Starweek Magazine

Images of a Family Legacy

Ida Anita Q. del Mundo - The Philippine Star
Images of a Family Legacy
The family that shoots together: George (center) with wife Lisa and sons Harvey (left) and Harold.

MANILA, Philippines — George Tapan’s work as a travel photographer has graced the covers of major magazines and publications here and abroad, have been featured in exhibits in museums and have even been blown up into billboards at the airport, welcoming visitors to the Philippines. Through his lens, Tapan has photographed landscapes and portraits that have captured the beauty of the country.

But today, STARweek focuses on the man behind the camera – a family man who has inspired his sons Harold and Harvey, and many more young photographers, to develop their own eye for photography.

Both Harold (the eldest among George’s children) and Harvey (the youngest) were exposed to their father’s work since they were children. Harold recalls getting his start assisting at his father’s studio straight out of high school. 

“I learned all his secrets,” says Harold on observing his father work. He adds it was from training under his father that he learned how to set up his lights from scratch and how to improvise on set.

Since George would travel a lot, it was up to Harold to take care of his father’s clients. That is how he got his start in his now successful corporate photography career, with emphasis on videography rather than photographs.

Inheriting his father’s penchant for adventure, Harvey has had a wide range of projects from travel and outdoor sports like sailing, kayaking and dragon boat racing, to corporate projects. 

On the way to a photo and video shoot, George and Harold smile for the camera.

Interestingly, Harvey tried other career paths after graduating from high school. Wanting his own business, he tried hog raising and farming for a few years, but none of his ventures really took off.

“It turned out, mas OK pala talaga ang photography… Photography pa rin ang buhay (It turned out, photography was still better… it was still my life).”

It is no wonder that George’s sons picked up their father’s trade. “Yung dalawang boys na yan, kahit saan ako magpunta kasama sa travel ko (These two would join me anywhere I would travel to),” says George on exposing his sons early to his profession. 

But, he adds, “Hindi ko sila tinuruan. Ayaw kong maging impluwensya ang trabaho ko sa kanila. Kinakailangan meron silang sariling identity para magkaroon sila ng sariling success in their own field (I didn’t teach them. I didn’t want my work to influence theirs. They need to have their own identity so they can succeed in their own field).”

George made it a point to let his sons explore the medium on their own. “In photography, if you know the basics, on your own ka na, kung anong style ang meron ka. Yun ang napakaganda sa photography (In photography, if you know the basics, you’re on your own, with your own style. That’s the beauty of photography).”

George reveals his sons are actually third generation photographers. It was George’s father who began the family tradition. 

His father moved to Manila from Quezon to make a living. There he became an assistant photographer, capturing the ruins of the capital city that had been leveled by war.

Harvey, who shoots on land and sea, says “photography was still my life.”

Because of his father, the whole clan started taking up photography. Some worked as Malacañang photographers, others worked for national papers, but they were all basically employees.

George yearned to take his photography beyond the confines of a day job. “Naisip ko, paano ko maiangat yung photography na nandoon sa line ng aming pamilya (I had to think of a way to elevate my photography from my family’s line of work).”

While tackling a wide range of assignments for publications and working in advertising, George built his portfolio, eventually developing his unique point of view as the photographer he is known for today.

Just like George, Harold and Harvey have had to work hard to differentiate themselves from their relatives who are in the same field and to step out of their father’s proverbial shadow. 

Ever since they were young, they were aware that their father was a prominent figure in the photography world. Harold admits working in the industry they’ve benefitted from the Tapan name. But it’s up to them to prove to their clients that they can live up to it.

“My dad is my idol,” says Harvey. “When it comes to photography, kaya niyang gawin lahat. Na-achieve niya lahat (he can do anything, he has done it all).” 

George’s award-winning photo “Into the Green Zone” taken in Onuk, Palawan.

He especially admires George’s ability to shoot in any condition – all types of lighting, all kinds of weather. 

The challenge, Harvey says, is to do their best with each project. “We need to do it well… kasi yung dad ko nandun na siya sa level na mataas eh. So hindi kami pwedeng bumaba doon (My dad is already at a high level, so we can’t be anything less).”

George is certainly proud of his sons for following in his footsteps and achieving success in their field. “They can do corporate, advertising, portraiture, everything. Napagdaan na nila lahat eh (They’ve gone through everything already).”

For the master photographer, the best advice he can give his sons has nothing to do with lighting or framing or any other technical technique.

“Ang importante (What’s important) is how you respect others. Professional ethics. Be human as a photographer.”

As a family man, George adds, “Save for the future of your family.”

George has been known to do what he has to do, including wading in among mangroves, to get the shot that he wants.

On their responsibility to the nation, George says, “Being a photographer I am helping the country… being a Filipino photographer you have to help promote the country.” Indeed, George has truly embodied this and continues to do so, showcasing through his works the beauty – and beauties – of the Philippines. One such work gained international recognition in 2011, taking the top prize in the Places category of the National Geographic photography contest, hailed by one of the judges as showing a“perfect sense of timing and composition.” 

Today, George continues to hone his craft and keep up with his sons. “As  a photographer hindi ka dapat tumigil… You have to continue learning about the new style of photography. Kung hindi, maiiwan ka sa technology (If not, you’ll be left behind by new technology).”

As Harold and Harvey continue to uphold the Tapan name in the field of photography, it is George who has the last word on their family legacy: “Photography must show the reality of what you see... To capture and be part of history.”

Harvey is an avid sportsman as well.

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