At the center of Luneta is the Rizal Monument, and at its peripheries are photographers in blue and orange vests. Through instantly printed photos, they help visitors immortalize the scenery they admire and the loved ones who come with them. Despite the rise of smartphones, these photographers still wander around the park, as part of their livelihood.
I grew up walking around Luneta with my grandparents on Saturday mornings. On one of our weekend strolls a few years ago, I vaguely remember my mom and aunt asking someone to take photos of us: our grandparents, me, and the little kids in the family. We smiled for the camera and the next thing I knew, we received a printed copy instantly. It was taken by one of the photographers of Luneta. We still keep the photo.
Working as a photographer at Rizal Park since 2010, Angelito, or Litoy to his workmates, loved photography even before it became his livelihood. He says he has relatives who worked the same job.
“‘Yung masaya sila habang pini-picturan ko sila, yung feel na feel nila yung nagpapa-picture sila—gustong-gusto ko ‘yun,” he says.
Kuya Litoy tried applying for different corporate jobs, but he found that being a Luneta photographer was ultimately the right fit. “Araw-araw may pasok, nasa tao nalang kung aabsent. Ibig sabihin, araw-araw magta-tiyaga lang, may income na. Para rito talaga ako.”
Another veteran photographer, 52-year-old Kuya Pablo, was also pursuing a different career before he came to Luneta. “Dati kasi welder ako, kaso masisira ang mata ko kaya rito ako lumipat sa trabahong ‘to. Isang marangal na trabaho siya para sa akin. Sumasama ako sa tiyuhin ko noon na photographer din rito, (kaya) natuto ako sa camera. Hobby ko rin kasi ito,” Kuya Pablo shares. “May pinag-aralan ka man o wala, basta interesado ka, matututo ka.”
Kuya Pablo has witnessed the different phases of the historical park. He was already working as a Luneta photographer during the Marcos era when the pictures were still in black and white. He says he wouldn’t trade being a photographer for any other job.
As one would imagine, smartphones affected the demand for their service. “Isa ‘yun sa nagpahina ng kita sa amin,” Kuya Litoy says. Regardless, they carry on with their duty. “‘Di naman mauubos ang customer kasi sa laki ng Pilipinas, mayroon pa rin magpapa-picture na (galing sa) malalayong lugar, na hinahanap ang serbisyo ng kagaya kong photographer kasi ‘di sila satisfied sa cellphone. Yung iba tinatangkilik yung camera: malaki kasi siya, mas unique, at mas maganda.”
New and young photographers are also on the rise, not just in the park, but in the entire industry, along with trendy self-photo studios and photo booths. Regardless, they have their strategies for approaching customers and trying their luck.
“Diskarte ko ay maghanapbuhay nang maghanapbuhay. Inalok ko kayo; kung ayaw niyo, mag-aalok kami ulit (sa iba),” Kuya Pablo shares.
Kuya Litoy is guided by the same ethic. “Isipin mo, umulan, umaraw, bumagyo, nandito ako. Pandemic, nandito ako.”
Of course, there are plenty of days when they don’t get any customers or are faced with inclement weather. “Nag-iipon kami. Nakikita mo yung langgam? Ipon nang ipon ‘yan habang ‘di umuulan. ‘Pag umuulan, doon lang sila sa bahay nila—may stock sila ng pagkain. Gano’n ginagawa namin,” Kuya Pablo says.
“Kung mas lalong papagandahin ang Luneta, mas makakatulong din sa amin ‘yun. Pag maganda ang view, maraming magpapakuha.”
For Kuya Litoy and Kuya Pablo, being a photographer is not just their livelihood but also the preservation of the historical park and people’s memories in it. They want their fellow Filipinos to keep supporting our historical sites. “Proud tayo habang nagpapapicture tayo,” Kuya Litoy says. “Nakikita ng buong mundo o ng mamamayang Pilipino na ‘eto ang makasaysayang lugar ni Rizal. Nakikita (ito) ng lahat ng tao (at) nakikilala siya.”