Memorable to the public and those who captured the images

People have a short attention span. Especially in this age of the Internet and social media. The massive and unregulated traffic of words and images is astounding.

So how does a news photo stand out? To aid our discussion, let us pick a recent image that has gone viral: the bloodied Syrian boy seen on televisions and newspapers. Stoic, dirty and bloodied, the boy’s image gives a face to the brutality of war. It possesses the power of immediacy and pathos. Outright, the image gets imprinted in our collective consciousness.

Closer to home, the war on drugs waged by the Duterte government has produced a handful of chilling and dramatic photographs. One such photo shows a tattooed woman hugging her lifeless partner on a murky city street, gunned down by unnamed assailants. The grief of the woman ceases to be merely personal but communal. The reality and consequences of the daily killings even go beyond our national boundary. The fact that the subject is given regular coverage by international news agencies illustrates its worldwide relevance.

Does a news photo have to be tragic then to be memorable? Can’t we celebrate great journalistic photography taken from the beautiful sunrise photos popular in Facebook?

The great photojournalist W. Eugene Smith made his name covering the world in conflict. But among his iconic life work is a delightful image showing two little children walking in a photo appropriately titled “A Walk to the Paradise Garden.” Seen in context from his other work, this photo deviates from the apparent negativity of human existence to tackle beauty and hope.

However, it would seem that photojournalism thrives on the dramatic and the tragic. Yes, there will always be respites or breaks from the heavy stuff. But after the obligatory human interest photos showing comic relief, the eye of the photojournalist goes back to the wide open field where evil sows terror and pain.

Children of a lesser god

Photographer: Alex Badayos | Place: Brgy. Guinsaugon, St. Bernard, Southern Leyte | Publication: Sun.Star Cebu, 2006

BARANGAY Guinsaugon will be most remembered for the 1,000 people, including 200 children in an elementary school, buried when landslides hit the village in St. Bernard, Southern Leyte in 2006.

Photographer: Alex Badayos | Place: Buyong Falls, Sagbayan, Bohol | Publication: Sun.Star Cebu, 2013

Alex Badayos was newly married then, and the sight of children being pulled out of the rubble tore at him.

In Bohol, the same emotions gnawed at him when Prima Empinado placed flowers and offered prayers for her two young children buried in a landslide at the Buyong Falls in Sagbayan, where a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck in 2013.

He spent enough time with Empinado to make the documentary “Sagbayan” that earned for him second place in the Sinulog video documentary contest in 2014.

Vulnerable and mortal

Photographer: Tonee Despojo | Place: Labogon, Mandaue City | Publication: Cebu Daily News, 2004

Photographer: Tonee Despojo | Place: Cliff in Upper Guadalupe, Cebu City | Publication: The Freeman, 1987

TONEE Despojo’s photo of a fish kill in Labogon, Mandaue City, published on the front page of Cebu Daily News, edged out 35,000 other photographs from 128 nations when it was awarded Number 21 Honorable Mention in the United Nations Environmental Program photo contest in 2004.

Photographer: Tonee Despojo | Place: Ormoc City | Publication: The Freeman, 1991

But mortality was not a new theme for Despojo, whose first published photo, appearing in The Freeman, featured a helicopter hovering over a cliff as soldiers loaded two dead soldiers ambushed by insurgents in Upper Guadalupe, Cebu City in 1987.

Later, in 1991, when Typhoon Uring flooded Ormoc City, killing 6,000 people, many of whom ended up in mass graves, Despojo descended on Ormoc, staying five days.

“The Freeman allocated several pages for a photo essay, and the Basilica del Sto. Niño displayed them at the church to solicit help for the victims,” he said.

Protest and fury

Photographer: Almario Bitang | Place: Cebu Provincial Capitol | Publication: Sun.Star Daily, 1984

THE 1984 protest at the Cebu Provincial Capitol was one of the first public displays of dissent by Cebuanos against the Marcos dictatorship, recalls Almario Bitang.

A year earlier, Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. had been assassinated at the Manila international airport, galvanizing the opposition, which now included not just politicians but also leftists, rightists, civil society and students.

Photographer: Almario Bitang | Place: Pahina River, Cebu City | Publication: Sun.Star Daily, 1984

Bitang caught the demonstrators carrying a fallen comrade during the mammoth demonstration. More scenes like this would lead to the People Power revolution that ended the Marcos regime in 1986.

No stranger to scenes of struggle, Bitang had already captured a year earlier the chaos of rescuers pulling a man from the waters of the Pahina River, which had swept away the newly built bailey bridge connecting Pasil and Ermita districts.

A Pasil resident, Bitang was on the scene at once, being privy to the risks of natural calamities and the problem of waste disposal in the area.

But the photo he considers lifechanging is that of police operatives, armed with high powered weapons, guarding suspects, including opposition leader Ribomapil Holganza, whom they had arrested in a 1982 Christmas Day raid on a house in the interior of Lopez Jaena St., Cebu City.

Photographer: Almario Bitang | Place: Lopez Jaena St., Cebu City | Publication: Sun.Star Daily, 1982

“We outscooped the competition. I got a tip about a robbery very early in the morning after Christmas Day. No other reporters and photographers were there. It turned out to be a bigger story about members of the local opposition being rounded up by the PC operatives. The demand for the story and photos was so great that the paper went into the black market as the delivery boys charged a premium for a copy of that day’s paper. By all accounts, it marked the beginning of the rise of Sun.Star Daily as the number one community newspaper in Cebu.”

Beleaguered but unbowed

Photographer: Viktor Kintanar | Place: Anibong District, Tacloban City | Publication: Facebook, 2013

BARELY two months after he was kicked out of office by the second People Power Revolution, Joseph “Erap” Ejercito Estrada, an actor then a mayor, senator, vice president, president, then ousted president of the Philippines, appealed to the public to support his wife running for senator during a 2001 campaign rally for senatorial bets in Cebu City.

Photographer: Viktor Kintanar | Place: Campaign rally, Cebu City | Publication: Philippines Free Press, 2001

The photo Victor Kintanar submitted to the Associated Press landed on the cover of the April 21, 2001 issue of the Philippines Free Press magazine. A character hard to forget for his jokes and the controversies arising from his “midnight cabinet,” Erap is a comeback king, back in the saddle today as Manila mayor.

Resilience is also the theme of Vic’s 2013 photo of a roasted pig set for sale on Christmas Eve in a makeshift hut in Anibong District, Tacloban City, Leyte. In the background, the cargo vessel swept inland by the storm surge brought by super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) on Nov. 8, 2013 offers a grim reminder of the toll: thousands dead and injured.

Two days after Yolanda struck, Kintanar was in Tacloban as a guide, researcher and photographer for the Japanese Kyodo News Agency. It was an experience like no other: A city mostly leveled, the homeless and hungry on the streets, survivors seeking a flight out with just the clothes on their back, the overwhelming stench of corpses. The resilience of the Filipinos confounded international aid workers. A lechon for Christmas was a glimmer of hope in the midst of tribulation.

Almario Bitang

AFTER spending his college years tagging along whenever his photographer-father Johnny covered events, Almario Bitang became a photojournalist himself when he joined Vistas Magazine in 1980, then Sun.Star Daily in 1982. The 1977 mechanical engineering graduate became the first “News Photographer of the Year” awardee at the Cebu Archdiocesan Mass Media Awards in 1990. After 12 years, he left Sun. Star to pursue a career in politics.

He was councilor of Barangay Suba, then barangay captain. He was also councilor of Barangay Pasil in Cebu City. Stints with The Freeman in 2002 and as Reuters stringer ended when he decided to focus on his family’s water business and game farms.

Tonee Despojo

TONEE Despojo drew editorial cartoons for The Freeman in the mid-‘80s to help fund his freshman studies as an architecture student.

After two years of exposure to newspaper photographers, he ventured into photography himself, seeing his work published not only by The Freeman but also international magazines like Readers Digest and international wire photo agencies. Winning local awards came next, then international awards in 2004. He was elevated to the Hall of Fame in the field of photojournalism by the Cebu Archdiocesan Mass Media Awards in 1994. Canon made the photo editor of Cebu Daily News a brand ambassador.

Alex Badayos

A PHOTOGRAPHER for Sun.Star Cebu since 1992, Alex Badayos has reaped numerous awards for his work, including those from the World Press Center-Philippine Press Institute and Council for the Welfare of Children and Unicef.

Love of photography is in his genes. His father’s darkroom was his playground, his old cameras his toys. His grandfather was a New York Institute of Photography correspondent.

But Alex’s talent is his own. He has also been recognized at the Cebu Archdiocesan Mass Media Awards, Milo Olympics photo contests, Globe Media Excellence Awards, Rotary Club of Manila Journalism Awards, Sarihay Media Awards, and in the Sinulog photo and video documentary contests.

Victor Kintanar

VICTOR Kintanar began as a news photographer in 1992 for Sun.Star Daily, moving to The Independent Post in 1997.

A freelancer from 1999, he documented the Muslim separatist rebellion in Mindanao for the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and European Pressphoto Agency. From 2006 to 2015, he was a contract photographer for Reuters. His works have been cited at the 2007 Reuters Photos of the Year, 2008 PX3 Prix De La Photographie Paris, UNDP Picture This: We Can End Poverty 2010 Photo Contest, Monochrome Awards International Black & White Photography Competition (2015) and 9th iPhone Photography Awards (2016). A and correspondent, Vic also does contract documentary and book projects.

Research and text by Bob Lim and Cherry Ann T. Lim

(CJJ11 was published in hardcopy in September 2016.)