Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A VIEW TO A THRILL: Collecting History

Collecting is an obsession that has its roots in our childhood. In our youth, we amassed stamps, coins, marbles, cigarette packs, movie stars’ photos and autographs. We kept toys, premium items, bottle caps and comic books. As adults, we hoarded souvenir items from our travels: ash trays, matches, bells, spoons and figurines. To a great extent then, collecting takes a lifetime. As one inveterate collector said: “I know I will collect for as long as I live because I never stop looking for things”.

I like to think that we collect not for economic reasons alone. We want to enrich our life by surrounding ourselves with these objects which we alone think are valuable, interesting and beautiful. To a real collector, it is not often the material value that matters but the personal meaning of the object to him. With these thoughts, I started collecting old photos and postcard views with Kapampangan themes over five years ago. There was another practical reason why I chose photo and postcard collecting (“Deltiology”, as the hobby is formally called) —old photos were the only “antiques” I could truly afford. A real photo postcard then, in rich, sepia color, would cost just 5 pesos. Sometimes, I would pay just a few pesos more for whole albums and scrapbooks salvaged from garages or rickety aparadors, ready to be thrown away by owners.

But, like an expensive Ming vase or a colonial santo, photos and postcards—with their myriad subjects—are also capable of evoking pleasant memories of “the good old days”. A charming view of ancient Arayat, a century-old portrait of an Angeles matriarch, a departed don’s recuerdo de patay, a crowned Kapampangan beauty from some forgotten carnival, formal sitting of graduating Kapampangan high schoolers in prim and proper baro’t saya and americano cerrado—each picture, each view had a vivid story to tell.

And so it was, that I contacted SunStar Pampanga, the region’s most-widely circulated newspaper, proposing to start a column based on my old photo collection (and in some instances, on other Kapampangan ephemera like books, novenario covers and even current snapshots), on the premise that pictures, indeed, can paint a thousand words, and more. It was a proposal warmly received by then-editor Rollie Razon, General Manager Jun Sula Jr. and their staff. Thus, “Views from the Pampang” saw print on 15 June 2002, with the publication of initial photo essay entitled “Freeze Frames of References”. This book then compiles all the articles that I have written for the said paper, over a year’s worth of researching, writing and picture-sourcing, until the exigencies of my advertising job consumed the little time I had reserved for my fascination with Pampanga’s visual history.

By the time that “Views” finished its weekly Saturday run on Sunstar Pampanga on 4 January 2004 , I have met and corresponded by e-mail, scores of like-minded individuals from Pampanga and even from abroad, who provided details, corrected occasional lapses in research, recalled similar scenarios and conjured long-lost names of people on the featured snapshots. Today, they continue to engage me in meaningful remembrances of things past. To them, my deepest gratitude for their interest in my articles.

My photo collecting fever has not subsided a bit and this consuming passion continues to be a risky yet an irresistible game for me. Collecting is a study in trial and error and it brings the gambling spirit in all of us. As we seek, so shall we find---fabulous finds one day, expensive mistakes the next. It is the joy of the hunt that fuels us on, the thrill of pursuing our links to the past and the ever-present possibility of unearthing Cleopatra’s jewels among glass baubles.



robby said...

Hi Alex!
Congrats on the transfiguration of Views/Scenes from print to web. It's actually the best-selling book at the Kapampangan Center. I look forward to your next opus.


alex r. castro said...

Thanks, Robby! You and the Center had everything to do with the success of the book!

ace-to-isip said...

Now that the book is out of print, I can always tell friends who wants to borrow the book to go to your blog, and my book will always stay as new as when I bought it. I hope you can come up with another one. Luid ca !

egay cabrera said...

thanks, your work is priceless,
though you need to change the theme/design of this blog