Photo Essay

Intrinsic Beauty of Children: Encounters in the Philippines

Bukas Na Kami 8

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 maybe.

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 my Voigtlander 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.

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24 responses

  • James Wiley

    James Wiley gave props (28 Jan 2013):

    This is just oustanding photojournalism. It works so well as an essay, even though each image has a story of its own to tell. It is also very well written...A wonderful combination of words and pictures!

  • rob castro

    rob castro gave props (28 Jan 2013):

    cheers James ... thanks for your support and encouragement... it means a lot

  • Kevin Kott

    Kevin Kott gave props (1 Feb 2013):

    My Vote!

  • rob castro

    rob castro gave props (1 Feb 2013):

    thanks Kevin ... really appreciate it

  • Ted Anderson

    Ted Anderson   gave props (1 Feb 2013):

    Nice work, Rob. Your words and images work beautifully together.

  • rob castro

    rob castro gave props (1 Feb 2013):

    thanks Ted ... that means a lot to me

  • MindTheStep

    MindTheStep gave props (2 Feb 2013):

    wonderful!! my vote ;)

  • rob castro

    rob castro gave props (2 Feb 2013):

    cheers valemdc ... thanks for taking time to stop by and for voting... mean a lot

  • JPG

    JPG gave props (3 Feb 2013):

    Congrats on being The Story of the Week!

  • James Wiley

    James Wiley gave props (3 Feb 2013):

    I knew it Rob, it had to be...Sincere congratulations!

  • Donna Mullins

    Donna Mullins   gave props (3 Feb 2013):

    Many congrats Rob! Wonderful essay! Voted!

  • Carol Arntsen Masiak

    Carol Arntsen Masiak gave props (4 Feb 2013):

    Congrats on story of the week!

  • rob castro

    rob castro gave props (4 Feb 2013):

    James... I appreciate your support. Thanks for your faith in this endeavor. Very much means a lot to me.

  • rob castro

    rob castro gave props (4 Feb 2013):

    cheers Donna and Carol... thanks for kind comment.. means a lot

  • JamesHarmon McQuilkin

    JamesHarmon McQuilkin   gave props (5 Feb 2013):

    beautifully written and masterfully captured

  • rob castro

    rob castro gave props (5 Feb 2013):

    cheers James ... thankd for noticing and for your kind comment

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (7 Feb 2013):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (7 Feb 2013):

    Congrats on making Story of the Week!

  • rob castro

    rob castro gave props (7 Feb 2013):

    thanks John ... much appreciated

  • Miss Erika

    Miss Erika gave props (7 Feb 2013):

    Voted Rob!

  • Ma. Dolores Guillén Solís

    Ma. Dolores Guillén Solís   gave props (7 Feb 2013):

    Great story and most excellent images!

  • rob castro

    rob castro gave props (7 Feb 2013):

    thanks erika and ma Dolores

  • Alwyn Scott Turner

    Alwyn Scott Turner gave props (28 Feb 2013):

    Very impressive portfolio of artistic images...the attitude and point of view, and the commentary associated with the images, focus on the sense of humanity with a sincere attitude for the identity and activities of people in their natural environment. These images are fine works of art, and as such, they deserve the praise rendered by the talented artists that commented on their perceptions. The artistry in the printing technique and the wide-angle lens distort the normal perspective...and actually hinders the viewer from entering into the frame - yet the content itself reveals that there was a sense of historical perspective...It should be a practice not to distort reality in documentary or photojournal images, which shows respect for the subject matter. The fact that your work reveals both sincerity and intelligence indicates that you are capable of really great work...and that you are on the right course and learning fast. Do not take this as criticism...but advice to all photographers - that the degree of difficulty in rendering reality requires more expertise than any other form of photography...you have the sense of vision that does not require artificial effects - although it is good to do artwork to sharpen your talents. In effect, these images show great promise, and I would like to see the next series of documentary images true to an historical perspective. Good work, Rob - looking forward to your next portfolio.

  • rob castro

    rob castro gave props (28 Feb 2013):

    Cheers Alwyn ... what a great commentary. I'm quite flattered. All points well taken - especially your point about historical reality. In doing this series, I was not so much concerned with the particulars. Rather I was more concerned with the feelings associated with the moment of capture. Hence the distortion in my thinking was to bring up whatever was not captured by the naked eye. I started this project without much thought toward doing a documentary but rather to memorialize my meetings with these children. Somehow it just evolved into an existential attempt to come close to photojournalism – again which I have not originally thought about. These are my observations that are filled with my own prejudices for better or for worse. Still I appreciate your angle and in the future would consider approaching things with your recommendations. Thanks so much for your support and guidance. Take care, my friend.

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