In a time where the image is considered an absolute supreme, these young photographers are breaking the barriers and revealing the true attitude of today’s youth.
Once upon a time, the world feared the photograph, where it was believed to steal one’s soul at a given click, forever to be trapped in celluloid. While we have since moved past this, inundating timelines with self-depiction and self-publishing (otherwise known as the #selfie), we sit down with prime lensmen of our generation, and thresh out their undying love for compelling and enduring portraits.
While the rest of the young and energetic lot are chasing after the famed fashion holy grail of being published by a magazine, Cyrus Panganiban has successfully steered his focus from what once was to something just as fulfilling, if not more—taking portraits in the corporate arm of society. While it isn’t glamorous, fast-paced, and high-octane as when his name was almost a permanent byline on glossies, he insists that the trade-off has made things easier and distilled. “I get to live life now,” he says in his signature mumble.
“I always dreamt of becoming a Time, Life, and Vanity Fair portrait photographer, that’s why maybe my work is powerful, intense and gritty. I make it a point that what I create will be lasting and authentic,” he explains. While it may sound like a long shot, that could still be very much in the cards for him, especially with the powerful scions of society. He is, however, being most realistic, taking to a keen interest on the business side of his passion, which has given him a renewed sense of purpose and vigor with his work. “Having tried almost all fields of photography, portraiture is the one that spoke to me. I found it the most meaningful. The joy that I experience with my sitter is always a privilege and the bond that has been made in the process is beyond compare,” he says, parlaying the world he operates on today. “I always remind myself to make an effort to create something new for my subject that would still show his/her real self. It has to be great, and even after decades, the image should still speak to you.”
“All in all, my work is simple, direct and honest,” he finishes. Valuing message, trust, and emotion above precise technicals, Cyrus Panganiban will guarantee that magical photograph that will not only stun but stand the test of time.
If one isn’t too quick or careful, trust that Magic Liwanag will have already snapped up an image of you sans pretense. Much like a photographer sneaking in from the edges of a grassland in say, Africa, he always makes sure you have your moment and that you get to keep it—or post it, whatever works.
Whatever the milieu or circumstance may be, there will always be a sense of lightness to his stills of people. This stems from the fact that above everything, it is the light that draws him in. “The different kinds of light in situations, it alone, attracts me to take portraits. More than the emotion, it’s the light that brings me towards portrait photography. When shooting a person, light is very important in terms of mood,” he says. There lies the magic—being able to exact the technical and marry it with the inexplicable to make something memorable.
“Just stay there,” he would often be heard saying, that is if the click of the shutter doesn’t get to it first. For Magic Liwanag, conversation is important, not only to break the ice, but to build a trust in such an intimate process. “I make sure to talk to them,” he says. “It’s very different from sitting a person in front of you then snapping their picture. Having a conversation with them (even while shooting) brings out the best in them.”
At one point or another, you will have come across his photographs, on social media, tagged by the glitziest of names, but for him, when it comes down to it, they are all people with stories to tell—and that he was in the right place and in the right time to click.
“Taking photographs is my way of understanding the world, so portraits are my way of understanding people,” says Augustine Paredes, Dubai-based photographer and all-around tireless creative. “When I take portraits, I talk to my subjects and understand their story as it makes the photo more interesting, it evokes depth and inspires collaboration.”
Even before uprooting his life from the Philippines to the Middle East, Paredes has always been wielding a camera, taking photographs of everything from the mundane to the highly produced. But as with anything, he is his most self with the simple, often gut-wrenching narratives encapsulated in his portraits. “When I take photographs, I pack it with nostalgia, I want the people who view my work to feel something that they’ve felt before,” he says. The self-confessed photographer of faces, spaces, feelings, and objects has since put up striking exhibits such as When Strangers Meet, Cooking Adobo at the Hea(r)t of 25.2048°N, 55.2708 °E, and Long Night Stands with Lonely, Lonely Boys, which have been met with both critical and emotional acclaim.
Not one to be easily swayed by the the feelings of it all, he is quick to note that as portraitists, the world is at one point heaved mercilessly on their shoulders. “As photographers, we have a very dangerous job. We violate our subjects by seeing them in ways they don’t see themselves. For me, I take pride in making a conversation, starting a dialogue, even sometimes I ask my subjects: “Can you look at me like you love me?” And then in my head, I have this idea that they imagine me as a different a person. From there, it becomes easier because I let them imagine me as someone they love, someone they are comfortable with sharing a piece of themselves they don’t show to strangers,” he relates. “It’s also important to be aware of your responsibility as an artist that you would take care of the people and their feelings as you photograph them.”
One would argue that age factors in the world of portrait photography, especially when it comes to building a confidence, earning trust, and finally, being able to show his stills for everyone to see. While he is much younger than the names that populate social media, online outlets, and even in print, JL Javier has all that and the gutsy courage to essay his stories in evocative, often tender visuals.
“I think it’s always been people that’s fascinated me the most, in how they’re an amalgamation of different stories—from their personal history and identity to the billions of other stories that have influenced them. Photography is inherently storytelling, so taking a portrait feels like capturing all those stories as they are at a certain point in time, and then sharing it to the world in my own way,” he ponders. With such a deep and well-realized view of the work that he does, it is easy to understand why his images are emotionally-stirring as they are technically precise.
But being that he is part of the generation that is digitally-entrenched, it is interesting how he is able to retain that sense of wonder and awe, despite being saturated by all sorts of visuals on the daily. “If we view those things as stories in themselves, I think to create fuller work we need to go back to our story,” he shares. “Instead of worrying about how ‘loud’ we’re saying something, we need to nurture the very story we’re trying to tell. We need to be critical about our work and constantly ask ourselves: What am I trying to say? Am I being true to that? Am I telling it the best way I can?”
Truth informs and in essence, executes the photographs he takes. So, it goes without saying how much value he holds for such a hollowed out concept in this day and age. “What goes into a portrait is not just the subject’s story, but also the photographer’s way of telling it, which is informed of course by the stories that mold them, too—that negotiation is something that I’ve always been excited about,” he says. “This is why I think a very important element in taking portraits is allowing subjects to trust you with their story, to create a sort of safe space where they feel like they can be themselves in front of the camera. I try to always get to know my subjects, and even open up about myself, too, if I can, just to foster that sense of trust in any way I can.”
What is most important for JL Javier, as he continues to navigate the world of souls and the self, is that he be able to give justice to the person in front of him, giving him full disclosure of their humanity.