Lessons on a Creative Life: Part 3

Part 3 on a three-part mini-profile article on three young artists-slash-teachers, entitled “Lessons on a Creative Life.”

Read the first two parts: Part 1 (Elbert Or), Part 2 (Isa Garcia).

Written for feature writing class, submitted February 2012.

Photo of Tata Yap by Belle Velasco


STREETCHILDREN staring deeply with wide eyes. Feet standing on dried, shriveled leaves. Garbage dumps. Colorful, messy fiestas. Hands reaching out to clothespins. These moments have been captured by eyes that can only come from a person with a remarkable sense of perception, while holding the camera tightly, getting ready to push the shutter button. “Photography is, after all, perception,” Tata Yap remarks.

Tata, a Chinese young photographer, graphic designer, and part-time typography instructor, holds an eccentric charm about her. She has a flair for taking photos of private moments, elegant movements, of trivial objects that could make one stare at it for longer than usual, thinking how this was shot, recognizing the complexity of people and places and things that easily go unnoticed. She captures details that nobody else could have had paid attention to and tells stories with them.

She has been influenced by his elder brother, also a photographer, who gave her his point-and-shoot cameras to tinker with back in high school. Among all forms of photography, photojournalism makes her most exhilarated. “Photojournalism really is not just about going to an event and straightforwardly documenting it. A big part of it is really the photographer’s insight on an issue and his interpretation of it. Kumbaga, sort of may genuine concern for the issue at hand,” she says.

“I’ve tried many types of photography: landscape, events, food, portraiture, maybe even a little fashion. Although I’m mildly interested in all of them, nothing thrills me the way photojournalism does. You know, running around the perimeter, squeezing in large crowds to get that decisive moment, working with available light and composition elements to get a unique shot, sitting in mud and rough concrete, iba yung thrill para sa akin.”

“A big factor in photography that I enjoy is the thrill of that place you’re going to,” she says. “One of my favorite quotes on photography is from Ansel Adams. He says: ‘Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.’ A lot of the magic and enjoyment comes from experiencing the place and being immersed in it. I enjoy living another life and recording the evidence via photography.”

When it comes to taking photos, she maintains a “contemplative attitude” to allow her to pay attention to the surroundings better. “I find it therapeutic to keep my silence and focus on the world around me. Oftentimes, how I take photos reveal much of myself without me realizing it.”

“I also enjoy taking photos because it provides a second look to a situation, it gives depth to a moment, and my personal perspective on the subject,” she says.

Apart from photography, Tata is a graphic designer as well, and has started teaching a typography class to information design majors in Ateneo this year.

She is a also part-time art director for Media Contacts Philippines, a digital advertising agency, and the virtual designer and editorial contributor of Tao Po, an online portal site where users are able to submit complaints about government services and acknowledge the efforts and good deeds of public officials. This, she said, is her way of continuing her thesis project named Barangay Bahagi, a website which lets people to submit photos illustrating complaints about public services.

With regard to teaching students who are only a few years younger than her, she says, “It is quite nerve-wracking to be a fresh-grad teacher in Ateneo. I may not yet be the most qualified person out there, but the best I can do is to work hard for my students. Hard work has never failed me before. Honestly, if there’s anything I want to pass on to my students, it’s the value of good old hard work.”

With the intent to becoming an even better photojournalist than she already is, Tata plans to apply for a photojournalism certificate program at the Asian Center for Journalism next school year while continuing to teach at the Fine Arts Program in the Ateneo. Afterward, she plans to take up a master’s degree abroad.

Her Ateneo education has helped her to never lose sight of the bigger picture. “It’s so easy to fall into the perils of a self-interest-centered life. At the same time, while thinking of the bigger picture, ‘bigness’ should never be the end goal,” she says.

“My Ateneo education has taught me that in the face of the world, we are all small, and all we have is each other. Pantay-pantay lang lahat.”

How does she describe Tata Yap? “She is just like the rest of us.”


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