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Moving on From The 2020 ECQ of Cebu City With Instant Film

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

As someone who loves to take photos of street scenes in Cebu, having to stay home for another month and a half—on top of two months already spent at home because of policies enacted in line with the national Enhanced Community Quarantine—was nothing less than hellish. Life throughout the ECQ periods was filled with overwhelming silence, only at times broken by noises that I could never associate with joy, but of coping and struggle with the beginning of the so-called “New Normal.”

The origin of the silence is easy to explain—when almost no one is allowed outside, there’s no outdoor chatter among neighbors, barely any vehicles rolling by, and no kids playing on the streets.

The noise, on the other hand, was a whole different beast. As someone who lives in a village of low-rise condo buildings, the silence was at times broken by children who have settled for playing in the building hallways, neighbors fighting somewhere over some trivial matter, and barking and howling dogs (particularly at night).

But for me, the worst noise was of someone knocking on the door to borrow a quarantine pass. This happened throughout the second round of ECQ in Cebu City and for about a month after that.

See, compared to the total population of Cebu City, there were only relatively few document-sized quarantine passes that began circulation in June, and many who needed to be outside for valid reasons resorted to borrowing from their neighbors. So while the passes are a legal way of being outside while everyone was ordered to be in their homes, they are also a means of getting COVID-19, particularly with pass-sharing being encouraged, in addition to my neighbors tending to stay outside for longer than they should be.

I’m not sure how I survived Cebu City’s ECQ. That, or I have forgotten how I did. But two things are certain. Number one, I still feel uneasy reading about new cases in our city and the idea of celebrating major holidays like Christmas, New Year, and Sinulog mid-pandemic. Number two, with our local government handling the pandemic very well as of this writing, a lockdown will not happen again in our city in the near future.

Movement restrictions have loosened in our city since August 1 last year. But even before that day, I had been thinking about how I can do street photography in the new normal.

A Street Photographer Faces the New Normal

My Instax 200 Camera

Defined as the present age of face coverings, physical distancing, and zero permitted mass gatherings, I found the “New Normal” to be quite a challenging time to do street photography at first. Back then, I didn’t know how to deal with the issue of face coverings. Second, there weren’t many people going out in the first three months after lockdown because of the absence of public transportation, except for cabs and ride-sharing services (both expensive ways of moving around Cebu).

Because of those two artistic hurdles, I decided to take a detour and give instant photography a try. I gave this small body of work a theme—A Visual Diary of the Enhanced Community Quarantine in Cebu City.

Choosing the Right Subjects

As I did not want to waste money on film, I had to choose my subjects carefully. My first approach was to find something that was positioned unusually or something out of place but still keeping in line with the theme. But since I would be confined to the village for a few months more owing to the cost of transportation, I would only end up seeing a few such things.

So I changed my approach and instead formed the story of the ECQ from my perspective, using things and circumstances as metaphors for my thoughts and feelings throughout the Enhanced Community Quarantine. Also, I documented notable things that affected us, like that time my girlfriend vacated the space her ESL employer once used when they were still operating. This was how the "visual diary" came to be.

Scanning My Best Shots

Ideally, for this task, a proper photo scanner is needed. But since I didn’t have one (and still don’t have one), I resorted to using my phone’s camera, which should be enough provided I have good lighting. To be a little more specific, I used PhotoScan, a photo scanning application that works alongside my phone’s camera, to scan the pictures and digitize them.

I like PhotoScan because it removes most glare caused by light bouncing off the glossy surface of Instax film, thus making it a decent substitute for a scanner. I say decent because it doesn’t remove all glare and reflections, does not correct the tendency of instant film to bend, and the resolution of the resulting scan is low—it’s great for those who want to share their instant photos on social media quickly, but not ideal for those who plan on reproducing their output on paper (ex. making a zine).

My Most Memorable Instant Photo

"I commit to something bigger than myself."

My favorite photo in this series is the one with the plant that grew on the side of an abandoned car. Throughout the ECQ periods, I saw myself in that plant—the rules of the ECQ had taken a toll on my physical and mental health, yet, from my perspective, I saw myself growing as a person despite and because of them. On that photo print-out, I had written a declaration, twice even, so I would never forget how I should live my life no matter what circumstance I’m in.

My Thoughts on My Output as a Whole

If I could create more opportunities to practice this kind of photography, I can become better at it. The thing is, I found a way to do digital street photography while the province itself is still in the “New Normal,” so of course, I eventually went back to what I am used to and what I missed so much. Secondly, I gained interest in travel photography using a mobile phone as there came more opportunities to travel to other places in Cebu province for fun and relaxation in the "New Normal."

But I wasn't completely happy with the idea of leaving instant film photography behind, though. I loved my output so much for what it really is—my POV of the 2020 ECQ of Cebu City—that I wanted to make instant film my second medium. Unfortunately, I was flabbergasted when I found out later that I had spent so much on film for this project alone that I had not put anything on my savings account for almost four months!

This year-end accounting of my expenses for this project ultimately led me to sell my Instax 200 camera to a friend in 2021. I decided to keep my Instax Mini 8+. At least when the instant film bug bites, I can scratch the itch.

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