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There is so much to explore in the human face. Even an empty stare carries with it the weight of a story. Despair? Hope? Love? Betrayal? Capturing an interesting face immortalizes a moment. You can go back to that exact time… again and again and again. And not only can you relive your memories of creating that image, but you can come up with many stories about this character, this figure, you have placed on film.

Initially, my love for photography was confined to just being a spectator of beauty. I like colors and patterns. I like displays of majesty and splendor. I like to experience unique cultures. All of these interests eventually led to travel, and photography entered the mix merely as a means to document my journeys. At first I carried a simple point-and-shoot camera and always wanted to be in the picture myself. After all, how would friends and relatives know that I was there if I didn’t appear in the photo? So I posed whenever, wherever and however.

But I wasn’t satisfied with the results. The random people who clicked the shutter didn’t frame me well. The compositions were boring. No matter how I positioned myself, the pictures looked predictable. Cliche. Hence I made the difficult decision to leave my "modeling days" behind and become just a photographer, to make the transition from being part of the scene to directing it.

My early photos focused mainly on patterns and tricks of light. My results were eye pleasing, but what I really wanted to do was photograph people. I needed a live model! For as long as I can remember I've been an avid people watcher, so once my interest in photography began to take off it was natural that I would want to capture the expressions and emotions I found so captivating on film.

When choosing a potential model I look for faces with character… and I can spot them in a room full of people. Be it on the streets of Nepal, in a Balinese classroom, on a beach in the Philippines, or at a temple in Thailand, I am drawn to faces that have stories to tell.

More than one person has told me that I have a natural charm with people. I honestly don't know what to make of that, but I do smile a lot and when they smile back I take a photo. Kids are such naturals because they don't act or become worried about the camera, they're just themselves and I happily snap photos as they chase a frog or jump over branches. With a few exceptions, most of the ladies I meet enjoy having their picture taken, but men are often too shy to pose - even though they clearly have this gnawing desire to be "framed.” When it comes to the elderly, I especially enjoy immortalizing their pride and dignity on film. The bottom line is: everyone likes to be photographed, but it is how you approach them that makes the difference. With adults, be ready with a charming smile; with children, become like one of them according to their mood and interests at that very moment.

Rosalinda is perhaps one of the most memorable people I have photographed in the past few years. I didn't know her, I hadn't seen her before. But that day, when the jeepney I was riding passed her on the corner I knew she was someone I had to meet. She was selling cigarettes, and what initially caught my attention was her flaming pink hair. Then I noticed the face: wrinkled, yet beautiful, worn yet dignified. I didn't have my camera at the moment, during an expedition two days later I returned to where I had initially seen her.

Not wanting to overwhelm her, I left my vehicle five street corners away. As I approached her location I took pictures here and there, trying to sharpen my skills and steady my hands. Her looks were so striking that I worried I wouldn't be able to capture them on film, or worse, that she might not allow me the chance to try. Yet her pink hair hinted a vibrant, outgoing personality, at the sort of person who just may be up for an adventure. I decided to dig deep into my well of charm - then I saw her again.

She had a carefree look. Distant perhaps? Would she run away if I approached her? Would she shout at me if I asked permission to take photos of her?

"How much is the Philip Morris cigarette," I asked.

No response. Then I saw her hands holding a limestone, and, worried that she was going to throw it at me, I stepped back.

"He likes to buy Philip Morris!" someone shouted behind me.
"She's deaf," another vendor commented, as she repeated the order close to the woman's ears.

I bought one pack. Then, hesitantly, revealed the true nature of my visit: I'd like to take pictures of you," I said. Once again a helpful vendor repeated my request to her. "Why me?" she asked. "Because you're pretty. Because your face tells me a lot of stories"

To my immense relief, she agreed. As I began to take pictures other people stopped to watch, but I didn't notice them. All I saw was Rosalinda. As onlookers drew closer, many volunteered various pieces of information about her. I learned that she had been a sidewalk vendor for more than sixty years, that she began working in this profession before World War II. I also learned that she had eleven children, all of them alive. One was is a seaman who sent her money every month in the hopes that she would stop selling things and stay at home. Another person told me that Rosalinda almost died in the 1980's, when she was hit by a car. Yet another whispered that she frequently changed her hair color. "Sometimes yellow, sometimes green!" they said.

I laughed and Rosalinda also laughed. As I continued talking to her (shouting, actually, so she could hear some of what I was saying) my camera continued taking pictures.

"I would like to take closer pictures of you. I want to capture the lines in your face. Come take a look at your pictures. I could like to make even better pictures than these."

I showed her the pictures I took in the LCD. She laughed. She said thank you. I said "Thank you, you're such a willing model." She laughed again.

Then she left, and only then did I look around and see how many people had been watching us: policemen, passersby, other vendors...more than 50 of them. I smiled at them, then looked for Rosalinda. She was combing her hair in front of a small mirror that was embedded in the sidewalk. "I am ready," she said.

I decided that I needed a veil for the photo I wanted to take, and as if on cue, a Muslim vendor appeared from nowhere handing me a brown one. "Thank you so much, thank you." Everything worked out well. Rosalinda posed as I requested.

In between takes, Rosalinda told me that she had been photographed before. Then she shared memories of her wedding, stories about her children, what hair color she would wear next, her plans for next week. I told her about myself: that I was single, about my students, my love for life, my gray hair, my nonexistent plans for the upcoming holiday. We seemed to know each other well. I could see the sincerity in her one bright eye, and I hoped she saw something similar in my eyes.

When we were finished, I said that I may come back for more pictures before returning to Bangkok. I promised to send her copies of her photos. She smiled, perhaps thinking that I was just saying these things. That I wouldn't really return.

But I did come back, this time with my own veils, and she welcomed me like a long-lost friend. We captured many images that day, and I've sent her copies of all of them. Rosalinda is a friend that I will always cherish. A beautiful woman with an amazing soul, a powerful spirit, and flaming pink hair.


A serious photo hobbyist, Manuel Libres Librodo Jr. is a Psychology high school teacher at Ruamrudee International School in Bangkok. Apart from photography, Manny is also passionate about badminton, having coached the school's varsity team for the past 5 years. One thing that he is so proud about is being 100% Filipino. You can visit him online at: www.pbase.com/manny_librodo





 
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