Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I guess I was in a bad mood yesterday. I just had to tell this guy to f*** off in my own way.
Dear Carlos Celdran,
P*** of the G*** I*** in Manila gave me your e-mail adress cause Iv got some questions about Manila. My name is M***, I m a photojournalist from Germany. At this moment im planing a new photoproject in Manila. Please read the following expose:

Exposé of the future project
Living spaces - The bat people of Manila
They are snidely called bat people. Their houses hang under the bridges from Manila. They are baskets which are hung on the concrete bridge and fixed by old ropes from the harbour. Most of the bat people are migrants from the villages of the Philippines. Like hundreds of thousands of others, they try to find a job without losing their dignity in the slums. They hope the bridge is just a temporay step towards the “real life”. However, the only job they can find is to clean lorries. They get paid 20 Pesos. At the moment, there are 900,000 day labourer in Manila who wrestle through life like this every day.

The bat people are depressing symbols of our times. Never was mankind richer and never was misery and hunger bigger than now. The results are well-known: Every day 100,000 people die because of hunger or its consequences. People migrate into the cities and slums are being established. According to UN calculations 3.35 billion people are going to live in cities in 2008. In 2050 it will be 6 billion people – or two thirds of humanity. Half of this number will live in slums.

With my photography I show, for many years now, people dealing with conflicts and existential problems. Through my work I want to enlighten and build a public awareness for people living in poverty and misery. I want to bring back the people and their living conditions into the public perception. For this I only will document what is actually there. I work with the instruments of the classical photo repotage. No staging of the situation should be performed. Next to the photographs I plan to interview the portrayed people. Later on, the interviews will appear as quotes to the photos or in the text belonging to the work.

I see this work as a building stone of a multipiece series about the human living space in our society. This work is connected with a former series, dealing with people trying to get out of the second-class society their own.

My Questions: Do you know this bridge? Are there still living people at this time? My information are from the last year.

Thank you so much for your help,

My reply:
Thank you for emailing. P***! Yes, wonderful lady. Actually, it won't be too hard to find "bat people" in Manila. Just along Quirino Street in Malate near the highway or under the Jones bridge and Quezon bridges in downtown, you will find several. But please don't take it personally if I refuse to take you there. It's not that I have personal reservations about the safety of the area. It's just that for the past few years, it seems that everytime I get a request from a western photojournalist to do a project on Manila, it's always about the slums and squatters and I am sick of it. It's as if the Philippines has nothing else to offer except poverty and social injustice and it's quite insulting to tell you the truth. For personal reasons, I do not wish to take part in another project that will only perpetuate the image of my country as "poor" and "pathetic". The picture of a child with flies in a Philippine slum is an old one and I yearn for the day when one thinks of the Philippines and that would NOT be the first image that would come to mind. For the past years, all the journalists who wished to show the "human" side of Manila and the heart wrenching poverty only succeeded in confirming our country as a "basket case" and a land of "horrors", leading to the loss of respect for our society (especially for those like me, who seek to improve it). I have always been so confused about why is it that the negative side of Manila is what a lot of photographers and journalists are interested in. My request to these people in the past to show a balanced picture of Manila (a good side, as well as a bad one), has always been met with confused stares. It's as if Philippine middle class values, arts, heritage, and beauty in the "normal" sense isn't beautiful to them or worse, it won't sell. To many, the Philippines has become the cliche/easy picking for the grotesque and I will not enjoin this cause. Once again, my apologies if I offended you or seem a little politicized or upset, but poverty and bat people is NOT ALL that we are about.


Nevertheless, I did send him a link to the remedios foundation, the organization that helps provide family planning services to the bat people who live under the C3 bridge in Tondo.

I mean, really, if this project wasn't just for personal work but for a charity, I would have given him a chance and not ragged on him so much. But if this guy isn't going to invest anything in our society other than the photographs he'll take, he is just carpetbagging for his own professional benefit. And I hate that.


Judes said...

Way to go Carlos! Your response took the words right out of my mouth. I am proud that you're a true pinoy, sa isip, sa puso, sa salita at gawa.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Carlos! And just as I was typing out this comment, National Public Radio (NPR) morning US news broadcast had a news story on Cemetery dwellers in the North cemetery. The quest to put forth a better Philippine image continues.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

good one, carlos!

remaking the image of our cities should really be a major public-private partnership project. (seems like all DOT wants to project are the island and beach scenes -not bad, but for all its faults, we do have a pretty cosmopolitan megacity.)

we could start by asking the news media to use better panoramic shots and wide angle pans of the city skylines in their OBBs and CBBs.


Sidney said...

I still disagree with you on that Carlos (we discussed this already in the past). Every day, while walking in Metro Manila, I am confronted with the plight of the poor. Street children are alas a common sight in many parts of Manila. Not in the ghettos of the rich and the superrich. You will not find them in Greenbelt, in Fort Bonifacio, in Forbes Park and in Ayala Alabang Village. I am sure some people manage to avoid the poor people altogether. They probably never see them. The middle class is confronted with them all the time but some might decide to “not see”.

I guess many people would like to hide those poor people behind more and higher walls or relocate them all together as far as possible. Mindanao might be a good place…

There is a wonderful picture on Scott L Kho’ blog (“How can you pretend not to see what is right before your eyes?”) at

Carlos, we photographers have a social responsibility. You can’t expect from us to close our eyes. Believe it or not but all those street children are haunting my nights. I will never stop showing the pictures of those beggars and street kids as long as I see them all around me. I guess some people might say that I should better go home and watch my own business…

I would like to quote Elie Wiesel:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference”.

Sorry Carlos. No hard feelings. I hope you know that.

Sidney said...

But to annoy you even more Carlos ;-) I might soon publish a series on my blog about the "lost children of Manila".

Ryan Salvanera said...

I am going to side with Carlos on this one. I understand what Sidney is saying about social responsibility (though I am not a photographer).

However, I do not think Carlos was talking about ignoring his social responsibility as he did mention showing a balanced picture of Manila.

I believe it is not about turning a blind eye to reality but trying to look at the positive things in order to slowly go beyond that reality.

Just my two cents...

Nick said...

Sidney.. Yes, there are still homeless people, street children and probably the "bat people" as they call it.

But times have changed and these kind of problems are already being addressed by different sectors of our society. Gawad Kalinga for example is spreading like a wildfire all over metro manila and help from different countries are pouring in. Instead of focusing on pictures of desperate people & showing the sad side of our country, maybe you could show how these people are being transformed by these kind of programs.

As a photographer, I agree that we do have to show the truth (Like people don't know we have this kind of situation already?) . But instead of pictures that show despair, I prefer showing pictures that tells my audience how they can help. One that depicts HOPE and lets the viewer see and feel that he can do something.

I honor Carlos that he wants to show the beauty and tell the history of the Philippines. These remarkably change the perceptions of people about our country, even to Filipinos like us. I believe these kind of works HELP our country.

If you think taking pictures of Lost Children of Manila can help the country, go ahead. But show how people can help these kids rather than exploit emotions, because I do think this is what people need more. SOLUTIONS not PROBLEMS.

carlosceldran said...

Sidney. Of course no hard feelings. But you live here. Judging by your dreams and nightmares, YOU HAVE INVESTED in our society (not financially, but emotionally, etc)... You are not carpetbagging for your own portfolio.

And I am not saying hide anything behind any walls. why the hell would I want that? I want less walls in Manila remember? To show ONLY the good areas would be terribly one sided again. I said I want a BALANCED picture.

Cmon Sidney, do you think that the Philippines is more than just our slums? Or Don't you?

Actually, the problem with the Philippines is that we do not promote our positive side. Our government stopped promoting our arts and heritage abroad,(they just promote beaches) so our cultural identity is left up to market forces. Or up to whatever CNN or somebody like M*** wants to think of us.

Look at Thailand, they have violence in the south, they have coup d' etats, they have corruption and "lost" street children too. They are great at marketing their culture, so the world does not thinl of them ONLY as such.

I hope you get my point now, Sidney.

cvs said...

Tama nga. Don't exploit emotions. Present solutions. Sidney, publishing a book on the "Lost Children" will benefit whom the most? Your career or the street children?

Sidney said...

Carlos, I thank you for your additional comment. You are doing a wonderful job in promoting the Philippines. I just reacted because I found you were quite harsh on this German photographer. I don’t know his motivation but from his email he looks quite honest.

I quote him: “With my photography I show, for many years now, people dealing with conflicts and existential problems. Through my work I want to enlighten and build a public awareness for people living in poverty and misery. I want to bring back the people and their living conditions into the public perception. For this I only will document what is actually there. I work with the instruments of the classical photo reportage. No staging of the situation should be performed.”

I don’t see anything wrong in this. Maybe he did similar series in other countries of the world, probably even in Germany. As you rightly point out the Philippines are not the only country with poor people.

Not many photographers are getting rich from their trade and surely not the photojournalists who are covering wars, poverty and disasters. Of course all photographers hope and want that their work will be recognized by their peers and the public but ask photojournalists about their motivations and not many will say fame and money. As an example, I want to quote Filipino photographer Derek Soriano: “I just happen to be there, there’s a story to be told. That’s why it is called media-it passes through me, I pass it on, and it’s the story that’s coming through. It’s not about you [as photographer], it’s about the subject matter - it’s so much more important than yourself.”
Or as Paolo Picones, another Filipino photographer expresses it. “I wanted to have change. But I’ve learned my lesson from the photographers I’ve spoken to. Photography can make a change, but if you make that your goal you’re not likely to have much effect by yourself. Now I just believe that I want to do what I want to do, to tell stories, to show people what I saw – to document the things we’re passive about.”

wendy said...

I'm with you on this one, Carlos. I lived in California for 15 years and NOT ONCE did I ever see Manila or the Philippines depicted in a balanced manner. The romance of its slums, its Smoky Mountain, its mudslides, its children in rags-- that's what sells, I guess.

I went off on some guy in a travel forum because he says he felt "humbled" as he shot photos of happy children in the slums of Tondo. Humbled? One is humbled in the face of greatness, not misery. This false sense of humility makes me want to slap some sense into every well-intentioned ignoramus.

Maryanne Moll said...

I've never really thought about this issue before, but now, I can say, "Oo nga."

The Philippines has so many facets -- much like any other country in Asia -- and it's unfair to just keep portraying over and over again just one aspect of this country in photographs. It's like saying "Philippine history" and thinking only "the Spanish Occupation." Or saying "Philippine cooking" and thinking only "Pampangueno food."

We are never just one thing. We should not settle to be portrayed as just one thing.

In other words, I agree with Carlos on this.

On the other hand, balance is a tricky thing. There is no such thing as perfect balance and perfect objectivity -- it's just not in human nature. But we can at least try. Besides, the dirty street urchins photos have already been done to death. We might as well lead these foreign photographers -- who perhaps have sincere purposes but who have not had time to know the Philippines sufficiently yet -- to something they have never seen before.

Jego said...

Lest we forget, carlos did point the German photog in the direction of people who could help him. He didnt brush him off.

Mr. Celdran, konti na lang, hero na talaga kita.

acidboy said...

Speaking of which, I just watched a report by Marga Ortigas about families living in the cemetery on Al-Jazeera news. Sad, true, poignant, and yet exploitive. The news is the government wants these people out of there so they can improve their lives, the report was about people who are so down they sleep with the dead for a dollars.

Great journalism, Miss Ortigas!

acidboy said...

"for a few dollars" dapat yan. Sorry.

Jeannie Hizon said...

hi Carlos, perhaps he or she can write about the work that Gawad Kalinga is doing for the poor.


carlosceldran said...

Yes, Gawad Kalinga is a good example of the good changes that are happening.

But this is also a challenge for GK. The day they succeed is the day the world stops equating us with images of slums and poverty.

Speaking of which. I wish GK would do their magic in Intramuros. Too many slums in our premier heritage/tourism sites...

Mark said...

I understand your frustration Carlos , but the reality is that your elected officials do nothing . And the Filipino people continue to elect the same political drones . Thats where the change must come from and at the level it must occur dont rag on foreigners that see injustice or want to visit your beautiful country .come to my country and I'll show you the bad side too .

Anonymous said...

It seems it's been this way since the last days of the Spanish era or after they had left. Wars, destruction and bad press as sabotage. It all boils down to one thing...


viva las filipinas!!! God bless you all mabuhay


Jayred said...

Hi! Got here from Sidney's Sari Sari Store blog where he mentioned something about this issue.

I agree with you 100 percent! Way to go.

I'd like to paste here what I wrote in Sidney's comments box:

"In this particular issue, I have to agree with Carlos Celdran -- I have yet to visit his blog to read the comment thread there -- and not because I'm a Filipino.

While I do get your point that photojournalists have a social responsibility to fulfill (I used to be a photojournalist), it must be said that Carlos made a valid observation that the Western media focus so much on the poverty situation in the Philippines.

There was one German photographer whom I met in Makati years ago. He was always in Payatas taking photos of the young and old scavengers there. And then he would sell his photos in Germany (apparently, this type of photos was/is a hit there).

Here in Switzerland, I saw some photo exhibits by Swiss photographers showing the streetchildren in Manila, orphans in Mindanao, the slums, and all sorts of images that depict Philippine poverty at its best. It seems to be the favorite subject among the Western photogaphers.

This kind of photojournalism is NOT balanced. It doesn't give non-Filipinos, those who have nary an idea what the Philippines is or has to offer, the whole picture. There's more to the Philippines than the poor and hungry in the squatter areas, the people along the "riles", the beggars on the streets, etc.

But I know that showing pics of shopping districts or tall buildings can be "boring" to the Western media. Not exotic enough for their taste. Images showing progress or development are just plain unexciting, period.

So, I know where Carlos Celdran is coming from. And I'm glad he said "no" in a diplomatic way to this German photojournalist. It's about time!



When I met some Swiss charity people who have been using these overused poverty images of my countrymen for fundraising purposes, they treated me like dirt. One even said in a condescending way. "The thing we do's for YOU. YOU are from this country. We are helping YOU. These are your people." She even said, "You're definitely Filipino. You certainly don't look Swiss! (then she laughed in a mocking way)" There was even an insinuation that I married a Swiss for economical reasons. (I did not.)

I'm not saying that poverty photos are bad per se -- no, not at all. However, there should be a BALANCED visual and textual presentation of my country. Photojournalists have that moral and social responsibility to show the whole picture in any given situation."

andy said...

Germans are weird

Anonymous said...

Sidney said: Mindanao might be a good place…

What would make Mindanao a good place? Kindly explain


snarky brewster said...

carlos is right. especially if the journalist is a german. you know those pervy krauts get off looking at photos of poor, thin, scantily dressed asians -- germans stroke their turgid vienna sausages while viewing such stories. it's poverty porn. remember, "schadenfreude" is a german loan word!

patrickg said...

Just a thought ... the old newsroom rule, "if it bleeds, it leads" seems to apply here. Shocking images of people living under bridges sells.

iben said...

Hi Carlos,

Your site is interesting and gives lots of insights. I appreciate reading your stories: I think they're interesting, funny and refreshing. But I wanted to comment on this particular post, as well as to all people who agreed with you so strongly (some quite offensively, I must say - minus the comments by Sidney).

I will leave the motivations of the German photographer open - there's indeed something to say about people making a buck of other people's misery, especially if the images produced don't have an impact for the common good. But I can't tell from a letter - so a quick judgement over motivations would be a bit misplaced, I think, despite anger.

But what equally, if not more, disturbes me is your response (and that of fellow Pinoys at this blog). There is a pinch of elitism in your answer, perhaps fused with insecurity, that I find almost formulaic in its condescension.

I personally think that caution should be taken when you decide to represent people who in many ways might or (most likely) might not at all have anything in common with you other than place of birth, taxes and language (and the latter might not even be the case - when I was in the Quiapo mosque last year, I was happy to find most refugees from Lanau conversing in Arabic).

By telling foreigners to fuck off because you claim the responsibility to decide what should or should not be 'marketed' as the cultural image of the Philippines (whether through market forces or other), you're representing the voices of others. If it happens without consent - you're basically taking away voices. That's condescending.

But perhaps you think that people living under a bridge agree with you that the cultural image of the Philippines in other countries should not be dominated by images of grinding poverty - frankly, I have the feeling that many wouldn't give a shit. I could be totally wrong.

If you identify strongly with one particular national identity, does it allow you to claim some sort of ownership over people (i.e. the right to represent others) within that nation's territorial boundaries who have less means to raise their voices?

My guess is that if you'd ask an Isuruken, Tausug, Direyaan or a Teduray to dress in traditional clothing for one of your photographs to include in the cultural image of the Philippines, you'd be told to fuck off.

Or would you now?

ps. I am not attacking you or anything, I am just raising questions here....

Anonymous said...

If a "balanced" picture of Manila is needed, and considering the possibility that most places are depressed and most people are poor, then most photos should depict poverty.

Rick said...

Both sides here -- if I can call them sides -- want to change things for the better. Carlos wants to emphasize the positive -- not to ignore the negative, but to slowly replace it by nurturing pride, tourism, development. The photographer wants to show that negative view that many of us choose to ignore (and I don't mean you, Carlos). By giving voice to the global poor, he hopes to encourage action.

I can see how the two approaches might conflict -- they involve different focuses and sensibilities. But both approaches can be useful, right?

As a Filipino American, I'd like to know how to practice responsible tourism. Where does my money go? If I visit Fort Santiago, does my money have any effect on the lives of the street kids I saw just around the block? When I visit Panglao, does my stay at X Bungalows help support the long-term welfare of people that live there, or does it only chip away at the delicate natural environment of their island?

Regarding images of poverty, I think those of us who grew up in the "first world" are drawn to them because: 1) they are novel 2) they make us feel privileged 3) they make us feel guilty.
Unfortunately, they are rarely presented with solutions.

Maybe I overestimate people, but I think only the most insensitive visitors, faced with the view of a squatter town, would come away with a feeling of "what a pathetic country." Many would want to know what they can do to help. As a visitor, I'd never heard of Gawad Kalinga before now. Truly positive and hopeful. More visitors, more photojournalists, should know about organizations like that.

StrayDog said...

excerpted from iben:

"If you identify strongly with one particular national identity, does it allow you to claim some sort of ownership over people (i.e. the right to represent others) within that nation's territorial boundaries who have less means to raise their voices?"

While it's fine that you gave the benefit of the doubt to the German Photographer's motivations, I don't think it was very fair of you to have denied the same to Carlos.

Carlos merely said "...I do not wish to take part..." and NOT "I do not wish for you to do this at all".

To me, this does not at all express (implicitly or explicitly) that he wishes to silence everyone who wishes to do a feature on the grotesqueries of Manila. And it's less even about censoring those who wish to photograph such images.

All it's saying is that he will not be a part of something which could very well propagate an image with which he feels is unbalanced. And as such, he has made the conscious decision not to take part. His choice.

Besides, you're making it sound as if assisting this photographer was some duty Carlos should never turn his back on!

The photographer requested assistance, and it was denied due to some personal reservations.

Plain and simple.

carlosceldran said...

Thank you stray dog.

But as Iben said, he just wants to raise questions. And for that part of the letter, I think that is fair enough.

It's this part that kinda got to me:

"There is a pinch of elitism in your answer, perhaps fused with insecurity, that I find almost formulaic in its condescension."

But I won't say anything na. :o)

Cheers to you all.

StrayDog said...

Excerpted from what I said:

"To me, this does not at all express (implicitly or explicitly) that he wishes to silence everyone who wishes to do a feature on the grotesqueries of Manila."

Should have been:

...this does not at all express... that he wishes to silence the voices of those that the photographer wanted to feature..

Iben said...

Thanks for clarifying your point, StrayDog, I understand your position on what I wrote. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough in the way I communicated - Let me know if I am doing the same in interpreting the response to your post.

Again, I am raising questions here, with the intent to do more self-reflecting, rather than pointing fingers (ditto re my strong words Carlos, more on that below).

I am not sure if I agree with your on what you think is giving the benefit of the doubt to the German photographer while not extending it to Carlos. It's not a matter of giving the benefit of the doubt to anyone. I am skeptical of both, and I am responding to Carlos’ post and the reasons he disclosed of why he told the photographer to ‘f*** off in his own way’. I wasn’t responding to his choice to not take part.

Dito for the point you made re me sounding as if assisting the photographer was some duty Carlos should never turn his back on. Again, I respond to the way it happened and the motivations behind it, not discussing the matter of choice.

As for references to Carlos’ intent in expressing (implicitly or explicitly) the wish to silence anyone, I don’t think there were any – I instead wanted to focus on the reasons for his reactions that disclose something deeper, something that’s not always tangible.

And this is why I used the word formulaic, Carlos, to zoom in on something that’s underlying the way you reacted. I am not pointing fingers at you, I am observing something I have seen more often than once (usually not coming from people living under a bridge) and want to discuss this.

It’s hard to track the influences that make us react to things in certain ways. What are the influences that make you prioritize a national image? Why would these priorities shift, if they indeed do, depending on the person you’re talking to?

Annie said...

I am a Filipino and proud to be one. Ive lived my whole life in Manila and im loving it. I wish people will see how Beautiful Manila is. Until now, I appreciate Binondo, Quiapo and Intramuros. Ive made a pledge to myself to tour around the Philippines first before touring any country.