Eric’s Note: This is a transcription of an interview I had with Leanne Jazul, a photographer based here in Manila. He is one of the founders of Usapang Kalye, a forum for “street photography talk” in the Philippines. I was very impressed with his thoughts and philosophies on street photography, as well as his vision and hope for street photography in the Philippines. Read on to find out more about Leanne and his images.
E: To start off, can you tell us more about yourself and your background in photography?
L: Basically I’m not a photographer. I’m not even a street photographer, but they call me one, because I used to make pictures of people in the street. I’m a graphic designer by profession and I’ve been working with the print media industry for more than a decade. I’ve been taking street photographs for 5 years and that’s it.
E: So as a profession you work as a graphic designer. How would you say that influences your street photography?
L: Well you always want a good design for books, magazines, and pictures as these are important. Visually you need to have your people engaged with the content of the magazine so you need to supplement it with good pictures. We have good photographers but unfortunately most of them are quite busy. So it influenced me to shoot so I can fill in every time I need pictures that I need for the magazine or a publication.
E: When it comes to shooting street photography, two things which are very important to make a good photograph is form and content. For you, is one more important than another?
L: I’m a Winogrand fan, so you need to show the tension between the form and the content. Whatever will come, either form- but it is important to have both.
E: Would you say form follows content or content follows content?
L: Form follows function. I guess its both. You need good form in order for your viewer to see your content. For me, it goes hand in hand. Your message can be understood well if the form is good.
E: I looked at a lot of your photos, and I can see how form and content is apparent in your work. Especially that you are a graphic designer, your compositions are good. When people look at your photos, what do you want them to get out of them?
L: I want to create photos that tell people, “take a look”. If you are making photographs, don’t make it hard for the audience to understand what you are trying to describe. I try not to allow my audience to just glance at an image; content for me must not be surface-deep. I want my audience to make a story and message through my photographs even though it’s just a person scratching his head on the street or children at play.
E: When you are photographing in Manila- how is it different or unique from other parts of the world?
L: it is unique because it is diverse. There are a lot of people in different districts in a combination of social classes from rich to poor- from cool to punk. Unfortunately, here (Manila) light changes quickly- and that makes you work hard. It is also unique that people want to be photographed all the time.
E: So they are always posing for you?
L: Haha yeah.
E: Have you have any incidences when people get upset at you when you are photographing here in Manila?
L: I’ve heard stories of people having hard time shooting in malls, but seldom am I confronted by harassment. I just take a photograph and smile, and it is better if you don’t tell them that you are a photographer. Just stand there, shoot, be invisible- and that’s it. When they look at you, don’t say anything- just smile.
E: I hear there is a lot of negative stigmas about shooting in Manila. What are some negative misconceptions do you think outsiders have?
L: Some people say there are terrorists groups in the Philippines, but for some tourists it is all about the beach and the tropical weather. It depends, recently I had these eastern Europeans with me- and they loved shooting here. They said in Eastern Europe they always had a hard time taking pictures of people.
E: Would you say Manila is dangerous?
L: Manila is dangerous if you say it is dangerous. If you see Hollywood movies, they are more dangerous than Manila.
E: When it comes to the street photography scene in Manila, whose work impresses you?
L: Among my mentors/influences were the Lost Boys headed by Alex Baluyut especially Luis Liwanang and Nico Sepe. My young and not so young colleagues from the Philippine Center for Photojournalism, Sonny Yabao and Edwin Tuyay. The people I’ve met online through Usapang Kalye (a Facebook forum of street photographers from the Philippines), Ben Molina and Areiz Macaraig to name a few. There are a lot of talents here not just in SP but also on the different types of genre and they influenced me too in a way.
A lot of Filipino street photographers have talent, but the Philippines is not that popular for photographers from around the world.
I think the problem that Filipino street photographers have is engaging with other people- with photographers from outside the Philippines. Filipinos tend to talk to fellow Filipinos. They don’t go on hardcore street photography on flickr, or engage with other groups/collectives.
E: Where do you like to shoot street photography in Manila?
L: Baclaran, my place of childhood; Quiapo and Avenida; malls (we have a lot!); parks, church vicinities, public markets in most of the cities in Metro Manila. I always like to shoot in beaches if there is an opportunity. Most of the time, I like shooting along narrow city streets where most people are when the light is good. Unfortunately, those places are not that “tidy enough” and most of the people living in those places belong to the marginalized sector (lower middle class to dirt poor) and the moment I share them (pictures) online, it is always appreciated as poverty pornography or social documentary photography as if I am competing for a Pulitzer Prize!
E: Why do you shoot street photography and what would you like the street photography community to become here in Manila?
L: What I like about street photography is it doesn’t require me expensive cameras, lenses, lights, etc. there are a generous amount of subjects, structures, light, etc. I don’t need an assistant. I don’t need to follow a schedule. I can use even my phone to take pictures. More importantly, I can express myself through the photographs that I capture.
What I would like out of street photography 5-10 years in Manila is for people in the Philippines to understand what street photography is. Not just what street photography is, but what photography really is.
E: So what would you say street photography or photography is?
L: Let me say it the Nick Turpin way- street photography is photography in its simplest form. Composition and content is what makes great images. Photography is about describing what you see (personal vision). You make pictures by also using your heart. Images must not be surface-deep; it must resemble or show your love for your subject like someone that you love–your mom for example, that’s photography. Photographing is easy. It’s just like the first time you ever held a camera–any camera.
Taking and making pictures of everything in your house from clothes hangers to cats and being very serious about it. That, for me, is what photography is. The problem with photography goes the other way every time we acquire new cameras or get more engrossed into buying expensive cameras. We worry about the equipment, even our shoes. We forget the most important thing—the function of the tool.
Call me a cynic but to me SP is not just about making pictures of our experiences or of random people juxtaposed in the urban landscape. SP is about the ability of noticing the extraordinary in banal and about how we see them.
E: For the last few months you have shot mostly street on your phone. About 3 months, so how has your approach changed and some of the benefits you find?
L: Shooting with a phone I feel invisible- people don’t take me seriously. If you have a DSLR people always mistake you for a photojournalist or a reporter. They think their photo will land on youtube, the news, the following morning. Now with my phone camera they aren’t even worried about what I am doing, what I am thinking. I can concentrate more because I can stay longer.
E: To wrap it up, any last words you would like to mention?
L: I want to say hi to everyone everywhere. We’re a community, we are all photographers. Whatever you photograph, nature, sports, news, street—just think about making pictures. We are here to make photos, not talk about each others’ lives.
E: So make love, not photos?
L: Haha, yeah.
E: Thank you very much.