Sunday, September 3, 2017

On Meeting My Hero

I started my photography close to ten years ago back in the Philippines when the consumer DSLRs boomed. I started similarly with many photographers not knowing what I wanted to do with photography or rather wanting to do everything in photography. I shot portraits and the streets, but mainly photos of my friends and family. Later when we moved to Malaysia my photography moved to landscape, lugging around a ton of gear wherever we went. I floated with a rough vision of what I thought I was good at, not what I wanted to be. See, from time to time back then I was curious with some of the photos I was making when I shoot the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Then, in 2012, I was able to make a trip to Tokyo and India. These trips validated my feelings of wanting to be a street photographer. I started on reading about the greats and seeing their masterpieces and acknowledging the intricate details in composition and also understanding how difficult their photos come alive. The challenge was exciting and I studied more and more, and during this phase, I came about this photo:

Alex Webb

USA. San Ysidro, California. 1979. Mexicans arrested while trying to cross the border to United States.

Photo from Magnum Photos

The photo is by Alex Webb of the Magnum Photo Agency. The photo held me to this day as one of my favorite photos ever. The composition of the subjects, the foreground, the background, the light, and saturation and vibrance of the photo form an iconic representation of the moment. From then on, my admiration for Alex's style formed an aspiration of producing a style that is complex but cohesive that every element of the photo works with each other.

My work then evolved, incorporating styles from McCurry, Ami Vitale, Sergio Larrain, and even from classic Japanese paintings. But all this time my research and understanding of Alex's work have also deepened, having more understanding of his photography history and techniques. I formed then a vision and style, my own style, that stemmed from my own history and vision combined with my inspirations.

Then in 2015, I was able to save up some money and go to Anderson Ranch in Colorado to attend a workshop conducted by Alex Webb and his lovely wife and photography partner Rebecca Norris Webb. I couldn't believe the opportunity but I was ready for it. However, I was more curious about what Alex would be like, as a photographer. I never submitted my photos in person to another photographer to be critiqued. I was more curious than anxious with the idea.

There is a saying "Don't meet your heroes" which I think, depends on who you are, and who your heroes are, and how the dynamic of the two will work. Meeting mine was fruitful in many ways.

The workshop was attended by around 10 people, coming from different styles of photography. It was far from being a personal, one-on-one kind of workshop, we routinely went and shot day after day and was also critiqued day after day, as a group. I was able to chat with Alex and Rebecca a couple of times, getting to know a little bit about them. I would say nothing out of the ordinary with these types of activities.

Me having a beer in the workshop with Alex and Rebecca and the rest of the workshop attendees. And the only photo I'm willing to share.

It may seem underwhelming but as I've mentioned it was really fruitful. With the daily critique sessions, side tips and small chats made me look at Alex and Rebecca's work, as with other's as well, to apply a more critical eye with more understanding. However what impacted me more were the suggestions and experiences he shared with us as these stories made him more grounded to me, more accessible, that he's also just a photographer. A great one, yes, but still a photographer.

And that definition of persona is ultimately what I valued the most. What I took away from that workshop was way more valuable than what the workshop was offering.

I just published a short that was produced from that workshop titled "Two Afternoon Rodeos" which is about the last two days of the rodeo season in Colorado, capturing scenes from the rodeos of Snowmass and Carbondale.