Portraits 13: Douglas M. Berry

One of the surprising and fulfilling moments that happened earlier this year was reconnecting with Doug Berry, a colleague of mine from Brooks Institute. He called me one night and said that he was turning 50 this year and had lost touch with a lot of his old friends from school. He wanted to reconnect. He also felt that he had reached a milestone in his life that he wanted someone to take his portrait. He said he could only think of me to do it. I said yes right away because he took mine back in the day for a Hasselblad Student Showcase ad. I was happy to give back and return the favor to him. I was honored of course but panicked as I have not shot a portrait in years! I had to dust off my strobes and needed to practice big time. In the end, I had to trust myself and know that something beautiful would happen. And, I was pleased with what came out of the session. We even got to reminisce and talk about the good old days and realized that we've led parallel lives. Next week is his birthday. He lives down south and I am unable to be there but I hope he had a great party this weekend. Cheers, Doug!

Douglas M. Berry. San Francisco, CA/ ©Stella Kalaw

Douglas M. Berry. San Francisco, CA/©Stella Kalaw

Writing on my Face

I found a set of 4x5 polaroids last week while looking for pictures to post for throwback Thursday on Facebook.These were exposure tests from a portrait that Adam Booth took of me back in 1997. I didn't know what to do with these outtakes and I didn't want to throw them away. One day, something urged me to write some kind of manifesto on my washout face. So I took a black marker and began to scribble my thoughts. There are six polaroids from this set but I am only sharing one. The others were just a bit too personal.

. Stella Kalaw portrait/ ©Adam Booth

Stella Kalaw portrait/©Adam Booth

Portraits 12

I saw this gentleman emerge from the garage last Wednesday. He was heading back from his break to the diner around the corner. He crossed the fluorescent light and I instantly thought the scene would make a great portrait. I said hello and asked if I could take his picture. He gladly obliged. I was quite surprised. Sometimes it just takes confidence to ask.

Mission Street Garage. San Francisco, CA/ ©Stella Kalaw

Mission Street Garage. San Francisco, CA./©Stella Kalaw

Portraits 11

I passed several men on the road making their way to work in the fields. They were very polite and friendly. I asked if I could take their portrait and some gladly obliged. As a child when we traveled to Batangas during the summer, I remember seeing only glimpses of hardworking men and women from the car window dotting the fields along the provincial roads. Somehow, making these portraits is my small gesture of honoring them and the work they do in their daily lives.

Silay, Negros Occidental./ ©Stella Kalaw

Silay, Negros Occidental./ ©Stella Kalaw

Portrait 12

I popped my head in one of the offices at my old alma mater looking for Ms. Salgado. When she emerged from her desk, a smile came over her face. She instantly recognized me and blurted out my full name before I even had a chance to introduce myself. I was quite flattered she still knew me considering the thousands of students she taught in her 30 year career.

Ms. Carina Salgado, Home Economics teacher./ ©Stella Kalaw
Ms. Carina Salgado, Home Economics teacher./ ©Stella Kalaw




Gorm. El Cerrito, CA/ ©Stella Kalaw

It was scorching hot in Saint Louis, Senegal when my travel partner Allyson and I met Gorm in July of 1996. He was sitting with Mauve at one of the tables in the veranda overlooking Point Faidherbe Bridge at Hotel dela Poste. We were wandering aimlessly that afternoon and happened to walk inside the hotel, probably looking lost and confused. He invited us over for a beer. He just finished working with a local organization as part of his masters degree program in health services. We told him we were students photographing in the area for a school documentary project. During our conversation, we asked if he could share a few tips since we were staying for a month and half in the city.

"You know, there is this American who comes by every day around 6:00pm and uses the phone in the lobby. I don't know her at all but you might want to come by tomorrow and see if she's there. She may be able to show you around," he replied.

He left for the States the next day. We took his advice and met and became friends with Lisa F, a peace corps volunteer stationed in Saint Louis for two years. She spoke the local language and was able to help us with translations. She gave us tips on how to navigate around the city and dished out common sense advice on handling various situations. We also hung out together when she was available.

After I got back to Santa Barbara, I sent Gorm a thank you note and included two matted polaroid transfer prints that I took in Saint Louis. He was thrilled to receive the photographs. I thought that was the last time I would hear from him but he sent an email four years later in 2000. By this time, I had settled in the Bay Area. He told me he had relocated to Sydney with his partner and he was in town visiting his parents who lived in the East Bay. He brought along his mom and briefly stopped by the office I used to rent at a photo studio in SOMA. 

Fast forward to June 2011. I received an email from him via my website and he commissioned me to take portraits of his family. As I drove to his parents' home on the day of the shoot, I thought how amazing it was that we met in such a remote part of the world and he had stayed in touch all these years.

"You must come and visit me in Australia!" he said. A cousin of mine moved to Sydney several years ago and it has been on my list of places to visit. I hope to take him up on his offer in the near future.



"When will you come for a visit?" Tita E would bring it up whenever she called or emailed around my birthday or during Christmas. Sadly, I am unable to give her a definitive answer. Daily life takes over. Sometimes, resources are low. In spite of my desire to take a vacation, plans somehow take a backseat. She often commutes between the US and Asia so our schedules never seem to match up. When I had an opportunity to visit Seattle in 2007 for a group show at Wallspace gallery, she was out of town.

Finally the stars aligned and we reconnected two weeks ago.

One roll. That's all I shot while I was there. I learned that sometimes putting down the camera is not a bad idea. I listened more and shared many stories. I felt more present in the moment. Usually, my mind is distracted thinking about how to compose the frame, figuring out the light quality in a scene or finding the best expression. Half the time, I miss details in conversations.

It is hard to do and I sometimes cannot help myself. For instance, a moment of silence came between us. While she was deep into her own thoughts, I quietly reached for the camera nearby and took this photograph. The yearning to record is always there.

Tita E. Seattle, WA/ ©Stella Kalaw

Tita E. Seattle, WA/ ©Stella Kalaw

Portraits 10

"What are the kids up to these days?" I asked our guide, Roger. "Internet gaming." He answered. He knew of a friend whose son stole and sold vegetables from the farm so he could use the money to play games online. After hearing this, I asked him if there was an internet cafe we could visit. Luckily, there was one next to where we were having lunch.

Internet Gamers. Basco, Batanes. Philippines/ ©Stella Kalaw

Portraits 07

It was often mentioned during our trip that the crime rate in Batanes was very low. In fact, the police officers did not even carry firearms while on duty. After hearing this, I was curious to find out if this was true. I then asked our guide if we could visit a local police station to possibly take a few portraits.

Police Officers Oscar Velasco and Lucio Come. Basco, Batanes. Philippines/ ©Stella Kalaw

Police Officers Oscar Velasco and Lucio Come. Basco, Batanes. Philippines/ ©Stella Kalaw

Police Officer Oscar Velasco. Basco, Batanes. Philippines/ ©Stella Kalaw

Police Officer Oscar Velasco. Basco, Batanes. Philippines/ ©Stella Kalaw

Portraits 06

One of the things I wanted to do during this trip was to focus on making portraits. I've thought about it for a few years but have not made a serious effort. It was not until last year when Andy Adams picked the only portrait I featured in all of my projects for 100 Portraits, 100 Photographers did it cross my mind again. These images are just explorations. I'll be sharing more in the next few posts.

Mang Peding, Substitute Driver/ ©Stella Kalaw

Leslie and Georgette, Household Helpers/ ©Stella Kalaw

Portraits 05

We visited the home of the oldest man in Sabtang Island. His name is Marcelo Hosta Nero, 104 years old. His secret to long life?  He ate vegetables and some fish.  He also happened to be the grandfather of our tour driver, Emilio. Both of them are pictured below.

Marcelo Hosta Nero, 104 years old. Sabtang Island. Batanes, Philippines/ ©Stella Kalaw

Emilio H. Fidel. Sabtang Island. Batanes, Philippines./ ©Stella Kalaw

Morning Walk with Dad

My dad usually starts his morning exercise around 6:30 am. He used to walk 3 kilometers a day but since his back condition deteriorated this past year, he can only manage to finish half his regular route. At 78, he refuses to undergo surgery and opts for a combination of physical therapy and pain medication instead.

"Sana, may sampung taon pa ako, Anak." He remarked.  (I hope I can live ten more years, Child.)

He has not traveled overseas in years so my siblings and I take turns visiting Manila to spend time with him.

I brought a camera with me this particular day so I could remember his vigor.

Portrait 03

© Stella Kalaw

He went outside to light a cigarette after the thanksgiving meal. While we were conversing, I noticed his side-lit profile and the smoke hovering around him as he puffed his stick. I excused myself and quickly ran inside the house to grab my camera. I went back and clicked a few frames until I captured this image.

Marianne Villanueva on what the word "story" means to her

Marianne Villanueva, Writer.
©Stella Kalaw

My glib response would be to say "narrative." But it's got to have emotion, so maybe what I mean is it's "emotional narrative." It has to touch you, even if it's told in a completely documentary way. I also feel that a story has to show someone (the author or the characters) trying to get at the truth, whether it be a larger political, social, or cultural truth, or just a small truth like "this is what it feels like to get hit in the head by a paper airplane" or something like that. So, any story has got to have a connection to something larger than itself. Because if it doesn't have this larger connection, it doesn't touch me. And, what's the point then of the story if it doesn't touch the reader?

Source: The Short Review


Mayor of the Roses
Ginseng and other Tales from Manila

Read Online:

Dumaguete. White Whale Review
The Hand. Juked

Blog: Kanlaon

101 years old

©Stella Kalaw

I took this portrait last year of my grandmother's sister when she turned 101 years old. According to Tita Grace, she is stll alert and reads every night. She stopped wearing dentures a long time ago saying, "At my age, I've earned it."

Doreen Fernandez on Food Writing

Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez
©2002 Stella Kalaw

Obviously, it was not the vocabulary that counted , or even the diction, the syntax, the sentence structure. It was getting to the reader through the words to the experience. It was choosing the words that echoed, that reverberated--umaalingawgaw. And then it was making the readers hear the silence between the echoes, and themselves load them with memory, sensation and finally meaning. The words need not even be descriptive at all. One may not even need to say luscious, succulent, savory. Very often the words themselves carry the evocativeness.

Writing about Food: Savor the Word, Swallow the World
From the book, Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture

Values and the Creative Process


©Stella Kalaw

Announcer: I'm sure you have been given awards and recognitions. Are these important to you?


Carmencita: Not really.

Announcer: Although, it's a great affirmation of what you do or how you are doing.

Carmencita: What gives me a lot of satisfaction is the joy of having reached a certain level of playing and being able to share my music.

I got up from the sofa, grabbed a pencil and a piece of scrap paper and scribbled down this part of the radio interview. When T arrived from work yesterday, I shared it with her. Mrs. Aspiras' answer struck a chord with us for we have had several discussions along this line. When it comes down to what we value in our chosen fields above anything else, it is that love for the creative process. T has fought the step up to management because it would take her away from the intimacy of the design process. Her decision is often perceived by others as a lack of ambition. Although she is committed to her values, she confesses that she sometimes struggles with this perception.

In the interview, Mrs. Aspiras mentioned that she practices for 4 hours everyday. It reminds me of how T can get engrossed in front of the computer for hours agonizing over several design directions at the same time she tinkers with the database she built from scratch to improve her workflow. "It's all in the details." she would always say to me.

When I look back at the moments that were fulfilling for me, it was either an idea suddenly came together for a project after mulling it over for months or the process of achieving a certain level of creating pictures that is consistent with my personal vision.

Alex Webb perfectly sums this up through Alec Soth's entry at the Magnum's Blog entitled Wear Good Shoes: Advice to Young Photographers:

Photograph because you love doing it, because you absolutely have to do it, because the chief reward is going to be the process of doing it. Other rewards -- recognition, financial remuneration -- come to so few and are so fleeting. And even if you are somewhat successful, there will almost inevitably be stretches of time when you will be ignored, have little income, or -- often -- both. Certainly there are many other easier ways to make a living in this society. Take photography on as a passion, not a career.




Ed, 2008
Carlton, OR
©Stella Kalaw

I've been friends with Eduardo for over 15 years. I was first introduced to him by my brother and my younger sister. They were involved in a theatre production back in high school. When I moved to California, my brother handed me his phone number in Los Angeles. He wanted to make sure I knew someone from the past--someone familiar. And, who could not forget Eduardo? Flamboyant, funny and highly energetic, he was never one to be missed in a crowd.

We hit it off the minute we spoke on the phone. Since then, we called each other regularly. We cracked jokes and ended up laughing uncontrollably until we could not breath. Other times, our conversations were more sober-- we talked about our hopes and dreams and comforted each other when it came to matters of the heart. After school, we still kept in touch though not as often as we used to.

When I saw him again a few weeks ago, we just picked up where we left off. I feel so blessed to have friends who continue to maintain a personal connection in spite of the distance between us. As always, he narrated both real and fictitious stories over the course of the weekend complete with theatrical gestures mixed in with his boisterous laughter. Not only was he entertaining, he was also a gracious host. Before I left, I took his photograph while we were in Carlton.