MELCORTEZ: A catalyst of reportage wedding photography By Joseph Benedicto R. Gonzales Picture Perfect/Manila Bulletin 13April’05
If there is one admirable attribute that has carried photographer Mel Cortez into the elite circle of the country’s photographers, it is his endearing passion to excel in the art he has chosen to pursue. Had it not been for his ability to reinvent himself from his failures in his long and stellar career as a photographer, he would have become a banana vendor in the market today. But he was able to rise above the challenges and has continued to embrace his ‘never give up’ motto, which eventually enabled him to fulfill his dream of becoming an ace lensman. With his impressive ‘reportage wedding photography’ techniques, of which he himself has popularized, ‘Mr. Mel’ stands today as one of the best digital wedding photographers in the land. “My being a wedding photographer is some sort of a continuity of my passion as a photojournalist. Yes, I wasn’t recognized as a good photojournalist. That I couldn’t deny, but when a delved into the wedding , fellow photographers were able to recognize my skills and expertise in documenting wedding moments with a reportage approach,” share the Cebuano-speaking lensman who now runs his own companies. Getting acquainted with photography Photography came to Mel’s life when he was yet a civil Engineering student of Adamson University in 1981/ Although he has been involved in theatrical acting stints for some time Mel got interested more in photography. He recounts. “My two brothers were fond of photography and I borrowed a camera from them. I got more and more interested in photography that I even established my own ID photo studio situated under the stairway. I became a rush ID photographer for years and I was able to finance my studies. Mel sold his photos for five pesos each to his classmates and schoolmates every time he took pictures of them during sports festivals or graduation exercises. A high spirited photojournalist This tall and dark, mild-mannered lensman from Butuan City got involved into serious documentary when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in 1983. For many years, his talent in freezing images through the lens has improved and he became an aggressive freelance photojournalist until 1992. “With my involvement in serious documentary photography. I was able to develop my skills in capturing images all the more. It has shaped my views to become a social activist. In one way or the other, I have become on of the advocates of those who believe that photography is a tool for social change.” Mel shares with conviction.
There was also a time in his life when he took with all sincerity the need to be an advocate for environmental protection. He was so fascinated with the trees, which is why he hated people who are destroying them. Taking his cameras by hand, he went documenting images about exposing anomalies such as illegal logging, mining, fishing, and other environmental irregularities.
Having realized the need to explore other avenues for his photographic pursuits, he worked for a certain production house of an advertising agency. However, he was terminated from his job a few months later because he was not at all an advertising photographer and more inclined into photojournalistic endeavors as they claimed.
From his job as a ‘product shots’ lensman, he went back to photojournalism as a staff photographer for BusinessWorld in 1994. His excellent photojournalistic influence has laid a mark for him to become an adept visual reporter worthy of admiration.
He has created a name for himself as far as the effort of elevating the level of photography in the country is concerned. In 1996, Mel was the first photojournalist who worked in a broadsheet to become “fully digital” , where a desktop darkroom replaced the traditional darkroom. With the use of his laptop and his digital camera, his pictures were sent directly to the newspaper via the internet. Mel takes pride as the first newspaperman to use this method of full digital reportage for the print media. Further, in 1997, he became the founding chairman of the country’s lone photojournalist’ group recognized by World Press- the Philippine Center for Photojournalism (PCP).
This man who dreamt of becoming an environmental photographer, has invested his time and effort in organizing the first photographer’s cooperative in the country called Photographers Development Cooperative, Philippines where government photographers, freelance photographers, and photojournalists, alike, converge to further strengthen their ties and developing their skills as lensman.
Reportage wedding photographer par excellance
One couldn’t help but wonder why Mel took the initiative to shift from shooting for socially relevant pictures to ‘goody-goody’ photographs such as weddings. Yes, it was difficult for him to take the paradigm shift , but he was able to innovate the discipline of photography by introducing a new concept termed as wedding reportage photography, synonymous to wedding photojournalism popularized by American Denis Regie, a famous Atlanta-based photographer.
“Reportage photography is like shooting for magazine and newspapers with unobtrusive and discreet approach carrying approach carrying a wedding concept. You are reporting through wedding pictures,” declares the wedding photojournalist brimming with a cheerful smile.
The whole photography industry speaks of him with high regards because he has been a catalyst in digital wedding photography in the country. Further, being the first “true blue” wedding photojournalist that he is, Mel is a choice photographer whom famous photographers prefer to cover their weddings.
When asked about what is a perfect wedding coverage. Mel shares: “First it should be taken in decisive moments, meaning pictures are candidly captured, second, it should be well composed and third, there should be proper lighting. The wedding coverage should tell a story through pictures. This is what I call reportage wedding photography..”
Mel has this to impart” study the “ins and out” of photography. Read books and apply them. Don’t think of the money. It would come later. Equipment should not hinder you from creating good pictures. Kahit simple lang ang camera mo, makakabuo ka ng magandang litrato. And husay ng isang writer ay wala sa ganda ng ballpen kundi sa kakayahan niyang sumulat. Ganun din sa isang photographer, nasa mata yan. One more thing, you have to specialize in order for you to master your craft.”
Mel Cortez can’t help but smile now every time he thinks of the struggles he has survived just for him to achieve his dream. As one of the most sought-after digital wedding photographers in the country today, It just makes his life more complete every time people say he has contributed much in making their wedding experiences more memorable. His photographic influence lies in his admirable passion to make every wedding photograph stand out as one priceless work of art as portrayed in his images. True enough, Mel Cortez has provided on-lookers a glimpse of what is like to capture a real ‘dream wedding’--brilliantly handcrafted through the eyes of a true photojournalist like him.