Posted in Christian Life, Pictures and images

Finding beauty (from ashes)

I have recently put myself into a photography project entitled, Morning commute as a follow-up to my sunrise posts.

The sunrise posts were relatively easy: I was on the 22nd floor of a building facing east, and sunrise happens near the end of my shift. It was something to do as I wait to clock out, and a reason to have me appreciate the sunrise. A few weeks ago, I have had to transfer buildings and I no longer have an ideal view of the sunrise, seeing as there are now condominium buildings blocking my shot.


The following day, I tried looking for an ideal shot depicting the sunrise, and I realized that I had a nice thematic shot as I rode the metro on the way back home.


And since I have acquired some skill in taking pictures while in a moving vehicle, I realized that I had something going on: take pictures of the things I see as I take my ride on the way home. The project became a challenge, seeing days in a row where I could not post a picture seeing as to that that my choices of photogenic vistas are limited.


I then came to a couple of thoughts:

My admiration for urban landscape photographers grew exponentially

For those of us who live in Metro Manila, or for anyone who plies EDSA on a daily basis, we can attest to the fact that postcard-/Instagram-worthy shots are limited compared to, let’s say, Paris. Paris is a tall order, granted, but after having lived there for five-plus years, I find Metro Manila architecture lacking in its messiness and incongruence.

But Quezon City, Metro Manila is the place I was born in. I live and work here. I can criticize all I want, but there is no changing the fact that this city is a part of my identity. I see the chaos, and I find it hard to believe that that is part of me.

I look at Boni Station from the ground, and I see how dirty and unkempt it is. I look out the windows of the MRT, the bus, or from the Uber ride I’m in, and all I see are wholesale condominiums, dilapidated bus stops, and a wires — so many wires — getting in the way of otherwise good shots.

And so I admire photographers who take pains to find ideal vantage points to take flattering shots of the city, or who actually dedicate time, energy, and probably even risking their safety to tell stories with their pictures.

I find the need to soften my heart to find beauty

A few years ago, a friend of mine said, “Beauty will save the world… it’s a Libra thing to look for beauty, ‘no?” I no longer wanted to box myself with “Libra things” (and if we’re to be technical, I’m a Libra-Scorpio cusper with moon in Taurus, and Sagittarius in ascendant 😛 ).

I think of these photographers who take pains and/or funds to use drones, climb buildings, or stand in the middle of a street to take a flattering angle of the metropolis, or have enough compassion in their hearts to visit the less fortunate areas and take pictures of the urban poor.

They take pains not just to find beauty, but to show it. They have compassion enough in their hearts to be ambassadors of the urban poor’s stories. I was going into my project just to be able pretty pictures, but in reality, photographers are scribes and messengers of stories that are yet to be told.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (…)
And God saw that it was good.”

The lack of output in my project lead me to wrestle with my faith. I asked, “God, if all of the things You created are ‘good’, why do I find it so hard to find a single, beautiful shot?”

I had ideas in my mind as to how I will compose my shots: down the length of an MRT coach; through the windows of the MRT, bus, or car (so far my favorite); or street level as I walk. Then I realize that it really is not that easy, even more to fulfill the minimum of the Rule of Thirds in the chaos that I see.

At first, I thought of God’s creativity and how He passed that on to His “very good” creation. I thought of Redesign Manila and I was humbled by the fact that there are people dedicating their artistic vision in envisioning to make Metro Manila “beautiful”.

Did that mean that I should wait indefinitely for my desired subject to meet my personal standard of beauty, and put my project on hold? Did that mean that I should go and give up on this mini project and find an easier theme to take pictures of? Should I just pack up and find pristine beaches and mountaintops from where to take my shots?

Cheesy as it sounds, I felt the need to look inwards. In the eyes of the perfect God, me and my sinfulness are as ugly as they come. If He had wanted to take a picture of my sinful heart and soul, He could just look away. In the light of His perfection, I am just a project worthy of being scrapped and ended. I am a mess, incongruent, and chaotic.

But He did not do that. He came to find me, became a bag of flesh and bones like me, and died for me. He died for me so that He can begin His good work in me. I can only wish to be able to transform my city with a wave of a hand, but only God can make beauty out of ashes. He knows my innermost thoughts — even the ugliest of them — and He loves me all the same.

I might have my gripes and criticisms about my metropolis, but I have no right to say that it is unworthy of my time and energy. I live here; and where I am — my home, my work, my city — has a purpose in God’s design.

Finding Beauty

I went into the project thinking of just taking pretty pictures, but I realize that it was a self-serving goal. I do not paint sunsets and sunrises. I did not build a single building. I did not give birth to the lives that are each writing their stories. I wanted to tell my story in pictures and my #MorningCommutePH — which is perfectly acceptable! But in the end, the beauty I was looking for and wanted to capture does not belong to me.

I simply wanted to show others what I see on a daily basis, and the mess and ugliness comes along with that. It is not the job of the commuting Filipinos and Metro Manila structures to make my shot “beautiful” — it is my job as a wannabe photographer to find their beauty and to tell their story.

While Christians have the privilege of looking forward to Paradise, it does not mean that I should dismiss my city and give up on it. It is my job to pray for my city and my country, and claim in faith God’s love and grace for the land and its people.

I am not giving up on my project. I might take time to learn how to compose my shot, but I am looking forward to grow my love and appreciation for my city and for my country.

This Faithful Fridays post is in part inspired by today’s Daily Post prompt, Awe.



Redeemed. French language specialist by trade. Writer, visual artist, and singer by design.

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