Between December 16, 2012 and January 3, 2013, I traveled back to the Philippines with my family. My wife arranged this time so we can have reunion with relatives and old acquaintances, trace our roots, and see the sights in various places within the country. Having lost contact with relatives on my side of the family, I did not care much about tracing my roots or meeting relatives. However, I was definitely interested in touring the country, to see both its rural and urban landscapes. Was this interest driven mainly by nostalgia for what used to be familiar, some sort of a pilgrimage to one's native land, or was it simply my passion for street photography? I don't really know but for whatever reason, I was drawn to the idea of traveling to take pictures of places with people in various settings and lifestyles. This photo excursion covered half the length of the Philippine archipelago, starting from Panay island in the mid-section of the archipelago to as far north as the town of Sagada in the Mountain Province. Photos taken were varied, consisting of people in market places of local towns, in rice fields, beaches, mountains, urban malls, slums, city sidewalks, etc.; all showing common people in various walks of life.
Throughout this photo-op I was surprised by the reception from the local folks. Perhaps it was my graying hair or my Westernized bearing, but most local grown-ups looked at me with leery eyes, suspicious of what I was up to. Twenty-five years of absence from this place has made me an outsider. That must explain why the natives gave me those dirty looks, or turned their backs away from the camera, or maintained such phlegmatic faces. I shot their pictures just the same. But the children were different. They looked at me directly, with that candid curiosity wondering who this stranger could be that visited their village. Some were more daring and called me out as "Cano! Cano!", short for "Americano" even though my gray hairs were no closer to the typical blonde hair expected of a foreigner. Others interviewed me, asking my name and where I was staying. They seemed to be open to know and befriend me. They were drawn to me as I was to them, for they were eager to show what they do and where they live. More so, I was captivated by this quiet contentment that they exude. They all seem to be satisfied with what they have and confident with what they can take on whatever the circumstance may be.
I wanted to highlight my encounters with these children. Hence, although I did take pictures of people of all ages I decided to come up with a short series limited only to photos of children. For this series, I shot mostly at a close range. Most of the images here were shot with myVoigtlander 20mm lens on a full frame Canon 5d Mark ii. The 20mm I have can only be operated on manual focus so it was a bit of a challenge although I was not so much concerned about the sharpness of the image as I was focused more on the feelings associated with the moments of capture. Also with the wide angle lens, I was forced to shoot real close to the subject, which I really loved because the results usually provided more intimate views. Plus it allows for interesting dynamics with the subject. If I'm smiling and happy, usually the subject will reciprocate the same sentiment.
The series documents their stories. Although the images were captured in different places, there is a commonality to all. There is intrinsic beauty in the simplistic lives of these children. In the end, it's about them -- in a time when God placed them. I chose the title "Bukas Na Kami," which is a play on words in the Pilipino language. It could either mean "We are open" or "Tomorrow it's us." I'll let the viewers decide which translation they like.
© 2016 Rob Castro
Original essay appeared at Jpg.com. January 25, 2013