Ulingan, Tondo, Manila, 2013
All shot in 21mm.
I just went through two sites regarding the Ulingan community in Tondo. For those of you who don’t know what this place is all about, its name explains it in black and white. Well, more black than white as this community thrives on making charcoal or uling in Tagalog.
Fotovisura and Project Pearls will give you a much more in-depth assessment of what’s happening in Ulingan. The photographs in Fotovisura are probably more thought-provoking and I will lie to you if I didn’t feel inadequate as a photographer and, more importantly, as a person after having read their accounts and what they are trying to accomplish with images from the former and purity of intention from the latter; to move things forward for these people.
So what exactly am I bringing to the table with my own photographs via this blog post?
Nuance, if I’m lucky or adept enough.
Those impressions that fall through the cracks of what is readily apparent and compelling. Beyond the obvious tapestry of poverty and desperation as woven by some, it’s not all about hopelessness and dejection. In between seemingly endless rolling clouds of depression, shafts of dignity emerge that I thought was forever lost. I came out of that place not exactly a better man. Shamed would probably best describe it. I went there depressed about many things. And yet there they were slugging it out with life and for a moment, making you think that they may actually be winning the war.
The photographs would seem to point to the usual nastiness associated with poverty of this kind (yes, there are many kinds surprisingly). But photographs do not tell the whole truth.
The people in Ulingan are amazingly kind and cheerful. The faces may tell you a different story but what are you really expecting when people work with smoke and soot on a daily basis? Believe me I tried smiling only to get a mouthful of smoke when the wind blew the other way. My lungs only started to behave normally after a couple of days. Those tears on their eyes that you see in other photographs? De rigeur and really has nothing to do with some perceived suffering. As that old song goes, “smoke gets in your eyes”.
No poorism or exploitation here for those hardcore street photographers who decry these types of images. This is where they live. This is how they choose to live it.Â No needÂ to be apologetic about it. Truth be told, they’re actually scheduled to be relocated to Bulacan but would rather stay. It was very easy to brand them as squatters. But having gone there, there was an adjustment of perspective. I wonder if there will ever be a win-win situation for everyone concerned.
Thanks for looking.