MANILA, March 2, 2006 (STAR) By Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - So evident is the soul in every photograph that any browser of this coffee-table book can feel a connection between himself and the picture he’s looking at. Call it magic but that’s exactly how to illustrate the more than 200 pictures of Antonio Lilles, 46, a hobbyist who will launch his tome entitled 25 Years of Travel Photography on March 2 in a private residence in Dasmariñas Village, Makati City.

If it were true that a picture could paint a thousand words, Lilles’ photographs could paint a thousand more. His depiction of several landscapes is so alive you can almost smell the flowers or hear the rustling of the leaves as they dance to the music of the wind. Take for example his series of photographs of blooms taken in 1997 at Buchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada. Stare at those little frames and you will lose yourself in the middle of the field of flowers, like a bee in search of the sweetest nectar.

His seascapes – either of Puerto Galera or Pagudpud, Naples in Italy or Mykonos in Greece – are so refreshing you would wish for summer to arrive soon so you would enjoy basking in the glory of sea, sand, sky and sun.

Devoid of morbid atmosphere, Lilles’ photographs of cemeteries, where the silent majority rules, come alive. His black-and- white renditions of burial grounds either in Ilocos Sur or Montana are so evocative that you feel death is the beginning of a new life, a celebration of sorts. His photographs of graveyards are at once calming and celebratory, poignant and peaceful.

Lilles’ shots of Philippine scenery – from Sagada to San Pablo, Bohol to Baguio, Pampanga to Palawan, Bontoc to Bicol, among others – are so inviting you will stop reading this article at once so you can catch a plane or bus to take you to those destinations. The photographer has discovered the Philippines with the shutter of his mind and the lens of his heart.

His appreciation of the sunset is solemn and surreal. Ethereal are the clouds that form on the horizon, reflective of the mood of the artist whose proclivity to celebrate nature is put in a high gear. Fiery is the color of his sunsets – as if the sky were set ablaze – as if to define the craft of Lilles to master his own art.

He was very young when he decided to someday master this art. He wrote in the beginning of the book: "Ever since I was a little boy, I have been interested in photography. I guess it was curiosity at first: How could this toy-like gadget duplicate reality by the mere push of a button? My interest developed more and more as my loving parents encouraged us to sit through evenings in a room illuminated only by the beam of a slide projector."

Ever since then, Lilles had dreamed of owning a camera he called "magic-in-a-box." "But there was no way my father would buy me one," he said. So he saved money to buy his first camera – a Nikon FE body – by waiting on tables for three months in a fine restaurant in Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver, Canada where he was enrolled as freshman college in Simon Fraser University (He finished joint degrees in Business and Economics here.). Ever since then, Lilles’ love affair with cameras and lenses has become unstoppable – his every peek at his camera’s viewfinder is indicative of the way he looks at life – happy and hopeful, introspective and inspirational; his every push of the shutter seems to be characterized by his willingness to push himself to the limits.

But the world is limitless; this Lilles discovers every day, as he gets naturally intoxicated in his passion, the way an alcoholic makes love to his tonic and gin. His passion brought him to the depths of the earth literally when he became certified as a diver. Romance was evident in his underwater photography. Why would it not be when, in fact, a new and magical world opened up for him when he met his soulmate who later became his wife – Marlyn Benitez Reyes – while scuba-diving in Anilao, Batangas?

"It was as if the world was rewarding me for my passion to show its beauty by matching me with someone equally eager to see the world and marvel at its endless radiance. My wife and I are partners in all our adventures and she supports me in our continuing travels together," Lilles said.

Their passion was put to the test when Marlyn was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She survived her battle with the Big C 10 long years ago but Lilles still remembers that those were the most trying times of their lives – "emotionally, physically, spiritually." Because of this experience, they met many people along the way. So evident is the soul of Lilles that all proceeds of his book will go to the development of The Carewell (Cancer Resource and Wellness) Community Foundation, Inc. Carewell, set up by Bobbit Suntay and his late wife Jackie Fernandez-Suntay, is a non-profit foundation that provides support to people with cancer and their loved ones.

Meanwhile, enjoy the many angles of Lilles’ photographs – where the flowers are always in full bloom, where the many faces of people register hope, where the sunset reminds you that, indeed, the setting of the sun is God’s promise that tomorrow is another beautiful day.

Lilles’ many experiences of what life is all about are chronicled in the more than 200 pictures in his book 25 Years of Travel Photography. Genuflect with him as he gives salutation to the Supreme Being as you marvel at the details of St. Peter’s Church in Vatican City or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. Celebrate life with him as you travel with his photographs and memories as your compass to guide you in your sojourn. There are times when, while leafing through the pages, you will feel like you’re dreaming. Continue to dream. Lilles’ photographs will exact you with rare and beautiful realities.

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