Flash[back] Photography (Part 1)

by Rene Villaroman/AJPress

LOS ANGELES – Scorpio had been a member of the Press Photographers Philippines,a ten-year organization comprised mostly of community newspaper photographers, but after he was delegated the assignment of writing a story about the history of FilAm photographers in Los Angeles, he had to do his homework extensively to consider the photographers’ groups organized before he arrived in California in the ‘80s.

Scorpio called Andy Tecson, a long-time Los Angeles resident and one of the most visible and well-known special events photographers in LA. Tecson had been one of the stalwarts of a core group of photographers that established Salamin Filipino-American Photographers Association. Salamin means glass in English. Tecson touched base with a Salamin colleague, Pete Lamdagan, a semi-retired former Federal government employee who was one of the club’s neophyte members during its existence from mid-1970’s until its slow demise in the early ‘80s.

Scorpio made a call to Pete Lamdagan.“You could write a book about the FilAm photographers in Los Angeles,” Lamdagan said over the phone. “There is a wealth of information about them,” he added.

A meeting in Bahay Kubo led to the establishment of new friendships. Bahay Kubo Natin Restaurant remains the meeting place of choice for Press Photographers Philippines – USA. Scorpio also called Larry Pelayo, a community journalist and former editor of the now defunct LA Monitor. He was instrumental in co-founding the PPP in the mid-1990s.

Salamin – a collegial group

“There was only one umbrella (organization) then,” remembers Lamdagan. “But you know what? it was always on the boat. If Gil (Garin) was there, you know we were on the same boat.”

Garin was a renowned consummate photographic craftsman during that time. He hired professional models and 15 to 20 Salamin members would shoot almost non-stop on certain weekends. “It was not a small group,” Lamdagan said. “It had at least 15 to 20 all Filipino photographers, some were professionals, and they shot weddings and photos for the local newspapers at the time,” Lamdagan added.

At one point, Rolly Ecarma, a member of the core group, suggested establishing portfolios. “One day, we would gather and try to evaluate each other’s works. I was just shooting a variety of subjects in color and in black-and-white,” Lamdagan recalls. “It was very collegial. And I thought – from my perspective as a non-professional – these guys treat their photography as a serious hobby. They were aiming for master craftsmanship.” After they had put together their portfolios, Ecarma awarded them certificates.

Andy Tecson, who was Salamin’s first president, remembers how Salamin members threw themselves into every project. He said that during the celebration of Independence Day, the group put up a slide show of images provided by the Philippines’ Department of Tourism. “We would show these slides with the accompaniment of music to a FilAm audience, and city officials would let us set up the show at a park behind the Los Angeles City Hall. The shows were sponsored by a car dealership manager in Glendora.”

A souvenir program loaned to this writer showed that Salamin Association was formed in 1977, and listed a total membership of 23. Eric Furbeyre was Vice President, Cyril Cabison, Secretary, and Cris Redondiez, Treasurer. Eric Lachica was also a member before he moved to Washington to establish a coalition that’s working for Filipino World War II veterans

The club embarked on “A Day in the Life of…” project in which they spent a day photographing people at work and at play during a weekend at Redondo Beach.The members attempted to make their avocation or careers to incorporate the life of the Filipino community within the Southern California area by focusing all their efforts on them. “I thought the response was good. I thought we were going to have the pictures published in a book,” he said. The club also participated in the celebration in May of the Asian Pacific Islanders American Heritage Month by holding exhibitions at the MacArthur Park in the Westlake district of Lon Angeles.Once a month, Salamin would invite photography experts to lecture on different topics. “At one time we invited an American photographer who lectured on the use of different trick filters,” Andy recalls. “This was not a neophyte organization; there was always a core group that members could count on,” Lamdagan said. “We wanted to show that we had credentials approved by our own peer group, and that made us credible rather than fly-by-night. That’s the impression I got,” Lamdagan said proudly.

Rolly Ecarma and Jerry Tabije

At around 1991, Scorpio met Rolly Ecarma and Jerry Tabije who were friends. Together with Scorpio, Ding Carreon, and Bobby Saddul, they explored the formation of another photographers’ group. They met at the newly opened Edgardo’s Restaurant in a strip mall at the corner of Fountain Avenue and Vine St. in Hollywood. Scorpio knew little about Ecarma and Tabije except for the fact that they were former members of Salamin. Scorpio also learned from charter member Bobby Saddul that Ecarma attended the prestigious Art Center College in Pasadena and had worked at a large camera store in the Westside as a sales associate. Scorpio, who worked as a photojournalist and writer with the San Miguel Corporation Public Relations Division, had known Saddul since the late 1970s. They bumped into each other in LA in 1987.

Ecarma and Tabije would assume the roles of co-founders of what would be called Association of Filipino Photographers (AFP). Scorpio remembers some of the charter members: they were—apart from Saddul—Ding Carreon, Ernie Cheng, Irwin Jazmines, Zac Fernandez and himself. Jazmines and Fernan dez were former members of the world-class photography association, Camera Club of the Philippines. The AFP, under the tenuous leadership of Ecarma and Tabije, tried to replicate Salamin’s ideals. Ecarma, with the support of Tabije, Saddul and Scorpio advocated the preparation of individual portfolios as a prerequisite to full-time membership of everyone. The idea did not sit well with some neophyte members, and it never got off the ground. When the core group began pushing for the creation of a constitution and by-laws, the process of deliberation took even longer, and the project died in infancy. There were other reasons why AFP failed to sustain itself. Bickering and petty jealousies were rampant, and tempers were short. AFP did not live to celebrate its first year’s anniversary.  (To be continued).


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