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From the Vault
Wedding Reportage in Black and White
By Amee R. Enriquez
Herword.com 25 february 2002
A prize-winning photojournalist trades his dusty lenses for ones
that immortalize love in memory
Momentous occasions like weddings have spawned a series of movies
that indicate endless fascination with the event. Jennifer Lopez was
the wedding planner, fabulous and sleek, ensuring that the wedding
proceeded as planned. Adam Sandler was the wedding singer,
entertaining the guests with his quirky sense of humor and even
quirkier singing style.
If there were to be a movie made in the Philippines about a wedding
photographer, then the career of Miguel "Mel" Cortez would be the
perfect model for the movie to pattern its plot after. A true-blue
photojournalist, Mel decided to change the direction that his career
was taking and pioneer an innovative concept in taking pictures for
weddings when he started getting bored with his day job, a concept
which he terms as wedding photojournalism or wedding reportage.
"Last year, naghahanap ako ng kakaibang dimension sa photography ko
(I was looking for a different dimension in my photography)," he
And from that search of a different dimension, wedding photography
in the country was revolutionized and has never been the same again.
Wedding photojournalism was fad started in the U.S. in the mid '90s
and made popular by Atlanta-based wedding photographer Dennis
Reggie, which involves capturing the key moments of a wedding
unobtrusively. Translated in Mel's approach, it means taking
pictures during a wedding like he would document a news event, or
the way he would approach a journalistic assignment.
The result? Pictures of a tired flower girl with her back turned to
the camera sitting on the floor, which is Mel's personal favorite.
Or of the bride fixing her veil oblivious that this
behind-the-scenes moment is frozen in time. Or of the view of the
aisle leading to the altar framed from between the feet of the ring
bearer. Very dramatic, very unusual yet very real.
A photographer since the early '80s, Mel has been taking pictures
for a little over 20 years now, chucking a course in engineering
which he had been struggling with and also burying his dream of
becoming a doctor when he chose to concentrate on photojournalism as
It is an understatement to say that Mel is familiar with photography
like he is with the back of his hand. Aside from his extensive
experience in the fields of editorial, corporate, travel,
advertising and fashion photography, he is also widely accepted by
his peers, being the founding chairman of the Philippine Center for
Photojournalism and currently the president of the Photographers
It is surprising to note that in contrast to the fact that he feels
at home behind the lens and knows his craft pretty well, Mel is shy
and self-conscious when his pictures are taken for the interview.
Mel says that it was Dino Lara, also a veteran wedding photographer
and good friend whom he initially approached with the wedding
reportage concept. "Una, hindi siya sigurado kung seryoso ako o kaya
ko ang wedding," Mel explains.
And Mel himself was also initially hesitant to take wedding
photography seriously. He told himself that he would only pursue his
newfound interest if he liked it and felt passionately about it.
Even if taking pictures at weddings meant easy money, for Mel this
wasn't an all-encompassing reason.
"Fortunately na-discover ko na gustong-gusto ko siya. Na-apply ko
ang photojournalistic skills ko at nagiging personalized ang
coverage ko sa cliente, nasisiyahan sila. May feeling of fulfillment
(I discovered that I liked it. I'm able to apply my
photojournalistic skills and my coverage is personalized. There's a
sense of fulfillment)," he expounds.
Mel's initial venture featuring his unique approach to wedding
photography was showcased during his exhibit of black and white
photos at the EDSA Shangri-la Mall last September 2, 2001. Response
from the public was enthusiastic, and Mel's newfound career as a
wedding photojournalist was born, prompting him to establish his
commercial wedding photography company, "Decisive Moments."
Mel confesses that this shift, from photojournalism to wedding
photojournalism was not an easy one to make professionally because
of the negative connotations that taking pictures during weddings
"Ang context kasi ng wedding photography ay nasa 'KBL' yan, Kasal,
Binyag, Libing (Wedding photography connotes wedding, baptism, and
burial)," he elaborates with a laugh. "Marami kasi na nagka-KBL
parang di ganun kaaral sa photography basta makapitik ka lang pwede
na (Many who take photos of weddings, baptisms, and burials for a
fee seem to be not too knowledgeable of photography)."
Using wedding reportage as his approach, Mel plans to elevate
wedding photography to a whole new art form. He admits though, that
his approach is a little more expensive compared to the usual, and
that his client market is limited, coming from the A and upper B
Mel's clients usually give him complete freedom to take pictures, a
trust that he takes seriously to heart. A wedding, especially for us
Filipinos, is a very important occasion and something that should be
documented with utmost care since the moment cannot be repeated
He observes that his clients possess a high level of aesthetic
awareness and expect nothing but the best from him. He further adds
that he is able to take better pictures if he likes the couple to be
married and is able to bond with them. In fact, he has even declined
to take pictures for a couple that he didn't like. Even if they were
willing and able to pay his steep professional fee, they couldn't
see eye to eye and he wouldn't be able to deliver what was expected
of him so he turned them down, without regrets.
He points out too that there are also a few photographers who employ
the same approach that he does. The difference is, most of them
stage and choreograph the shots or have the shots acted out, which
shouldn't be the case.
This self-taught photographer does not give any indication of
slowing down anytime soon. Future plans include writing a book on
indigenous wedding photography within the next three years, sharing
his knowledge about his craft with budding wedding photographers and
ensuring that professionalism in the field of wedding photography is
Mel Cortez says that the country's best photojournalist will win
press photography awards and be published in newspapers here and
abroad. And with his efforts of helping popularize reportage and
photojournalism in the wedding photography scene, it will come as no
surprise if the same award-winning photographer might also shoot
February 25, 2002
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