Four years ago, The Times generously donated some used equipment to Foundation University, a nonprofit college in the Philippines founded by my grandfather. The gift included a pair of well-worn Canon EOS 1Ds, a 28-70mm zoom, a 70-200mm zoom and two strobes. These hand-me-downs proved to be a godsend to the school, located in the provincial town of Dumaguete City, where decent camera equipment doesn’t come easy.
Hersley Ven Casero, then 21 and working toward a bachelor’s degree in marketing, dove in immediately when the cameras arrived. Through the lens, he found another way to express his love of art.
Since 2006, I have visited the Philippines each year to see my family and attend to business. I also make it a point to mentor students like Hersley, who hunger for expression through visual imagery. It’s been 40 years since my family left the Philippines. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the immense inequities between rich and poor that exist there. I want to help bridge that chasm with photography — an innately democratic art form that can change the way we see our lives.
I’ve taught Hersley technique and execution. He knows F stops, shutter speeds, composition and light. He understands how the machine works. This year, we talked about imagination and vision. “I put my heart into every picture I take,” Hersley told me. “It’s about passion — the challenge to freeze moments in time. That slice of reality probably won’t happen again. And that’s the image I want to share.”
Pleased by the eager response of the students and the results they have produced, the university scraped together funds to supplement the donated equipment with a pair of Canon Rebels.
Hersley’s photography is winning him recognition. He recently outshined 850 other photographers to gain free admission to an upcoming five-day photography gathering in Malaysia called CreativeAsia. Meantime, he posts pictures on deviantart.com, and recently received inquiries from Stern, the German newsmagazine, about his images.
For now, Hersley is paying the favor forward with a series of summer workshops for Dumaguete’s youth. He teaches the basics and hopes to find diamonds in the rough — like Alma Zosa Alcoran, whose work is included here.
Why take time off to teach photography to kids far away? I could be kicking back with a cold beer. But sometimes, the answers don’t always come from your head — but from your heart. My heart tells me that photography must survive as an important form of communication and understanding.
The photo gallery is a cooperative project between me and a couple of talented young students. Dedicating vacation time to teach photography puts life in perspective and helps bridge gaps in age, experience and understanding.