by Dianne Carmie Basilio
You can see him walking around town wearing a plain t-shirt, shorts, and a cap. You see him roam through the streets of Grove and Lopez Avenue on his bicycle.
His simple demeanor belies the fact that he is one of the most influential Asian Photographers according to Invisible Photographer Asia.
“Ako, kasama ng mga brothers ko, we just bought a camera. We started experimenting. Tapos yun na yun, doon nagsimula,” said Baluyut when asked how his career and passion for photography started. More than 30 years later, he found himself living his passion for photography.
Baluyut started as a photojournalist, he worked for the Associated Press, Malaya, and the Manila Times. But what defined him as a photographer is the fact that he was able document the protest movement against Marcos and was a part of the Mosquito Press. He worked for newspapers Now, Baluyut is a documentary photographer residing in Los Baños with his partner, Precious Leaño, and their two sons.
Capturing Los Baños
“I am proud of documenting my life here in Los Baños.”
For him, being able to document life through photographs does not end. Compared to photojournalism, when you run out of news, there is really nothing that you can capture. Unlike in documentary photography, it is a never ending story. He even adds “Unless mamatay ka. But still, you never know.” Furthermore, self expression is easier in documentary photography and it is one of the reasons why he chose to pursue documentary photography instead of photojournalism.
He says living in Los Baños liberated his photography. “Noong nag start na ako mag post ng pictures ng nature, kagaya [ng] flowers, siguro inisip ng mga nakakakilala sa akin ‘Hala nababakla na si Alex.’ Pero hindi eh, that is still documenting. Naging open lang [ako] sa mga bagay that usually you won’t notice kase nasa isip mo dapat strong ang dating. It’s still my photograph, ang iniiba ko na lang diyan ay ang style kagaya ng captions.” It is only in Los Baños that he experienced nature and tranquility which allowed him to loosen up when it comes to his photography. Los Baños freed him from being stuck in a photography style that appeared more “masculine.”
Like most people who pursued a career in photography, Baluyut second guessed his passion when he was just starting his career. Even his brothers who also loved the craft shifted from photography to film or advertising. “There came a time that I had to think about it. Pero napamahal na ako and sa isip ko, wala ng natira eh [sa photography].”
If he hadn’t pursued photography, he said he would have probably been an accountant, a history teacher/historian or even a chef. These what ifs have become a part of Baluyut. In fact, aside from being the established documentary photographer that he is, he is also a curator, mentor/teacher, and community cook.
Teaching has always been something that Baluyut wanted to do, so he started a Masterclass in Documentary Photography (MCDP) where he teaches and shares about documentary photography. MCDP started in 2010 and is now on its 11th wave. Through the MCDP, he wants aspiring photographers to create their own story and have their own adventures like him.
Furthermore, Baluyut also initiated the Art Relief Mobile Kitchen (ARMK) that conducts missions to help and feed communities hit by natural disasters. ARMK was established on November 15,2013; eight days after Typhoon Yolanda hit the country. As of this writing ARMK has fed more than 100,000 people.
Baluyut and his family has no plans of leaving Los Baños. Aside from having beautiful sceneries like Mount Makiling and Laguna Lake to photograph, Baluyut admires how people in Los Baños still practice Filipino values.
With the hope of inspiring the Los Baños community, Baluyut has this to say to everyone whether they are planning to pursue a career in photography or not:
“In this day and age, it’s getting harder and harder to make a name for yourself and start a career without being diverse. Diverse yung interests mo and hindi lang sa photography; sa buhay [rin]. Hindi mo pwede i-isolate yung sarili mo. You should open yourself and that’s the only way na makikita mo path mo.”