Olli Thomson

Down By The Riverside

I can’t remember the last time I took a random stroll through a new neighbourhood despite my best intentions to explore more of the many districts of Metro Manila that are still unknown to me. Perhaps it was the week long break in Taiwan that inspired me to pull out my camera yesterday and walk down to the Pasig riverfront in Makati.

I started at the Makati Park and Garden where you can observe street life on the other bank. According to my Metro Manila CitiAtlas this particular street is called Manila Railroad, presumably once having been part of the city’s rail network. My atlas also indicates that for the first part of my walk I am photographing life on Manila Railroad, Pasig and for the latter part l am photographing Manila Railroad, Mandaluyong.

There is a Pasig River walkway for part of the route which starts in Makati Park, but this is under construction in a number of places and disappears completely in others. However, there is always a good view across the river. I did run into one of those magnificent examples of pointless bureaucracy that are so often the norm in developing countries (and increasingly so in developed ones).

Having been wandering along the walkway in the park taking photographs for twenty minutes or more, I was approached by one of the security guards who politely explained that I needed a permit to shoot in the park. He sent me to a building at the park entrance. I explained the situation to another security guard on duty there. He passed me on to the detachment commander. He passed me on to the park management who happened to be in a building outside the grounds.

I was beginning to wonder if this was just an attempt to extract some money, but I was assured there was no fee. I was also assured that I would be given a permit. So if it was free and there was no possibility of it being refused I was at a bit of a loss to understand why I needed it in the first place. No one disputed this point but insisted that it was still required. By this point I had done all the shooting in the park I intended to do so I didn’t bother getting the permit, but I now know for next time.

Since I expected from looking at my map that there might be good opportunities to shoot life on the other side of the river I dusted off my long zoom (which I generally think of as my panda lens) and ended up using that exclusively. One result of doing so is that I ended up with multiple images of the same general scene shot at different focal lengths. I’ve been struggling to single out one or two images since the perspectives from the various focal lengths are sufficiently different that I can’t decide which I prefer. This is not a problem I usually encounter since it’s generally clear to me which of a number of shots of a scene is the one I prefer. In the end I decided to stop trying to pick a favourite and keep all of those that appealed to me, even if a number of them were quite similar.

Enough words. Now to the pictures.

I saw this group of guys enjoying a dip in the river. It’s not something I would choose to do but they are clearly a lot more resistant to whatever lurks in those murky waters. It was one of those days where people seemed to arrange themselves into pleasing poses and compositions. Here, a strong diagonal with two groups at either end and a dominant central figure.

Rich colours, wonderful textures created by decay and disintegration, strong horizontal layers, pleasingly arranged figures and lovely little details. All I had to do was turn up and shoot.

These three lads were hanging around by the river and saw me coming. There probably haven’t been many pale skinned, ginger haired, blue eyed people walking around this neighbourhood. They decided to try their luck asking for a financial contribution. Normally I say no, but when I’m out shooting I often offer to give them some money in exchange for letting me take some pictures. I managed a few shots before they got impatient for their reward and this was the best. I liked the very different facial expressions on each of them.

This is probably my favourite image of the day. I like the way the steps that lead down to the river introduce a very strong horizontal layering, both separating and connecting the layers above and below. I also liked the contrast between the lower scene, with that singular fisherman standing quietly in the river, and the upper scene with multiple people going about their business on the busy street. I was also taken with the very pleasing arrangement of the people in the top left of this image which I’ve highlighted in the crop beneath the main image.

And finally…

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