I knew about Ati-Atihan festival much before I came to the Philippines, I saw images of it numerous times, they always fascinated me. When I realized that I was in the country at the time that the festival would be held, in its’ original location Kalibo, I decided to try my best to make it to Kalibo to shoot this colorful and dramatic event.
A few motorcycle and boats rides from Tacloban, (the city where I was arranging my further travels and my bike) I got to Kalibo, just a day before the main parade of the festival began. It was a spectacle to behold.
I won’t get into why the festival is celebrated, you can Google that, what I will say is that it’s loud, really loud. It’s also colorful, full of energy and zest. However, I will also say that if you aren’t photographing it or aren’t drunk out of your mind, you’d have to be pretty masochistic to spend more than an hour or two anywhere near the parades. I still had ringing in my ears from the drumming and the cymbals a couple of days later.
And so, here’s a small collection I’ve managed to put together. Remember, click on any image to see it large or click one and scroll through all of them with the next button or the arrow keys on your keypad.
The morning of the main parade starts with a crowd of devotees flocking to church, all with their Santo Niño dolls.
Before sunrise the devotees light candles just outside the church and proceed inside for a special mass.
Children looking at the myriad of lit candles with the church behind them.
I got a chance to shoot some participants getting ready for the parade. While the actual preparations were a little less visually interesting than I expected, I did get a chance to "grab" this image on the way out of the house where the dancers were preparing.
The parade starts around 7 am. Performers, black, covered in soot will continue until around noon.
There were a few groups that I followed and kept shooting throughout the parade. This was one of them, I guess I couldn't resist the cuteness/ferociousness of the "little tigers". They kept marched to the music, occasionally stopping, wiggling their butts and shaking their "swords" with very serious expressions on their faces,
By late morning of the first day it started to get real hot and this showed on the faces of the participants and in their body language.
I shot a few images from around hip level. This is one of them. I liked this group's costumes and the look of joy on the young man's face.
Every now and then the procession would slow down and one of the people at the front of the group would shout out "Viva kay Santo Niño!", which probably translates to something like "Long live the holy child!". The other group members would repeat the phrase in a single voice and would throw their arms up into the air.
On the second day of the main parade the crowd really swelled. It seemed that every other moment someone would jump into my shot, so I eventually decided to shoot the crowd itself. A lot of people wanted photos of themselves with the performers. Some of those characters were quite hilarious. The most hilarious of all though was when some middle-aged woman would come up to a group, pull a random child aside and would pose with him/her (by then horrified).
I find the disregard to political correctness in the Philippines pretty fascinating. Here a lady-boy with a Santo Niño doll poses just outside of a Catholic church, and everyone is happy as can be posing with him. I wonder what the Pope would say about that one. I think this is a great example of the level of tolerance and acceptance that Filipinos have towards each other's differences.
The festival (in some strange way) celebrates baby Jesus and almost every devout Catholic walks around with the Santo Niño doll, as if they are taking the doll to get some fresh air or something along those lines. Tanya and I found such scenes absurd, hilarious and really endearing all at once. The devotees dress up their Santo Niños in various outfits. Here a woman has come to buy a new costumes for her doll.
Santo Niño dressed up in the outfit of the parade participants.
I played around and shot a few pan images. This one is of a really tough grandmother, she just kept going and going. I guess her level of devotion and enthusiasm was very high.
It's not all bright colours and joy at Ati Atihan festival/parade. The town's homeless appeared as if they felt quite left out from all the fun. Though some did attempt a dance move or two, they mostly sat around the corner of a park asking for money or walked up to the richer looking spectators (that includes foreigners) doing the same.
If you have a long lens, portraits are a little easier to shoot than action shots and I shot a fair few of these. While I usually avoid shots of smiling kiddies (I find most of them fairly banal, clichéd, cheesy, boring) I couldn't resist this little girl with her toothless smile.
Ok, that’s all for this post. I leave you with a few more portraits from Ati-Atihan in Kalibo.