A passion is something you find yourself pursuing with great concentration, love and conviction. It is something that gives us a purpose, fulfillment and affirmation. Some of our passions we discover because we enroll in a class to study something like pottery, or guitar. But sometimes, it just creeps up on us and, before we know it, we’re hooked.
I have many passions. One might say they are love affairs my soul indulges in to keep the rest of me animated and alive. I intensely enjoy music, reading, teaching, writing and photography. There are many other things I enjoy, but I would like to talk about my intense joy in capturing light and making sense of it through that instrument called a camera.
As a kid, I liked looking at pictures. I remember staring at photos of my family with extreme fascination, wondering how outside reality could be captured on something called film inside a contraption called a camera. The first photos I ever saw were in black and white. It never occurred to me then that black and white photos lacked all the other colors of life. Perhaps the very wonder of seeing people I knew on photo paper in family albums was too tantalizing an experience to notice the absence of the other colors. It was the same with photos on sepia. To me, they just looked natural and life-like.
I remember spending hours just looking at pages upon pages of old Life, Look, Time, and other magazines. The pictures taken by their outstanding photographers were a constant source of delight.
But alas, cameras and the joy of taking family photos were luxuries in our family of 10 kids. There were other more pressing priorities when it came to what we could spend on as a family. The prospect of having regular photo sessions, much less having my own camera, was just not within the reality of any wish list I could come up with. As a result, my sibs and I have very few pictures as children. Family photos were just too expensive to indulge in.
In my teenage years, I indulged a bit in developing and printing pictures in a dark room owned by a friend. Those were moments of real discoveries and wonder which, when I think about it now, may have made what has become my lifetime love affair with photography a done deal. But it would take a long time for me to afford and actually indulge this passion on a regular basis.
Cameras, film, printing were just too expensive. It was like having a high-maintenance girlfriend. All I could do was lust after it from a distance. But it did not matter to me if the prospect of owning a real camera and affording this passion was a “someday” thing. All I knew was that I was hooked.
I was in my 30s when I could live more comfortably and could thus indulge in some luxuries. I bought myself a point and shoot camera but graduated to an SLR within a few months.
I took lots of family pictures, with a few attempts at “artistic” shots. I just liked looking at photos of my loved ones and other people I knew. That, to me, was the thrill of photography for a long time. It took a while before I took it up seriously as a hobby that I wished to excel in.
One day, I discovered that I had this ambition to have a picture I took published in a magazine. I called my friend Thelma San Juan who was a magazine editor and asked her if I could show her my photos. To my great surprise, she asked if I was interested in shooting the cover for their April issue! I was floored. She told me I had to shoot the cover with a medium format camera. I nodded my head, even though I had no idea what she meant. The magazine was to provide the film and she needed everything done a week from that day. And, oh yes, the model would be my good friend G Tongi! Whoa! It’s as if the heavens opened up and smiled at me.
I couldn’t believe my luck. This went way beyond my initial goal of seeing just one small picture published. I immediately called my friend and mentor Eddie Boy Escudero to ask what a medium format camera was. He said he had one and he was willing to lend it to me, along with his lights. He would also light up G Tongi for me the way I wanted it done.
My first “professional” photo cover got good reviews. Soon after, I was shooting for other magazines, and calendars, album covers, fashion pages, ads and billboards. And I was doing it with such passion that with every photo shoot I learned something new.
I now have far better cameras than my first point and shoot. I also take better photos. I had to develop new instincts when I switched to digital cameras. With film so expensive then, I learned to be deliberate and mentally focused on every shot I took. And it generally took an excruciatingly anxious three days to confirm whether my settings, framing, lighting, etc. were correct. Nowadays, with digital technology, I know instantly if the shots I take are good.
The first question I ask myself every time I look through a lens is, what story am I seeing? I believe that for a photo to be engaging, it must be compelling enough to tug at the viewer emotionally. If I can’t find a story, I know that what I am looking at is just a snapshot.
Passions are personal pursuits. It would be good to have friends, partners who like the same thing. The worst thing is to drag someone who has no interest at all to a photo shoot and worry about that person as you try to do your work.
I believe that creative dreams and pursuits should be shared initially only with those who will encourage you to go the distance, until you are confident enough of your skills. When passions are discouraged, or when you are made to feel guilty for pursuing a passion or a hobby, you can doubt your own sanity and question why you are so driven to do something.
Writer Angela Monet wrote, “Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.”
I have learned that when you are passionate about something, details about the object of your passion are easily knowable. It is as if your mind and your emotions are a constantly growing library of knowledge. There is a reason to wake up every day. In fact, it is what living is all about. And the mistress of passion demands that she be constantly pursued, sometimes relentlessly.
My philosophy teacher once talked about how one can be so in love with a person even when no one sees anything good about him or her. He said the reason is that only the one who loves is privileged to see what others cannot. In a sense, this applies to one’s passion. But there is a subtle difference.
I have friends I can talk to about photography for hours. Some of them can get so fanatical about it that in their pursuit of the latest gadgets, they hide their purchases from their wives in order to avoid arguments about expenses. While I laugh and tease them about this, I can fully understand. Whoever it was who said that “love is often gentle, but desire is always a rage” was absolutely correct.