Arts & Culture

An Exhibition of Shocking Police Photos Is Revived To Make a Point in Modern Times

Multi-talented conductor Erwin Romulo revives a relevant exhibit with famed cinematographer Neil Daza.
IMAGE TOTO LABRADOR/ NEIL DAZA
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"It’s the same skill set," Erwin Romulo professes, downplaying his ability to move fluidly around various creative pursuits. We caught up at the boardroom of a vibey editing house in Makati, an hour before he needed to ensconce himself in one of the studios with Erik Matti, award-winning movie director. “When you curate a show, produce either an album or a film, or if you are editor-in-chief of a magazine, of which I once was, you use the same skill set. You are marshalling all this diverse talent to channel them to one vision. So you play them like an orchestra, and you are the conductor.”


Neil Daza and Erwin Romulo

Later that evening, Romulo would take on the role of choirmaster, overseeing an ensemble he hired to sing Lupang Hinirang, the whole song in one note. All for the score of Matti’s film, Buy Bust, which Romulo composed, arranged, and produced. The movie plays at the Cannes Film Festival this month, at roughly the same time that an exhibit that he curates runs at Artinformal in Greenhills.

For that second project, however, he only needed to muster the support of an old friend, famed cinematographer Neil Daza.

The two crossed paths a dozen years ago when Daza took charge of the gallery program of Blacksoup Projects, an artspace-slash-café that he still co-owns. At that time, Blacksoup was at Cubao X, the creative hub that flourished at the site of the former Marikina Shoe Expo. “For two years, I occupied the ground floor and turned it into a gallery that focused on photography. Artists like Wawi Navarroza, doon sila first nag show,” Daza takes us back.

In March of 2006, Daza, who first earned his chops as a photojournalist for publications like We Forum, Malaya, and Midday, mounted “Detritus,” an exhibit that so resonated with Romulo. “There are only two photography shows that made an impact on me: Poklong Anading’s ‘Anonymity’ and this show of Neil.”

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So much of an impact that when the opportunity came to take on the entire gallery space of Artinformal’s original site, Romulo talked to Daza about remounting that show.

On its first run, Daza had carpeted the walls of Blacksoup with images loaned from the library of People’s Tonite, photos too stark for the tabloid to publish. His notes from the original exhibit describe it as a collection of photographs by police beat photographers that provide snapshots of suffering—both by victims and offenders. “Iba yung effects ng still photographs. I did the night beat for newspapers, and I wanted the audience to feel what I felt.”

Both Romulo and Daza admit that current events played a role into their decision to bring back Detritus. “When I first showed the images to some of today’s photojournalists, their reactions were so visceral. Why? We should be used to photos like these,” muses Romulo, “I wanted to find out why they still shock. And how they will be taken divorced from their original setting, up in a gallery.”

Daza concurs, “Working the night shift made such an impact on me, I wanted to go back to that, to see how people will react today, when we’re so desensitized to violence.” And perhaps, to determine too how these images compare with those documented by today’s night shifters.

“You know, photographers are of a different stripe,” Romulo declares. “In the visual arts community, they would be the drummers—the crazies, the lunatics. They’re the real rock stars!”

And when you throw in the cinematographer and the self-described conductor, we may just have ourselves a blockbuster.

May 19 to July 7, 277 Connecticut Street, Greenhills East, Mandaluyong; 725.8518.

This story was originally published in the May 2018 issue of Town&Country Philippines.

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