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

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

2) Back to Burma

 August 8, 2013: This land burned itself into my memory five years ago, when I first came here as a media guest. Myanmar was a heady blend of culture and beauty, the likes of which I had never seen. It was exotic and isolated, and in many ways untainted. Quite simply, I fell in love with this place.

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It took me some time, but I finally made it back. With my pregnant wife in tow, I eagerly got reacquainted with “The Golden Land”.  Myanmar was just as I remembered it – hot and dusty, and brimming with character. At the capital Yangon, we explored the same gilded temples, bustling streets and crumbling colonial buildings I had photographed before. We fed pigeons for good karma at Sule Paya, and greeted sundown at the Shwedagon Pagoda. A few days later in nearby Bago, we shot long lines of Buddhist monks and visited more temples. And we feasted on mohinga, khao hswe and laphet htoke.

 While admittedly we couldn’t go too far and wide (the old-school infrastructure wasn’t the best for babymooning), this whiff of supremely picturesque Burma was intoxicating enough for me. This was but a fleeting trip compared to my epic journey in ’08.

 But dammit I missed this place - and I was just happy (so very happy) to be back :)

And I will be back again – oh, yes I will be – when my PhotoTreks photography tour goes to Myanmar this September. Visit the PhotoTreks website for more details!




1) Why I Became A Photographer



June 17, 2013: Nimalung, Central Bhutan. The colors bewildered. The sights overwhelmed. Not in a long while have I been this fired up about taking pictures. The balconies were packed with people. Monks in their scarlet robes mingled with country folks clad in native attire. Policemen in ceremonial dress watched by the sidelines. All eyes were on the courtyard below, where masked dancers were commemorating the annual tsechu, a four-day festival held in honor of the Buddhist saint, Padmasambhava.


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My senses felt overloaded. There were simply too many things to cover. Panic threatened to set in. Amidst the humming dung chen horns, the spinning prayer wheels, the swirling dancers and the singing women, I struggled to keep my composure. “Remember your training. Think objectively. Shoot for a story”, I reminded myself. Eventually I found my rhythm and things fell into place. The story unfolded. Backstage and onstage, in the stands and at the village outside, my cameras documented this amazing display of Bhutanese culture.

Rarely do they come together, but on this day they were all here. The exotic, the picturesque, and the mind-blowing. The joy of discovery. To capture these all – that is why I became a photographer.

 


... and that is why I still am :) Can't wait to see what happens this year!


 
Posted By Lester V Ledesma

... glows at dusk, after maghrib prayers:

 

sultan


 
Posted By Lester V Ledesma

In a forward-looking, ultramodern city like Singapore, tradition can pop up in rather unlikely places:

 

Pop Up Temple


 


 
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