Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Professional Shiznit 2

Untitled (Frankie Callaghan Profile)

By Maria Azuza Sta. Maria


I've always wondered what a quintessential photographer would look like, since a lot of people nowadays sport DSLRs around their necks. I say this because it's easy to think up what a painter or writer might appear to be, thanks to prevalent clichés: A painter would be disheveled in a chic kind of way, with wispy hair and paint-stained fingers, and a writer would have glasses and bohemian-inspired clothes. Creative people aren't easy to miss in a crowd. Standing out, for them, is already a default. It stems from their affinity with creation. Such was my train of thought before I met Frankie Callaghan.


The hustle and bustle of mounting River of Our Dreams, Callaghan's one man photo exhibit for the benefit of the KBPIP (Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig ) has left Manila Contemporary's art space with so much demiurgic energy, a stark contrast with the lensman's photographs which feel very contemplative. As I examine the photographs, I hear a deep, serious voice coming from the adjacent office. "There's Frankie." David Loughran of Manila Contemporary alerts me. I look over and see a tall man with a clean haircut; he was wearing a simple olive green shirt, faded jeans, and brown loafers. "So that's Frankie Callaghan," I think to myself, still having no idea of what a quintessential photographer looks like. Based on how he was dressed, Frankie could be anything--- a doctor, lawyer, or businessman off duty.


Before pursing his passion for taking pictures, Frankie Callaghan struggled with the idea of living off his craft. In a world that places high esteem on necktie jobs, he used to think that the only viable options of making a good living was choosing among the professions of, well, becoming a doctor, lawyer, or businessman. Needless to say, this career mindset steers many people towards that direction, so it's fortunate that Frankie was introduced to the world of photographers and how they lived. This prepared him for a paradigm shift that would dictate how he would live.


According to the England-born lensman, he felt drawn to photography while he was growing up in Baguio. But he was compelled to take photography seriously just as his high school days were coming to an end. In those days, the gravitational pull became intense and irresistible; what prompted him to take a camera and use it as a medium of expression was his desire to preserve memories, something that clearly, photographs can capture. His need to be reminded of what he felt, thought, and experienced was the crux that made him finally chase his dream of being a photographer. So after completing a degree in Financial Management at the Wharton School of Business, Frankie traded his books and ledgers for cameras and lenses, realizing that in order to live well, one must ultimately follow what his heart dictates.


Frankie's photographer instincts proved to be worth following. At the age of 21, he was able to showcase his work in Philadelphia. More opportunities followed suit, and in the Philippines, he was invited by Silverlens to participate in the "Photography as Expression" Sense-I Workshop. The most recent addition to his portfolio of exhibits is River of Our Dreams, which was mounted in Manila Contemporary's gallery.


Veering away from urban landscapes that characterizes most of Frankie's work (as seen in his previous exhibit Dwelling), the lensman shifts his attention to the Pasig River with the aspiration to make viewers take a closer look at what was once a majestic river and notice its elusive beauty. The photographs lend the river a more striking character. Lights and structures are clearly reflected in the water; they assume the role of narrative devices that show what the Pasig River has become in order to remind us of its past splendor.


The panoramic shots can't help but make me pensive, as I examine them just a few hours before they are hung. All fifteen photographs clearly show a cohesive thread, as a result of the photographer's artistic vision. Frankie feels that a great photograph must have composition, color, moment, intention, and truth, and his collection captures exactly that. Every photograph is also quiet and un-self conscious, as Frankie had intended them to be. His photography aesthetics is always to keep photos understated, so that they draw viewers as to speak to them. The quietness of the photographs intends to draw people to the subject, and I imagine them to do just that. Those who have had the pleasure of viewing the featured works in River of Dreams will hopefully see the river as they pass by it and re-imagine the water as a source of life once again.


As I pace myself to speak with Frankie, I notice a glass case with opaque water. "Whose idea is this, bringing water into the gallery?" The art space erupts in laughter. Apparently, there were protests, thanks to the paranoia caused by dengue season. A flash of a smile passes Frankie's lips in response to the laughter, but he then begins to speak in a serious tone, "I wanted to bring the river here. The exhibit is about the river. I want the people to see it for what it is." The insight reflects, once again, the same thoughtfulness the lensman captures in his pictures.


I then backtrack to the few minutes before Frankie came in. I was prying for information about what he was like. I gathered that he had no qualms going on location for the shoot. Given his background of studying and living abroad, he easily made fast friends with the people he encountered by the riverbank: security guards, slum dwellers, and tambays alike. This shows the mark of a true photographer; he can easily blend in anywhere, so he can take pictures unnoticed and uninterrupted.


This leads me back to the question "What does a quintessential photographer look like?" Asking that is completely pointless, as the man wearing an olive green shirt, jeans, and brown loafers is more than meets the eye. He might as well be a doctor, lawyer, or businessman, but no. Frankie Callaghan is a photographer.


When asked what he wants to be remembered for as a photographer, he says, "No idea.  I don't think it's really useful or helpful for me to think like that – it's reversing the order of things.  Better for me to just concentrate on what's right in front of me - and let things take their course." I agree and take a mental snapshot, lest I forget.


(Professional Writing Sample, October 11, 2010)


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