PHOTOGRAPHY

Lem AtienzA

ON SELF-INSTROSPECTION, SPONTANEITY AND COLLABORATION UNDER MANILA’S LOCAL RESTRICTIONS

MA
How have you been doing emotionally, mentally, and physically lately?
 

 
LA

At the moment, I feel great emotionally, mentally, and physically! Before the Manila lockdown, I was not in a proper headspace, and physically, I was not in my shape because of being so busy with school requirements and work. A few months into the quarantine, it allowed me to self-reflect, meditate, and even practice yoga, which is very new and wonderful. I’m grateful I get to know myself further and have that alone time with myself.
 
MA

How is Manila coping with the pandemic and its government measures one year later? How would you describe the current situation for students, visual artists, and particularly for photographers?
 
LA
A year after the lockdown and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. We’re still stuck and boxed, to be honest. I genuinely ask the government to double or triple its efforts in acquiring vaccines and get the vaccination programs rolling for the Filipino masses. We’ve borrowed billions of money, and the relief is yet to be felt by the minority.

Unfortunately, the Philippines’ creative and art industry, in general, is not being prioritized at the moment. Given the context of being in a third-world country. It’s tough because art is not seen as essential work. Some artists keep on going, while some have shifted careers to provide for their needs. For photographers, I think we are in the age where anyone can be a photographer with their mobile phones; it’s easy to learn the fundamentals. But now, with the pandemic, the photography industry’s bubble has been harder to enter more than ever
 
MA
I find your series of work ‘Aqua’, ‘Ulap’ and ‘Galaw! Galaw!’ delightful! What’s your first memory of watching dance or dancing in your childhood?
 

LA
Thank you for your kind words. I was exposed to this kind of environment at an early age. I joined and performed at school events like the Buwan ng Wika, United Nations Celebration, ballet recitals, and other programs during my pre-school and elementary days. I have always been so amused by how versatile one can be after learning ballet—looking back to the time we took performing arts as a course and had proper ballet classes in senior high school, the discipline and the harmony of dance bring to its performers are magical
 


© GALAW! GALAW!, LEM ATIENZA, 2021.

MA
When you described your work, something triggered my curiosity. You capture ‘spontaneous movements’ in your photographs. What does it mean? What do you tend to look for when you capture a photograph? What touches you when you see that movement?
 
LA
Spontaneous movements, in a way, that whenever I direct my subjects, I capture the moment and the feeling latched to it. The moment of being “in the zone.” I ask them to dance for me and then make them repeat some movements afterward. As a filmmaker, it’s essential to capture our subjects’ natural spatial movement as we follow them in the frame and I’ve applied that principle to my photos. I tend to evoke a feeling for my photographs rather than shoot a photo of what seems to be a perfect picture—like what they always say, content over quality.
 
MA
Are you a planner or spontaneous person in general?


LA
In general, for both personal and professional, I’m a planner. Maybe because of the discipline that film school has taught us: plan and have options for times of need. I like things to be laid out and organized. But this doesn’t mean I’m not flexible enough to adapt to situations if something doesn’t go the way it was supposed to. I like to be random sometimes, even on shoots! Sometimes, spontaneity leads to beautiful and extraordinary works, and that’s the magic of being open to new things I cling to.
 
MA
Where does the project ‘Galaw! Galaw!’ stems from?
 
LA
GALAW! GALAW! was fleshed out from the questions of how we can have a new beginning if we’re physically and emotionally boxed because of this pandemic? How can we move forward? I’ve always read news articles and updates about our neighboring countries here in the ASEAN region. They seem to be slowly going back to normalcy while, on the other hand, here in the Philippines, we’re still stuck.

Depending on what baggage you may carry at the moment, the word GALAW! GALAW! It could mean anything. For myself and my collaborators, GALAW! GALAW! Means to move out of your comfort zone (which I did in this project. reaching out to other creatives and making art in quarantine),

GALAW! GALAW! For other Filipino artists, to not box ourselves and keep moving forward together with art and healing.And lastly, GALAW! GALAW! to our government officials to step up and push their efforts faster to alleviate the health crisis's effects.

© AQUA, LEM ATIENZA, 2019.

MA
Collaborating with a team during a pandemic must have felt different. How many were you, and how did you guys delegate to each other what to do on set?

LA
It felt so new and, at the same time, rejuvenating! It took seven people all in all for this project. During the artmaking process, we were so rusty. It felt so brand new working again. It took us a while to warm things up and get our creative juices flowing.

We had two different shoots on separate dates since we waited for the fashion pullouts and the accessories. We shot the artworks first, and I also photographed my friends’ (the artists) portraits.

Then a week later, when Kelvin’s pieces arrived, we shot immediately that day. This time we were only two on set, Joshua (my subject) and I. It was a very toned-down and intimate shoot since I had to limit the number of people in production at my small at-home studio here in Manila. We didn’t have the usual glam team. So it was only Josh and me who set up the studio and moved things around. In between takes, we had the time to catch up and check on each other.

MA
How did you feel about the collaboration? How did you all feel after the shoot?

LA
The collaboration felt so great and satisfying! I had no personal work to put out for almost a year since all I did were all commissioned works. Getting it out there and being able to work with such amazing people felt so fulfilling. A vision turned into reality.

After the shoot, I felt a sense of clarity of where this project was heading. Cause, to be honest, I felt so unsure for a few weeks, and I was filled with so many doubts. There were a lot of reschedules and things that needed to be done in school. But after shooting and working on the photos and seeing the post-processing progress, those doubts turned to relief, clarity, and confidence that we’re going to put out an artwork that we’re all proud of.

MA
Could you describe the projects of ‘Aqua’ and ‘Ulap’?

LA
“AQUA” was a school requirement for my photography class. I styled my subject and bought the pants in Manila’s thrift shop near the School and Design campus. At first, I didn’t know what to call the project yet, but being the random person that I am, I realized that the color of the pants is reminiscent of the color aqua and that the harmony and flow of our shoot back then was very chill, relaxing and fun. From there, I went with the title aqua and based my post-processing treatment on its namesake.

For “ULAP,” or in English clouds, I wanted to explore the haze that covers the vividly hued colors of our teenage dreams as young creatives. As a young creative myself, I feel that our talent and sparkle get clouded by doubts, anxiety, and even the lack of trust from people in the industry. Ulap, for me, is a love letter to the young and talented creatives who are waiting for the clouds to clear up and have their moment to shine finally.

© ULAP, LEM ATIENZA, 2019.
MA
Through your projects ‘Aqua’, ‘Ulap’ and ‘Galaw! Galaw!’, how did working with dancers and movement artists influenced your eyes?

LA
Working with dancers and movement artists has been a pattern in which I always go back. Whether for my fashion or personal shoots, the fundamentals of movements and expressions are always present. My previous works have influenced me a lot about how I see and take photographs and being to translate those images to feelings.

MA
What do dancers and movement artists bring onset that still photography or models can’t bring?

LA
For dancers and movement artists, their passion and body language stand out in shoots. When we can’t articulate, our bodies speak. That’s the thing about having them as subjects. While models focus on selling the clothes, dancers focus on how they convey the choreography’s message.

MA
Both of your commercial and personal projects seem to be connected visually; how does a client approach you when commissioning for a campaign? Do you feel free to make something of your own voice, or do you have to follow guidelines?

LA
Clients usually ask me via Instagram or through email. Sometimes it shocks me because when I ask how they know about me, they would always say through referrals, which I’m very grateful for.

My general rule of thumb is to ask, respect, and follow the client’s creative brief. I analyze, study, and get to know the brand first before I accept the work. If a client has a creative brief prepared for the shoot, I make sure to stick to it and ask later if I can incorporate my inputs along the way.

More often than not, thankfully, the brands that have reached out to me align with my visuals, and they trust my creative vision and direction. However, I still keep in mind their aesthetics and visuals even though I have this creative control. As an artist and a photographer, it cannot only be just me or ourselves all the time. We should learn to prioritize the client’s branding and lead them to a middle point where both the photographer/artist and the client will be satisfied with the output.

MA
Do you feel you have found your creative voice?

LA
No, I have not. It’s still a lifelong journey, and I’m in the early stages of my career. I always get insecure sometimes with my art, but it’s part of the process. As artists, as long as we create purposeful art, the audiences will distinguish and confidently say what our creative voice is.

© HARMONIOUS HUES, LEM ATIENZA, 2019.
MA
If you were a book (title & author & date), a photograph (title & artist), and a camera, what would you be, and why?
LA
I’ve recently finished reading a book called IKIGAI: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (April 2016, Hector Garcia Francesc Miralles). I got this ebook as a gift to myself for the new year’s, and in a nutshell, its essence is about finding your flow and purpose in life. I loved reading it because it brought me so much clarity and serenity in what I want to do with my life, and that is to keep searching for purpose and keeping my flow. If I’m going to be a book, I’d definitely want to be the one who can guide people through living a happy life.

If I were a camera? Definitely a Polaroid! Lately, I’ve been trying out film photography. The thrill and excitement of waiting for a Polaroid film to develop are incomparable to digital photography. The questions like “did I take this in focus?” or “did I compose this properly? Are the chemicals going to develop correctly? always linger.

If I were a photograph? I’d be Ulap (2019, taken by yours truly). Because I’m still young, full of energy and colors, and I have a lot to offer, but I feel like I’m still being covered by the haze, waiting for that time for the clouds to finally clear and have my moment to shine.
MA
What has been your biggest struggle in studying and working remotely at home?
LA
The biggest struggle would be the lack of physicality and face-to-face interaction because almost everything we do right now heavily relies on the internet and streaming.

While schooling at a time of pandemic can be delivered online to some extent, if we look at the context here in the Philippines, where the internet is unreliable, and not all Filipinos have access to it, it’s sad that the academies, especially art schools, have to use online modality even if it’s not possible. Especially for us, student-artists where we are output-based. 

MA
Do you have any recommendations on online or physical resources to stay afloat and take inspirations from for fellow students, visual artists?


LA
(1) Take advantage of social media and the internet! Cinematography Salon, Somewhere Magazine, All Minimal, and All in Motion are just some out of the many great visual and kinesthetic Instagram profiles students and visual artists can reference!

(2) Students and artists like me can find inspiration through music, nature, films, books, and other sources. Sometimes, creativity can be taken from odd and unconventional happenings in our everyday lives. I take inspiration from Filipino cinematographers like Neil Daza and Tey Clamor, whose cinematography stills are on their Instagram! On the other hand, when I started photography, I got inspired by Shaira Luna’s pastel and dreamy works. I also admire the works of Artu Nepomuceno, Renzo Navarro, Cenon and Mav.

(3) As an artist, you always have to look back at your roots, your society, and the culture you were raised in. It gives you that first identity. Then upon familiarizing with them, think globally. Along the way, I started to do my research and learn about the legends Richard Avedon, Peter Lindberg, and Guy Bourdin’s works and ethics. I can say that both local and international photographers influence me.

INTERVIEWEE: LEM ATIENZA
PHOTOGRAPHY: LEM ATIENZA