I was always nervous of photographing people. Should I take a sneaky shot or ask their permission? What do I do if they refuse and how exactly do I ask them for a picture? It was all a bit too risky for me and so I preferred to stick to architectural scenes (which I also love) and the odd street scene, ensuring I didn't focus on an individual.
However I like to try new things and about 18 months ago I decided it was time to face my fears of photographing humans. I read various articles about photographing people in different countries and cultures, articles which were often contradictory and which left me still unsure. I had planned to visit Guatemala in early 2017 and when doing research for my trip found a website for Antigua Photo Walks, run by Rudy Giron, a local photographer. Rudy provides opportunities for different kinds of photography in and around Antigua and advises on technique. The walk I took with him changed everything for me as we met many Mayan people who were happy to be photographed despite the cultural issues I had read about. Of course it wasn't just a case of walking up to someone and snapping them, I learned the need to engage a little first, greet them and show interest in what they are doing in order to put them at ease. I liked my results.
A little later on during one of my many visits to Israel I did a similar walk with Laurie Cohen of Israel Photography Tours We spent several hours in the Old City of Jerusalem, a great location for photography but also potentially an ultra-sensitive one given the importance of the various religious sites and the tensions related to them. Laurie reinforced the things I had learned with Rudi and gave me some more technical tips. Again, I was happy with my results. Towards the end of the year I had a third experience of this kind in Kolkata where with Manjit Singh of Calcutta Photo Tours I spent three early morning hours in the wholesale markets taking my best pictures so far and frankly experiencing the "joy of photography!". In India I also printed a few of the better pictures I had taken and returned to give a copy to the delighted subjects.
I still take pictures of architecture, including very detailed ones of art deco buildings, which is one of my passions, but now no trip is complete without my taking pictures of interesting people. It is not just the images that I get out of it. The engagement with individuals often produces some surprising stories when they begin to talk about their lives, work and families in what may be a relatively short but very rich exchange. And of course, the stories are also in the faces where every line, expression and angle can tell a story.
My recent time in the Philippines provided me with many opportunities to photograph people. Filipinos are generally very open to being photographed, sometimes a little shy at first but always happy to see the results. In some cases, as in India, when people see someone being photographed, they come forward and ask for their picture too and several times I was joined by large groups of children demanding "one more picture sir". I never take pictures of children without first securing the permission of a parent or older adult. This post features a small selection of the many portraits I took in the wonderful Philippines.
I noticed Flora (at the top of this post) in the Dangwa Flower Market in Manila. I was struck by the elegant, upright way that she held herself whilst working on the flowers that she was preparing for sale. She told me that she is 81 years of age and divides her time between Masbate, where she still works in the fields and Manila where she comes to sell the flowers. She likes working and said that her grandmother worked until the age of 120 and was never ill but decided that she had lived long enough and died on her birthday!
|Butcher, Libertad Market, Manila|
I heard the man above before I saw him, shouting and singing as he vigorously cleaned his chopping board in the Libertad Market, Manila. I indicated that I would like to take his picture and he began to assume an upright pose. That was not what I wanted at all. He seemed to realise this, resuming his noisy cleaning of the board whilst I shot a burst resulting in a great action sequence.
Paul is a boatman. He works at Panglao, Bohol, transporting tourists between the various islands. I saw him whilst taking a 6 a.m. stroll along the beach having woken up very early. We exchanged greetings and I asked for a picture. He was a little shy and reluctant at first and asked that I photograph him with his "boss" which I did. He then relented and allowed me to take this portrait.
This man is a member of the Tabudlong family that has a small business in Dau Market at Tagbilaran, Bohol. He grinds and grates coconut, cacao, coffee, peanuts, rice and ube. I noticed him preparing chocolate discs and we fell into conversation. He invited me behind the counter to see how the chocolate is prepared and was very amused when I asked to take his picture.
|Grate and grinder, Dau Market, Tagbilaran|
Jose has a stall in the Baclayon Market, Bohol. He has been selling shoes with his wife for more than 50 years. I noticed him when I entered the market building and was keen to take a portrait. He was surprised that anyone should want to photograph him and his wife was moved to laughter. I managed to get several interesting images as he went about his business. Like Flora, I am sure there are many stories in this gentle face.
A few kilometres outside of Iloilo City I noticed a group of fishermen sitting on the beach, repairing their nets and re-painting their boat. This man was sitting aside from the rest of the group, re-sewing the nets, deep in thought. I took this when he looked up for a second, still pre-occupied but with a hint of a smile.
|Fisherman, Iloilo province|
Roderigo is three years old. His father is a fisherman living in Iloilo City. I saw them sitting at the end of a pier, chatting with a group of other fishermen. I was struck by the obvious pride and affection of the father who was kissing the boy's head when I first approached.
|Roderigo and his father|
This woman makes and sells suman, a delicious dessert made from glutinous rice and coconut milk wrapped in a banana leaf. She has a street stall in Manila's San Antonio district. She looked directly at the camera and allowed me to take a series of pictures before laughing and turning her head to one side resulting in the shot below.
|Suman seller, San Antonio, Manila|
I met this serious looking little girl in Quiapo, Manila. Her father was sitting outside a shop talking to a friend whilst she played on the pavement. Securing his permission to take her picture she maintained a dour expression, guarding her packet of sweets - candies shaped like little ice creams.
|Don't touch my sweets, Quaipo, Manila|
This butcher works at the Baclayon market in Bohol. I liked his smile, sparkly eyes and pink floral apron perhaps indicating his self-confidence.
|Butcher, Baclayon Market|
Lionila has a tiny kiosk outside the Public Market in Iloilo. She has been selling cigarettes and other small items for many years. I saw her a couple of times before I asked to photograph her. Each time she had smiled and wished me good afternoon so I was fairly sure she would be amenable. She is in her 70's, has no doubt had to work very hard but retains an almost regal way of holding herself. Her smile seems full of optimism.
This woman has a small business in the Dau Market in Tagbilaran. She sells different kinds of chillies. Born in the city, she worked in Manila for many years but returned to her home town where she said life is easier, less rushed, less noisy and the people more friendly.
|Chilli seller, Dau Market, Tagbilaran|
You can see more pictures of the Philippines here and here.