Of Old Butuan Photographers, Photographs and Memories

by Cel Rosales-Amores

I regret not even remembering their names or getting to know them more as I would a teacher, friend, neighbor or family but these self-effacing storycatchers played an important role in our lives. My parents would talk to them like old friends, as they discussed why a photograph or two had to be taken.

For family pictures, we would be introduced one by one to the photographer,  our ‘ranking’ in the family thoughtfully explained. The photographer then would do the blocking as to who goes to the left, right, center, stay at the back or take to the floor in a pose. Like a maestro or director, we followed his lead as he bade us to smile and look at the camera.

Through pictures, photographers helped us tell stories in our community. They would be among the few who got invited to occasions that mattered and had the rare chance to be near ‘places of honor’ in public events.

At a time when selfies and groupies were not among the sub-cultures of the young, photographers or ‘kodakers’ as an aunt jokingly referred to them, were part of our personal milestones, be they weddings, funerals, anniversaries, graduations, reunions, and other gatherings.

Old photographs make us recall and perhaps understand not only people and happenings of the past, but also help us reach out to an individually unique memory or feeling captured at that precise moment when the camera froze an experience, emotion or discovery in picture form.

One of my favorite photographs done in old Kodak fashion was of my paternal grandmother, Asuncion “Ating” Calo Sanchez vda. De Rosales. She married a Montilla before my grandfather, Pio Bokingo Rosales with whom she had four children, namely Sesenio, Josefa, Modesto and lastly, Apolonio, my father. She had two daughters from her previous marriage. Her bloodline can be traced further back to the Villanueva-Sanchez clan.

Lola Ating always wore her Filipiniana finest, that is, baro’t saya complete with accessories from paeneta to pamaypay when she heard mass. She would always make her way through the center aisle to seat herself in the front pew of the St. Joseph Cathedral  — a place directly in front of the altar that she had summarily marked as her own. She did this every time she went to Church. During times when the rites had already started and somebody else had occupied her marked seat, she always found a way to ‘claim her place’. Fortunately, as far as I can remember, nobody among those whom she squeezed out of “her Church seat” took offense, probably in deference to an octogenarian, one who was oddly garbed in traditional regalia on an ordinary Sunday. In the meantime, you can bet that we, her escorts, only bowed our heads as we pleaded for understanding.

I had suggested to my single-minded grandmother then that maybe, it would be best to simply pass by the side whenever we entered the Church but  she would just censure me with a piercing look.  I did this every time the situation called for it.  And she gave me the same look with a little scolding after mass every time.

Lola Ating always had that place of honor at the center when our family pictures were taken. More often than not, we took the flying geese ‘V’ position with Lola as the lead goose.

She never smiled for the cameras, by the way. So that she always had this serious, sullen look even during happy occasions. Even the painting that was done of her, which unfortunately got lost during one of the floods in Butuan, was beautiful yet unsmiling. So I thought that maybe, that was the picture-taking norm of her generation. Because when my Lola Ating smiled, she had the sweetest look that lit up her extraordinarily deep-set dark grey eyes.

There was also this set  of photographs of my siblings with ourAtega- Ruiz cousins from Bohol together with  our maternal grandmother Teresa “Tering” Gancino Atega that I really like. A roving photographer at the old Butuan Plaza took them sometime during the 70’s when most of us were just in grade school and the eldest siblings, Kuya Nestor and Ate Melou, were in high school.

These pictures never fail to give us a good laugh. They get posted, cropped or in full,  intermittently in our individual Facebook accounts during Throwback Thursdays, Flashback Fridays or during birthdays and special occasions when we tag and greet each other in the spirit of fun.

In fact, we have creatively made groupings and fond monikers as follows – those (1) whose legs were crossed ala Lola Tering — “X-Women”, (2) whose eyes were biggest and brightest during the shoot – “Flashlights”, (3) who had the fullest lips –“Busngi”, (4) whose legs were set apart with abandon – “Tikangkang”, (5) who looked like she was just pinched by her mom, (6) who looked like she just cried, (7) who looked sick,  and other hilarious interpretations we can think up from the pictures. And certainly, when my female cousins and sisters have the chance to look at the pictures together, we would laugh until we tear up and have a belly-ache.

Also taken at the Butuan Plaza were pictures of me and my mother—one as we were walking while I was eating probably popcorn, another one with both of us sitting on a concrete park bench—my Mama looking beautiful and proper in her A-line dress and sunglasses and me, looking like a sleepyhead despite my big round eyes. I assume this was after we heard mass from the Cathedral which is situated just across the area.  I must have been about 3-4 years old then, just about the age of my granddaughter now.

In the background of these pictures was old Butuan viewed from the City Plaza – with lamp posts and manicured plant boxes, a water fountain and varied food stalls at the other side of the street.

Well, there are a lot of other photographs in my family’s keeping – some in fading black and white or sepia print outs, newer ones in color and digital form – each of them saying a thousand and one words, each one representing memories to last beyond our lifetime.

♥  ♥ ♥

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