Of all the cities in Southeast Asia, Manila has, what I consider, the best street shooting opportunities. Since coming to the Philippines 7 years ago to shoot for my NGO clients, I have enjoyed exploring Manila and the other cities, each with unique, interesting and diverse photographic opportunities.
Of course, not all areas in any large metropolitan city like Manila, are acceptable for bringing photo groups, but over the past 3 years, with the help of local photojournalist, Red Santos, we have identified some truly fantastic areas where our tour group can safely learn, practice and enjoy street shooting. What’s so great about “street shooting” in the Philippines, is that the people are curious, open and friendly about visitors like us.
One of the favorite areas for our group to visit is the ‘neighborhood’ under the bridge. I almost have to drag everyone away from it to get back to the hotel for dinner. The lighting is exceptional almost all day with dramatic bounce light coming in from each end of the overpass. We can create terrific images even during what is considered the worst time of day for photography!
Many people have witnessed the impoverished, likely dangerous areas of any large city and wouldn’t dream about actually visiting them much less those who live there. Unlike city areas that consist primarily of the indigent, derelicts, drug addicts, criminals and worse. This Manila ‘neighborhood’ where people live in makeshift ‘cubicles’, sleep on discarded stacked cardboard boxes is a community of very hard working people and their families who choose to live there due to access to and opportunities for employment.
When we visit this community as well as all others we visit, we initially interact with people who show an interest in us. They are curious and typically ask where we are from and why we are in the area taking photos. They are interested and then anxious to tell us about their relatives and friends who have immigrated to the U.S.
During the daytime, there are not too many men around; it’s mostly women and children, because the husbands are out working. While some women take care of their children, others are busy selling charcoal or snack foods. All regular daily activities take place here, eating, bathing, doing laundry, etc., all punctuated by the thunder of the trains that pass through the community every thirty minutes.
We talked with many people who live here; several who have lived in this particular area since the mid 1960′s! They consider this place their home and they are not ashamed of it, on the contrary, they feel a sense of community, and wouldn’t think of living anywhere else.
I have chosen to share these 18 images in black and white because I feel that the lack of color eliminates or at least minimizes distractions and most accurately portrays the “feeling” of the place. In these photos I see hope rather than despair, strength rather than weakness, and most of all I see the enduring power of the human spirit.
Each time we visit, we always assure the people of this unique community, that we will share these photos with our friends and family, so that others can have a look into a world that they very likely did not know existed or they may have preconceived notions about.
Our visit to the “people living under the bridge” is always an educational, eye-opening experience for us. It’s an activity that we will continue to offer our future tour guests, not only for the purpose of learning “street photography” but also for the opportunity to interact with other human beings, with whom we share the planet. I hope that these people remember our visits as fondly as we do.