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.


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.

Come and take a look at my photos on Instagram ...


I’m on Instagram. I am very active on Instagram. I post pictures on Instagram at least once a day. And on many days, I post more than one photo.

I can’t tell you exactly how I got hooked on Instagram, but I am. I just realized, not long ago, that I’ve been posting a bunch of photos. Not dumping just any picture or anything like that, but highly curated photographic images from the so many that I’m always taking with different cameras, and posting them for you and for all to see.

What kind of pictures will you see on my Instagram?

Well, there’s many different types.

You’ll see: pictures of amazing places from my frequent travels (consider it my “wish-you-were-here” postcards), pictures of savory food that I enjoy (occasionally, food that I cooked myself at home), pictures of awesome products that I love to collect and use and want to share with you (such as fountain pens, headphones, Apple stuff and Apple-y things, among others), pictures that are intended as fine art photographic images in black-and-white and full color (something that you might want to hang on your home and office walls), and then there are also pictures of some of my commercial and advertising work (many of which are outtakes from studio and on-location photo shoots that I’ve done).

I enjoy sharing pictures on Instagram. And I would like it very much if you take a look at them.

Also, I would like it if you can tell your friends to take a look as well.

On this website (which you can bookmark), you will instantly see a spread of the latest 20 images culled directly from my Instagram feed -

From your web browser, you can also see the latest images directly -

And, if you’re on Instagram, we can definitely hook up with each other and check out each other’s photos. I've made so many fascinating connections with so many awesome people from all over the world.

On the Instagram app, look me up and add me — @dominiquejames.

It’s going to be fun and surprising, and amazing. I promise.

My grandmother's graduation portrait, a photo restoration project ...

My grandmother's restored graduation portrait, photographer unknown ...


The young, poised, confident beauty in this restored sepia-tone graduation portrait is my Filipina maternal grandmother. Her name is Imelda Miraña Balderian. She was married to a lawyer, had five children, and 14 grandchildren. I am the first of her 14 grandchildren.

This picture was taken around the time of her graduation from a master's degree program in education at the National Teachers College in Manila, Philippines.

After completing her studies, she returned to Tacloban City, Leyte (where she hailed), and dedicated herself to becoming a Home Economics teacher at a nearby elementary school. The school where she taught was so close that you could see it from the living room window of her two-storey house. As far as I know, and though she did so many, many things on the side, like helping my grandfather manage the family’s coconut farm lands, being a teacher was the only formal job she ever held in her entire life.

When I was a kid, and for about 5 years, I lived with my grandmother and my grandfather in their two-storey house in Tacloban City. And, I was enrolled in that same elementary school where she was teaching.

I don’t recall seeing her graduation picture when I was a boy. The very first time I saw it would be years and years later at my grandmother's unfinished but livable house in Kamuning, Quezon City. It was there where she lived out the rest of her life. Her graduation picture was prominently hanging in the living room’s unpainted gray cement wall. She ordered to have it framed, and I was told she hung it there herself. It was the only notable decoration in the entire house.

The photograph was a selenium-toned silver gelatin print on a thick photo paper, framed in plain, polished, dark heavy wood. It was obvious to me that the picture was already a blown-up replica. I have not seen the original print from which it was reproduced.

Every time I visited my grandmother in her unfinished house, I would inevitably make the grand gesture of slowly and deliberately walking up to the wall with her picture, taking a very long time to inspect every square inch of it, much like looking at a painting in a museum. I would also take the time to make other gestures like putting my hands at my back as I peer closely, or crossing arms to my chest as I move back to get a general look. Of course, I was putting on a show for my grandmother. I know she was watching me every time I do that. After some time, I would turn around and look at her, and we’d smile without saying a word. It was a ritual of sorts between us. I know she gets a thrill every time!

When my grandmother died, it was in that house that I got started on my photography career. I set up a make-shift photo studio in the living room with her framed blown-up graduation picture on the wall presiding over my photo shoots.

The very first photo shoot I did in that living room was for an ad of ladies shoes. Taking pictures of shoes might have seemed frivolous to my austere grandmother, who, as far as I know, never cared much for the vagaries of expensive, branded fashion. She was an expert dressmaker and was particularly skilled with the sewing machine. She went on to sew many of her own clothes and other stuff, and she would have probably made her own shoes if she knew how to.

I do not know the name of the photographer or the name of the studio that shot my grandmother’s graduation photograph. I wish I do. The style of formal graduation portraiture of that time is virtually indistinguishable from one portrait studio to the next. It would be quite a challenge to ascertain if was done at one of the small, enterprising portrait shops within the vicinity of the school she attended, or if it was done at one of the lavishly appointed studios in nearby Taft Avenue where many prominent photo studios of the day were located.

In general, photographic prints from that era were either gold- or silver-stamped with the studio’s name on either the lower left-hand or lower right-hand corner of the picture. Stamping was a common practice then, the height of branding of the time, a point of pride that it was photographed at this or that studio. Without that marking, it is difficult to determine which studio made it.

From a reproduction of maybe an original wallet or album print, the stamping was most likely cropped out or “brushed out” by the photo studio that reprinted the blown-up copy, most likely for “aesthetic” purposes, as the practice of stamping has waned and became passé.

It would be years, and now living in America, before I would see my grandmother’s graduation portrait again.

My family migrated to the United States, and when my mother went back to the Philippines for a visit, she made sure to drop by the now unoccupied, already weather-beaten, still unfinished, Kamuning house. Mainly from neglect, and with year after year of unforgiving monsoon season, rain water has seeped through the walls, badly damaging the framed photograph, among many things inside the house. Visible streaks of dried water left its mark. There were several spots of obvious discoloration across the print’s surface. And there were also tiny holes from the infestation of small insects.

To add to its sorry state, when my mother asked that the picture be taken down and removed from the rotting wood frame in order to salvage the print, parts of the paper’s edges was stuck to the framing material, tearing significant portions.

My mother brought the ruined print with her when she returned to the United States. Whatever was left of the picture, it can mostly be attributed to the preservative powers of the thick photo paper on which the image was printed, the silver gelatin printing process, as well as the selenium toning.

My mother showed it to me, brittle and crumbly, and asked if I can restore the photo. I said I will. It took me some time to get to it, but get to it I finally did.

I began the photo restoration process by thoroughly inspecting and assessing the entire surface of the damaged print. I noticed that the print lacked general edge sharpness. It is possible that the combination of blowing up an image from a small print, as well as the technical limitations in resolving a large photo reproduction, gave it its general soft focus. No doubt, the original print from where this was copied would have been far more sharp. From a distance, the softness would be hardly noticeable, but viewing it closely, the softness was quite obvious. Still, I know there’s a lot more detail that I can work with from the image.

The first step I took in the photo restoration project was to digitally reproduce the image in high-resolution RAW format. I set it up for copy, using color-correct lighting, with right in-camera settings, and accurate focal plane. The exacting studio copy work produced several Nikon professional RAW image files in varying exposures. My goal was to get, and hopefully recover, as much detail as I can from the print. The exacting perfect high-resolution digital copies as a first step will hopefully give me room to maneuver during the detailed post-production process.

To prevent further deterioration, I stored the original print in an archival flat envelope, sandwiched between acid-free sheets of paper.

I brought my copy work for file management into Adobe’s Lightroom. From there, I selected one perfectly exposed image and brought it to Photoshop for detailed editing and image restoration work.

In Photoshop, I carefully fixed, and in certain cases, artfully and imaginatively filled in the details that were lost. I used a Wacom pen and tablet to help me do the job in recreating details as accurately and as believable as possible. From a magnification view of 200 percent, I then removed the stains and grime and marks, then restoring the spots of discoloration. This step was laborious and required extraordinarily detailed attention. Because it was largely a trial-and-error process, it proved to be really time-consuming, especially in the many areas where the print was torn, damaged or totally washed out.

Once detailed work on the image was completed, I brought it back to Lightroom for a final set of adjustments and refinements. This is when I worked on sharpening, tone corrections, light and shadow balance, contrast and clarity. This is a careful, calibrated work designed to bring out, and in most cases, possibly regain, as much detail as possible from the digital RAW file, while at the same time, enhancing and freshening the image.

The whole process took hours and hours of work.

As I look at the finished, restored image, I wonder what my grandmother Imelda would have thought. It probably cost her a lot of money to have the photograph taken, to then to have it blown up, printed and framed. It must have been a luxury to her. She must have spent great care in getting ready for the shoot, treating the event more gravely than we do today. And making sure that the print lives on by having it reproduced, blown-up, reprinted and framed. It’s clear to me that the picture was important to her.

My grandmother was stingy with her praise and approval. Her whole life, she’s been the type who’s singularly driven to excel and to improve her lot and to better the lives of her children. Without saying anything, she would have simply smiled, give me a couple of pats, and rub me in the back for a job well done.

I did not tell my mother that I was working on the photo restoration. One afternoon, I surprised her with a copy of the final, restored work.  And just like what I thought my grandmother would have done, cut from the same cloth as it were, she simply smiled, gave me a couple of pats, and rubbed me in the back.

With the completed digital photo restoration project, I can now share the final high-resolution file with members of my family, and they can have as many copies of pristine photo prints in whatever size they want—to put in wallets or family albums, to frame and display on side tables or hang in walls. And, to even just keep a digital copy in their desktops and laptops, or mobile devices.

At an upcoming family get-together, I will show my grandmother’s restored graduation photo to two of her great-grandchildren who were born in the United States more than 20 years after she died. They are some of the youngest in our clan, my nephew and niece, William and Samantha, ages 10 and 6. When I show them this picture, I’ll tell them something a bit about their great grandmother.

As Imelda’s picture takes on a new life, lovingly restored in this digital day and age, her memory lives on in our family’s minds and hearts.

Safety pins ...

Safety pins ...  Photo by Dominique James (Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.)

Safety pins ...  Photo by Dominique James (Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.)

There's a safety pin within reach when you most need one. Like its cousin, the zipper, I wonder if there's a household in America, or any household anywhere in the modern civilized world, where there's none. It's easy to find one. It's as ubiquitous as far as ubiquity goes.

In our house, for instance, I didn't even think about it until I thought of photographing it the other day. It wasn't even hard, and it didn't take me long, to look for where it is. Unlike some bigger or more important objects sight unseen for days or weeks or months, I found the safety pins right away.

From Wikipedia:

The safety pin is a variation of the regular pin which includes a simple spring mechanism and a clasp. The clasp serves two purposes: to form a closed loop thereby properly fastening the pin to whatever it is applied to, and to cover the end of the pin to protect the user from the sharp point.

Safety pins are commonly used to fasten pieces of fabric or clothing together. Safety pins, or more usually a special version with an extra safe cover, called a nappy pin are widely used to fasten cloth diapers (nappies), as the safety clasp prevents the baby from being jabbed. Similarly, they can be used to patch torn or damaged clothing. Safety pins can also be used as an accessory in jewelry, like earrings, chains, and wristbands. Sometimes they are used to attach an embroidered patch. Size 3 is often used in quilting and may be labeled for purchase as a "quilting pin." Size 4 and larger may be called "blanket pins" and deemed acceptable as kilt pins for informal dress, depending upon design and appearance.


American mechanic Walter Hunt is regarded as the inventor of the safety pin that bears resemblance to those used today. The safety pin included a clasp that covered the point and kept it from opening, and a circular twist at the bend to act as a spring and hold it in place. Charles Rowley (Birmingham, England) independently patented a similar safety pin in October 1849, although the company no longer makes these.

Hunt made the invention in order to pay off a $15 debt to a friend. He used a piece of brass wire that was about 8 inches long and made a coil in the center of the wire so it would open up when released. The clasp at one end was devised in order to shield the sharp edge from the user.

After being issued U.S. patent #6,281 on April 10, 1849, Hunt sold the patent to W. R. Grace and Company for $400 (roughly $10,000 in 2008 dollars). Using that money, Hunt then paid the $15 owed to a friend and kept the remaining amount of $385 for himself. What Hunt failed to realize is that in the years to follow, W.R. Grace and Company would make millions of dollars in profits from his invention.


During the emergence of punk rock in the late seventies, safety pins became associated with the genre, its followers and fashion. Some claim the look was taken originally from Richard Hellwhom the British punks saw in pictures, and whose style they adopted. This is disputed by a number of artists from the first wave of British punks, most notably Johnny Rotten, who insists that safety pins were originally incorporated for more practical reasons, for example, to remedy "the arse of your pants falling out.' British punk fans, after seeing the clothing worn by such punk forerunners, then incorporated safety pins into their own wardrobe as clothing decoration or as piercings, shifting the purpose of the pins from practicality to fashion. The safety pin subsequently has become an image associated with punk rock by media and pop-culture outlets.

Interesting story, how it came about, and what 'cultural' use it has been put to. However, one that's relevant today, which puts the humble safety pin in the public's consciousness, is how it's being used and 'worn' for quite a different reason than that its 'unfortunate' inventor have most likely never ever thought of.

Someone I know wears a safety pin every day to secure an undergarment in place. For this purpose, it's being discreetly worn, without being seen. In my lifetime, I've personally used the practical safety pins a number of times, in a way that's intended to be used: for example, to put the back-end of a tied necktie in place (in the glaring absence of a tie bar), among some other uses.

These past few days in America, after the stunning presidential election upset, some people have been wearing the safety pin quite visibly, on clothes over their hearts, in the fashion of Brexit.

In this case, the humble, ubiquitous safety pin is being co-opted as a strong and powerful symbol, albeit unassuming, of assurance, reassurance, and solidarity with those who feel uncertain and fearful of the new unexpected reality in which we all found ourselves waking up to.

The tacit message of the safety pin in this uncertain time is: You are not alone. I am with you. I've got your back.

I found a quilted heart at the George Eastman Museum ...

The quilted heart I serendipitously found during my one-day visit to the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York.  (Photo by Dominique James)

The quilted heart I serendipitously found during my one-day visit to the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York.  (Photo by Dominique James)

I´ve always thought it would be cool to one day visit the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York. As a professional photographer originally from the Philippines, and now based mostly in Atlanta, Georgia, I've always been naturally curious to see where and how George Eastman's Kodak all started.

Well, my wish finally came true. Yesterday, taking a trip that spanned over two thousand miles both ways, I got to spend my entire day at the George Eastman Museum.

I did a little bit of research and planning before the trip, and my best hope was to treat the visit simply as a pilgrimage of sorts, to pay homage to the man, George Eastman, and marvel the institutional legacy he built, the Kodak. Being there, even to do nothing but look around, would be more than enough.

The visit, however, turned out to be so much more than what I planned and expected.

My day was full. I viewed both the permanent and current exhibits that included a beautiful visual history of aspects of photography. I attended the 3 expertly guided tours (I particularly enjoyed the garden and house tours of the fabulously restored Eastman mansion). And, I even got to listen to a live mini concert at the conservatory by a visiting ensemble from California whose 45-minute repertoire included a popular Visayan lullaby (which brought me to my feet, clapping and shamelessly shouting 'Bravo!'). Then there was this very quick and light late lunch at the museum cafe, and also a bit of souvenir hunting at the museum shop. I practically opened and closed the George Eastman Museum that day!

And then, something else happened—something very interesting, something totally unexpected, something simple and random yet utterly wonderful. It had nothing to do with George Eastman and his Kodak, for sure—well, except maybe for the place itself—and, one particular stranger, with a beautiful heart.

As I stepped out of the museum, near the main door, I noticed hanging at a bush nearby, a small quilted piece of fabric in the shape of a heart. At first, I didn't quite know what it was. My initial thought when I saw it was that someone might have accidentally left it. I looked around to see if anyone was nearby. No one.

I gently picked it up, looked at it very closely. As far as I can tell, the front was made out of six different delicately patterned fabrics, embroidered in some parts, and then in the very middle, a small green turtle for a button was securely sawn in. It came with green ribbon handle, and a handwritten tag that said, "I need a home." At the back of the tag was the website with a simple and direct one-sentence plea: "Please report me as found!"

Curious and confused, I did a quick look-up on my iPhone, and from there I learned and understood what it is all about.

From the website:

"Congratulations on finding a quilted heart. Someone took the time to create that heart just for you. Please take a moment and share the good news that the heart has found a home!"

On the website's 'About' page, was a short, heartwarming story on how this wonderful project got started:

"The most random thing happened while vacationing in Nevada. Three sisters and our husbands took a day trip to Valley of Fire State Park. After an afternoon of hiking, exploring, and soaking in the beauty, we drove to Rainbow Vista. Being the only location in the park with cell phone service, we took this time to check in for our return flight.

"While the three sisters searched for cell service, the husbands searched a cave off in the distance. Following a deserted trail around the back side of the cave, the most incredible gift was found: a little quilted heart with a tag reading, 'I need a home.' Well, it certainly found a perfect home!

"We may never know who placed that quilted heart in the desert of Nevada, but we are thankful for that little heart. This beautiful little heart started a whole new purpose for us; blessing others with the same simple act of kindness."

i clicked around the site some more, trying to determine if there's a catch, a hidden agenda, an underlying motive, for this activity. Maybe there was something being sold, some kind of cause being espoused, a religious or political view being imposed. As best as I can tell, there was none. People are voluntarily doing this, with no thought of compensation, for the sake of sharing and spreading joy and love. The act of gift-giving a symbolic quilted heart is its own reward, with one simple but powerful message—a way to tell people: you are loved.

There's so much more fascinating information from the website—including how to participate, sewing instructions (of course!), how to report, and a whole bunch of ongoing amazing and joyful and hopeful and inspiring stories that this experience of serendipity has given to so many people.

And because I found one myself, I now feel quilted into this wonderfully random human experience. Imagine, on the very day of fulfilling one of my long-time and heartfelt wishes, of visiting the George Eastman Museum, a stranger's selfless act of kindness, care and love—an act from someone whom I may never ever know, an act from an angel—made a very special and extraordinary day even more special and so much more extraordinary, with a beautifully quilted heart. Anyone could have found and picked up that quilted heart, but that "anyone" happened to be me.

Christmas is still a long way off, though it's coming so quickly—but let me tell you that my family traditionally get-together at my sister Donna's beautiful house in Atlanta during the holidays. It is a special and meaningful time of celebration for us, not only because it's my birthday and my other sister's birthday (Susan), but because we want it to be an extraordinary and memorable and magical and meaningful season for my nephews and nieces both in the Phillipines and in the United States, particularly for the two youngest, William and Samantha.

Every year, as is the common practice in many homes, Donna and her husband Ed puts up a huge Christmas tree in their living room. What makes our Christmas tree special and unique to us is that it is decorated with many small objects that are particularly significant to members of our family. There are artfuly designed names, there are hand-made miniature frames of the kids with pictures taken at different times, there are souvenir items from places visited on vacations and family trips and memories of experiences through the years. When the tree is up and lit, we all take time to look at it, at each of the precious hanging objects decorating it, to cherish and reminisce our life experiences. Our Christmas tree is a beautiful memory tree.

Any of our family members can hang a decor or two every year if they so choose. And so, every year, one or two new personalized decor gets to be added, slowly replacing the store-bought ones. Last year, I added a German-made, wooden jumping jack toy to the tree which delighted William and Samantha. For me, this jumping jack toy represents my nephew and my niece's boundless energy. The kids themselves found a perfect spot on the tree to hang it. (I suspect they chose a place low enough for them to be able to reach it, and play with it.)

This year, because of the unexpected, beautiful blessing of finding a quilted heart on my visit to the George Eastman Museum, it would seem that Christmas came a bit too early for me. I will defintely hang it on my sister's Christmas tree the moment it's up! This year and every Christmas for years to come, with this precious gift of a quilted heart on the tree, I imagine I will point it out many, many times to William and Samantha, and to anyone else who'd care, and tell them the story over and over again of how, one magical day in Rochester, New York, I serendipitously found it, and how it made me very happy to give it a home—in our home, on our Chritmas tree, and in our hearts.

The mansion that George Eastman's Kodak built in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Dominique James) 

The mansion that George Eastman's Kodak built in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Dominique James) 

About, this blog ...


You might have heard it said more than once that there’s never been a better time to be a photographer than today. Countless fascinating developments in the field of photography are happening on so many fronts.

Many photography websites make it their mission to give you the latest news and information. Many photography print publications are vying for your readership. Many photography associations and organizations want you to join them. Many photography podcasts want you to subscribe and listen to them.

Understandably, getting a good sense of the state of photography today and keeping abreast of all developments can be time-consuming and quite confusing, which sadly, might not leave you with enough time to actually do photography.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with what’s going on. And like many, you are not alone in thinking that with the endless barrage of information, you might miss something important.

What’s more, from out of the different sources of information, it is mostly up you to figure out what’s really important and what’s not, and at the same time, to sort it all out.

You end up asking yourself all the time: Is this information useful? Is it helpful? How will it affect me and my photography?

In other words, whether you’re a professional photographer or a hobbyist, an industry insider or a casual observer, you know that it is increasingly becoming difficult to keep tabs on everything that’s important, relevant and essential in the field of photography, and, with all sorts of information to deal with, it is also becoming especially challenging to figure out the whys and wherefores of it all.

Well, that’s why I put up this blog.

Like you, I felt that it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with all things photography. More importantly, with so many competing and opposing voices out there, It’s sometimes difficult to make sense of it all.

For you and me, this blog, therefore, exists for two reasons:

First, to cull the essence of some of the most important news information out there on all things photography from many different reliable sources online so that there’s one, uncluttered place to get it.

And second, whenever warranted, to provide some kind of brief but insightful, guided commentary on what these might mean—to you and to me.

The way I see it, this is a great way to go right into the heart of the matter: to learn what’s important without spending an inordinate amount of time doing it; and to facilitate the process of thinking for ourselves what it might mean to you and me as photographers.

Now, just to be clear, while this blog will mostly deal with many of the latest news and information, this is not strictly a news coverage site. This blog is essentially a curation and a commentary of the many news and information in a way that will serve as a starting point in stimulating our thinking and shaping meaningful perceptions as we hopefully engage in and move the conversation forward inside and outside the business, social and creative aspects of photography.

As with everything else, photography does not exist in a vacuum. Photography, in itself, is already an amalgamation of many different things to begin with, and as time goes on, all sorts of other things converge to continually redefine it. This is why,  unsurprisingly, I also bring in many other things that are both directly and indirectly related to core photography.

Consider these topics that crop up every now and then as side dishes to the main entree. It is there to make the meal not just more filling but also more delicious and enjoyable.

It is only by the putting together bits and pieces here and there that we not only see the bigger picture, but we see with more focus and clarity, and in a way, to see things with proper perspective. I believe that this makes us grounded and rooted in our past, even as we deal with the moving targets of the present, of course, in order to meet the future of photography head-on.

So, that’s what this is all about. Check in with me every day, and together we'll check out what's going on in the wonderful world of photography. It will be amazing, I promise.