(notes on Gene Boyd Lumawag’s photography)
By Jean Claire A. Dy
*originally published in http://www.mindanews.com, November 2005
Susan Sontag once wrote in her germinal book On Photography that to “collect photographs is to collect the world.” For his part, Gene Boyd Lumawag did not only collect photographs but he spent most of his short lived life shooting still and moving images of the world in which he had traversed different realities and spaces.
Gene Boyd’s journey into the world of lights and shadows was short of being serendipitous. At a young age, he was already trained in the various techniques of photography by his veteran photojournalist father, Rene Lumawag. In fact, it was at age nine when Boyd first published a photograph that he took.
One night over an after-dinner coffee at Apung Kula, Boyd recalled that the first picture he took that got published in the local papers was that of beauty pageant winners. That night was one of those rare yet memorable moments when I was witness to both father and son regaling me with “dark room secrets” including vivid stories of their own “photography blunders.”
But contrary to what people might have thought, Boyd in his childhood, didn’t dream of becoming a photojournalist. Some close friends say he had originally wanted to be an architect because he was fascinated with how edifices are built and designed. Even during his adult years, he sometimes admitted of still having that fascination with architecture.
Once while having coffee with friends in some quaint coffee shop in Illustre, Boyd shared this side of him by gushing about the structures he saw in Europe while he was there as Philippine Representative to the 2003 Asia-Europe Young Photographers Forum. He raved about the colorful tall almost asymmetrically designed modern buildings in Austria, the haunting historical churches in Amsterdam, and the various museums of fine arts in Germany.
Perhaps then it is safe to say that Boyd didn’t choose photography, it chose him. Or perhaps, without waxing poetic, he just realized one ordinary day while shooting with his Nikon F90 camera that he loved taking pictures.
During his teenage years, Boyd was already shooting pictures for various local newspapers, news wire agencies and for the Philippine Inquirer’s Mindanao Bureau. Throughout these years, he had accumulated several awards for his photography, which included being finalist to the prestigious Catholic Mass Media Award in 2000.
As a photojournalist, Gene Boyd had his own way of regarding the pain of others. One of his most striking early works is a picture he took of “bakwits,” during the 2000 all-out war in Cotabato. The picture foregrounded a young boy riding a carabao with a throng of evacuees following him as backdrop. Boyd used to call that picture his own Amorsolo. But the irony is that beneath the picture’s rustic almost idyllic Amorsoloesque composition, one can sense an amalgam of disorder, violence, pain and even dread.
Even a cursory survey of Boyd’s photographs yields a reading that there is really a shared quality of an underlying sense of flux between order and disorder among his works. His pictures can be very formalist (especially in terms of composition) at a glance but if one looks closely one could see an attempt at deconstructing the viewer’s way of seeing.
Landscapes for Gene Boyd are melancholic and hysterically silent. There is a tinge of madness in beauty as saffron hues are juxtaposed with dark indigo bleeding into black.
Nature now becomes beautifully strange as though constantly reminding us that beyond sunsets, beyond light lies darkness; its depth unfathomable yet familiar.
Some of his friends even observe that most of Boyd’s pictures reflect the zeitgeist of his generation. He was a child of the 90s; a Kurt Cobain fan who loved watching Johnny Bravo flex his muscles on Cartoon Network and who listed Pulp Fiction, Naturalborn Killers and Trainspotting as among his favorite movies. He had a quirky in-your-face 90s sensibility; a photographer’s gaze that depicts the Self (him and/or the viewer) as alienated from the images vis a vis the world he/she is looking at.
“Looking at Boyd’s pictures makes you feel like you’re on a roller coaster ride while taking mental snapshots of the scenes/images that pass before you,” John, one of Boyd’s friends, explained. John cited Boyd’s landscape shot of a tree in Vienna as an example of this perspective. While the picture may allude to the biblical Joshua tree, John and I agreed that it reminded us of U2s seventh album using the same title.
If photographs are really experiences captured, Gene Boyd must have captured thousands of experiences (not necessarily his own) during his short life as photojournalist. He did not only shoot images of pristine landscapes but also captured realities evoking human frailties, hardships and travesties. His work both as photojournalist and Photo Editor at MindaNews somehow afforded him the chance to spend most of his life taking pictures of Mindanao. The images he took are living samples of his own way of seeing Mindanao as photojournalist, video-documentarist, and most of all, as Mindanawon. For one can never separate the artist from his milieu.
Gene Boyd’s return from the Asia- Europe Young Photographers Forum in Amsterdam early 2004 marked his shift from news photography to documentary photography. Recognizing the persuasive power of pictures, he continued to capture stark realities of Mindanao that not only showed humanity in its lowliest but also illustrated hope, compassion, and the triumph of the human spirit.
One of his latest photo essay (a throw back to black and white photography and reminiscent of Siao Salgado) that depicted the De Oro mining community is an example of the powerfully poetic documentary photographs he has produced. The naturally framed black and white images possessed a sort of epic quality as well as human vitality that are imbued with his own way of deconstructing his position as an outsider/viewer looking into the lives of people in this mining community.
His dedication and passion for the art of photography coupled with his youthful commitment to change people’s consciousness is something that can be admired of Gene Boyd. “It doesn’t really matter if I earn a million pesos a month or P10 a day, as long as I can squeeze the shutter and put my eye to the camera’s viewfinder,” he once said in an interview.
The images Gene Boyd captured are his imprints—living proofs of his never ending romance with images, with the world, as he had fallen in love ever so often every time he peeked into the viewfinder, searched for the right frame, waited for the right moment and clicked the shutter button. Yes, collecting pictures is collecting the world. But for Gene Boyd, taking pictures is more than anything else like falling in love with the world over and over again. –end-