Two months ago I was in the Philippines to do an ad-campaign shoot. It was nice to be able to do work and visit my homeland at the same time, see family and friends. Every time I visit, I find time to do a project whether its charity work (Help-Portrait) or a personal shoot. This time I documented some fishermen in a local town called El Salvador, located in the northern central part of Mindanao Island in the Philippines. El Salvador and its neighboring towns and municipalities are largely coastal areas and much of the livelihood of local town folks is fishing. Municipal marine fishing, that is. Using traditional, low-cost techniques notably net fishing from small boats or trapping fish in stationary fish pens.
On a good day, some fishermen make P200 pesos. That’s $4. They cannot afford to eat what they catch. With the rapid commercialization of the marine industries, competition have more advanced technologies and get better, faster results. On some days, they make nothing (catch nothing).
What initially drew me to the concept was aside from the richness of the subject matter, the challenges it presented were daunting. First, I needed to be someone these fishermen trusted, enough to let me in their world. Second, shooting by the coast, on board small outriggers during different times of day required a lot of planning, preparation and precautionary measures. It took me 2 days to introduce myself to a local municipality and to get to know everyone and be accepted as a friend. And another full day just setting up, familiarizing myself with lighting, angles and what activities happened at which times of the day.
I spent 8 days taking photographs, and in all that time, was a welcome presence in their midst. The smiles and the laughter you see are genuine, they come from the heart. Filipinos are generally happy people. Despite struggles and difficulties, everyone gets by through helping each other, having a community of support and never losing humor and laughter in their daily lives. This is intrinsic in their nature – and one that I hope I am able to convey.
(Typhoon Washi) caused catastrophic damage in the Philippines in the late 2011 which had snuffed out a lot of innocent lives in Northern Mindanao, Philippines.Manong Enteng was one of the few brave souls who took the occurrence positively. The only thing he knew that could save himself and his family from the cruelties of the ever changing world was to continue being a fisherman. Like everyone else, fear is within him but he has to set aside his own fear every time he moves along in a stately, effortless way into the open sea. For every sail marks another chance that he could give his family a better future. I was so moved by his story, He still lives in his house by the shore for over 30 years.
At the age of 72 he paddles his boat every morning and makes about 100-200 pesos ($4) a day. I asked him why do you still fish at your age, his simple answer was, Unsa ako ipa kaun sa ako pamilya? (What am I gonna feed my family?)
Every single day of his life at work counts. Years of hard work, infinite measure of determination and patience had made him stronger. He is a self made hero in the eyes of his wife and children.
He paddles everyday with full faith that he will get to catch enough amount in order for him to sustain the needs of his folks. Manong Virgilio has already gained incredible wisdom that has shaped him and molded him to be kind of person he is today. Like any other father, Manong Virgilio knows exactly the kind of responsibility he promised himself long ago. Despite with his body condition and age, still he continues and prefers to live a life with that promise.
He catches nail fish and shrimps during low tide, makes about 250 pesos a day ($6). He has 5 kids, 3 boys and 2 girls. He was so happy to be photographed. Filipinos are known to be happy people. They always have a positive outlook despite of the uncontrollable circumstances that come their way. Like Jun-Jun, Filipinos have their own set of remedies to ease the pain and stress they feel every time they dance along with the continually changing world. Life in the Philippines has never been easy, and there are no quick-fix formulas to be considered at all. Therefore, Filipinos have to face everyday struggles of survival in order to live.
Manong Berto is a fishing boat mechanic/builder/painter/carpenter. He is the MacGyver and go to guy when the fishermans need repairs on their small boats. He was once a fisherman, but decided to quit and follow his passion as a craftsman.
Most of the time, when a person works diligently to achieve his goals in life he will end up not only achieving it but finding his purpose and meaning. Just like Manong Berto, when he decides to give up fishing over his passion in craftsmanship. He took risk, and it was worth it. Passion is a great thing, but for Manong Berto hard work is still one the key to his success.
After 4 hours on shore with no catch they still have best smiles among all the other fishermen. Really cool guys!
“Bayanihan is working together so that the community will reap and share in a bountiful harvests. Bayanihan is working together to achieve a common noble purpose and equitably sharing the fruits of labor.”
This native homestead is typical for the Filipino concept of shared space and limited privacy, as a Filipino is friendly and very hospitable; a Bahay Kubo usually has no partitions for rooms. It is designed for family living and all household activities, like dining, recreation and sleeping, take place in one single, open and multi-purpose room called bulwagan. This quarter serves as an area for storage, as workspace and livestock pens, sometimes there could be a separate area for the kitchen.
Tata is a 3rd generation fisherman. He started fishing at the age of 7. He lost some of his family during the typhoon Washi.This is very evident in the life of one of the fishermen. Tata is a living testament of a man who stood with God in the darkest time of his life. It was during Typhoon Washi that he lost some of the members of his family. Painful as it was during those days, but Tata never gave up. He walked with God and learned to let things go in order to fully move on.
Meet fisherman Manong Pedro, he owns a couple of “banca” (small wooden traditional fishing boat) here in El Salvador, he started fishing at the age of 9, at a good day he makes 500 pesos ($10) and feeds a family of 7 kids.In the Philippines, not all the children are given the privilege to live in a comfortable state. Some of these children work at an early age, instead of going to school to learn. The harsh reality is that it is rapidly increasing nowadays. In fact, Manong Pedro himself is one of these unfortunate young individuals. At the age of nine, he already had to work and engage into fishing activities to help his parents. More than anything else, these children should be given the right amount of attention. They are not supposed to be working. They should be at school and be given proper quality of education. After all, the youth is the future of this world.
Everyday when its low tide the whole shoreline is their playground, after all its not so bad when you have a playground bigger than a football field.
Lolo Jose is a retired fisherman. He has been a fisherman for over 60 years, he is now 89 years old and completely lost his hearing just this past year. Every morning he still wakes up and goes to the shore just to see the younger fishermen embark and distribute their catches. I was so glad to photograph him and his grandchild that was there to help me communicate.Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years, and Lolo Jose is one of them. He deserted his ideals very well despite the existence of wrinkles in his skin. All his life he only knew one thing, and that is being a fisherman. To him it is a noble profession, and he would not barter it with any other job. During those times when he still goes on a sail; he feels a strong sense of fulfilment within him.Years ago he had to retire because of his age, but his love towards fishing never fade and it was evident by his daily visits to the shore just to see the younger generation of fishermen. He is an example of a man who passionately loves what he is doing.
These guys are the “Pana fisherman” (SpearFishing) they usually go spearfishing during sunset when the water is low. They catch a variety of fishes, small octupus and sells it to the local market, In a good day they make 50 pesos per kilo. ($1.25)
To check the rest of the gallery click HERE!
Behind the scenes (Thanks to my brother JV and Eduardo (caretaker) for helping out on this project)
For the photo “Gearheads” my set-up was a one light Westcott Apollo softbox using PCB Einsteins + portable Vaganond II (Battery pack) shot with a Canon 1ds Mark III + Canon 24-70 f/2.8 and Canon 70-200 f/2.8
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