Pictures of a Day in Old Downtown

Dried everlasting flower vendor who only sells during Fridays. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)   

On weekends, Quiapo teems with people toting various brands of cameras. They are part of the growing number of Filipinos young and old who are eager to be called “street photographers.”

Some are in organized groups, with an instructor or facilitator leading the pack of shooters. Others are alumni of previous workshops, who occasionally still hang out with their leader in Quiapo. Some come in hastily arranged trips with friends.

Aside from learning the craft of street photography, the fun and camaraderie brought by the trip to Quiapo keep the shooters showing up almost every weekend. Because of the reputation of Quiapo as a crime-ridden section of the metropolis, they feel safe going around in large numbers with their expensive cameras.

I have been going to Quiapo myself over the years. I spent time in the Muslim section for my project “Forced Isolation,” and my most recent project “Rodallie S. Mosende – Hope among the homeless on Paterno Street.” Mosende was homeless since birth, but through sheer determination against all odds, she is now a college student financed by an anonymous benefactor who saw my work. 

Street photographers must have an observant eye and a mind that can see subtleties quickly.

In between these two long-term projects, I have been collecting unscripted and unpredictable images from the quarter. The images I made during the last Feast of the Black Nazarene is the missing part of a more comprehensive project “Quiapo Journal.”

I’m still in the process of looking for a publisher but the body of work is now ready for a major exhibit or a coffee table book. I hope the book will provide many balikbayans with the opportunity to see Quiapo through my photographs. I hope they will recall the days when going to Quiapo was part of their daily routines. 

For former residents of Manila who have moved on to the gated communities and high-rise condominiums and are now reluctant to visit Quiapo, this book will give them the chance to share their memories with their children and loved ones.

My street photography manifesto: Our task is to capture extraordinary moments. We must compose within a frame and find connections between objects, which may be simple or complicated but always easily understood. Our task as street photographers is to draw the viewer to the heartbeat of a place through the interaction of people, good light, memorable compositions and decisive moments that can elicit laughter, anger, sorrow, or simply “Wow.”

Street photographers must have an observant eye and a mind that can see subtleties quickly. They must have the patience to wait for the right moment, the right light and the right place at the right time. They must have the agility to be in the right position in a split second while being an almost invisible fly on the wall.

To achieve these qualities in street photographs, we have to commune with the elements of the street without disrupting the scene because of our presence. We must also be prepared to handle the consequences of our subjects’ reactions, and most importantly, be alert to those nuggets of the extraordinary.

Street photography is unpredictable and unscripted.

Human dolly. Strong bodied young Filipinos serve as human dolly for Quiapo merchants. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


Mother and daughter selling bags in front of Quiapo Church. Andrea is a 32-year-old mother of six; the oldest is nine years old and growing up in Quiapo. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


Emy and Cholo, who was abandoned by his mother and left to Emy, who is also homeless, and born and raised in Quiapo. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


Passersby on Evangelista Street during the Feast of the Black Nazarene. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


Bayani Andaya, 60 years old, sells rosaries only during the Feast of Black Nazarene. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


Ma Mon Luk, a restaurant that is more than a hundred years old and famous for its siopao asado (roast pork bun). (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


The women’s section during Friday prayers at the Islamic Center Mosque in Quiapo.  (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


A family of Black Nazarene devotees on a Friday. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


Children of the Padrinios family, born and raised homeless. Their parents are fruit vendors on R. Hildalgo Street. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


Customers flock to Quiapo for cheap goods. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


Catalina Pagulayan, 81 years old, has been telling fortunes since 1958. She also has been sleeping on the same sidewalk ever since. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)


Rick Rocamora

Rick Rocamora

Rick Rocamora is an award winning photographer based in Oakland, California. His street photography using the iPhone about San Francisco will be exhibited at the Hipstamatic Corporate Headquarters on April 4th. His work is part of the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.