Dear John — an open letter to my good friend, John Rene Fernandez ...

  Michelle Phillips  is one of the 25 Filipina women from Georgia's Magnolia Midlands featured in the  Filipina: Beacon of Light  photography exhibition by Filipino-American artist and photographer  Dominique James . The exhibit showcases formal studio portraits printed on large canvas. The exhibition will be held at the  Eleanor Meadows Gallery  of the  Altama Museum of Art & History,  inside the 1911 neoclassic Crawford W. Brazell House located near the historic downtown Vidalia, Georgia. The 45-day exhibit is free for public viewing from February 16 to March 30, 2018, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and on Sundays at 1:00 to 3:00 PM. For more information,  click here to visit the official exhibition website .

Michelle Phillips is one of the 25 Filipina women from Georgia's Magnolia Midlands featured in the Filipina: Beacon of Light photography exhibition by Filipino-American artist and photographer Dominique James. The exhibit showcases formal studio portraits printed on large canvas. The exhibition will be held at the Eleanor Meadows Gallery of the Altama Museum of Art & History, inside the 1911 neoclassic Crawford W. Brazell House located near the historic downtown Vidalia, Georgia. The 45-day exhibit is free for public viewing from February 16 to March 30, 2018, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and on Sundays at 1:00 to 3:00 PM. For more information, click here to visit the official exhibition website.

BY DOMINIQUE JAMES

I meant to respond right away to your kind Facebook re-post and the personal note about my upcoming Filipina: Beacon of Light portrait photography exhibition.

And while I have no hesitation or second thoughts in thanking you, and to acknowledge the kindness with which you brought to the attention of so many more people the information about my upcoming portrait photography exhibition, I regret that it took me this long.

I knew I wanted to say something in response, and I simply needed some time to think what I really wanted to tell you beyond the automatic, reflexive profession of gratitude.

And now, I tell all. So here goes …

Let me begin by expressing a heartfelt thank you. Thank you for reposting the exhibition announcement. Sharing the news on Facebook with your beautiful friends is in itself more than enough, more than I ever have the right to expect. I am humbled that you would choose to share the information about my exhibition, as you do with the works on exhibit at the most prestigious art galleries and museums of some of the greatest Filipino artists, past and present. You and I know all too well that not any one of my work will ever come close to the brilliant and exceptional masterworks of the greatest among Filipino artists, and yet, you chose to give me space alongside them. I am truly, truly humbled.

As if that were not enough, you honor me by sharing with your readers some broad strokes on how we got to know each other, and the several occasions we got together on photography projects big and small. Your account brought back a flood of truly wonderful memories almost forgotten. At the time when I least expected, at a time when preparations for my upcoming photography exhibit is well underway, when pressures and tensions are mounting higher each day against the set deadline of a formally announced opening date, recalling many great times with you and with Nayon Photography Club was the perfect boost I needed to forge ahead with renewed vim, vigor and inspiration in preparing for the Filipina: Beacon of Light exhibition that will be open for public viewing on February 17, 2018.

You’ve heard me say repeatedly, and I’ve never hesitated to tell anyone who’d care to listen, that Nayon Photography Club, of which you’ve very ably headed as its President, is my favorite photography club. Through the years as a professional photographer and as a photography instructor, I have had the distinct privilege of interacting with countless individual professional photographers and enthusiasts, many photography clubs, organizations, and institutions. I cherish all interactions as it always keeps me firmly tethered to the photography industry I love dearly. I have to say though that my interactions with you and Nayon members are the ones that have always been the most engaging and the most fun for me. From sharing a thing or two, to serving as one of the judges of the club’s photo contests—it all made me happy for some reason. I’ve even made real-life friends with many of Nayon’s members whose personal and artistic growth I continue to follow to this day. From the very first time you invited me to meet and talk with the Nayon members, and on each and every visit I made years after your tenure as its President, you guys made me proudly feel that you’ve adopted me, even as much as or more than you might think I’ve adopted you. And while I value and respect the invitations I’ve received from all other photography clubs, it is with Nayon that I’ve always felt at home the most. (By the way, if you must know, I always get a thrill receiving a gift bag of goodies from you guys after my every visit—your sweet token of appreciation! You sure know the best things to give me!)

Now, I have a little confession to make. Whenever I am invited to share with Nayon or with other clubs, moments before I open my mouth to begin to talk, I often wonder if anyone in the audience know where all that I’m about to share really come from—what or who are the real sources of all that knowledgeable stuff I spew out with seeming confidence.

I think I can safely tell you all now. I never formally studied photography. I had to learn photography the non-formal way—through apprenticeship, through research, through study, through application, and through years of practice. Coming from film photography, and then to digital imaging, it was a fun and a hard process, all rolled into one.

The root of all that is my very good, life-long friend, Joey Enriquez, whom I began to work with very early on in my career for the promotions of the now very famous and historic footwear brand, Ceferino et Figli, which eventually become, Figlia, which gave rise to several popular shoe brands such as Marie Nicole, among others. I did not start out as a photographer. I was working as the brand’s full-time Public Relations consultant. It was through my work as a PR consultant that I got the privilege of meeting and working up-close, really very close, with the greatest fashion and lifestyle photographers in the Philippines, among them Jun de Leon, Wig Tysmans, Neil Oshima. Because of this unique exposure, I turned into a professional photographer. My very first professional product shoot? Joey’s shoes, of course! And my very first model? Agot Isidro, a very good family friend of Joey.

 The distinctive logo design of the  Filipina: Beacon of Light  photography exhibition, inspired and informed by some measure to the Philippine flag and its prominent red, yellow and blue colors, is crafted from the unique lower case Futuracha Pro font conceptualized, designed and created by  The Holy Team  based in Athens, Greece. Each of the three letter "i" with the long descending stem is accented by a yellow star instead of the typical period in order to represent the three main Philippine regions, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, which in Philippine literature is often depicted as the ideal Filipina woman aptly named  Luzviminda . For more information,  click here to visit the official exhibit website .

The distinctive logo design of the Filipina: Beacon of Light photography exhibition, inspired and informed by some measure to the Philippine flag and its prominent red, yellow and blue colors, is crafted from the unique lower case Futuracha Pro font conceptualized, designed and created by The Holy Team based in Athens, Greece. Each of the three letter "i" with the long descending stem is accented by a yellow star instead of the typical period in order to represent the three main Philippine regions, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, which in Philippine literature is often depicted as the ideal Filipina woman aptly named Luzviminda. For more information, click here to visit the official exhibit website.

Jun, Wig, and Neil have different professional approaches and working styles as professional photographers. And even on a personal level, they are very different from each other. But among them, and also among a few other big-name photographers, I quickly learned to recognize a few striking similarities.

All of them loved what they were doing. They were doing photography because they love it. I cannot over-emphasize that fact. In a world full of people who hate their jobs, these photographers love theirs! Not once have I heard them complain about any aspect of their work and their job; well, except for one thing—when others they happen to be working with aren’t up to par with their expectations and are clearly not delivering! This struck me as really odd and awesome and wonderful, and it blew my mind. Imagine, being able to actually do what you love, and get paid for it!

All of them also loved to share freely. They generously share in two ways. First, if you ask them any question about anything photography, they would immediately fall silent and give you a piercing look, trying to ascertain whether you are serious about the question just asked, and if they think are sure you’re dead serious and really listening, they will then begin to methodically chew your ear out. In fact, you will not hear the end of it. And second, they share what they know by actually showing you how they do things, willfully demonstrating to you if they sense you are observing too closely, even if it means slowing them down through their actual professional work. That is how I mostly learned. I kept asking and observing, and I kept getting answers and I kept being shown how things are done.

From Jun, I learned how to create perfectly beautiful and emotionally evocative photographic images. But Jun isn’t the all-talk guy. He’ll probably talk to you about how awesome the brewed coffee he’s serving in his studio, but he’s not going to blabber on about picture-making. After shooting day in and day out, after spending hours and hours cooped up in his darkroom developing rolls and rolls of films, and printing pictures, he is just too exhausted to talk about what he’s been doing. In your company, he instead seeks reprieve by talking about things other than what he’s been doing. In that way, he’s a bit tricky to learn from. The secret to learning well from Jun, which I was lucky enough to catch on very early, is to actually keenly observe how he works. Whenever he notices that you are observing, he will gladly show you by slowing down how he’s doing it, sometimes even repeating the process for you just to make sure you got it, and then you can ask him questions about it afterward. That, he will tell you. He will tell you why he did this and why he did that. Then you’ll understand. And then it’s more talk about the craft of brewing the perfect cup of coffee sweetened with muscovado. And then, also about antique furniture. Oh yes, one Christmas, Jun unexpectedly gifted me with the antique wooden chair that only he used to sit on at his former photo studio in Roxas Boulevard. 

From Wig, who takes after the role of the best classroom teacher you’ll ever have, I learned almost all the technical stuff about photography. Wig has a way of making complicated things sound simple and so easy. He has that special gift of making you clearly understand the technical stuff that goes into photography. And it’s not just what he says. it is also how he says it. Wig is a voice of reason and logic, of calm and composure. His explanations are so hypnotic that every time he talks, I tend to automatically shut everything off around me, and focus on his voice alone. I’d be wide-eyed, mouth agape, absorbing everything he would say—my brains working and processing what he said long after he stopped talking. The very first technical lesson I learned from Wig was depth-of-field. DoP is an extraordinarily difficult concept to grasp particularly to anyone who, like me, had almost zero knowledge of photography at that time. Without missing a beat, and as I was hanging on to a giant reflector, Wig explained it to me in the middle of a photo shoot in the beach of Fortune Island in Batangas with a celebrity model, what depth-of-field is and how it works. And just like that, I learned what it is, and I would go on to learn so much more in my years of working with him. And everything he taught me, I remember to this day. Incidentally, one very important, non-technical lesson I learned from Wig was how to properly compose photographs. Wig comes from an architectural background and his composition techniques and styles are truly exceptional. Another thing I learned? How to choose and select the right camera system and studio lighting system that a professional photographer needs for any kind of job.

Now, with Neal Oshima, it is a different story altogether. Neal and I hardly spoke to each other or even worked together on a project. I doubt that he even knows me. In fact, even on one particular project that we were actually working on together, we never exactly worked together. So why is he influential in my photography? Neal’s photographs, just like Jun and Wig’s photographs, are simply breathtaking! Each and every photograph that Neal made is absolutely stunning. His moody portraits of models and celebrities, his clean and flawless product shots—every single image that he produced is a work of utter beauty, a work of art. And for that, he never had to tell me, or anyone for that matter, anything at all. All I had to do was to look, and see, really see, his pictures. With my growing understanding and appreciation of things I was starting to learn from Jun and Wig at that time, I saw beyond the flat, two-dimensional pictures. I saw, and felt, what went into each and every exquisitely crafted Neal Oshima photograph. Neal eventually went on to focus his artistic energies on other things, like making world-class furniture, but in my heart and mind, I will always think of him, first and foremost, as a photographer, and I am eternally grateful for his inspiring photographs.

  The Altama Museum of Art & History  is housed in this beautiful 1911 neoclassic Crawford W. Brazell house near the historic downtown Vidalia, Georgia. Inside is the  Eleanor Meadows Gallery  where the  Filipina: Beacon of Light  photo exhibit will be on display from February 16 to March 30, 2018, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and on Sundays at 1:00 to 3:00 PM. For more information,  click here to visit the official exhibition website . [Photo:  Dominique James ]

The Altama Museum of Art & History is housed in this beautiful 1911 neoclassic Crawford W. Brazell house near the historic downtown Vidalia, Georgia. Inside is the Eleanor Meadows Gallery where the Filipina: Beacon of Light photo exhibit will be on display from February 16 to March 30, 2018, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and on Sundays at 1:00 to 3:00 PM. For more information, click here to visit the official exhibition website. [Photo: Dominique James]

This is not to say that everything I learned about photography came only from Jun, Wig and Neal. Nothing is further from the truth. While I am dedicating my upcoming “Filipina: Beacon of Light” photography exhibit to Jun and Wig, and also of course to Neal and others, my dedication is to everyone who made me into the photographer I am today. Through the years, I am grateful to have met, to have known, and to have worked with so many talented photographers, hair-and-makeup artists, fashion designers and stylists, writers and editors, special events organizers, advertising and public relations practitioners, as well as all other creative artists and professionals in different fields. My interactions with all of them have been meaningful and integral to my own growth as a professional photographer. I wish nothing more than to be able to remember them all and to name them all in order for me to properly express my gratitude for all the good influence that they have been to me.

Is it ever possible to summarize what I have learned and what I have become? Without trepidation, my answer would be yes. If I have to bravely summarize it all, if I have to put it all in a single word, that word is “love.” I have learned nothing more and nothing less than the love photography. And I have nothing more and nothing less to share with you and all others, other than the love of photography.

It’s quite a coincidence that my 45-day Filipina: Beacon of Light portrait photography exhibition at the Altama Museum of Art & History, housed inside the historic 1911 Crawford W. Brazell House in downtown Vidalia, Georgia, will open on February 17, 2018, four days after Valentine’s Day. I never planned quite that way, but hey, I’m all for love.

What I am trying to say is this: I am a tiny dark object in a black, endless sky illuminated only by all the brilliant light of others. I am visible to you and others, you and others see me, only because many others have chosen to illuminate me with the blinding brilliance of their light. My destiny, therefore, is to reflect and shine their light on to you and all others.

Now you know where all those things I have been sharing all along come from. Mix it in with a measure of research and self-study, and lots of experimentation and practice, and then add to it years of experience, you’ve got someone like me—a humble servant of the photographic arts.

It can be said that I am lucky to have become a photographer at the time when I did. I was born in the era of film photography, consequently raised in the age of digital photography. In a sense, it is the perfect time to be a photographer. And I count myself lucky that my interest in photography has been nurtured by Jun, Wig, Neal and so many talented and very supportive people. But perhaps, what I am truly most lucky about is the fact that I have been given and continue to be given the unparalleled opportunity, privilege, and joy in sharing with you, with Nayon, and with others, my love of photography. This, I believe, is my priceless legacy.

And so, on the very special occasion of my very first major photography exhibition in 2018, Filipina: Beacon of Light, I feel connected to you, John, and the Nayon members, and everyone else, all for the love of photography.