If you are lucky enough to live in the idyllic town of Makato, you wouldn’t have thought that its serene and unpretentious seascapes and landscapes will grace the sophisticated galleries of Spain and US.
Oh yes, the photographs that depict the daily life in Makato indeed enthralled the cultured eyes of San Francisco, Stockton, Sacramento, Barcelona, and New York. Those pictures have now come home and met their kasimanwa because, for the first time, a photo exhibit was organized in Makato by a US-based professor and documentary photographer, Dr. James Sobredo.
This post will give us insights on the inspiration behind the conception of his artworks and the
reason why, of all the places he had been to, he chose to feature Makato.
Read on and get to know the dynamic person behind the exhibit that introduced Makato to the
international art communities.
IT STARTED WITH A VISION
This exhibit, which was put up in the lobby of the new Makato Municipal Building, features the
Makaton-on way of living as captured through the lenses. Dr. Sobredo’s goal in putting up this exhibit was a simple one: to capture and document the ordinary life of ordinary people in the same way that Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson, or Filipino photographers Ric Rocomora and the late Lenny Limjoco did.
“As a professor, my area of specialty is Filipino global migration, and I wanted to document how the
migration process occurred: the socio-economic context of migration, the process of migration and
finally to follow the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) to their country of destination. In 2013, I lived for four months in Baybay, Makato, and Manila. I am not only a scholar, but I am also a documentary photographer who documents the everyday life of ordinary people. When people think of photography, they often think “pretty pictures.” As a documentary photographer, creating pretty pictures is not my goal,” Sobredo recounted.
He continued by citing one of his photographs (shown below) as an example.
“For instance, in this image, which was selected by the Anthropology Museum in Sacramento State
University as their poster image, it is a photograph of people traveling in a motorcycle right after a
rainstorm. The composition and technical aspects are spot-on: a panned image of a motorcycle moving forward at a fairly high speed, and the faces of the passengers express emotion from hiding from the rain and holding on for safety purposes. For me, the image represents the Philippines: it is a country moving forward, at a fast pace, but also at a scary pace because the future is uncertain. Will all this economic development work and help the ordinary people? Or will it face an economic downturn and just help rich people become richer?” he mused.
THE MAN BEHIND THE LENS
Dr. Sobredo is an Ilonggo-born classically trained scholar, having finished his Bachelors’s and Master’s degree in Ancient Greek Philosophy and later on switched to Ethnic Studies.
He finished his Doctorate at the University of Berkeley, became a Filipino-American Immigration specialist, got tenured at California State University in Sacramento, California and went on to become a Department Head.
He is now retired and carries the title of Professor Emeritus.
THE HOMETOWN OF HIS MUSE
When asked why an Ilonggo who had never set foot in Makato before decided to document the Makato way of living, he answered: “It just happens to be where Lourdes, my wife, is from.”
Dr. Sobredo’s wife, Lourdes Tumbokon, is from Makato. They met in Chicago where Lourdes had a very successful career as Regional Administrator of the Employment Development Division for the San Francisco Bay Area in the State of California.
Sobredo and his family used to take vacations in Makato and he was lucky to get to stay in Baybay, a small fishing village along the coast.
“My morning ritual was to wake up and watch the sunrise, walk along the beach and photograph people and fishermen going about their every life.
In the auspicious vacation of 2013 where Sobredo started taking pictures for this exhibit, he was lucky to capture a Baybay fisherman dragging his net out of the water. Sobredo thought that the composition was perfect in the way that the posing and the angle of the fisherman’s body are so fluid and graceful.
“It is an image of ‘everyday life’ but also an attempt at the same time to create art by paying attention to composition and lighting,” Sobredo enthused.
The picture, which is shown below, was used for his solo exhibit in San Francisco.
Since then, the exhibit has grown and expanded. After the first exhibit in San Francisco, Sobredo
traveled back to Aklan and Hong Kong in 2017 and took several more photographs.
The project now features Filipinos in Barcelona, Spain, which is the largest Filipino community in Europe. The exhibit has been shown in museums and galleries in San Francisco, Stockton, and Sacramento.
“I have also presented my scholarly work, which includes these photographs from Makato, in New York and Barcelona. Ultimately, I hope to finish my book on the same topic”.
The adopted son of Makato admitted to being very happy to have brought home a small and simple part of the photos to Makato.
‘It would be sad if only people in the U.S. have seen my work. I am very happy to bring the exhibit
‘home’ and most of all, to share the photographs with the people of Makato”.
Sobredo donated three framed images to the Office of the Municipal Mayor of Makato.
It was Sobredo’s goal “to bring a small version of the exhibit to Makato”, and he shared that it feels so good to have accomplished that goal.
The exhibit ran from March 2-4, 2020 and the admission was open to the public. The municipal
government of Makato was happy that the exhibit was put up because of its educational value.
According to Ms. Coralou Terencio Tribo, the president of the Makato Women’s Council Association and the person-in-charge of the exhibit, people learned a lot from it “especially those who understand anthropology because the picture that was exhibited depicts our way of life here in Makato. A life that is so simple, and the things that they do every day. At least even in the short period of this exhibit Makaton-ons were able to learn and see our way of life here through the lens of the camera”.
She went on to profess her hope that they can do more exhibits like this in the future to share more
knowledge not just to the Makaton-ons but to the Aklanons as a whole.
Indeed, photographs play an important role in our life – they connect us to our past, they remind us of people, places, feelings, and stories. They can help us to know who we are as not just as a person but as a nation.
May Dr. James Sobredo’s artistic tribe increase!