Monday, October 30, 2006

The Way We Were (Circa 1967)

Another friend sent this 1967 photo. Since he captioned it "Goodbye," I suppose it was taken before the summer of 1967 when my apartment-mates (3 of 5 girls from Smith College) were preparing to leave. They had spent ten months in the Philippines on a junior-year-abroad program and were going back to the U.S. by way of Europe.

The boys were friends from the Beta Sigma fraternity, the girl with glasses I unfortunately cannot remember, and the building in the background was part of a row of apartments (three units in front - we occupied the middle one - and several in the back) on B. Gonzalez Street, a few steps from Katipunan Avenue, in Quezon City, a short jeepney ride or long walk to the University of the Philippines (Diliman Campus) where I was enrolled as a Political Science major.

I think I will give myself the assignment of writing whatever I can still remember of that time.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Circa 1966

Stories are like wine. They get sweeter as they age.

Yesterday, in an effort to help recall when an old photograph was taken, a dear friend, Sarah, brought out her old journal and copied an entry from there, word for word!

It certainly took me on a sentimental journey, and brought back other memories of that time when I was 20 years old (boy, that’s a long, long time ago). I tried to recall that time, but there were lots of details that I could not remember. Thanks to Sarah and her journal, those pieces from the memory puzzle are not missing anymore.

Sarah came to the University of the Philippines in 1966 on a junior-year abroad program from Smith College. There were other girls on that program – Karlin Smaby, Gail Blattenberger, Barbara Brown and Eileen Robbins. Another American girl who traveled with us, but not from Smith, was Gerrie Teague.

The boys mentioned in her story – Wally, Rey and Tito – were members of the Beta Sigma fraternity from the university, and were friends with the Smith girls, and followed them around wherever they went – including far off Baguio.

Wally is now in New York. I don’t know where Rey and Tito are.

Here’s what she wrote:

I am not sure who else would be interested in this. Please forward as
you see fit. This is from my journal .


The bus ride to Baguio was magnificent, not that the bus itself was a
gem and I am sure I bounced off 10 lbs on the bad roads but the view
was breath taking. We just never stopped going up and up. Just when I
thought we'd reached the top of the world, we'd turn another corner
and up we'd go.You could see for miles over the mountains. Beautiful!
It's about a 2 hr. ride from Dagupan to Baguio so we got there about
2:00. Pine trees. Sweater weather. Baguio is like another country.
Many Americans go there and feel at home. The community and
surrounding area seemed very prosperous. The town itself was good
sized. The main street is continuous hill. We walked a lot in Baguio
and every step seemed to be up hill (never did go down that I noticed)
We checked in at the Patria, a very nice girls dorm and got settled
in the Pink Room. In the middle of town is the market place- booth
after booth of wood carvings and other native crafts plus some
vegetables and clothing. In the middle also is a very nice park with
a small pond. Even sail boats to rent.

On our way back to Patria we met Karlin and Harvey (note. prior to
this I think the we refered to Gail, Eileen and myself who had all
just come from Dagupan) These two had been here awhile and so showed
us around some more.

Later we went to the John Hay Air Force Base Half Way House for
dinner. I wasn't too happy with the choice. So many Americans. So
strange to look at the menu and see $$ prices. I didn't know were I was.
We all agreed to meet in the morning at the bus station for Bontoc.
Man, I thought the ride to Baguio was something---Nope. I wouldn't
trade this 6 hr trip in an open bus on a one lane road clinging to
the mountain and winding up and up for anything!!! A couple of times
I looked out over the edge, when I dared and seemingly there was
nothing but air below us. I started to count landslide evidence but
soon gave up. There were so many. You could see for miles over the
mountains and often over the clouds. What a gorgeous country!! Pines
and banana trees side by side.

The ride did get a little uncomfortable after awhile and cold too. I
almost froze. At one point we could see our breath when we talked.
Considering this it was amazing to pass men on the road wearing G-
strings!! usually with suit coats.

We got to Bontoc and found the Bontoc Hotel where we got a couple of
good rooms for just 2 pesos/person/night. We went out to get
something to eat at the Pines Kitchenette where we talked to the
Igrot maid, Ema and found out the bus times for Banaue. Then luckily
we met a man named Joe and his buddies, all salesmen for a medical
supply house. They were going to Banaue the next morning.
We slept like logs that night in the cool air--- with 3 blankets.
We started early the next morning in 2 vws for 2 hr trip to Banaue.
The road is one lane so there are small gatehouses that check
traffic and let only cars and buses from 1 direction go ahead.
The fellows left us off in Banaue and they went on to even smaller
villages with supplies. I just loved our day in Banaue. How can I
express all that I saw and felt there? First we went to the mission
textile mill and watched the girls weaving by hand loom beautiful
materials. Its fascinating to watch some of the very young work so
fast with their hands and feet. We went upstairs to a small show room
and shop. We talked with the sister from Belgium while we bought a
few things. That day we walked all through the town, stopping here and
there, watching people and being watched, talking with children,
having coffee with the Belgium priests, picking wild flowers and, of
course looking at the views of the gorgeous rice terraces.

At one point we had a little bit closer contact with the terraces
Gail, Harvey and I decided we would like to walk up to one of the
surrounding Ifugao villages. We asked one of the girls from the mill
to go with us. The village was sort of tucked away on a hill. The
path was the division between the rice paddies. It was very muddy and
very slippery. The climb was really something and we had to laugh at

The village was almost deserted because all the people except the
children and an old man were working somewhere. Thus we meandered
around taking pictures. I would not have felt right about doing this
except Maria was with us and used to live in that village
(Then I have some drawings and explanation about village life. Going
down from the village was much harder than going up. It had started
to rain and Maria took a path she thought would be ok but it
wasn't Then--splash--- Harvey had fallen 5" into the next level of
terracing and was sitting waist high in the mud. Unhurt thank
goodness, except for her pride, I think. As if that wasn't enough by
the time we got her out. Gail had gone on ahead and when we caught up
with her was sitting in the mud in which she had slid down the last
hill. Well, 2 out of 3 in the mud must have looked a sight and school
had just let out. Every kid in Banaue stood and laughed. Everyone
sure knew we had been there. We all enjoyed it!!!

Got back to Bontoc riding with Joe. Gail and Eileen went on to
Sagada Caves with the other guys.

We went back to the Patria. Then to the PAL office where we agreed to
meet Wally and Ray and Tito. It was great to see them again and to
hash over all our adventures. They had a place for us to stay with
friends of theirs in a beautiful home complete with fireplaces. After
a good Chinese dinner, some drinks and laughs we all headed to bed.
The next day we just hung around the house playing cards.

Monday, however, we went down to the markets ( This must be when the
picture was taken).

Learning a Language

Do you notice how children repeatedly use new words? I suppose it is to test the context of their use until they can have the confidence to use them properly.

For example, when my children were young, one of the first words they learned is “dangerous.” That’s because I used the word to prevent them from sticking their little fingers into electrical outlets, or grabbing something hot. They would then approach me, bringing me whatever, and asking, “Is this dangerous?” I would also hear them reprimanding each other, or other children, and sometimes even some adults, saying, “Don’t touch that, that’s dangerous.”

When one of them first heard the word “humungous,” it was in every other sentence spoken. Then, of course, everybody else followed and made a humungous effort at using the word.

Well, now, my children are all grown up (eldest 30, second, 26 and youngest 23) and they have learned more words than I, and they use them well. All of them write and speak well and precisely.

But we continue the word-learning game; this time it’s my husband and I who are learning the new words from them. Words we thought we knew -windows, virus, cookies, eyeball, web, thread, posts, mail etc. - have taken on new meanings and we must learn them and use them in their new (well, they’re not considered new anymore – they’ve been around a few years) context. And of course, there are really new or newly invented words and acronyms. What’s “Wiki?” “What’s EB?” What’s “LOL?” “ : )?” My youngest daughter claims that Emac talks to her. Who is Emac? ; )

To keep in touch, and to bridge the generation gap, we must learn today’s language. Using words and acronyms like chat, Skype, YM, IM, SMS, url, EB, e-group, group hug (in one photographers’ forum we participate in, it means a group picture) helps bring us in the same circle as our friends, colleagues and most especially, our grown up children. There are new words and acronyms being invented everyday! It’s a humungous ; ) task trying to learn them all. =)

Sacha likes to blog. Ching has a blog. I’m writing this piece for my blog. Blogs, anyone?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Estate Planning and Life Projects

Since my mother died when she was 55, I have been thinking about my own mortality, more seriously since I turned 50. For the past 10 years, I have wished to but somehow procrastinated about writing a will and doing some serious estate planning.

Lest these statements about such unwelcome topics be a source of worry for family or friends, let me just say that John and I may not be in perfect health, but we are in good health and we are not presently aware of any life-threatening medical conditions. Neither have we been having any dreams or premonitions of anything untoward happening to us.

That being said and, I hope, worries cast aside, let me begin.

We have always told our children not to expect any inheritance – that all we owe them is a good education, a good set of values (including believing in God, country and fellowmen) and good memories of life with us. Hopefully, we have delivered on all three.

On the other hand, we also believe that we should save for our old age so as not to be burdens on them. After all, we did not take care of them so that we could oblige them to take care of us.

But we have reached the stage in our lives when we have more years to look back on than forward to, and we should start planning how to spend the rest of our lives, as well as how to prepare for those two great eventualities – death and taxes. Hopefully, by doing our homework now, we can save my family from a lot of confusion or stress. (John and I still have to seriously sit down to discuss these issues, so from this point on, I will speak for myself only).

There are many good reasons for doing some estate planning. Foremost in my mind is keeping family harmony. I have seen, heard or read about families being painfully alienated from each other because of inheritance issues. It seems conflicts can arise no matter how small or large they stand to inherit or lose.

Another reason is that laws on inheritance taxes do not favor those who do not plan, as a lawyer I have recently approached has told me. If I don’t plan, the government will stand to gain the biggest share from what I will leave behind.

Thirdly, I have also recently read a book called “Die Broke,” and it has opened my eyes to a new truth – that we should share now, instead of waiting to distribute wealth after we are gone. We could, for example, help the children through grad school, or help with down payment on a property of their choice, or to provide capital for a business. We could also spend some of our precious savings for enjoying time together – maybe by sponsoring a trip or dream vacation for the entire family. But, we have to be prudent with expenses, lest we find ourselves with more time than money on our hands. ; )

Estate planning is not easy; not everything can be left to the lawyers to decide. They can help with how to word a will and to make sure that it will be a legally acceptable document. They can help prepare properties and other assets to minimize estate taxes. And of course, they can guide me through all the legal rigmarole. But outside of what is dictated by law, there is a free portion that lawyers leave entirely to their clients to decide before they can help write it down for them.

There are decisions to be made. How should the free portion be distributed? Aside from the family, who else should benefit from the estate? We have people who depend on us, and there are people who have worked with us for many years, and they, too, should be considered. What is the ideal mix of fixed assets and current assets, so that certain properties do not have to be sold just to raise money for taxes? Will proceeds from our insurance policies suffice to take care of tax obligations? Who can and should be named administrator of the estate? There are many more questions to find answers for.

In addition to exhausting all the questions and finding the answers, there is the daunting task of doing an inventory of what we own and what we owe, and of gathering all the documents to support these claims.

I am writing this with the hope that when the final eventuality comes, I can lessen the burdens and conflicts by preparing a will and by doing proper and intelligent estate planning. Some people do not like to talk about death, but I would also like to say that I do not mind preparing for it. After all, I bought a plot at Manila Memorial Park in 1978, and signed up for memorial service a few years ago (both fully paid for), so that my family does not have to worry about these things

Maybe this is not done, but I would prefer to involve my family in helping me do estate planning and writing a will. I would like to hear from everyone – from John and our three daughters, and even John, our son-in-law (so that he can help Ching grow what we will leave behind). I would like them to know everything – what we own, what our wishes and preferences are in terms of living the rest of our lives, and of course, when death comes. It would help them to have advance knowledge of what there is and where they are so they can maximize their benefits from their inheritance.

With regards Adphoto, I do not wish to put a burden on anyone to continue what we have started – it is not a must - but if the family, or those who have been working with us for many years, feel that the photography business can or should continue, then I would appreciate it very much if whoever will decide to run it will get support from those who would like only minimum involvement (maybe remain as investors, and to allow the property –at least one – to be available for the studio). Of course, how actively or passively they wish to involve themselves with the company, or to discontinue it, is their decision to make. I just wish that the decision to keep or forsake this business would not be an issue that will divide the family or the people who have worked hard to build it up. I just want it clear that as far as I am concerned, I would love to see Adphoto chalk up many more years, but that should be a business, and not just an emotional, decision.

I would like to hear their opinions about our plans to share with others, other than the immediate family. We have been blessed abundantly, and there is no denying that many have not received as much in this life as we have. So, I would like them to consider sharing with less fortunate – relatives or otherwise - and to continue to help with church, or any of our advocacies (for example, I would like to see Maali provided for).

Our family also needs to discuss what to do with personal effects – furniture, some (not a lot – since I am not into) jewelry, special books and mementoes. The ideal situation is for everyone to get what they wish for, and to give in to each other when some things cannot be divided and must be shared or given to somebody else to whom it is more valuable. I read somewhere – I think one of the Covey’s books – that one family gathered together to listen to the will being read, but before that was done, they did what the deceased had requested – that when it came to personal effects, that they would share their sentiments and explain why they would like to inherit certain things. And so, that session turned out to be a sentimental journey with each one reliving certain memories that were attached to certain things that the deceased left behind. They learned so much about each other and about the deceased, and everything was lovingly divided up, some giving up their “claim” when they heard why certain things were important to the others. Whether this was fiction or not, I would like it to be true for my family, relatives, friends and beneficiaries. I don't have many heirlooms to leave behind, but maybe it can be a fun session just remembering the good times.

Obviously, this piece of writing is only the beginning of the tedious task of estate planning and preparing a will. But, at least, I’ve taken the first step. =) The list below includes not only the requirements for the two purposes but also some personal projects that I hope will be my legacy to John, Ching, Kathy and Sacha. I pray not only for God to grant me the time and good health to accomplish all these, but also to save me from my sin of procrastination. ; )

Now, I need to:
1. Prepare an inventory of what we own and what we owe, similar to a company’s statement of assets and liabilities, including gathering ALL the documents pertaining to them
2. A list of family members, relatives, important people in our lives, intended beneficiaries
3. A statement of personal wishes and preferences for living the rest of our lives and for when death comes
4. Set aside funds for long-term care, just in case
5. Plan some family holidays.
6. Meet with the lawyer and financial consultant to do some estate planning, and with the lawyer to do a will, living will and all other such documents.
7. Meet with the family to openly discuss estate planning, writing a will, foreseeing and providing for the future, anticipating conflicts with the end in view of avoiding them and making transitions and successions as smooth as possible
8. Meet with close business confidantes to discuss and explore succession issues, the future of Adphoto and their own concerns about the business and their welfare when we go
9. Prepare personal and family documents for easy turnover
10. Prepare family photo albums, hopefully, one each for Ching, Kathy and Sacha
11. Prepare John’s personal (one copy – now possible with laser printing) books of photos of “Banaue,” “People Power,” “A Cross-country Flight on an Ultralight,” “Redeveloping R. Hidalgo,” “John and His Pets (Maali and Picco)”
12. Write family stories and anecdotes.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Lesson on Geometric Progression

Your papa was soliciting a camera with, hopefully, a big-enough memory card to donate to the local police station at R. Hidalgo, in Quiapo, Manila where he spearheaded a recently-inaugurated project to convert the street into a photography center. As a photographer, he believes that a camera would make a good tool for law enforcement and he was willing to teach the officers a bit of photography.

He first approached Canon, and explained his intention to the manager who readily gave him a digital camera, but with a 16mb memory card. Now, he is very aware that a 16mb card will store very few photos, especially if the camera is set to take high-resolution images. Surely, a policeman would need a higher-capacity memory card. He wanted to ask for a 512mb card but felt embarrassed to ask Canon again. After all, they already donated an expensive digital camera.

He took the 16mb card and approached a photo shop store that benefited from the R. Hidalgo project to ask him to donate a 32mb card. Seeing that your papa was giving up the 16 for the 32, the storeowner gladly gave him one. After all, there is but a small difference in price between a 16 and a 32. But a 32 was not going to be enough. So he went to the next store, and asked if he could upgrade the 32 to a 64. “Gladly, John,” he said and handed him a 64. Then he went to another photo shop and explained that he had solicited a camera from Canon to give to the police station, and would he upgrade the 64 to a 128? “Of course, John. Are you sure that’s enough?” “Sure,” said John, and thanked him for his generosity. He left that store and took a few steps to the next, where he exchanged the 128 to a 256. Finally, he approached another, and giving him the same spiel, showed him the 256 and asked him if he would upgrade it to a 512.

And so, it came to be, that the R. Hidalgo police station received a Canon digital camera with a 512mb memory card.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Papa's Talk

John has been invited to give a talk to members of the Wedding and Portrait Photographers of the Philippines (WPPP) tomorrow. Since he is neither a wedding nor a portrait photographer, he suggested that his talk should be on "Passion and Profit."

He gave me a one-page draft, which I fleshed out. He won't memorize it - he just needs to go through a finished "speech" and then he'd adlib as he delivers it.

He has not read this draft yet, so he may disagree with some of the points raised here, or the way they were presented.

Here's his proposed talk on Passion and Profit:

Passion and Profit
by John K. Chua

This afternoon, I am not here to convince you to be an advertising photographer - we have enough trouble among ourselves. You are better off where you are right now – as portrait and wedding photographers. All cash and no credit… pag sineswerte ka pa - pag naghiwalay ang mag-sweethearts, pag hindi tuloy ang kasal - keep pa ninyo ang deposito. Correct?

Instead, I am here to talk to you about Passion and Profit, and I hope to lead you to look into yourselves for answers to three questions that hopefully will keep you passionate about photography, as well as bring you profits from photography.

Passion and Profit - this is the slogan of PhaseOne, the company that makes the digital backs that I use, but it could very well be every photographer’s slogan.

There are three groups of people here – those with passion for photography but no profits yet, please raise your hands. Those with profits but no passion – maybe sawa na? May I see your hands? And those who have succeeded in combining passion and profit? Hands up please?

Passion and Profit - nice to hear, di ba? Pero sa totoo lang - passion muna bago profit, and then hopefully later, they go together. Sometimes, matagal ka munang magpapasyon bago ka magka-profit.

How many of you started photography as a hobby and later you became a professional? How many of you started it as a business first – maybe minana ninyo, and only later did you learn to be passionate about photography?

There are three questions that we will try to answer today.

First Question: Is this your passion?

How do you know that photography is your passion? Simple. If this is what you’d rather do more than anything else, then it’s your passion. When you would rather do photography than eat or sleep, then photography is your passion. When you don’t even care if you got paid or not, then it is your passion.

Most of us started as hobbyists, and I am no exception. Without my brother-in-law knowing it, I “borrowed” his camera and started shooting anything and everything in my line of sight.

I was fascinated by the fact that I could forever capture certain moments. I spent all my money on rolls and rolls of films. I practiced controlling all the moving parts of the camera, until I could feel that the camera was part of me.

My first break was having a photo of a cat published in Asia Magazine, in the Photo of the Week section. Harvey, my girlfriend at that time, now my wife, encouraged me to send more photos to that magazine. The editor decided to run an article about me, entitled “The Magic Eye of John Chua.” I knew then that my life would change forever. I would be a photographer, and I would do everything to be a good one. That’s passion.

I love to shoot, and I like to discover new things and places. In 1970, my passion took me to the mountains of Ifugao, and I learned to do documentary photography. For many years, in-between advertising jobs in Metro Manila, I was passionate about learning the Ifugao way of life -their culture and traditions. I had my first one-man show in 1978 and it was, as expected, on the people of the Cordillera Mountains. Just to get to Banaue every weekend, I would volunteer as a tour-guide for Pantranco Tours. Absolutely no pay. I also volunteered to organize festivals of ethnic games festivals for the Ifugaos. Still no pay. I still go there whenever I can, and until now I continue to fall in love with the mountain people and their terraces. That’s passion.

My other passion is flying. For various reasons – like poor eyesight and no money, I could not be a pilot when I was younger. But when I was 48, I discovered that I could fly – not the regular planes, but an ultralight. Everyday, I would wake up at 5am, spend four hours driving from Manila to Pampanga and back, just to have a 30-minute flying lesson. I would be back in the studio by 9am, ready to greet my client. It was a fantastic experience, fulfilling a boyhood dream to fly. When I turned 50, I flew cross-country on an ultralight, and held my second photo exhibit – that time on Aerial Photography - at the Glorietta.

But, all that I have shared with you so far has been about passion. Let’s get to the profit part.

Since passion alone will not put food on the table, or pay your children’s tuition, you have to find a way to turn your passion into profit, and so we come to the

Second question: How do you turn your passion into profit?

When I was just a hobbyist, Harvey used to complain about the high cost of photo equipment and supplies.

She suggested that we worked together as travel writer and photographer. She would write and I would take pictures, and we would sell the articles to magazines. So we approached Sunday Times Magazine and asked how much they would pay for a travel article on the Moriones Festival. (we were really planning to go there with some friends). The magazine editor said – P100.00 for the article and photos and you take care of all expenses. We didn’t need a calculator (wala pang calculators then, only adding machines and abacus) to know that lugi ‘yon. So we junked the idea of travel photography and looked for something else.

Do you know that there was a time that I contemplated going into wedding photography? I know there’s more money in wedding than in advertising. I didn’t go into it for two reasons. One - I had only bad experiences when I was just starting. A friend of mine asked me to shoot his wedding. During that time, the camera was very sophisticated equipment. It had M or X sync. So I put my flash unit on M and guess what happened. Nothing came out. No Images. No friend, either. At another time, also at a friend’s wedding, I dropped my lens. I felt so bad that I left the wedding. I lost another friend. That must have been a sign for me not to go into wedding photography. Another big reason is that I don’t feel comfortable wearing a barong or a suit, and if only for that reason, I am, today, not one of your competitors.

So, I went into commercial photography. I did car insurance shots and photo coverages. I was the best car insurance photographer in town- I could make car dents bigger than the actual damage. They loved me for that.

We did not have any equipment. I remember that my wife would brag to the ad agencies that she visited that I was good at available lights- to hide the fact that we had no lights. I shot my first food set up for a food company – Pork Adobo - under the noontime sun with side reflector. How crude my set up was. Of course I also remember how cheaply they paid us.

As we moved up and began acquiring better clients, we had to improve our equipment. To do certain jobs, I would be borrowing lenses and cameras from friends and Harvey hated borrowing things – she still does - so she would save every peso we earned and invested in the equipment we needed.

At this point, let me remind you, passionate photographers are rarely good businessmen. It takes a good partner to have a successful business. Better still, a wife to run the business. I worked very hard, but Harvey managed the business. I owe her for turning my passion into profit.

There are many things to learn about the business of photography, and my wife is probably the better speaker on this topic. Nevertheless, let me share a few pointers with you:

1. The difference between a hobbyist and professional photographer is not the level of talent or skill. Sometimes, hobbyists can be better photographers. But a hobbyist produces great images when he is in the mood, while a professional has to, whether he is in the mood or not. When you go into professional photography, you are going into photography on demand, and the quality of images and services must be consistently high. So before you turn pro, ask yourself if you would still want to do photography day after day, even when you are not in the mood.

2. The business of photography is a very wide, open field – with lots of landmines, so be prepared to get out of it alive. What are the pitfalls out there?

a. Most clients and customers have little or no respect for photographers. Have you ever been called “pssst” by people who want you to take their pictures?

How to raise respectability for photographers and yourself?

Remember that nobody will respect you unless you respect yourself first. Dress well and act well. You don’t have to be rude to point out the behaviors, or the terms in the contract, that are not acceptable to you. Don’t accept crappy treatment. Stand up for your rights. This means not accepting crappy payment either, because rightly or wrongly, people look at us with respect on the same scale as how much they pay us.

b. Competitors with no ethics. They will try to kill you by spreading all sorts of rumors about you.

How do you counteract this? Keep your own actions and words above board. Have a strict code of ethics and resist the temptation to bring yourself down to their levels. Also, follow the saying, “keep your friends (and may I say, customers) close, and your enemies closer.” Call on your clients frequently and mingle with your fellow photographers regularly.

c. An expensive, ever-changing technology. Watch out for temptations to buy new gadgets to keep up with the Joneses. One of our banker-friends advised us to “Keep on the leading, not bleeding, side of technology.” Control your impulse to buy. Do some pencil pushing before you do.

3. A final pointer - when the money starts to come in, you need to learn how to manage that money, or it will leave you. The only way that you can manage is to keep records, and to analyze them so you can find the best way to price your services, how much money to spend on your equipment, facilities and staff etc. Run a tight ship. Enroll in seminars called “Accounting for Non-Accountants.” Know where you are losing money, whether it’s funds already in or lost opportunities. Raise your skills and improve your services so you can charge more.

I’m not the expert on the business of photography, my wife is, so let me leave that to go to the third question:

Third Question: How do you keep the passion, year after year?

Now, I have been an advertising photographer for more than 33 years, and while it has been mostly going up for the business, my own feelings about photography may rise and wane like the moon. Sometimes, I am just burnt out. So how do I keep myself passionate about photography?

Once, after weeks of long hours at work, tight deadlines and demanding clients, I declared to my wife that I was tired of doing photography. I told her that I wanted to quit. Nonchalantly, she said. “Sure, John. Anything you say.” Then she added, “Remember that I told you that we are in this business because you love photography; that there are easier ways to earn a living and that we would quit the business anytime that you are no longer in love with photography. So, just tell me, what would you now rather be?”

And, of course, I was stumped. I didn’t know anything else that I wanted to do or to be than being a photographer. I love photography. It’s not photography that was causing all the negative feelings – it was all the other issues – deadlines; pressures; sometimes, incompetent staff or faulty equipment. After we addressed them, I was happier doing photography again.

So, let me share with you some pointers on how to keep the fire for photography burning in your heart and in your belly:

1. Take creative breaks. Break your routines. Do something else, every now and then. Rest when you need to. Holiday once in a while.

2. Fix the other issues that wear you down.

3. Sharpen your saw. Attend seminars and workshops. Read books. Attend conventions. Listen to other photographers.

4. Learn a new skill – like Photoshop. Recently, I learned how to join web forums and write emails. One of these days, I will learn to blog.

5. Push your limits. Raise the bar. Give yourself a challenge – whether that’s in terms of photographic skills or business acumen. Or do a photo exhibit.

6. Use your photography, or resources earned from photography, to support your personal advocacy.

I am 58 years old, probably the oldest young advertising photographer around. Do I still have passion? Of course!

I would like to offer you the fruit of my passion for photography.

The re-development of R Hidalgo as a Photographers’ Haven was inaugurated the other day. Just four months ago, it was crowded and no longer attractive to many photographers. But I had a dream, a vision. What I saw in my mind’s eye was R. Hidalgo as a place or haven for Filipino photographers –where aspiring photographers can buy equipment at reasonable prices; where photographers can exhibit their works; where you can have all digital camera service centers located in one area; where new products can be launched; and most of all, where young and old photographers can spend time over a cup of coffee, sharing experiences in photography and renewing each other’s passion.

That dream is now a reality. As I end this talk, I would like to extend my invitation for you to visit R. Hidalgo. Go there and enliven your passion.

Thank you very much for listening and giving me the opportunity to share my passion for photography with you.

Show visuals:

John 2006 Folio
Shots of R Hidalgo
Behind the scenes at our studio

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Our Own Ritual

Due to the nature of our work (advertising), my husband and I cannot always be together for meals. Although we work together – he as photographer, and myself on the business side of things, sometimes we don’t see each other at all, especially when he has to work long hours on a project, or I have tons of paperwork to do.

We try to set aside weekends for being together but sadly, some projects require us to work on Sundays or holidays. Deadlines are always tight, and we can’t really say no and still remain in business.

So we’ve devised a way to keep in touch. We’ve set our cell phone clocks or wristwatches to buzz at 7pm, so we could at least greet each other and make a “ritualistic” connection. Sending a short SMS message to each other allows us, not only to think of each other, but also to actually let each other know that we are doing so. Sometimes we share jokes, but most of the time, it’s just a simple message like – “hi, have you had dinner?”

It’s a silly, romantic way for a 60-year old woman like me to feel loved =), and for a busy photographer like my husband, it’s a welcome, and sometimes comic, breather.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Helplessness of Being Apart

My youngest daughter is in Canada, and for the most part, she’s happy and enthusiastic about being there. Sometimes, she gets homesick and I gather her friends to chat with her so she’d feel like she’s hanging out with friends, albeit virtually.Once, she called from a hospital and I was terrified to ask what happened but grateful that she herself called – she may not know it, but it is great reassurance just to hear her voice instead of somebody else’s. The best, of course, is when we can talk in person, but accepting the fact that she’s away, I am willing to settle for a phone or Skype call. But when we can’t Skype or telephone, I’ve learned to guess how she is by how long or how short her blogs are, or from the expressions (wheee, yay, hooray, MWAHAHAHAHA! and the like) or lack of them that I see on her blog.

So days manage to pass, and I’ve learned to accept her absence as fact, while continuing to wish she could be in two places at the same time. But once in a while, very rarely, like today, she hints at something disturbing, (her blog says “need to sort through some deeply disturbing things. I'm not sure if I can explain things over the phone or IM just yet") and I run around like a headless chicken trying to know what happened. Today, I read what I dread – she is disturbed about something and could even be in danger – or was. There are hints as to what happened, but I don’t have enough details to know if my daughter is still in danger, if she is still upset, or if she needs help.

I tried to call her, but her phone was busy – at 5:40 in the morning (her time)! What could be happening? I tried calling again and again, but all I got was the busy tone. I left a message on yahoo, I left a message on her site, and I called up Clair, one of her closest friends. Clair was not answering her phone, either. I tried twice. Panicking, I called up my husband and, between sobs, read to him parts of Sacha’s blog. He promised to call her.

Sacha said she would give more details in her personal blog, so I tried searching for that – she has not updated that for a long time and I have since re-formatted my computer – oh, where do I find that other blog. This is pure agony.

My husband called and told me that he had spoken to Sacha and that she is fine now. Fine now? But what happened? Is he telling me the truth or is he just trying to pacify me? Then, the maid paged on the intercom, “Ma’am, telephone,” and it was Sacha. It was Sacha on the landline and my husband on the cell phone. I wanted to talk to them both, but didn’t know how. So I picked up the receiver and talked to Sacha, but she wasn’t offering any details. She said she wanted to sleep. Gee, I know it’s six in the morning, but if she had been up all night with whatever was troubling her, didn’t I deserve a few minutes to know what it was? I asked her what time she would wake up, and she said it’s Sunday morning, and she’d been up most of the night so she’d like to sleep late. My heart was pounding so hard, yet all I could say pleadingly was, “call me no matter what time you wake up.” Even after noon (which would make it past midnight here).

I went back to my search for her personal blog – by checking her friends’ blogs. I remember finding that through her friend Charo’s – maybe the link is still there. I tried to remember, and I tried to google. I also tried to re-read her blogs so I could get a clue as to who she was with that night. I found a name. Not a familiar name, but still I had a lead. So I googled some more, and while I was searching for clues in, not the proverbial haystack, but in a wideworldweb, my computer went knock, knock. I was startled – I almost fell off my seat. It’s Yahoo instant messaging – Sacha is online!!!

She was probably more concerned about me than about herself at this point, or maybe her dad told her how distressed I was, so for the next hour or so, we “talked.” She was still evasive at some points, and tried to divert to other topics like marketing, or books, and I just followed her where she wanted to lead me in this conversation. Once in a while, I would test if she wanted to talk more about what happened, but she seemed reluctant. And so, I am still waiting.

From what I could gather, she was disappointed not just about one person, but two – but for different reasons. Somehow, her feelings about these two people were very dissimilar but related, in a sequential way, as the second was somehow occasioned by the first incident. That much I could divine. And she felt safer talking about the second rather than the first. As a mother, the closest thing I could do was to guess. Was she talking more about the second because it was a more manageable pain? Or was it a greater pain?

I waited for the hours to pass – giving her time and distance so she could sort out her own feelings, make her own assessments, and plan her next moves. But I could not focus on what I was supposed to do here at home and at work as I waited for her to call. I sent her an SMS to call me anytime (hint: I’m still waiting), and I waited just in case there was a delay in the transmission of text messages. After an hour, I could not contain my worries. What if? What if? I was going crazy. I know she’s smart and she would know what to do, and I know I can trust her. But the what if’s continued. I prayed – prayers know no boundaries - and I don’t feel so helpless anymore just because she is there and I am here. “Dear Lord, I trust you to take care of her, but I need to find out how she is,” and while I whispered an apology to God for my lack of faith, I dialed Sacha’s number. She answered! And she talked to me in a tone, and accompanying giggles, to suggest that she was fine. We talked – still avoiding the first and focusing on the second issue. Oh, well, when she is ready.

If she had been home, I would just have hugged and cuddled her so she could feel safe, well and wonderful again. I could watch her sleep and rest while waiting patiently for the moment when she would wake up and smile again. She’s generally a very cheerful person, and she spreads good cheer all around, so she’s very “low-maintenance” emotionally. But once in a while, when she needs to be on the receiving end of good cheer, I’d like to be there for her. But she is away, and no technological advances have made it possible for us to hug each other now, while she is in Canada and I am here in the Philippines.