As prescribed by Paulina Constancia

Passion for Photography 6: Melvyn Calderon – Nature/Collaborations for a Cause (Philippines)

From the USA, we head to the Philippines and get acquainted with noted international photojournalist Melvyn Calderon.  It is curious to see how he has moved in a different direction and has collaborated with a creative spirit of another genre .  As Philippine art critic Cid Reyes said it, “Just exactly what was a once-incarcerated political activist, former Time and Fortune magazine photo-journalist more at home in strife-torn war zones, doing in a remote islet forbidden to the public and populated by a throng of shrieking, migratory birds?”

We focus today on Melvyn Calderon’s photos from his visit to the Tubbataha Reef National Park (TRNP) and his collaboration with celebrated painter and print artist Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera to raise public awareness of the significance of Tubbataha’s bird island sanctuary.

The Camera/The Beginning

Calderon himself is surprised how he was led to photography. He remembers, though, his sister receiving a camera as a birthday gift from their father, the architect Mel V. Calderon. Not knowing how to use a camera, his sister had sought her brother’s advice. And the rest, as we say, is history…(Cid Reyes, Birds of Tubbataha catalog)

melvyn- tubbataha

Razzle dazzle - Melvyn

Artistic Sensibilities & Sense of Composition

For his instinctive sense of composition, Calderon, who had no formal art studies, can only credit his exposure to his father’s art collection, among which were the works of the late Philippine National Artist Botong Francisco, and his informal drawing lessons under Victorio Edades and Rafael Asuncion, who were among his father’s friends. As an architect, he had often given them painting commissions. Calderon also counted among his friends the social realists Nune Alvarado, Jose Tence Ruiz, Antipas Delotavo, and the abstractionist Gus Albor. Not surprisingly, their passion for the arts has influenced Calderon.(Cid Reyes, Birds of Tubbataha catalog)

Lets do the samba- melvyn

The Birds of Tubbataha
An art collaboration between Photographer Melvyn Calderon and Philippine National Artist Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera

In 2010, Calderon had invited Philippine national artist Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera to join him on the WWF live-aboard boat on a trip to the Tubbataha Reef National Park (TRNP). On board were foreign scientists, ornithologists, and marine biologists. De rigueur, of course, was diving into the marine underworld of Tubbataha, which is a conflation of the two Samal words: tuba and taha, meaning “a long reef exposed at low tide.” It is located in the Sulu Sea, southeast of Puerto Princesa, Palawan. As a marine sanctuary, Tubbataha is famous worldwide for its coral and fish species, which have been documented in numerous photographs and paintings.
(Cid Reyes, Birds of Tubbataha catalog)

Free as the Birds: For Melvyn Calderon and BenCab, the visit to the Bird Islet of Tubbataha was truly a trip to bountiful: a liberating experience that unleashed their creative impulses. As well, they learned a lesson from the birds: freedom, whether political or artistic, is always hard-won.

* Melvyn and BenCab’s trip to the Tubbataha Reef National Park (TRNP) resulted in an artistic collaboration – an exhibition entitled,”The Birds of Tubbataha” which was shown from October 13  to December  9  in 2012 at  the GALLERY INDIGO of the BenCab Museum, Baguio, Philippines.

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 9.21.20 am

Breathless, 61 x 91.4 cm
Photo by Melvyn Caladeron

To the viewers of “Birds of Tubbataha”, it is worthwhile heeding the words of the poet Emily Dickinson: “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.” (excerpts from The Birds of Tubbataha catalog, by Cid Reyes)

Watercolor on handmade paper
45.7 x 33 cm, 2012
Art by BenCab
Note: BenCab worked from his own photographs, then translated them into paintings

Photography Tips
It’s all about the “decisive moment” as the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (father of modern photography) stated in an interview.

“Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”Henri Cartier-Bresson

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 10.21.48 am

“Delightful, yet insightful is the emotional perspective which Calderon brought to bear on the photographs of his fine-feathered friends. By humanizing their situation, behavior, and moods, Calderon captured universal meanings that illuminate the nature of man. By turns inspiring and disquieting, his photographs define what it is to be human… by letting man’s spirit soar and take flight with avian wings.”
– Cid Reyes, Birds of Tubbataha catalog, 2012


“Bencab, Calderon donate show proceeds to Tubattaha efforts”
Image & Info via gmanetwork 

Learn more about this art collaboration between these two Filipino masters:
“BenCab & Melvyn Calderon take flight with art”, The Philippine Star

Learn more about the Seabird Sanctuary of Tubbataha
“Seabird sanctuary:on the wings of change” by Gregg Yan

Learn more about the BenCab Museum

Learn more about art critic and artist Cid Reyes

Note: The excerpts and images  from  “The Birds of Tubbataha” catalog that are included in this feature are used with permission from Melvyn Calderon.


DDoA note: Iblue earthnspired by Melvyn and BenCab’s collaboration, I searched the internet for other collaborations for a cause involving photographers and professionals in other fields. I chanced upon the Blue Earth Alliance.  “Blue Earth believes documentary photography can inspire positive change. The organisation supports visual storytelling on critical environmental and social issues through direct assistance to photographers and a collaborative community of professionals.” via blue earth

FYI: BLUE EARTH is presenting a conference called “Collaborations for a Cause” . This is a great opportunity to learn about collaborative issue-driven stortelling…

A little about COLLABORATIONS FOR CAUSE    September 25-27, 2014    Seattle, Washington
A two-day event that brings together cutting-edge content producers and front-line organizations for an exploration of how to harness the power of the evolving media landscape. Presented by Blue Earth, the third annual conference builds upon the organization’s 18-year history of facilitating issue-driven visual storytelling. Read more on blue earth…

Who Should Attend: Nonprofit program, marketing and communications staff , Directors and account supervisors at public relations firms, Communications and education staff at government agencies and universities, Program directors, exhibit designers and curators at institutions (museums, aquariums, etc.), Photographers, Filmmakers and producers, Graphic and sound designers, Concerned citizens, activists and change-makers

Click here  to see some of the past collaborations supported by Blue Earth


image for headerSo do… as photographer Melvyn Calderon did – don’t be shy to stray away from your usual subjects and stories. And dare to collaborate with other creative spirits. Who knows where the connection will take you —it took them to a bird island sanctuary and led to a joint art exhibition.


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This entry was posted on September 13, 2014 by in Collaborate, Explore, Share and tagged , , .
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