This online shoebox contains random pictures, notes, whatever. I've been a professional writer-photographer for so many years now. It's a damn good excuse to carry a camera around.

Posted By Lester V Ledesma

This Malaccan old timer looks positively dapper :)

Dapper
 


 
Posted By Lester V Ledesma

8) What’s in Basilan?

January 22, 2013: “Is there someone waiting for you at the pier?” a smiling passenger asked. The question, however innocent, sounded strangely foreboding. We were on a ferry en route to Basilan –the fabled hometown of the terrorist group, the Abu Sayyaf – where (the locals joked) an “extended holiday” could easily cost a million dollars. Thankfully our contact met us at the dock. With a hint of dread lingering in my mind, my companions and I set out to explore this notorious isle.

 

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The capital, Isabela, felt just like any other Mindanao town. At the market, porters looked at my cameras with suspicion at first, but then later lined up to have their Facebook pics taken. A laughing burkha-clad lady served us coffee at a carinderia. Further inland (past the army checkpoints), we photographed local kids at a waterfall, and rubber harvesters on the job. My last taste of Basilan was at a pristine beach called Malamawi, where we kicked back on bamboo benches with a squad of Marines. No gunfire, no kidnappers – this was just a day well-spent.

 

7) Malacca at Dawn

May 18, 2013: The problem with the heritage city of Melaka was that it became too busy at times. Sure, it’s got those lovingly preserved buildings along its narrow walkways, but all too often the nostalgia was lost in the massive crush of weekend visitors. I had an idea though: go out early to shoot these streets, after the night markets have packed up and all those funny tourists have gone to bed.

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The neighborhood was quiet at 4AM, with only haze keeping me company as I sauntered down the avenues. Jonker street was deserted, with nothing at all – neither cars nor people – on the pavement. The antique shophouses basked in the warm light of streetlamps. Chinese lanterns adorned their facades, the paper spheres adding hints of red to the timeless scene before me. An old man on a rusty bike pedaled by, and I was brought back in time. There it was; the Malacca of old, no longer obscured.

 Want to know more about Melaka? Check out my article, A Malacca Memoir


 
Posted By Lester V Ledesma

6) Praying with Pain

 

March 29, 2013: I’ve photographed it many times, but this ritual has never failed to move me. There I was in the middle middle of a ricefield in the sweltering summer heat, watching as a fleet of faceless, shirtless men prepared to hurt themselves. This was Good Friday in Calumpit, Bulacan; a day when many residents of this town performed the age-old practice of self-flagellation.

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Close to noon, the field became a sea of writhing bodies. Drops of blood filled the air, accompanied by the sickening crunch of wooden burillo whips hitting flesh. Some of the men lay on the ground and outstetched their arms to form bizarre human crosses. They, too, were whipped by fellow devotees. This army of penitents then marched off the paddies and into the main street. They headed to church - where God, grace and forgiveness awaited.


This event is truly spectacular, and the National Geographic’s photo-editors seem to agree – one of my penitensya photos made it to NatGeo’s Best of the Week.

 

5) The Nine Emperor Gods Festival

September 26, 2013: Taken from my article on CNN Travel:

“Come the ninth lunar month, while the rest of this island gets on with modern life, a little-known ritual unfolds in a corner of Singapore. The Nine Emperor Gods Festival may not be the biggest occasion in these parts, but it sure is met with almost fanatical devotion by members of the Jiu Wang Yeh Taoist sect. As its very name suggests, this pious party revolves around some heavyweight VIP's. The Nine Emperor Gods are said to be heavenly beings who possess great influence over earthly matters. History states the festival was long practiced in Southern China, before early Hokkien immigrants brought it over to colonial-era Singapore. “

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“These days, little has changed in the way this event is observed. The center of the action is at the Kiu Ong Yiah Temple, along Upper Serangoon Road. Here amidst a carnival-like atmosphere of dragon dances and Chinese opera performances, devotees take turns carrying the “sedans” – shoulder-held shrines bearing an emperor god. The celebration reaches its peak on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. Accompanied by cheering and furious drumbeats, the sedans are paraded around and swung vigorously to honor their godly occupants. This is revelry fit for nine kings, they say – with psychic rewards that are well worth the happy efforts.”
 
The 9EG is only one of the many unusual celebrations in multi-cultural Singapore. Check out other, similarly intense events here.


 
Posted By Lester V Ledesma

Melaka, 2013 - A cargo man pushes his horse onward to the delivery point:

 

Workhorse


 
Posted By Lester V Ledesma

#6) Street Photography With Luis

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September 15, Malaysia: Whenever I hold a camera I have a story and a theme, sometimes even a layout in my mind's eye. Call it a professional habit, something I have cultivated in my fourteen years as a travel photographer. So imagine the internal retooling when photojournalist Luis Liwanag joined me as a guest speaker in PhotoTreks: Malaysia. This veteran lensman was renown for his evocative street photography, a shoot-first-think-later style of shooting that captured fleeting moments in everyday life.

 

It was a method of madness that contrasted my own, and from the start it was clear there was much to learn. Where I would approach a situation thoughtfully, my counterpart would wade in with cameras blazing, sometimes inches away from his unsuspecting subjects. And when I would stop to "art direct" my quarry, he would hide in plain sight, snapping away to reveal an instant of whimsy, or joy, or intrigue. Later on I switched gears, and did as the man did. No stories or layouts, just a heightened sense of awareness for anything interesting ("kung anu-ano lang" was how he described it). Damn it was challenging. And fun. And liberating. There's a select handful of photographers whose work truly inspire me. This guy is one of them.

#5) The Long Lost Hometown

Best05

October 22, Philippines: It was just another fiesta in a career spent shooting fiestas for a living. But this visit was personal, and we had much, much more than photo-coverage in our heads.

 

We had come to Bacolod to shoot the annual Masskara Festival, and to reconnect with a city I used to visit as a child. This, you see, was my late father's hometown - a fact that was driven home (pardon the pun) by the numerous streets, buildings and grand old houses bearing my family's name. In another place we would have been strangers; here we were greeted by relatives I hadn't seen in years. And for five days we lived the Bacolodnon lifestyle (basically eat, party and drink lots of beer...) while I tried to shake the dust off my long-unused Ilonggo. Sure, we'd occasionally go out to shoot fiesta dancers on the street. But as my girlfriend Joanne said at one point: "para kang taga rito!" ("you're like a local here"). Going home was the real attraction here - the Masskara was just an excuse.


 


 
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