Interview with a Philippine Daily Inquirer Correspondent on Photojournalism

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From left to right: columnist JZ Reyes, Carmela Reyes-Estrope of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and Bulacan State University journalism student Jockie Berog and Charisse Mercado. Photo by Jockie Berog.

“I’ve dreamed of becoming a journalist since I was a child, at about the time when I was seven years old. I was so happy whenever I was able to write phrases with rhyming words. Then I would shout because I was overjoyed. I’d tell my friends, ‘You know, I successfully wrote this poem.’ I always love writing. When I was in high school, my sulating pormal or sulating impormal always received high marks, whether it’s written in English or Filipino,” narrated Mrs. Carmela Reyes-Estrope as she reminisced her beginnings in the field of writing.

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Estrope during the course of the interview. Photo by Jockie Berog.

As a correspondent of The Philippine Daily Inquirer or PDI (one of the largest news sources in the Philippines) assigned in Bulacan since 1998, she had undergone trainings and workshops in photojournalism as required by her company. Her vast experience in the media industry gave her a treasury of unforgettable experiences and useful pieces of advice for rookie photojournalists, which she shared with us.

For Estrope, a good photojournalist has the eye to spot the best angle for the photo, just like how a good news writer knows what angle of the story sparks the interest of the reader. Multi-awarded photojournalists usually go on the same coverage with other photojournalists, but according to her, what sets them apart from others is the way they choose their angle. They can see the “things” which others cannot see.

But before they become experts, photojournalists must first know the basics. For her, these are the three basic rules that must be remembered by every photojournalist: (1) against the light law, which means one must not take a photo with an overly bright background (2) do not use your camera’s flash if there’s another source of light and (3) make sure that the spaces are maximized; delete the photo that has many useless spaces.

The more complex part of the interview comes with a narrative of her actual experiences in the field and the ethical and safety tips a photojournalist must practice for the sake of professionalism.

Front Page Photos and a Competition

If there’s one thing she considers as her most unforgettable experience in the field of photojournalism, it would be that time in December 2015 when she took photos of flooded areas in Calumpit and Hagonoy- two of the most low-lying and flood-prone municipalities in Bulacan. It was that time when Angat Dam had to release volumes of water as its water levels elevated beyond the spilling point due to runoff water from the Sierra Madre mountains.

The story goes like this: “I had to submerge myself into the flood so I can take photos of the residents. One of them was chosen to be in the front page of an Inquirer issue. It was about a man who carried his dog, holding it tightly, as he treaded the deep flood. It was as if he was trying to save it.

“I had other photos which were also published in PDI. One was a photo of the flooded Calumpit church’s façade. This caused the cancellation of the simbang gabi ceremonies. The inside was dry and there are about three relocated families there. ”

She also deems the experience as the most heart-breaking one she had as a photojournalist. “It’s because it’s drama. It’s dramatic to see how people struggle to survive during those calamities and how they bravely walked through harmful waters trying to save their properties and animals. [How come] a man would hold his dog instead of a blanket, a chair, or a child or young member of their family.”

Other than that, another photo of hers that was bannered on PDI’s front page was about the longest pastillas candy made in the Philippines during the Singkaban Festival 2008.

She also shared with us the time when she won a photography competition in Bulacan. “This photo is related to the Earth hour. I turned off the lights so only the silhouette of the candles can be seen.”

On Ethical Issues and Safety Tips

Estrope also talked about the ethical issues a photojournalist may face on the course of his career.

One of the things she emphasized as a “major no no” is when a photojournalist fabricates through giving instructions to the subject about how should he pose for a particular photo. “There should be no such thing as ‘please come nearer’ or ‘fix your hair.’ If you’re a [photojournalist], you must capture the action, the life and the drama [in its rawness and reality.]”

Another photojournalism law she discussed with us was about the photos which “must not be taken.”

She said that one doesn’t have to take ethically and morally improper photos even if they hold journalistic value. Those kinds of photos are either gory or sexually suggestive. One example she shared with us is when a media practitioner captured a photo of the late RTC Bulacan judge Wilfredo Nieves when he was ambushed on Malolos last November 11. In the photo, which was uploaded in Facebook, Nieves was shown lifeless. “Lawyers, other judges, and the family of the victim requested to delete that photo because it’s ethically and morally not right,” she said. “You disrespect the deceased when you do something like that.” She also remembered a particular situation when a couple was making out in the middle of her coverage, another good example of a photo which “must not be taken.”

Lastly, every photojournalist must ask permission from the subject or the owner of the subject before he gets to take a picture, even if he has to go through lengths just to ask for it. One instance she gave is when she wrote a story about the haunted house Ilusorio Mansion, popularly known as Bahay na Pula, in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. “Before I get to take a picture, I had to ask permission from the municipal officials and the owners themselves. But it’s not easy because the Ilusorio clan doesn’t live in Bulacan. I had to use my channels so I can contact the mansion’s caretaker to ask permission.”

As for the safety tips, she said that one must take care of the camera because it’s expensive. But ultimately, one must take care of his life the most because no amount of money can revive the dead.

She told us a story about a shabu laboratory raid in which she was one of the back-up media man. During that time, she had double thoughts about whether or not she would take photographs because there was a closed car near the scene. She was thinking that there might be druglords inside who would eventually follow her to claim her life.

The interview concluded with that answer, and after that we took a selfie with columnist JZ Reyes inside the Bulacan Press Club office on Wednesday, January 13. If there’s something we consider as the best advice for photojournalists which encompasses all the aspects she had discussed, it would be: “It’s not enough that a photojournalist is good in technicalities. He must also have the heart.”

About Carmela Reyes-Estrope and her Affliations

Carmela Reyes-Estrope graduated from Central Escolar University with a bachelor degree in journalism in 1990. She applied for Masters Degree in Philippine History and Master Degree in Journalism at U.P. Diliman, and a degree in Law at San Sebastian College of Law, but unfortunately she wasn’t able to finish them due to her busy schedule.

She previously worked in Manila Standard, Manila Tribune and Philcom as a correspondent and in Marcelo H. del Pilar National High School as an English and Journalism teacher.

She currently works in The Philippine Daily Inquirer as a correspondent assigned in Bulacan since 1998 and a part-time journalism professor in Bulacan State University since 2010. She’s also the owner and editor-in-chief of weekly Bulacan newspaper News Core.

She’s the current president of both Bulacan Press Club and Camp Alejo Santos Press Core, and a member of the National Union of Philippines Journalists and The Philippine Daily Inquirer Correspondents Guild. She’s listed among the top 20 PDI correspondents in terms of income.

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