A Picture Perfect Pia

A profile article of Pia Guballa, written for feature writing class, submitted December 2011.


Photo by Kevin Tatco

SHE sits at the corner of the publications room, wearing a black shirt and shorts. Her wavy black hair is neatly tied in a ponytail, her voice sounding lively and sweet, as musical as a melody coming out of a music box. Her beaming smile is contagious—a quick glance at her can make one regard her as a girl possessing a magnetic personality. Her graceful, lively gestures somehow reveal a down-to-earth and downright kind person whose presence can make anyone feel at ease.

It is unknown how many are familiar with the story of the 20-year-old girl named Sofia Alessandra Guballa, whom everybody knows as Pia. Getting to know who Pia is, however, could possibly start with stumbling upon a photo she took which is published online or on the printed pages of The GUIDON (the Ateneo’s official student publication, of which she is photo editor), a scheduled photoshoot, or with a casual conversation over delicious food and Beatles music.

Daughter to Inquirer columnist Cathy Babao-Guballa and granddaughter of multi-awarded veteran actress Caridad Sanchez, this Povedan alumni and currently an Atenean Health Sciences major hails from a family of artists. After having lived in Korea in her early years, going to her grandmother’s tapings and being invited to do VTRs of hosting and commercials, Pia’s life since childhood has been nothing short of noteworthy and extraordinary.

The influence of a heritage inspired by the humanities leads her to explore a type of creative pursuit uniquely her own: photography. “I like shooting because I can’t draw, I can’t paint, and I really wanted an art form. Because my mom writes, and I write naman also, but she’s a writer by profession, then my lola is an actress, so in our family arts talaga is important. I want to do something that was my own.”

Her photography-slash-personal blog on Tumblr (photograpia.tumblr.com) has been garnering a huge following through the years and has attracted hundreds upon hundreds of visitors, many of them strangers, to be moved by the still images of the various sides of the world that she sees. Her photos range a wide variety of genres. She has done sports events, theater shows, fashion, food, and as editor of the school paper, photojournalism is what she does the most.

Her entries are filled with words and pictures about her life, musings, and the things she does surrounded by other wonderful people, and what a beautiful, genuine life she leads. Each thoughtfully written post speaks of a girl who knows how to cherish her life well, and generously shares her stories with others.

Apart from shooting, she writes. A year-long stint in g, The Guidon’s online magazine, and her words that flow effortlessly on her personal blogs reveal an intuitive gift in genuine and unapologetic self-expression that very few people can manage to pull off.

Heaven’s Butterfly is a children’s book she and her mother had written in 2009, in memory of their brother.  “My brother passed away in June and my other brother was born in September of the same year, so my mom was pregnant.” To her, having a terminally sick brother has been one of the biggest challenges she has faced. “It was a big lesson. Your life turns completely 180 [degrees]. I had to grow up overnight. I was expected to deal with a lot more than what a seven-year-old had to deal with.”

The remarkable passion and energy she exudes has been influenced by her younger brother’s passing, when she was seven years old when his brother Migi died after a four-year struggle with a rare heart illness called Tetralogy of Fallot, wherein the left ventricle of his heart was blocked, and blood did not circulate well. Since then, she has come to realize the fragility and temporariness of life.

“There will always be questions,” she said. “In losing someone, that’s the biggest thing—you will constantly have questions. Why did I lose this person? How am I supposed to go on with my life? Why did you have to take somebody rather than somebody else? Is there any purpose to all that?”

Her parents deserve merit in raising a daughter who needed to grow up fast, and did so gracefully, as they keep explaining to her how one’s life will always have a purpose, and by proving it by putting up a foundation under their son’s name: Migi’s Corner—established in twelve public hospitals in the country where ill children can have special areas where they can play games, read books, and do other activities that could help them recover, or at the very least make them temporarily forget that they are sick in a hospital.

The loss of a loved one makes one feel more aware of the passage of time, the preciousness of life, the purpose of living. Pia lives by the theme of making the most out of everything that comes. “I want to make make my college life sulit because after graduation I know I won’t be able to do the things I do now,” she said.

“Actually I changed a lot this year,” Pia mused, as she enumerates the many things that have changed her in the past year: joining The GUIDON, falling in love, getting sick, planning to double major in history. She also has traveled much over the years, particularly all over the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

“What makes me happy is knowing that I make other people happy,” she said. She also adds she is happy simply being with her family of four, comprised of her younger brother, and his parents who are both currently teaching in the Ateneo—her mother from the School of Humanities teaching a course on grief and loss, and her father as an instructor in the John Gokongwei School of Management, as instructor of a course in leadership and strategy. Pia, however, wishes to pursue a career in either medicine or public health, while also briefly entertaining the thought of going to law school.

Asked who she is in one sentence, she answers, “Someone who’s still struggling to find herself.”

Presently one of the most promising photojournalists, Pia advises those who keep wondering how she shoots countless pictures that comes out as intensely real, emotional, and powerful: “A good photographer is measured by what they can do with what they have, not by how they edit, how they manipulate [the picture].”

To be an exceptional photographer is one who knows how to spot a good story and to communicate it through an image. “It’s about trying to tell the story that is in front of you,” she said. It seems that to capture that Pia-Guballa-photography-like shot entails a kind, generous, and sincere heart, open to all kinds of stories that the world brings. Pia’s pictures may constantly speak of more than thousand words, but the real Pia is made up of countless bits and pieces of stories that unravel the beautiful life of a person that even the largest photo mural cannot seem to completely narrate.


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