MANILA – It seemed a crazy project that would only be done by crazy people, but they were all insane enough to go through with it.
On Thursday, photographers and photography enthusiasts converged at the launch of “Mysteries of Chance”, published by fledgling company Voices of Vision Publishing. The book showcases the works of documentary photographers and photojournalists Alex Baluyut, Al Benavente, Luis Liwanag, Jose Raymond Panaligan, Rick Rocamora and Sonny Yabao.
Included in the anthology are "Static Grain" by Baluyut, showing the strength of the human spirit amidst scenes of war and forced development; "Mistica" by Benavente, showing the lives of Rizalistas; and "Mendiola Massacre" by Liwanag.
Also in the book are "The Mangyan Photographs" by Panaligan, showing a decade's worth of immersion with the Mangyans of Mindoro; "Life's Arcade: Quiapo" by Rocamora; and "Consider the Lilies" by Sonny Yabao, a collection of photographs of the countryside.
According to publisher Rocel Ann Junio, while it is not a new idea to produce a photography book, very few have attempted to take the risk in the Philippines. “Despite the startling economic realities of the publishing industry, and the impact of the Internet and social media on it, we decided to give it a go,” she said.
The idea that started during a drinking session at Baluyut’s garden cottage grew into a collaborative project between photographers who have been responsible for chronicling some of the country’s pivotal moments. The project put together the works of professionals from different fields, who worked in different time frames.
The photographers featured in the book are not lightweights—Baluyut has won awards for his work, and has held positions at local and international news agencies. Liwanag, Panaligan, Rocamora and Yabao also have extensive experience in media organizations in the Philippines and abroad. Benavente, though a relative newcomer in the field, has had his works featured in books.
“It’s a legacy project, for one, but more importantly because it’s one book that needed to be done,” Junio said about “Mysteries of Chance”, named for the luck needed to get a good photograph.
“It’s an experiment. It’s a risk. It’s something we’re all afraid of, but we did it anyway. We may be crazy, but we had to do it.”
“Mysteries of Chance” comes during a time when digital products are in vogue, and doomsayers are predicting the gradual death of the print medium. However, the people behind it believe that books, especially photography books, are still valuable as they serve as archives for works of art.
Baluyut said that a lack of funds made him decide to use Facebook to make a retrospective for his work. However, he welcomed the chance to include his work in a print book, as it was hard for him to have to “let go” of his work on social media.
“Making a piece of documentary work takes many years of a photographer’s life. The preparation, the mental anguish that he has to go through, and pushing himself, it’s not exactly like you make a project and you get published the next day,” he said.
“Hopefully this book will go beyond the ‘instantness’. Kung iisipin mo, ako 30 years na ako [na photographer] pero I’m still learning. What more iyong mga nagi-Instagram. Mahabang proseso ang photography and the learning never stops.”
For Benavente, meanwhile, the opportunity to have his works included in an anthology was a “privilege”.
“As a young photographer, kung nagsisimula ka, ito ang hinahanap mo, e. Ever since naman na when I started doing a documentary, I always looked to be published in a work as prestigious as this.”
Meanwhile, Plaridel Award-winner Pete Lacaba said he thinks the book is a good effort. “Ang mga kasama dito, photojournalist ang mga ito,e… Magandang umpisa, masubukan. It’s a new effort, it’s worth trying,” he said.
Not a ‘Kickstarter’ project
The launch was only a “soft launch”, the book’s publishers said, as they have yet to raise the funds for more copies to be printed. While some copies are available, it has yet to be mass produced.
However, they clarified that theirs is not a “Kickstarter” effort where the product still has to be produced with help of funding from potential buyers. The book is finished, and some copies have already been printed.
“We have considered crowdsourcing and crowd funding. But the problem is that we are just a small group. What we did was we looked for individuals interested in such projects. They would help us with some of the expenses,” Junio said.
She admitted that it is “ironic” that they are launching a book in the midst of the age of digitization, but said that the book can serve to satisfy people’s need for good content in the long run.
“For me, it’s all about content and meaning. If you produce good content and you create meaning in such a way that’s tangible, the experience it’s there. It’s not just a fleeting moment in a person’s life but something they can cherish the rest of their lives,” she said.
The book is only the first of a series, which will feature important work from great Filipino artists.
“I think dito sa publication ng book, mas nare-realize, natatanggap ng tao, lalo na ng young photographers, iyong ganda or importance ng documentary,” said Benavente.
“Totoo iyon na mamamatay ka sa gutom [kung photographer ka], pero dito sa ginagawa namin, once you do a body of work, it’s not just showing it to people, it’s a chance to touch them. Photography is passion. Sa tingin ko mas mabubuhay ka doon, kaysa sa may pera ka pero di mo naman gusto ang ginagawa mo.”
“’Mysteries of Chance’ is a mystical journey. You will never know what will happen, you will never know what kind of picture will come out, especially when you’re still using film. Book publishing is the same way. The journey is worth it, I hope,” said Baluyut.