Feet on the ground, eyes on the viewfinder
I was 19 when I unearthed a new meaning behind the lens of a camera.
On a bright yet breezy Friday morning in February, I decided to test out my newly purchased Yashica T2 point-and-shoot film camera. My sister, trying to recover from a three-hour sleep the other day, was dragged out of her bed as I forced her to come and take a walk with me. With eyes still twitching and a mouth noisily yawning as she was tying her hair into a thick black ponytail, she asked, “Where are we going to walk?”
There were two options from our house: go north or go south. My sister and I strolled toward the south. We followed the route that I take whenever I ride a tricycle going to university every day.
Heads basking in the sun, I pressed my finger on the shutter button of my camera while taking photos of landscapes and shared with my sister the challenges I experience with commuting in the Philippines. I complained over the overpriced fare tricycle drivers charge me, the LRT-2 trains that take so long to arrive, and the cramped alleys that force me to walk on the road rather than the sidewalk.
Without even having to say it, my sister sensed my desire of having another option for going to university: driving a car. But she couldn’t do anything about my struggle.
I finished all 36 shots of my film in the morning and headed to a developing lab at noon to get it scanned. At around three o’clock in the afternoon, I got a notification that my scans were ready. Partly afraid of the results, I hurriedly checked the photos. I paused on one photo and stared at it longer than the others while I was in the jeep on the way home. With exhilaration rushing through my veins, I sent the shot to my sister and told her how captivating the shot was to me. It was a ray of bougainvillea flowers tucked inside the corners of a house from the walk my sister and I had earlier that morning. Other details in that photo included motorcycles parked in front of the house, a vendor’s cart, and the perfect morning sunlight. It gave me some sense of peace in the act of walking that I had never felt before. It made me forget the nuisances I endlessly encounter in commuting.
Suddenly, I was ushered to a position of recognition. Sparks flew within me as I conceded to the peculiar charm of walking the streets of Metro Manila. Forget being trapped in a car with tinted windows either blocking the sunlight or dimming the accurate hues of the colors that paint my surroundings. I grew a desire to be outside in the streets—basking in the sunlight that Earth has to offer, listening to the crunch of fallen leaves as I step on them, and having an unusual appreciation of structures found in typical Filipino houses to commercial establishments.
But beneath there lies something deeper. I yearn for forming a connection with the mundanity of Filipino life. I want to get in closer touch with the children who play outside their houses, screaming at each other while the sun strikes their skin. I want to learn the story behind the “tusok-tusok” vendor who fills the stomachs of passersby looking for merienda. I want to hear advice from the elderly who sit in front of their house, probably chattering about the affairs of their other neighbors. I long for solidifying the beauty of ordinary scenes found in my home, the Philippines, that oftentimes go unnoticed due to the whirlwind of mayhem consuming this country.
I envision a dream of sharing this beauty that I am slowly planting with my feet on the ground and my eyes focused on the viewfinder of my camera.
Today, whenever I exchange my money for smaller bills in the sari-sari store right in front of our house, I let my conversation with the owner extend after saying “Thank you po.” I ask questions of my neighbors who walk their dogs in the morning or afternoon. I tell the binatog vendor that I really love the balance of the flavors—how salt, sugar, and condensed milk mix so well with the boiled white corn kernels.
In the newly woven bond that I have made with these people, I am inspired to take a photo of everything that symbolizes them, even in the most prosaic happenings on the streets because right there lies a heart that beats for human affinity.
Sophia Pangandian, 19, is a freshman student at the Ateneo de Manila University.
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