J.A. Santos: Her Loaded Camera


First of two parts

Where the Streets Have No Name

Review of If You See Something,

Say Something by J.A. Santos 

and Little Wing Luna

Oarhouse Pub in Malate Manila 

December 2016-February 2017

It is not your usual art exhibition to start with. Photography, by two women, and held in a bar. Although a popular one, frequented by photographers and youth alike. Typical place that Tony Bourdain discreetly chooses when he come visits.

Though the New York-theme was a dangling come on, for their second joint show, it was a conscious, even a conspicuous plan for J.A. Santos and Little Wing Luna: To meet up in New York on the summer of July and shoot scenes/sins from the famous city--the New York moment so to speak.

At a glance, one notices how parallel their lives are. The ones that they bring to their stories both being freelance photojournalists. 

Santos as a seasoned traveler, almost the native Nuyorker who regularly visits her extended family. Luna, on the other hand, comes to the Big Apple for the first time. While Santos opted for color and above the streets Luna digs deeper into the long and longing subway culture. While Santos experiences the hustle and bustle, the dynamism of the streets; Luna dwells within the murky lurid quagmire and monotonous and excruciating life of daily commuting.

Travel writer and columnist A.A. Gil was in his usual snootiness when describing New York: It is a club you have been a member for a long time. It is the stage of our collective dramas. You can hate America but love New York. New York is not related at all with her.
“When you are visitor to a city you like to hurry up the habits, lay down a pattern, gain predictability in place of roots.” added the late columnist adds. 

Embracing multiculturalism is one of the best things New York has to offer. In fact recent study Queens for its size has one of the diverse places on earth in terms of language, has in fact 800 languages. All the more makes every photographer attend to its unexpected details.

JA Santos: Her Loaded Camera 

Starting late in High School from her teacher who only taught her the basics, Santos liked what she called the “magical” process of the craft. Though Santos did not completely pursue photography then, due to the cost of printing it, he was happy with her point and shoot camera.


She explains further: Using a camera as a creative tool was a way to explore and discover not just life, scenes, and stories around me but also aspects of my inner self that I had neglected for years — a way to grapple with things outside of me and deep within and develop my ways of seeing, reading, reacting to, and interpreting various aspects of culture and society. 

Without formal training Santos continued to pursue photography in the streets for it being light inexpensive, and spontaneity. Open to discovery, one must have the curiosity and patience to see something interesting or unexpected. In the streets one has to be fast for that spur-of the-moment frames. Quick and skillful enough in capturing capture it.

Santos is versed on how to layer contrasting textures furthering the dialogue that emits the viewer. Photo 008 depicts the weariness of a lady against the window as backdrop showcasing an artificial plethora of what America has to offer. Her sharp features wrought with anxiety exude tension alarming what may possibly disturb what was supposed to be conventional pleasantness of a picture. Photo 014 continues the uneasiness this time counterpointing black female with white male vis-à-vis the signage Time in Style. The witty play in images something only a versed photojournalist can execute. In describing how she finds such coincidence sharing the frame. 

While my first love in photography is the genre of candid street photography,” Santos explains further, “I have work that overlaps or merges into art, social commentary, and documentary photography/photojournalism.” 


Her favored subject of juxtaposing the old and the new is once again exemplified in Photo 009. A vandalized red antique lamppost partly hides a millennial boy in yellow. Such simplicity easily results in loaded interpretations. One assumes partly as a voyeur, partly interrogator inquiring further about the situation at hand, of what is about to happen. Santos leaves much to her viewers, as much to her subjects. This is how Santos behaves in her shoots: she is a few moments before what other photographers will grapple with.

Santos often indulges in hints and accents such as that omnipresent blue sky as reflected on the building in Photo 045. Again Santos leaves much of the mystery to be noticed. Her readiness is she is a step before what others will find the standard image. With respect and indulgence as seen in that boy being enveloped like a matador by the gushing afternoon breeze, Photo 012 is like a few minutes before the actual take when the cameras roll action. Santos genius catches this.

Married to graphic and book designer Jordan, both have Santos prefers shooting alone. One must be comfortable with spending long hours in solitude if one would want to pursue street photography.

On the other hand, collaboration and solidarity are also vital to her activities, which is why having a joint-exhibit with a photographer friend and showing work to and being with other artists, photographers, and photojournalists are also enlightening experiences for her.


“When I rediscovered photography in 2010, I was more familiar with the work of painters and other artists, not photographers. So probably some of my visual influences are artists whose work I’ve admired over the years such as Matisse, Caravaggio, Rene Magritte, Edward Hopper and the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski, Wong Kar-wai, Akira Kurosawa, and other directors. Later, when I began to actively research and read about photography, I would gravitate toward the work of Robert Frank, Alex Webb, William Albert Allard, William Eggleston, Garry Winogrand, David Alan Harvey, Duane Michals, Nan Goldin, and Philip Jones Griffiths, among others,” explains Santos on her influences.  


Even the theme of love never escapes an intended pun for Santos. As their turn their backs to the viewer Photo 022 emphasizes what the sign on the upper right signage: collect what you love. It seems the man patiently waits for her ladylove to choose among the array of books being sold. Or was she just bidding time?

Santos has always been fascinated with the everyday and the mundane such as work and daily activities, commuting, habits, gestures, manners, signs, texts, and objects which she expresses reveal much about our society, culture, politics, traditions, institutions, and the systems in which we operate and which have a profound influence on our lives. She has even dealt with complex and current political issues such as mental illness displaced communities to street protests to the changes that cities undergo. 
Santos only needs four colors to interpret the world with just a loaded camera in hand.

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