy Hafalla, Mau Victa, Frank Cimatu, Alfredo “Ding” Roces, Jon Altomonte, Charlie Altomonte, Mandy Navasero, Eddie Boy Escudero, and poet-photographers Ramon Sunico, Alvin Pang and Maxine Syjuco. 

Collaborations on coffee-table and travel books have involved Singapore-based publisher Hans Hoefer, our own highly-acclaimed George Tapan, Yabao, Hedwig de Leon, Philip Sison, Milo Sogueco — and on publications with the late-lamented Franco Patriarca, Bobit Sison, Wahoo Guerreo, Cornejo, Ed Usapdin, Sonny Espiritu and Ami Miciano. 

Oh, these days everyone’s a shutterbug, thanks to the phone cam, selfie sticks, and drone apparatus. But other than familiar faces, infants, cats and food porn, all that talk over the decades — on Ansel Adams, magic hour, the rule of thirds, film vs. digital — we will always extol photos as artifacts of friendship, not even by way of a clickbait or a litany of namedrops.

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