MANILA, December 26, 2005 (STAR) OH, YES, IT'S JOHNNY! By Johnny Litton - ("She hath opened her heart to the needy, and stretched forth her hands to the poor." – Proverbs 31:20)

Former San Francisco, California Mayor Willie Brown Jr., tireless champion of the Filipino-American communities in California, was honored by good friends Paing and Mely Hechanova and Ronnie and Menchu Concepcion with an exciting party at the North Forbes Park Pavilion on his most recent visit.

The Presidential Award Mission held at Malacañang Palace recognized the former mayor for his efforts in helping Filipinos abroad. He was joined by delegates of the San Francisco-Manila Sister City Committee (SFMSCC). A good friend of the Hechanova and Concepcion families and a special person in the eyes of many Filipino-Americans, it is no doubt that Mayor Brown gets the red carpet treatment every time he visits the country. Thank you, Mayor Brown!

Photographic memories WRY BREAD By Philip Cu-Unjieng The STAR 12/18/2005

It would have been February 2000, at the Stargate/People Asia office. Called by Babe Romualdez, I entered his "sanctum" to find this tall mestiza-chinita decked out in quasi-Matrix trench coat and all-black outfit. Like some vision from a manga or anime comic book, she mumbled some obtuse greeting. In staccato-fashion, rattling off her San Francisco-honed photography credentials, this was my first encounter with Cebuana Amanda Lu Ym. We now joke and call it her St. Valentine’s Day massacre of the digestive system, as it seems I wreaked havoc on her ulcers and introduced her intimately to hyperacidity during her stay with us, at the magazine. Me. I blame it on her innate O-C nature and wonderful ability to organize our shoots and aårchives to the last minute detail. Wonder who’ll be taking the photos when she gets married next year.

To understand Amanda’s background and pedigree: once, when we had to fly to Boracay for a shoot, and there was some problem with our bookings, she earnestly remarked that she could check if the family jet was available to pick us up and fly us down.

Happy to still be a columnist and contributor to the STAR, I’m now connected to ABS Publishing, and when Metro Society put together a Nokia-sponsored photo exhibit with the quaint theme of "Society by Society," I readily enlisted Amanda to be one of the photographers on display. Amanda, Pancho Escaler, Butch Baluyut, Bengy Toda, Monique Villonco, Jojo Guingona, Victor Consunji and Pepper Teehankee (for the paparazzi-style shots); some observers wondered aloud if it some Social Register we were putting together, instead of a real photo exhibit – and that got me thinking.

The concept was valid enough, as these photographers all possessed virtual treasure troves of photos of people who regularly appear on our Society pages, whether in broadsheets or glossies. Their family names belie the dedication and passion they put into their photography. And so I realized that rather than acting as some asset, the social backgrounds of these photographers could ironically be held as liabilities by some of the more mean-spirited in the industry. "They don’t need the work" or "They can easily afford the equipment, but how serious are they?" are still some of the put-downs that fly behind their backs. Sad that, when it’s strictly the quality of work and professionalism that should dictate our opinions of these artists/technicians.

When it comes to portraiture of this particular strata of society, while any number of professional photographers can do a great job, it is the access and comfort zone created, that sometimes has photographers such as the ones we put together for the exhibit, producing "magic." Who else but Monique could have been by the New York hospital bed when Doris Ho’s daughter gave birth early this year? Her easy friendship, and the fact that she can bring her camera without making it seem likesome intrusion or invasion of privacy, allows Monique to capture for posterity some very special moments.

Pancho Escaler and the late Butch Baluyut are without doubt among the pioneers in the field of contemporary professional photography here in the Philippines. When we speak of elevating photography to an art-form and helping give the profession respectability, Pancho and Butch cannot be ignored. On their "walls" a wonderful timeline element became incorporated into the exhibit. With Pancho, you had a family portrait of Tingting Cojuangco with pre-teen Mikee, all the way to a very recent shot of current advertising favorite Georgina Wilson. From Butch, we had a wonderfully stylized surreal portrait of Elvira Manahan in an empty swimming pool, and Don Jaime Zobel on the rooftop of the original Makati Stock Exchange in 1978. With then-Ugarte Field in the background, one could see what passed as the sparse Paseo de Roxas skyline, and the vast expanse of open field that’s now lost forever.

Bengy had great shots of Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco and the third generation scions who now run a number of the family’s business concerns: Anton Huang, Donnie Tantoco and Dino Pineda. How can you not give Bengy respect when beyond taking photos, he has invested steadily in upgrading what has to be one of the best photo processing centers in our country. With Jojo Guingona, the question may be asked is he a better photographer than a golfer (three handicap now); but my bet would say he excels in both and over the years, I’ve been witness to his relentless pursuit of improving both his craft and in the sport.

Victor is the more recent addition to the field of working photographers and yet, he’s been making up for lost time with brio, fire and passion. I joke Victor that he’s a latter day Filipino version of Britisher David Bailey (you ask him why and see if he gives a straight answer), and there’s a lot of fashion photography and commercial work going around with his particular sleek and edgy stamp. Pepper is Pepper, and despite his thank you’s for including him "even if (his) photos were too casual and shot on the fly" to be included in the exhibit, we all staunchly felt Pepper belonged. As heir apparent to Alex van Hagen, it’s easy to see how his "paparazzi" shots differ in that the subjects are so much more comfortable and at ease when it’s Pepper taking the shots, ready to grin, be kenkoy or mug for his camera.

Held at Red, Shangri-La Makati, the event had Nokia promoting its N90 series, highlighting the phone’s video and photo capabilities. One N90 was up for grabs, and we had a photo contest of snapparazzi shots taken by selected guests who were there on the night, to be judged by the exhibiting photographers. Anton Barretto of Cereo candles and Pineapple took home the phone, while Lizzie Zobel and Menchu Katigbak garnered prizes from the Shang. It was fun to see contest participants Anton Huang, Louie Cruz, Emerson Yao and the likes, busy scouting the room for potential N90 "subjects."

People were raving about the "amuses bouches" that the Shangri-La kitchen had prepared, and that had Jarlath (Lynch) and Joy (Wassmer) grinning, putting on the swagger that confidence and assured capability to deliver quality food and service can bring.

Photography still takes a back seat in terms of acceptance as an art form. While some point out the more technical aspects that characterize the form as not "artsy" enough, the general consensus/trend has been to be flexible in definition. If in Europe and the United States, even posters and billboards have become part of the art world’s hold on the environment and the world we move in and react to, then photographs are firmly part of the populist direction in which art can be defined. Purists may cry "foul;" but as these photos demonstrated, beyond the technical mastery, the diversity of subject and portrayal showed how much "artistry" the photographer still brings to the table.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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