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Posted By Lester V Ledesma
Can't believe I haven't updated my blog for this long. Now that work has settled down a bit, I can sit down and ponder the year that was. Yeah I know its a bit late, but experiences like these deserve to be told :)

So here's my best of 2010:


#10) THE SINGAPORE AIRSHOW

There are few things as moving as an F-16 on full afterburners making a low pass over the ground. It rattles your ears and numbs your brain - and that's just the sound you're hearing. You look up and see that familiar silhouette twisting and turning amongst the clouds. It's a thing of beauty; a thing of power. That airshow turned me into a kid again, and I went home dreaming of sitting in that cockpit - and blowing things up :P

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#9) PINDACARA IN SUKHOTHAI

Sunrise in Thailand is always met by a legion of Buddhist monks begging for alms - its their way of sustaining themselves after vowing to live a life of poverty. Though I have photographed this tradition many times before, this silent line of bareheaded, orange-robed individuals never fails to fascinate me. In the city of Sukhothai, in Thailand's central plains, I woke up early in the morning to capture the serenity, the spirituality, the timelessness of the pindacara ritual.

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#8) THE FEAST OF THE BLACK NAZARENE

Sure, the spectacle of thousands of men clawing their way through a crowd to touch a sacred statue is indeed a joy to photograph. In fact, shutterbugs throughout Manila all flock to Quiapo every 9th of January to capture this bizarre event. To the older photographers, however, the Feast of the Black Nazarene is more than just a photo-op. It's a reunion of sorts, where bros from the same circle get to meet and talk shop and catch up with each other.

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Usually this happens on some high-up position overlooking the procession route - this year it was the waiting shed at the mouth of Quezon Bridge. While waiting for the Nazareno to arrive, I shot the breeze with photographers Veejay VIllafranca, Luis Liwanag and Jake Versoza. Across the road was Chito Cleofas and George Tapan, among others.

Photographer Val Rodriguez must have been up there too, because the next day, he put us all on the front page of The Philippine Star


#7) THE DANCING FA'S OF CEBU PACIFIC AIRWAYS

These are the dancing stars of that viral video that swept through the internet last year.

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The may be all good-looking, but none of them were models. Yet they projected like pros, and they exuded the confidence of movie stars. And none of them showed any prima-donna attitudes during our Cebu Smile Magazine cover shoot, which we did in Manila with photographers Nikolai and Caroline. The 10-hour shoot was grueling, but they breezed through it with bright smiles and uncanny stamina - even after dancing their now-famous "safety dance" a dozen times over on an airplane reserved just for us.

Click here to see the result of that shoot.


 
Posted By Lester V Ledesma
#6) THE OLD DOGS OF BALER

I can't believe I did this for work - get drunk on untold shots of Ginebra while interviewing these guys. They're the surfing legends of Baler - possibly the country's first local surfers. On assignment for Smile Magazine, I met up with them to hear their stories on how surfing got started in this town. They told me all about it, of course, with equal parts exaggeration and swagger.

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More importantly, they confirmed that long-standing rumor about Baler's first surfboard: yes, it was that single-finned longboard left behind by film crew of that classic war movie, Apocalypse Now.


#5) HANGING WITH JC

I always try to be back in the Philippines every Holy Week - it's an immensely interesting time when age-old traditions rule. In 2010, I covered the Makati Senakulo for the second straight year. This was the biblical story of salvation, presented onstage in all its folksy glory. That week, from 9PM till midnight, the back-alleys of Evangelista came alive with the sounds of the tagulaylay and the ablada - lines spoken in very old Tagalog. Backstage was a community event, with visitors arriving to offer food and greetings to the actors. Despite the curtain calls, no character was too busy to stop for a quick chit-chat and photo-op with a guest.

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And yeah, I got to share a cigarette with the main man himself :)


#4) NIGHT OF THE OGOH OGOH

I was in Java, not Bali, yet on this eve of Nyepi the sights, the sounds and smells around me were distinctly Balinese. This was the night before the HIndu new year, a time to erase all past misdeeds and renew oneself for the coming year. The locals did this with the help of the ogoh ogoh - a monstrous effigy that symbolized all the evil deeds done in the past year.

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At sundown the ritual began. Guided by fire breathers and shrieking villagers, the ogoh ogoh was paraded around the streets. At every crossing it was wildly spun around in an effort to confuse it and keep it from coming back. Somewhere in front, a gamelan troupe furiously played its brass percussions. At the back, the village women sang hymns in Balinese.

The night ended with the ogoh ogoh in flames. All evil deeds were erased. For these villagers, the new year started with a clean slate.


 
Posted By Lester V Ledesma
#3) SLEEPY, FRIENDLY LAOS

An excerpt from my article in Asian Photography Magazine:

"Just before I enter town, I spot a group of monks resting under a tree. The scene is so pretty that I slam on the brakes, and quickly approach them with my camera to take a few frames. These orange-robed, bare-headed guys must be amused by my presence, but they simply smile while I take their picture. Afterwards, we chat a bit and - believe it or not - exchange Facebook accounts. It is well past sundown when I finally reach my hotel. I may be tired and hungry but I don't mind one bit, for I am totally enchanted by this land and its people."

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#2) COFFEE PICKING IN NORTHERN THAILAND

This was a dream assignment from Fah Thai Magazine: to traverse to the mountains of northern Thailand to cover this country's growing coffee industry. For almost a week I barrelled down dirt roads on a 4x4 with my guide Scott, photographing this crop's fascinating journey from the plantation to the cup. At Doi Chaang we saw Lissu coffee pickers at work on fields blooming with bright red Arabica cherries. In Doi Mae Salong we trekked through tea plantations and interviewed farmers who descended from lost Kuomintang armies.

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And of course, there was the coffee itself - sweet, full-bodied and smoky, with hints of berries and brown sugar. Made by Akha ladies who poured cappucinos with picture-perfect latte art, in wifi-enabled huts in the middle of nowhere. Screw blue mountain - coffee heaven is right here in Southeast Asia.


#1) MAYON FROM ON HIGH

Excerpts from my article in Cebu Smile Magazine:

"Of all the ways to see the Albay countryside, the bird’s eye view has got to be the most exhilarating. Imagine being strapped to your seat beside a wide open window, with a spinning propeller above you and all of creation underneath. A helicopter ride offers that rare chance to see God’s perspective on things."

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"This being the land of Mayon, one can easily guess where the flight path often leads. There are no long-winded pre-flight rituals on this trip. You just get on the aircraft, warm up the engine and go. From the helipad at Legazpi, your pilot heads to the volcano’s base and then up the mountain, till you're face to face with Lady Mayon herself. From above, the verdant greens show the scars of centuries of lava flows. The scorched earth seems to get blacker, the volcanic moonscape more sinister. Then there is the crater itself, its ashen surface blanketed with moisture and sulphur fumes. This is shock and awe at 8,000ft."




 

 

 
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