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The Contemplative Photography of Willie Magtibay: 18 Photos

Ted Khan is a writer, environmentalist, and nature explorer who practices Zen meditation and the Tao Te Ching.

Willie Magtibay, contemplative photographer

Willie Magtibay, contemplative photographer

Magtibay's Contemplative Photography

Willie Magtibay is a nature photographer par excellence, but his kind of nature photography that spanned for nearly four decades is not of the National Geographic genre. His photography is mostly affiliated with Baguio, a city that inspires local and national artists to immerse into their creative productions all because of its natural spiritual ambiance.

Baguio, aside from its natural visual appeal, emits a pervasive, spiritual, fine vibration that immediately impacts one’s being by refreshing the soul and stimulating the spirit. This subtle energy essence is captured in the photographs of Willie Magtibay as a "contemplative photographer."

Unlike the social realism of Romeo Mariano, Willie’s art photographs evoke a personal message of his inner spiritual struggles and triumphs, a unique artform expressing the rich dimensions of the soul of a human being immersed into the natural material artform of the Earth.

Willie Magtibay is a master of low-light photography. He captures with great precision and emotional depth any natural object he encounters on the way using available light or natural light based on a "selected time." This means that in some of his photographs, he has had the patience to wait until the natural form phenomenon—the trees, mountains, branches, flowers, the sun, moon, clouds, and Earth—presented to his senses is of the right light mix, and then he clicks his camera.

"While walking along Pacdal Road in Baguio one early morning, I saw a squash to be." May 2016.

"While walking along Pacdal Road in Baguio one early morning, I saw a squash to be." May 2016.

Baguio, in its different natural configurations, shades, times, geographic points, and atmospheres, shows a changing personality of beauty and mystical color that inspires the mind, kindles the flame of the soul, awes and activates the spirit, and relaxes the body, which only Willie Magtibay can capture at the precise moment of light and time.

A Long History of Friendship

I met Willie when I received a notice to teach at the University of the Philippines at Baguio sometime in the 20th century. Yes, the 20th century. Added to this, a friend, Rey Bautista, who happened to be the president of the University of Baguio, asked me to work on a research project to improve the academic programs of UB. It was a great invitation.

So I needed to stay for quite some time in the cool City of Pines, about 6,000 feet above sea level, with my family, enjoying the beauty of the landscape, the beer at the Fireplace, a watering hole for artists, activists, and academicians along Session Road. Baguio is known as the Philippines’ “Summer Capital” all over the world.

I had a student at UP Baguio, Richard, who worked as a folksinger at Fireplace, and every time I went there for a drink with warm buddies, groups of artists, painters, photographers were also around. This was long before the destructive earthquake happened.

So this was the beginning of a warm friendship with photographers like Willie Magtibay, Bong Baskiñas who just passed away, Tommy Hafalla, and the classic portrait photographer Wig Tysmans, who was popular at the time; the celebrated filmmakers Eric de Guia, also known as “Kidlat Tahimik,” and Raymond Red; and the extremely creative painters who were so attached to nature like the late Roberto Villanueva.

In the history of Philippine visual arts, they were the original “old guards” who made a huge impact on society through their creative productions and exhibitions in photography, painting, feature filming, and documentaries.

Of course, there was Ben Cabrera, an international artist who once came to see me in Iligan City in the late 20th century. But before this, Eric de Guia came to the house in Iligan a number of years after I left Baguio and made some video shoots for his documentary. I was still a member of the Baguio Arts Guild at the time. There were other visual artists too and if my memory has failed me, I wish to ask for an apology for this.

At the turn of the 21st century, I lost contact with all of them since I went back to Mindanao. An unexpected twist of events in 2016 led me to Willie Magtibay. I stumbled upon one of his photos at Facebook posted by Daniel Molintas from Baguio.

Daniel was one of the close family friends who frequented the house we rented in Baguio, along with Tito Baskiñas a guy who never said no for anything, an artist, a spiritual advocate and leader. Daniel was an intellectual who was always eager to talk about Existentialism and the spiritual teachings of the East. Such heavy talks. We spent long hours at the patio overlooking the mountains.

Both Daniel and Tito were involved in the spiritual teachings of Brahma Kumaris. I was heavy on a personal study of the technology of high consciousness at the time since there was a very close affinity between the natural ecology of a place, art, specifically visual arts, and spirituality. Baguio is a great place to study art, ecology and spirituality. I was given a number of psychology subjects to teach at UP Baguio at the time.

We had a weekly meditation group there under the late actress Tita Muñoz and Dr. Seraphin Talisayon, a biophysicist who was once a Director of the Philippine Center for Advanced Studies.

When Daniel posted an inspiring picture of Willie on Facebook in May 2016, I immediately responded. And a new story was started.

A Reflection of a Spiritual State

In his Facebook post, he acknowledges, "I’m Buddhist, I’m proud of nothing."

A picture that evokes contemplation, as most of his pictures do, reveals Willie’s state of the body-mind-soul-spirit of which any individual viewing his photographs and who is open to the experience of contemplation through a visual form can also apprehend the contemplative quality of Willie's photographs.

There are parts of Baguio City that are still relatively "untouched" by human habitation that configure themselves as naturally formed Zen gardens. In these playgrounds of the spirit, Willie Magtibay has explored the inner and outer limits and has expressed these in the photographs presented here.

His photographs have awakened and inspired the mind, kindled the flame of the soul, awed and activated the spirit, and relaxed the body.

He quotes Guthema Roba, who, on April 30, 2015, said, "When you give things away, people will be touched by your kindness - when you give yourself away, when you surrender to the divine bonfire of your inner being—the planet will be moved beyond anything that can be grasped with the mind."


Jucan Bill on May 18, 2016:

Nice work!