Passions and Obsessions

Fotomoto: This photo is yours

The largest exhibit of photographic images in the country—with the lockdown, we don’t see too many live people, faces

Portrait of Eddie Garcia by Artu Nepomuceno

Fotomoto 21, which had its first of about 12 openings at Kondwi gallery on Albert St. in Poblacion Makati, is the largest exhibit of photographic images launched in the country in living memory, by and for photographers and art lovers. It will show over 300 high quality prints, all of them in large format, by about 100 authors, in three principal venues and about a dozen other auxiliary venues.

Unlike past events, this is not a trade show to promote camera gear. It consists entirely of images for their own sake. The exhibit is sponsored by Bounty Fresh, Inc., Bounty Farms, Inc. and Ayala Corporation.

The Fotomoto Collective invited about 150 photographers to show, and maybe 120 submitted images. Of the 150, maybe two thirds are active professional or artistic photographers. The others are people who happen to take photographs we felt are significant. Some are hobbyists, others are teachers, and some are artists in another field, like Bencab and Kidlat De Guia the Younger.

Dystorted Realities by Aeson Baldevia

There are certain stars of the Philippine photographic universe that we exempted from curation, guaranteeing their images a place in the show, people like Marc Nicdao, Steve Tirona, Derek Soriano (who grudgingly let us show his stunning images even if he wants nothing more to do with photography), and the late Raymund Isaac, for whom we will have a special retrospective. There are some stars we didn’t get, like Wig Tysmans, who was too busy, but we will show them in future.

The prints have been painstakingly curated from nearly 600 images submitted by photographers invited to show. The curation process was entirely blind, in the sense that the images were shown with no attached information, especially not the author. Of course, the seasoned photographers in the curatorial committee could instantly identify some of the authors by their distinct style, and in some cases, the author (like BenCab) submitted self-portraits. Nevertheless, the selection was made solely on the strength, artistic value, and cultural significance of the image. The idea was to judge the images based on their own merit, not on who the authors are.

Ron Carter by Andrew Chester Ong

An interesting sidelight was that a number of the prints chosen, maybe 10 percent, were originated on film. This was not a factor in choosing them, but I think it says something about the enduring quality of that medium, and the role it plays in photography until today. Any debate about digital vs film is, of course, as pointless as oil paint vs acrylic, but there is something to be said of film’s ability to deliver a certain quality that digital cannot, and vice versa.

While just about half of the images will be exhibited as prints, all will be shown via a slide show projected on the walls of some of the venues. In addition, the exhibit will evolve online to, where the complete catalog will be shown, as well as the unprinted submissions.

It’s an exhibit, not a competition …. The project is not for profit, but many (not all) of the prints will be available for sale

It’s an exhibit, not a competition, and no prizes will be awarded. The project is not for profit, but many (not all) of the prints will be available for sale. Proceeds from this will go partly to costs of printing and organizing, a commission to the venues, a contribution to charity (retired photojournalist Alex Baluyut’s feeding program), and the majority will go to the author.

Fotomoto 21 is a project of the Fotomoto Collective, an informal group of professional, commercial, journalistic, documentary, and artistic photographers, as well as educators in photography. We got together a few months ago to hatch this plan, in the hope that the then strict lockdown would start to ease. The idea was to launch an annual photography festival to showcase the work of all sectors, but also to make a strong cultural statement, about Philippine photography as an art form of cultural significance.

Staying Afloat by Jan Mayo

Many of the members of the collective had worked together and exhibited in past editions of Art Fair Philippines of Lisa Periquet, Trickie Lopa, and Dindin Araneta. Art Fair opened a space for photography some years ago, and got Neal Oshima and Angel Shaw to curate it, which brought together the core group.

The members of the Fotomoto Collective are Raena Abella, Jes Aznar, Edric Chen, Tom Epperson, Paco Guerrero, Miguel Nacianceno, Wawi Navarroza, Apa Ongpin, Neal Oshima, Gio Panlilio and his Tarzeer group, Sandra Palomar, Jason Quibilan, Jake Versoza, and Veejay Villafranca. Since Fotomoto is an unregistered, informal association, it has authorized Shutterspace Studios and Silver (Shutterspace’s printing arm) to represent it in organizing and executing the exhibit.

Trying to point a bunch of creatives in the same direction is like herding cats, as Oshima commented

Speaking of organizing, trying to point a bunch of creatives in the same direction, even for a moment, is like herding cats, as Oshima commented. One problem is that photographers, like other artists, tend to be very individualistic, and have strong personalities, plus more opinions than most people.

xi by Gox

Another problem is that there is no hierarchy, more of anarchy. So, getting this non-mob to move in symphony was much more of an achievement than, say, getting SGV to finish an external audit. Oddly, trying to squeeze images out of the core group themselves was the hardest task—they all wanted to show other people’s work before their own. But it has been a lovely experience, and quite an achievement.

I joked, wryly, that I am the sole hobbyist in the group, the rest are committed artists and professional photographers—evidently, I was recruited as a token Ongpin, thanks to my sister Lisa Ongpin Periquet’s organizational skills and our family’s history in art management. But also, it was that the collective wants to be inclusive, not snobbish or elitist, and discover, recognize, and show significant work of non-professional photographers.

The theme of Fotomoto 21 is Portraits. One of the effects of the lockdown, we realized, is that we don’t see too many live people, faces. As Paco Guerrero, one of the founding members of the Fotomoto Collective, says, “We’re hard-wired to look at faces. Our brains constantly look for faces and face-like patterns. We get all kinds of data and sense impressions from other people’s faces, and ultimately, we find ourselves in them.”

We now see people mostly in tiny little displays, on our phones, or in videoconferences

Because of our lockdown isolation, we now see people mostly in tiny little displays, on Instagram on our phones, or in little squares in videoconferences. We don’t see them life-size and close-up. We have been starved of this kind of stimuli.

A photographic portrait is a unique way to look at people. The image, frozen in time, allows you to stare at the subject, and drink in every detail of their appearance, in a way that might be considered rude in real life. It is in this sense, voyeuristic, but it is also a frank projection of form and meaning. It is communication, because we infer meaning from the image and transfer meaning onto it, through the connection that is formed by viewing. It is not a fleeting glimpse, like video or movies, but deep and potentially emotional.

The Self  by Kidlat De Guia

The project is ambitious. The Collective wanted to do it nationwide, but time and resources dictated that we do the initial edition just in a limited number of spaces. We will have a satellite exhibition in Dumaguete, thanks to Sandra Palomar, who lives there. For future editions, we will try to target all major cities and some secondary ones.

Because of technology, particularly the mobile phone camera, it is now possible for almost anyone to take technically competent photographs, instead of perhaps 20 years ago, when one had to understand the process and the technology. Photography used to be a complex skill. Now, the need for this has greatly lessened. In this sense, photography has been democratized. We have seen an explosion of photographic images, and social media, for example, is fueled by them.

One research firm estimated that 1.12 trillion photographs were taken in 2020, over 90 percent on mobile phones

One research firm estimated that 1.12 trillion photographs were taken in 2020, over 90 percent of them on mobile phones. That’s about 3 billion a day. Of course, while most of these were technically acceptable images, only a fraction can be considered good, and even fewer, excellent and culturally and artistically significant images. Being bombarded by billions of bad photographs is one way to recognize what a good photograph is.

Meal time by Milo Sogueco

Of course, I am speaking from the perspective of the organizers, but nevertheless, the impact of seeing all these large images on the wall for the first time during the Kondwi opening was dramatic, magnificent, and undeniable. We all felt it. There is no way that viewing the photographs in small format on a screen can compare. The prints themselves are an art, and the skill of the printers in bringing out the essence of the images is truly amazing. The overall effect is wonder, and like Paco says, this is us. This is what we look like, this is who we are. We see ourselves.

A good photograph makes a connection. Fotomoto’s goal for the exhibit was to present these connections, which ultimately join us as a culture. It’s not about nationality, either. Some of the photographers in the group may not be Filipino citizens, like Neal Oshima and Tom Epperson, yet have made indelible and significant contributions to Philippine photography. As photographers, we wanted to be blind to nationality, gender, sexual orientation, whatever. The image is all that matters.

By the way, Paco Guerrero insists that he is a Filipino, and offered to send me a scan of his passport as proof. But then, the guy, by profession, must be a Photoshop master. So instead, we will make him sing Bayang Magiliw at the next opening, which will be at Futurist on November 25th, around 4 pm. For that alone, you need to see this.

Mahiwagang Ilog by Pilar Bonnin

About author


Rafael Alfonso Salvador García Ongpin, or “Apa” has been a reporter, photographer, news anchor, newspaper and magazine writer and editor, actor, TV host (including the Binibining Pilipinas pageant), and TV producer and director. He was the founding bassist of the Blue Rats blues band and was a partner in Club Dredd, the seminal rock club of the 1990’s. After earning his MBA in 1997, he worked as an executive in the hotel, quick service restaurant, travel, logistics, radio, publishing, gaming, property and software businesses. He is a management consultant, book author, magazine editor and entrepreneur in the boat business. He is married to Ana Ysabel Rapadas, and has three sons.

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