On the Radar

The future of Philippine photography


SEOUL, KOREA — Out of 900 entries from across Asia submitted to the third ASEAN-Korea Multimedia Competition, rookie lensman Geric Cruz and freelance photographer/writer Tammy David found themselves at the forefront.

Then the news came from Isa Lorenzo of Silverlens Gallery: Geric’s photo essay on love and Tammy’s behind-the-scenes take on beauty pageants had secured them slots to represent the Philippines in a cultural exchange in Korea.

There with 20 other talented artists from the region; the two found themselves wrapped in equal parts excitement and disbelief.

“I remember trying to get ahold of Geric who was in a class. I was cursing and screaming on the phone, ‘Korea! Korea!’ To this day I am over the moon. It’s always a great feeling to represent your country and be recognized for your work,” says Tammy.

We spoke with Geric and Tammy about their journey into photography (both use the Canon 5D Mark II), why they won’t join camera clubs, and of course, their Korean experience.

“Beauty Rest” by Tammy David was during a beauty pageant training session.

ON THE RADAR: Geric, this is your first award and exhibit. That must be such a thrill. Were you expecting it? 

GERIC CRUZ: I wasn’t expecting it at all. I was actually questioning myself about photography before bagging this award. It was definitely a thrill since I was going to have my first exhibit abroad. That made it all the more sweet for me.

Tammy, meanwhile, you are practically a pro when it comes to exhibits: your work has already been shown here and abroad. Which one is most memorable?

TAMMY DAVID: “Strip 2010,” a group exhibit held at the Silverlens Gallery back in February 2010. The lineup had photojournalist Veejay Villafranca and commercial photographer Jake Verzosa, both renowned and respected, and there I was the newbie who took pictures of myself eating in the parking lot.

This was my first “gallery experience” where I was involved in presenting my work to the curator, working with the printer, choosing the type of frame, and even my first artist talk.

It was also memorable because Palanca awardee Erwin Romulo wrote my exhibition notes. It was really awkward because of my self-portraits, but it was amazing to have people check out my work in a gallery instead of a website.

Geric, your work, “Where I End and You Begin,” was a love song masquerading as a photo essay, with your girlfriend as inspiration and subject. What did she say when you won? Was she a willing subject or did you have to convince her?

GERIC: My girlfriend was actually happy about it. She was always easy to photograph since she kind of knew how I wanted my pictures to look.

“Golden Path” shoes lined up for the Bb. Pilipinas 2011 contestants, by Tammy David.

Tammy, your work, Crown & Country seems like a campy subject, but it also came across as intriguing, haunting, even a little bit sad. What inspired you to document beauty pageants?

TAMMY: Back in late 2007, I was intrigued when my best friend’s younger sister joined a beauty queen boot camp in Manila. I decided to follow her in training, auditions and ended up getting hooked on pageants. There’s so much going on with pageants, the aspect of competition and the human condition. I swear there’s never a dull moment and it gets exciting every year. I’m happy I found a story that I genuinely love pursuing. I can only wish the same for all aspiring documentary photographers.

What made you decide to take up photography?

GERIC: I got into photography by accident. I was in the US and my uncle gave me a Polaroid camera, which I used document my travels around the city. After a few months I bought my first point-and-shoot camera and shot every week. Then a fellow photographer convinced me to joined contests and take photography more seriously. 

TAMMY: I was writing for a broadsheet in high school when my dad gave me a Kodak DC215 1-megapixel digital camera. I took portraits of people I interviewed and got paid more for the photos. It felt great to get paid for something I enjoyed doing. I got my first DSLR in college and the rest is history.

Through the years, photography took me to different places, introduced me to the most interesting people and helped me get to know myself as a person more. There are good days and a lot of bad days but it was easy to choose photography to be my life’s work.

Who are the photographers that inspire you?

“Don’t join camera clubs, learn to shoot alone, learn the history of the medium, don’t get too caught up with the technical side of photography,” advises Geric Cruz.

GERIC: Alec Soth, Trent Parke, Matt Eich, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Rinko Kawauchi. 

TAMMY: My favorites as of the moment are Zed Nelson, Pieter Hugo and the late Tim Hetherington. Their work process, their choice of subjects, and enthusiasm to embrace new ways to tell a story, inspire me to do better. For local photographers, I follow the careers of Nana Buxani, Stella Kalaw and Geric Cruz.

Both of you mentioned that documentaries (which was the genre of your winning photos) don’t really have a place in galleries, but you still won anyway. You also credit both your successes to Silverlens. Why do you think your work stood out in the competition?

GERIC: I think in a way mine stood out because my essay was more experimental and personal. I was trapped in the traditional photojournalism/documentary photography style for a long time. It was only after I came from a documentary photo workshop in Cambodia that I realized I wanted to experiment in my style of storytelling.

My essay was about my definition of love. So, in this essay it was more of what I felt as a photographer rather than what the subject felt. So there was a lot of freedom involved on my part.

TAMMY: I kid you not but up to now I still can’t believe I made the cut. I’d like to think my connection with the subjects stood out.

With “Crown and Country” I want the audience to know something about the Philippines and, in a way, connect with them. During the seminar, the lecturer from Thailand told me he liked my work and can’t seem to stop looking at my pictures. I told him that maybe it was because it reminded him of Thailand’s obsession with perfection and their lady boys. We started talking about the similarities of our culture and existing work. That conversation felt rewarding because I felt I was effective in using photography as a tool for communication.

What did you learn from your trip to Korea? How did it enrich your experience and scope as photographers?

GERIC: It was my first time traveling to Korea. I was shocked how warm and receptive Koreans are to art and artists. The vibe they have is really something. Traveling always enriches your experience, especially being in an unfamiliar place. When you meet fellow artists who have the same determination and passion as yourself, you get this feeling that there is actually a bigger world out there. The exchange of ideas and experiences amongst artists is always an enriching experience for me.

TAMMY: It was my first trip to South Korea and I had a blast visiting galleries and meeting different people. Interacting with fellow image-makers from the region is always enriching because it makes me learn more about my country — what we lack back home or what our strengths as Filipino artists are. We were also both blown away when the lecturer from Singapore presented a video entitled “The Cloud of Unknowing” that made me realize video and sound can do wonders with our work.

Do you intend to focus on doing documentary work? Are you open to different genres?

GERIC: Of course, documentary photography will always be there. As a starting photographer I would like to venture into the different genres of photography. I’m actually more into conceptual/documentary photography right now. Hopefully this year I’ll be able to do a little more commercial and editorial work. After all, making a sustainable living off of photography requires most of us to branch out and shoot a bit of everything.

TAMMY: I shot my first wedding last month and it was a great learning experience. I’m also so excited for my food shoot tomorrow that I spent the morning looking at food blogs. Being open to different genres or acquiring new skills like multimedia keeps me excited with photography. Not to mention the pay is good and it helps fund my personal projects. I just need to find a balance with personal work, which is documentary.

What’s next for you guys?

GERIC: I’m currently an intern at Storyline, a documentary TV show. I’ve been doing a little experimentation with video. Although I’m still getting the hang of doing videos, my dream is to eventually become a cinematographer someday.

TAMMY: I just got an audio recorder and I’m working on a multimedia project about my pageant work. I will also be a part time lecturer in a university teaching photography. I also started contributing to Invisible Photographer Asia (http://invisiblephotographer.asia/), a website that promotes photographers or work from Asia. There are a lot of talented photographers from the Philippines so I’m glad there’s a venue to present their work to the world.

What is the future of photography in the Philippines?

GERIC: Personally I would like to think the future is bright. Although a lot of people say that photojournalism is dead, I still believe in the power of photography. As long as there are stories to tell and there are photographers who are passionate enough with their stories, good work will always find its way.

TAMMY: I can only speak for myself and some of my friends. About five years ago, there was a lot of pessimism going on since Digital SLRs were so cheap, citizen journalism was a hot topic, not to mention a number of publications closing down or losing interest in publishing picture stories.

But we were young and very hopeful then and still pursued telling our stories. Presently, some of our work has paid off. Stories have been given additional funding to continue, others published or exhibited here and abroad. There are more online publications, on-demand book publishing and photography festivals compared to five years ago, so the future is bright as long as documentary photographers are committed to their story and create work that is relevant and meaningful.

Now that every one who has a DSLR fancies him or herself as photographers, what advice can you give to young ones like you who are seriously intent on practicing their craft and excelling in this field?

GERIC: Don’t join camera clubs, learn to shoot alone, learn the history of the medium, don’t get too caught up with the technical side of photography because people can tell when you make images you care about. Lastly the earlier you start thinking of photography as a business, the better off you will be.

TAMMY: Don’t forget context, context and context! Treat your subjects well. To quote Nacho Corbella, “Don’t forget, it’s not your story, it’s their story, and you’re just helping them tell that story.” And try not to join a camera club.

* * *

Visit Geric at http://gericcruzfoto.tumblr.com and Tammy at http://www.tammydavid.com. 

You may also view their winning works at http://www.palaisdeseoul.net








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