People of Manila 1

I had to relearn photography when I lived in Manila. My practice over the years on the streets was to linger discreetly and look for opportunities for candid shots. Often I ignored the people and focused instead on the design, architecture and infrastructure of the city.

None of this was possible in Manila. With my pasty white Irish skin and ginger hair, blending in wasn’t an option and in a densely packed city of 13 million people candid shots were a challenge. One of the reasons for trying to be unobtrusive and take candid shots is that people often don’t like having their picture taken but in Manila many of the people I met were delighted to be photographed, often thanking me for taking the picture before I had opportunity to thank them for letting me.

So I had to learn to work in a much more crowded environment, close up and with people who were fully aware that I was photographing them. I switched to a wider lens and started taking portrait shots. In honour of the people who were kind enough to pose for me and out of respect for them I’m going to post the fifty or so street portraits I took while there. They are not all great pictures but I still recall every one of the people in them and the context in which I came across them and took their pictures. So here is the first set.

I came across this guy shortly after arriving in the city on one of my first walks along Arnaiz Avenue. I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He called out to me and I went over to say hello. When he saw the camera he asked me to take his picture and started dancing. I love this picture, partly because it was an early introduction to the neighbourhood and its people, partly because it sums up the friendliness, openness and spontaneity that is evident in so many of the people I met. I also liked the bloke to the left, who my subject had been chatting to before he saw me, who is managing to look supremely uninterested in his friend’s performance.

The guy on the left was hanging out on Arnaiz Avenue, at the corner with Orion Street at a point where the street crossed a stream. The stream was filthy and choked with garbage and there was a cluster of tiny roughly built houses on the corner. People were always hanging out on the street at this spot and I saw this guy just sitting there taking in the world and asked if I could take his picture. People in Manila don’t do ‘deadpan’ and so I got this huge beaming smile. I always found it humbling that people in such challenging circumstances were so quick to smile.

The older man on the right is one of the city’s may pedicab drivers – or riders? The pedicabs are pedal bikes with a sidecar and are a cheap way to get around the city. I watched them go by sometimes laden down with two or three passengers and bags of shopping. I was amazed that this skinny little guy could get this thing moving. This is no sports bike; these are heavy machines to get moving even without passengers and luggage. Bear in mind also that the temperature averages 32C year round with humidity ranging from 70 percent to 85 percent. I was exhausted after a couple of hours walking in the city.

This is one of the portraits that I have posted previously and printed. This little flower stall – I think it is ‘Creative Petals Flower Shop’ – is at the corner of Arnaiz Avenue and Taft Avenue. I was looking at the flowers and asked for a picture. This was the result. I liked the framing of the guy with the flowers in the foreground and the backdrop with the display of bouquets. Most of all I liked his pose and expression, which to me conveys a real sense of confidence and dignity. With the cross tattoo on his arm, sometimes I can imagine him taking the role of Jesus in a passion play.

Here’s another shot from Arnaiz Avenue at the junction with Wilson Street where I lived. All of these blokes are trike drivers. The trikes are like the pedicabs but motorized – essentially a motorbike and sidecar. I’ve seen these trikes with six people on board and they are everywhere in the city. These guys parked up at this junction waiting for customers and sat around chatting, smoking, drinking, playing cards or sometimes just dozing in the sun. I saw them regularly on my way home and on this particular day they were all there together so I took the opportunity to get a shot of them all. As so often there is a great range of expressions on very expressive faces.

So that’s the first set. More to come later.