Day's Work / by John Javellana

I was really excited when I woke up today since there were no schedules and I had the day free to do features. Another reason was my boss Darren lent me his 5D and I wanted to experiment with it since it was really the first time to use it for work. So I decided to visit my friends under the bridge. It was quite some time since I last saw them and I was happy to go back. I started the day with five shots of gin that were offered to me by familiar faces as I got there. I couldn’t say no since I found it impolite to refuse. It was really funny to be starting the day pretty buzzed.

First thing that caught my attention was this lady who kept her baby nearby on a makeshift hammock as she did their laundry. She has been living there for over 10 years and has three other kids who grew up there. To my surprise she told me that she saw me and a couple of photos of mine from Mabuhay magazine, the on-flight magazine of Philippine airlines. One of her neigbors goes to work in the airport and got a copy of it. It was really touching to know that they remembered who I was.

I was starting to feel the warmth of the gin shots as I started to move about the area. I knew I had this silly smile on my face already. It was my first time to see the water level come up like this. Kids were playing a game of billiards mixed with a card game. And they were doing it before heading to school. Some were headed off to school already as I made my way under the bridge.

What was interesting to me is that how the residents here live pretty normal lives despite the conditions. Everything they basically need was available. There was electricity; televisions; convenience stores and even karaokes and arcade games. One would usually be caught in the middle whether to think if it’s a good thing or bad. It’s like a thin line between satisfaction and desperation. When asked, most of them said that they didn’t have a choice but be content with their situation. It was resiliency for me, for them to be able to live normal lives and be such hospitable people as well.

One would generally have a notion that these kinds of dwellings house thugs, pushers and addicts. I did, way way back. Yes, there were a lot there but as I saw this girl studying her school textbook, it personally gave me a sense of contrast to the conventional perception. That there are young children who still dream to have and finish their education despite the overwhelming odds. A lot of them believe that education is the one thing that will get them a better life than what they currently have. I was struck and at the same time felt guilty when I got a taste of their conviction since all throughout my student life I believed that education is merely a formality that is not needed in life.

I thought I was going to be spending most of my day there and get to know more of the residents when all of a sudden I was assigned to shoot a press conference by Ahmed Djoghlaf, the executive director for United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. He was in Manila to bring up the threats of global warming and to call for the ASEAN leaders to unite regarding the issue. He also pointed out the immensly polluted coastlines of our country as one of the ramifications of global warming. Press conferences are definitely one of dullest things to shoot. I was lucky that this one had adequate light and a huge print of the speaker’s surname to play with.

Manny Mogato, our writer was doing a story on Djohjlaf’s presser. And I needed photos from the polluted coastlines to illustrate it so I went to the coastal area all the way from Makati. I stopped at a bridge and saw this man who was collecting plastic recylables while being surrounded by unbelievably sullied water. I continued my drive around the coastal area and passed by this abandoned shack that I would always see everytime I pass by but never got the chance to see any person on it. I thought it was another day of not being able to see anybody there but as I looked closely, there was finally a person there. Finally I was able to make something out of it. The water was really calm and the skies were as clear as anything. Hard to believe that there’s an upcoming storm.

I had another call from my boss and this time he told me we had a story on Cebu Pacific and how they manage to keep rates down despite the severe inflation in the country. The carrier aims to maintain profit by lowering rates to amass ticket sales. I thought I was going to have such a hard time shooting Cebu Pacific planes down the runway but I saw a couple of workers finishing an ad near the airport. I couldn’t have found a better photo to accompany the story.

Today was pretty much a typical day at work. It was a good mix of shooting things I love at a personal level and of things I just shoot for work. I became a photographer to experience and see the world around me with a camer for what it’s worth first of all. Getting published is just a bonus.. an icing on the cake. Wire photographers get a lot of beef for just doing everything in a rush and not really being able to get to know the subject they are shooting. And I know I can be guilty of that. But time constraint has a lot to do with it. On a personal note, I try to know the people I shoot as much as I can. I may not know their life story or something but I try to make sure that I just don’t take and take from them. I try to share laughs with them and talk about anything under the sun with them. Even drink gin with them at 9am in the morning.

It is quite fulfilling already to be accepted by people for example, under a bridge and be remembered as somebody who cheered them up even for just a little while. Now that I am still pretty much starting, I’m at a stage when I’m still discovering the immediate area that I am living in which is Manila. But someday I know I will look for deeper, more intimate stories in the future. It will come.