Aurora Boulevard Flyover-MRT / 2:30 PM. Photograph by Neil Daza
Culture Spotlight

IN PHOTOS: The eerie, empty streets of Manila on lockdown

From the vacant pavements of España to a deserted Quiapo. From a carless Ayala Avenue to a Burgos Street stripped of its exuberant life. The smoke and chaos may have moved out of Manila’s streets—but something else has taken over. Photographs by NEIL DAZA
| Mar 30 2020

Like many city dwellers, Neil Daza knows the ins and outs of Manila. His work as photographer and cinematographer often brings him to its choke points and open spaces, it’s main thoroughfares and spindly alleys. “I drive a lot because of my work so these are familiar places for me," he says. “Of course, old Manila will always have a special place in me because my film education started in Rizal Avenue where all the old theaters used to be. And Quiapo and Avenida are recurring places in my photography and film works.”

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But when we asked Daza to go out into the streets last week and photograph the city while it’s in an enforced lockdown, he saw the metropolis as both startling and unfamiliar. The chaos and smoke may have left but in their stead, the faint smell of foreboding. “I have always been attracted to empty spaces vis a vis documentary photography, that’s why I usually shoot during Good Friday if I’m in Manila, and sometimes early morning of January 1 — but this is different,” says Daza who, apart from being the DOP of such movies as Dekada ‘70, Alone/Together, and La Vida Rosa, had a stint as photojournalist in the police beat. “Metro Manila is a highly dense metropolis and with a population of 12.8 million there’s something strange and eerie in seeing Quiapo and MRT Cubao deserted at 2 o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday.” 

Aurora Boulevard / 2:30 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.

Indeed, the lockdown — imposed by the national government to lessen the chances of the COVID-19 virus from further spreading — has transformed the city into a setting of post-apocalyptic cinema. Which also reminds us of the first few minutes of Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky, where the Tom Cruise character, David, realizes he is driving through the streets of New York which is all of a sudden empty of people— and where instead of reveling in the wide open space, David appears to be suffocated by it. 

There were actually people in Daza’s early photos of the lockdown—before he set about working on this assignment only last week and focusing on the empty streets. “I was shooting at checkpoints in the city on the first three days and I saw people displaced and disoriented. It was heartbreaking,” he says. And although what we see in the photos here are empty streets, Daza met a lot of homeless people affected by the lockdown while shooting. “We don’t see them in the photos but they’re in the side streets trying to survive.”

Mall Of Asia / 4:30 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.

Asked what the challenges were of this story, Daza says it’s the moving around freely, what with the police checkpoints. The other struggles were the usual photographer hurdles: “You need to look for a good vantage point and that’s climbing pedestrian bridges and stopping my car on top of flyovers.” But he wasn’t blind to the perks. “Parking was not a problem because you can park your car anywhere.” 

Daza chose to shoot in the afternoon because “this is the time these places are usually busy, when rush hour starts to peak,” he says. “The sun also creates interesting shadows in the afternoon and with less pollution you get really clear blue skies.” But the urge to take on the project is clearly much more than just coming up with good pictures. For him, it just had to be done. “I started shooting the moment the lockdown was announced, it’s the documentarist in me,” says Daza. “Future generations should see how we coped as a people and how we find a common humanity to survive.”—JEROME GOMEZ 

Ayala Avenue / 8:30 AM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Burgos Street-Kalayaan Avenue / 7:30 AM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Burgos Street, Makati / 8:00 AM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Bus stop EDSA-West Avenue / 8:00 AM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Carriedo Street, Manila / 4:30 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Carriedo LRT / 4:00 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
EDSA-Ayala Flyover / 8:30 AM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Cubao MRT Station / 2:00 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
España / 2:00 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
EDSA-Quezon Avenue / 3:00 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Guadalupe / 3:30 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Pasay Rotonda - EDSA / 5:00 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Quezon Boulevard - Quiapo / 4:00 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Quiapo pedestrian overpass / 4:00 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Quezon Boulevard / 3:30 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Quiapo / 3:00 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.
Rizal Avenue - Recto / 3:30 PM. Photograph by NEIL DAZA.