BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dreams (And Nightmares)

The mother kept the moon in her belly. She had five secret children, she would later reveal, non-chalantly, as if talking about the weather, 16-degrees cold as the thermometer read.

Three boys and two girls, on top of the other five. To whom would she give the moon? To one of the five secret offsprings, she said.

What would she do with the moon in her belly? I wondered, deep in thoughts. The task is to give it to the most deserving child, she said. The one she loves the most. Yet, she said in a whisper one quiet morning, with doors locked and windows shut, there would be no love child; no other family.

And that the moon would be for the original five, each with a slice of the round, crimson ball. This is the mother who kept the moon in her belly, along with well-kept secrets of her quiet, perfect life.

January 26. Heartbreak Hill.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Covering the Power Rate Hike

It's been several weeks of stressful coverage of the power rate hike. (Christmas and New Year included!) And still counting. As the issue drags on, lobbyists, spin doctors and paid hacks are revealing themselves, wittingly or unwittingly. 

It's inevitable given that billions in profits and jobs are on the line. Almost everyone has an agenda, inevitably clouding the truth. What really happened? Why did electricity rates double in December, a very cold month when demand is supposed to be low.

Everyone's denying responsibility. Nobody's at fault. The blame game goes on and on. It's like I'm watching a tele-drama unfolding live by the minute, with all its twists and turns. 

Watching yesterday's Senate hearing for instance, raised more questions than answers. Why, for instance, did Senator Sergio Osmena III open the hearing with an obvious agenda about the Malaya plant? 

Where did he get the computation and why couldn't he show it when asked? Who lobbied for it? Why did he keep pointing at PSALM? And NOT a question on power producers? The committee is supposed to be checking alleged collusion among power sellers, right?

I'd love to know.  Meanwhile, I'm stuck covering this issue. The zarzuela continues.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On Photography (Or When the Ego Fails)

There was a time, many moons ago, when I wanted to become a photographer. Because I read Shutterbabe. Because I wanted to be one of them -- Godlike men and women who struck me as interesting, always out there on the front lines, the sole bearer of graphic truths.  Because I thought it was well, cute. And amazing. Enigmatic. Awesome, even. Sexy, too. Rock star-ish, somewhat. 

And so I tried. I've bought a total of five cameras, not the point and shoot kind but the "professional" ones. 

I wanted to be known as a photographer. I wanted this: "Iris Gonzales is a Manila-based writer and photographer." And this, too: "Text and photos by Iris Gonzales." 

And so I studied. I attended lectures and was wowed by God's Gifts to Photojournalism. I went to places and took photos. I captured poverty and dirt and many things that make this country a God-forsaken one. 

And then one day, it hit me right smack on the face. 

I saw for the first time how it was done and how it should be done. The right way. You don't fake it. You don't re-enact an event that happened a second ago. You don't shoot to feel sexy. Or stunning. Or simply because it's cute. You don't need dozens of lenses and show them off as if they're extensions of your penis. Or substitutes if you're lacking down there. 

The way it's done, as I saw from professionals, is that you put everything you've got for a photograph -- tears, sweat and blood. You don't fake it even if it means being out-scooped. You don't re-enact, even if it means not having a photograph at all. You don't photoshop so that night becomes day or dawn becomes night. You don't do poverty porn or disaster porn. And you don't steal photos for a trip to Chile or for anything else.

And needless to say, you put value in your work. You don't take peanuts for a five-point by-line and be exploited by magazine publishers who care not about the craft but the money that your work would churn in for them. You don't nose-dive for an assignment because you're not only pulling down your dignity (which should be okay if you only harm yourself). You wittingly or unwittingly drag down a whole universe of self-respecting and passionate photographers as well. So if you feel your work isn't good enough for you to ask for a fair price, then it probably isn't so go venture into something else that is and leave the space for the real ones. 

This is not to say that only God-likes can be photographers. Some of them break their own rules, too. And they're not exactly the best species -- oh so very, very complicated individuals who remember the latest camera models more than they would remember your birthdays. Or even what you just said a minute ago. Try traveling with them to another country and they will wander for hours on end for that perfect photograph. They would only remember that they were actually traveling with someone, hours later, when their batteries are dead. 

They will come on time for a shoot but never for a date. And when you're stuck in a sinking life boat with a photographer, don't count on him saving a stranger like you. He would grab his camera first and once all his gadgets are secured, maybe that's the only time he would remember you, if he remembers at all. Unless of course, you're Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt is not around. 

But they are who they are. 

And you, you just have to be in it for the right reasons. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

And So It Is

It was written in the stars that 2013 would be a good year but really, I didn't expect it to be such a blast. And so despite the tragedy that struck Visayas in the latter part of the year (affecting our helper's family back in the province), I still would like to thank the universe for giving me a good year as I look forward to an equally stellar 2014.

There's just too many to mention but I'll sum it up in three words -- love, friendship and travels.

In March, I saw the sun rising in the sand-covered streets of Doha, my first time to ever set foot on a Middle Eastern country, beyond an airport's transit lounge. You can read my Doha journal here:

In August, I was lucky enough to be part of a regional integration workshop in Yangon, Myanmar, visited by the love while I was there and at the same time, meeting a new friend and fellow pilgrim, Joyce.

Indeed, Jes and I were on the road again, this time in the Golden Land, yet another stop in our lifelong journey between the heart of an enigmatic young boy and a paradise of a beach called Puka. Read here our notes from the road.

In October, I took home an award from EJAP. Thank you, EJAP. It was quite a fine moment. Here are scenes from the awards night.

One weekend, while I was on vacation, the little girl and I escaped to the land of Tom Yum. As always, it was another mother-daughter trip filled with endless laughter, hugs, kisses and our favorite past time, massage.

In November, after more than twenty years, I was privileged, happy and honored to be back in Tokyo, Japan. It was magic to fall in love with Tokyo all over again, just watching the bright autumn leaves blown away by the chilly breeze.

But how I can talk about Tokyo without mentioning the DAJA Awards, the very reason that brought me there? It was a whole new world of learning, mostly about regional integration and trade commitments. Thank you, DAJA for the award. Here are the scenes from the DAJA 2013 Awards.

December was perfect for Donna's perfect wedding. Expect Donna to have such a grand wedding and nothing less. 

It was also a year of rekindling friendships. I lost some best friends as we all continued on toward the rest of our lives. It's been sad but I also made new ones and rekindled ties with my come-backing Hong Kong expatriate sister, the one and only adventurer and my dear Collegian buddies. Thank you to friends, my Philippine Star family and dearest ones.

And so it is, thank you universe for a kick-ass year. It's been a fabulous 2013. Have a great year ahead to my invisible readers.