The art in photography

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PHOTOGRAPHY has always been snubbed. Some say it is not an art, while the others who argue that it is, classify it as a low art. And with the rapid proliferation of smart phones with high quality cameras that can do tricks with one click, photography is put yet again in the hot seat. Is it really art or not? How is photography an art form if everybody can do it?

“If something comes out from the heart, for me that is art. Cumulatively, we shot with heart and intent,” said photographer Angela Panlilio in defense of the photography exhibition in which she is participating.

Called Seeing Beyond, the exhibit highlights the works of five photographers. It is on view at Solaire casino’s The Shoppes Artway until Jan. 25.

Aside from Ms. Panlilio, the participating photographers are Bern Wong, Jeff Dytuco, Michael Olivares, Fred Tiongson, and Tony Rivera.

The works are on sale for between P21,000 and P39,000, with proceeds benefitting the students of ERDA Tech, a technical vocational school for the less fortunate. Officially renamed as Fr. Pierre Tritz in 2014, the school has evolved from a five-year technical high school focused on auto mechanics, dress making, and food service, to become a two-year technical vocational residential Senior High School focused on emerging technologies. The school started in 1994 by the French Jesuit priest.

The works in Seeing Beyond are mostly in black and white, with only a few on muted colors. They range from still lifes, to portraits, to landscape photographs, but they all want their audience to see beyond the surface. Each photograph encourages contemplation. Moreover, the exhibition wants to be a testament to the expanding role of a photographer, from a documenter of moments to also an artist who can show new ways of seeing things in different perspectives.

“Anyone can see a pretty picture of a beautiful woman, scene, or artefact. But if you fail to go deeper, your photograph runs the risk of being a daily basis — seen, liked, and then forgotten. If you’re lucky, maybe it comes back to your timeline as a memory on Facebook,” said Mr. Rivera. His work in the show features a series of portraits of two people facing each other, each showing emotions that do not need words to understand.

For Mr. Olivares, still photography allows him to “have complete control over lighting, subject, and background.”

Mr. Tiongson thinks that “black and white is the most simplest but the most difficult genre because it does not have color, which devoids the audience of emotion.” But he believes that monochrome is as powerful, if not more so, that colors.

“If it makes people think, if it makes people say ‘What is this person saying?’ Then whether it is painted or photographed or printed, it is art. If it reaches out to you or touches you, it is art,” said Ms. Panlilio. “My goal is to move someone by my images, and when that happens, to me that is art. Art is not limited to the form, it simply is about how art touches people.”

The only colored photos among the black and white works are by Ms. Wong, who said she likes to experiment with long exposures by dissolving and blurring them. Her colorful, abstract landscape pictures, she said, are “elemental yet speak directly to us on what it means to be alive.”

“We see ourselves as artists more than photographers, and photography is just our medium to express what we want. This is our advocacy: to let people know that photography is an art form,” she said.

Ms. Wong and Ms. Panlilio, who both agree that while photography is dominated by men, good photos do not ask who is the person behind the viewfinder.

A black and white series of random and timed photographs of children, streets, and churches, Ms. Panlilo’s series look edited and photoshopped, but she said none of her works are double-exposures, but are rather the products of right timing and angling in order to produce a compelling narrative.

“I am a street photographer by heart. I don’t stage anything, I make abang. I stay and I wait,” she said.

“Photography is storytelling. Photography is art to us.” — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman