Friday, November 27, 2009

Photography is a language

This past Saturday, the CLUTCH ladies had back-to-back workshops, beginning with a lesson on the socialization of women in the Philippines, with Mithi Esguerra. With a background in social work and a keen interest in women’s issues, Mithi revealed her extensive knowledge on the history of Filipino women from the pre-colonial times leading up to today. While we briefly touched on the role of women in the revolution during Filipino History class on Thursdays, we never delved beyond names and facts until Mithi’s workshop. Here, we learned about the gradual degradation of women’s status in the Philippines, leadership roles and structures today and the different movements initiated by Filipinas. Cool (yet semi-depressing) things we learned about involved women’s guerilla units, “Babaeng Bayaran,” consumerism geared towards Filipinas and the feminization of migration.

More importantly, we were able to openly discuss, to each other, our personal experiences and relationships with the main Filipino women in our lives: our mothers... and how their values and belief systems were shaped depending on the "Filipino-ness" of the culture they were brought up in. It seemed as though each of us in CLUTCH was raised quite differently, ranging along a spectrum between “the typical strict Filipina nanay” to “the liberal free-spirited Westernized mom.” It was really interesting to share and even more so interesting to relate it to historical and cultural constructions.

After a brief break, we went ahead with Part 2 of the day-long workshop with our Filipino History teacher himself: Alex Felipe a.k.a. World Photojournalist Extraordinaire ( Seeing as it was a Photography Workshop, I was under the impression we were going to be handed cameras for the day and told to run around the city, trigger-happy, clicking away like a little kid with a toy gun. Turns out the workshop was a lot better (and a lot more beneficial!) than I had imagined, sans camera. Having had his work featured in publications like Toronto Star and This Magazine, Alex shared his trade secrets, his photo-philosophy and the technical rules of what makes a great photo: “A great photograph is NEVER about a person, place or event; it’s about symbols, signs and icons composed together artfully.” It makes sense—but we never think it. Nowadays, photos are taken for granted, judging by the arms-length “self-portraits” cropping up on TwittMyFaceSpaceBook every second.

When Alex talks photography, it’s tough to keep up with. He rarely takes a breath in between his words. He tells a story about each of his photo as if he is back in the same setting looking into the same lens all over again. He talks about developing a level of trust with your subject and how a combination of timing, patience and chance is key. He could enter a room and assess what angle with which sort of lighting would convey this sort of emotion from that perspective. You could tell he was born to do this. And I’m jealous.

After a presentation on composition, we were taught how to use Photoshop on our laptops to enhance photos, adjust colour and lighting, contrast, etc. It wasn’t easy and Alex’s speedy mouse-clicking skills were no match for my now powerless MacBook touchpad. But I have a feeling my newfound relationship with Photoshop is only the beginning.

Our photography critique is next week. Can’t wait to see what we each come up with…


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