Aliwan Festival: a photographer’s dream

The Aliwan Festival (or fiesta) was held this weekend in Manila. The festival is a massive event that brings together cultures from all across the Philippines in the form of a street parade, beauty pageant, and float competition. Braving the heat wasn’t easy, but I felt a strong urge to use this as a launching point from which to begin focusing more effort on photographing the Philippines (since it is my home now) – I wasn’t disappointed.

The variety of costumes and cultural displays was staggering. Thousands of people overlayed with a backdrop of rhythmic drums, pulsing dance, and myriad colors created a sense of energy unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

My biggest mistake of the day was to only bring 12GB of memory cards and no way to offload them. I shoot primarily RAW when possible, and with the 21MP Canon 5D mk II, I burned through 8GB cards in no time. Mixing in some 1080p movies didn’t help; I really wish I could have done more video. In regards to lenses, I found myself most often using the Canon 70-200mm with a 1.4x teleconverter in order to get more intimate with portraits. I would have loved to keep a wide angle on my 40D backup but Novita was busy capturing some fantastic shots.

It’s my first fiesta / festival in the Philippines but definitely not my last. I walked away from the 6 hours of heat with a sense of fulfillment I haven’t had in months with my camera – I feel inspired for the first time in a long time.

Now comes the mass culling of 620 photos. Excessive? Perhaps. But wow, what an experience. I’ll be posting them as I get the time. Here are a few to kick things off:

Massive fire north of Makati, Manila – November 16, 2009

I looked out my living room window to see this massive blaze north of Makati, Manila. I searched the news and Twitter but didn’t see any reports at all.

I took photos and video with the Canon 5D mk II and a 70-200mm + 1.4x teleconverter

Massive fire in Manila, November 16, 2009 (by javajive)

Massive fire in Manila, November 16, 2009 (by javajive)

Massive fire in Manila, November 16, 2009 (by javajive)

*Update* – I found the following news article this morning:

MANILA – A fire hit a slum area in Mandaluyong City Monday evening and burned an estimated 1,000 homes affecting about 5,000 families.

The Mandaluyong City Central Fire Station said many of the the houses at the Welfareville Compound in Barangay Addition Hills were razed.

The fire reportedly started about 7 p.m.

The Bureau of Fire Protection raised the fire alarm to Task Force India which meant that all firefighters and volunteers in the National Capital Region were asked to respond.

Fire investigators have yet to say the cause of the blaze which late evening was declared already under control.

Investigators said that the fire quickly spread since most of the houses were made of light materials.

An estimated 5,000 families were left homeless.

City officials arrived and announced to affected residents that they will be temporarily relocated to a nearby school. The school will reportedly have to suspend classes Tuesday since the affected residents were expected to still use its facilities.



… strolling through pure white flour, sifting baby powder through your warm toes, or meandering through a path of cocaine* as far as the eye can see. Now, amplify that intensity by adding a dab of blue to the horizon; blue the color of afternoons forever spent on your back massaging shapes from clouds.

At first glance you fight back the urge to lay down and lick and lap at what surely must be powdered sugar from Willy Wonka’s Tropical Dreamscape.

Get the picture?

That’s Boracay.

The best beach I’ve ever seen.


I’ve journeyed to sundry beaches across the world. Some surrounded by towering peaks of limestone, others by gently sloping mountains sprawling into the sea, some backed by exquisite mansions, others by broken jagged fence posts. But speaking purely of the quality and consistency of sand, in harmony with tranquil liquid sky, I’ve yet to find a rival to Boracay. The closest memory conjured by this beach is that of White Sands, New Mexico, sans the aquamarine contrast of the South China Sea.

The photographs that follow are only a fleeting glimpse into the serenity that saturates this nirvana.

*I’ve NEVER touched cocaine, so don’t even go there.