A small conversation of “pa-picture ka Ma’am?” from strangers or passersby to capture their special moment could mean nothing to someone else but that single click could mean the world to both sides.
For two photographers or “litratista,” who have been snapping photos of Dabawenyos and tourists since the 1960s and 1980s, new technology may have advanced how we capture special moments, but there are still those who relish the smiles of printed photos.
‘Tambay’ to photographer
Edwin Ortaliz, 62 years old from St. John Bucana, Davao City, a street photographer since the 1980s, said photography changed his life from being a ‘tambay’ to capturing your smile.
“Tambay ko tong una nga di pa ko photographer (I used to be unemployed before I became a photographer). Akong sweldo sa una [tong nagtrabaho] maadto ra pud sa inom-inom, unya gamay rag sweldo (When I started working, my salary would be spent on liquor),” Ortaliz said.
He said his older brother introduced him to the world of photography and is now taking care of his grandsons.
Ortaliz said that it’s not easy to make money as a photographer but it is also rewarding at the same time.
“Maglakaw-lakaw gyud ka bahalag kapoy, init, naa pud mi sa daplin maglingkod-lingkod maghuwat og naay manuroy but enjoy mahimong photographer (You will roam around the streets or plaza under the heat of the sun, we sometimes stay on the sides to wait for some clients but being a photographer is enjoyable). Daghan kag maila-ila na mahimo nimog amigo o amiga ug mahibaw-an [about sa ilaha] (You meet a lot of people that will become your friends and you will learn a lot from them or about them),” Ortaliz said.
The people he takes photos of come from all walks of life. For example, one of his past clients were those working as a housekeeper every Sunday near the San Pedro Church and plaza.
He also takes photos at weddings and school activities.
But all of these activities came to a full stop when the pandemic struck in 2020. By that time, he was already feeling the effects of mobile phones to his livelihood.
With the pandemic, he sometimes went home without any earnings.
Also, he said, they are not allowed to get inside the school premises even in public schools.
“Ultimo mga skwelahan di naman pasudlan og photographer, pati public [schools] naa ra mi sa gawas sa gate tawon, bulad sa init, unya mao ra gyud unta among kalipay kung graduation na kada tuig (Even schools today they will not allow us, even the public schools, we can only stay outside the campus gate under heat of the sun and these graduation events are the only thing that help us earn every year),” Ortaliz said.
Despite this situation, Ortaliz said he can’t let go of photography as it brought food on his table and was able to help him send his daughter to school.
“Wa naman koy makita nga laing trabaho (I can’t find any other job). Scholar to akong anak tong nagskwela pa, may nalang dili siya gastador, gahatag ko og baon ana niya mga P50 tong college, kay ingnan nako nga ‘hinay gyud ang income nak’ at least inig uli naa pa gyud siya’y mauli nga sobra (My daughter was a scholar and was very frugal when it comes to her expenses, she can still go home with a penny from her P50 allowance a day. I told that it was only what I can give to her because I am not earning much),” Ortaliz said, his daughter now is a teacher in General Santos City while his son has a small food business.
Ortaliz remains positive although life has been hard since the pandemic.
“Dili lang ta mawad-an og pag-laom sa atong trabaho as photographer (Don’t lose hope as a photographer), basta maningkamot lang (just keep going), naa gihapon moabot ana, naay grasya nga moabot kay dili ni pernamenti nga ma-down gyud ta, padayon lang (It’s not always a storm for us, a blessing will surely come so keep thriving!” Ortaliz said.
Follow what your heart says
Boilonor Calivoso Ugay, also known as “Boy Ugay”, 70 years old, is a litratista that you always see present at every graduation in Holy Cross of Davao College (HCDC) and San Pedro College (SPC) as well as in the Magsaysay Park during his active days as a full-time photographer.
Ugay is from a family of teachers. He is a graduate of HCDC with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education but opted to follow what his heart says: photography.
“Motabok pa ko sa una og hanging bridge tong nagtudlo pako. Unya dili man gyud nako gusto ang teaching so nag-resign ko (I used to cross a hanging bridge before just to teach. But I can’t really find myself teaching for a long time so I resigned),” Ugay said.
Ugay said he used to teach for three years in the 1970s but he stopped. He pursued instead to work as a full-time photographer in the streets of Davao City.
He has witnessed momentous events of every student he has seen for the past 55 years.
“As an introvert, gusto lang magsolo lang og lakaw (I just want to be alone), but in photography I was able to meet people, mingle with them and ma-record nako ilahang memories nga sad, happy (record their memories whether they are sad, or happy). Unya, I keep memories, naa koy gallery sa balay para kung naay mga studyante gikan sa HCDC [o SPC] pwede sila moadto sa balay [og tan-awon ilahang mga dagway] (Then I kept these memories, I have a gallery at home. If there are students from HCDC or SPC they can visit my house to their photos),” Ugay said.
Ugay said as a photographer, he was given a chance to tour around the city and Davao Region to capture important events that he could not even believe to be part of.
“Gi-hire ko nga mag-cover sa Sasa Pantalan unya wa ko kabalo diay akong gi-cover kay strike diay to sa mga empleyado kay ilahang barge dalahon daw didto sa Vietnam during sa Vietnam War (I was hired to cover an event but I did not know that it was actually a strike from the employees of Sasa Pantalan, they said their barge will be sent to Vietnam during the Vietnam War), unya naay mga sundalo gagunit og pusil didto sa barge, gisita ko kay sige daw ko og picture, pero padayon gihapon kog kuha biskan naa sila (and there are soldiers who have reprimanded me since I was taking pictures but I continued to take photos)” Ugay said.
Ugay said this situation made him brave enough to cover more disasters in the city and even the time of Martial Law.
Meanwhile, Ugays said he was also greatly affected by digitalization.
From earning P500 to P1,000 per day, he sometimes goes home without a penny after five to eight hours in the streets and parks.
Because of the pandemic, Ugay said for the past two years, several celebrations that were booked for him to cover have been canceled. During these times, he only had three events.
But, with his perseverance, he was able to send his children to school and four of them graduated from College while the other one managed the store of his brother.
Now 70-years-old, Ugay said he would love to travel and enjoy life but he would still capture memories now as a hobby. He advised the young generation of photographers to see photography as an art not only as an opportunity to earn.
“Love photography as an art, go around to places in Davao, adto sa mga slum areas to cover ang mga kinabuhi sa tao (go to slum areas to capture life of the people), focus pud sa nature para in the future naa kay picture nga mao ni ang Davao [tong una] (don’t forget the nature so that in the future you have a picture how Davao changed as time goes by),” Ugay said.