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May 17, 2024


Photography by Rowell B. Timoteo
Interview by Melanie Meggs

In the bustling city of San Fernando, La Union, Philippines, Rowell B. Timoteo leads a dual life — one as a dedicated government employee at the Provincial Government of La Union (PGLU) and another as a passionate street photographer. Rowell finds solace in the wisdom shared by Jhomardy Photography: “You are still an artist even if you pursue another career for financial stability.”

Rowell’s journey into the realm of photography began in 2017, amidst the demands of his day job. Yet, amid the routine, he found fascination in the ordinary, capturing raw and unscripted moments that whispered tales of human experience. It wasn't long before street photography captivated his soul, offering him a means to weave stories from chance encounters and the extraordinary.

Balancing an eight-hour workday with his passion for photography, Rowell discovered a symbiotic relationship between his two worlds. Street photography breathed vibrant life into his routine, enriching his perspective and influencing his decisions at work. Each click of his camera became a testament to the connections he drew between moments, revealing life in a different timeline.

Through his project, “Echo,” Rowell invites us to join him on a journey through the streets, where faces and shadows converge in a dance of light and mystery. With each photograph, he draws us into a world where signs speak volumes and moments intertwine, offering glimpses of life’s intricate weave. In the midst of the urban hustle, Rowell’s lens captures the essence of human experience, echoing the stories of those who inhabit the city streets.


Hello there, faces and shadows, I see you stop,
Eyes seeing a wonderful sight, I borrow your mysterious light.
Staring silently, circling and waiting,
My camera clicks, I am drawing a connection with signs.
Moments intertwine, seeing life in a different timeline.


THE PICTORIAL LIST: What initially sparked your interest in photography, and how did you find street photography...or did street photography find you?

ROWELL B. TIMOTEO: In 2017, a year after I was promoted in my job as a Labor & Employment Officer II and was taking up my master’s degree in development administration - major in Public Administration. During that period, I encountered difficulties handling the pressure of working and studying at the same time. Before 2017 ended, I decided to buy my first camera with my end-of-year salary bonus. The first camera that I owned was a Fuji X-A10 camera, and from there, my journey with photography started. I was fascinated with insects, and my first interest in photography was sparked by macro photography. I enjoyed lone moments, improving my mental quickness, patience, and attention to details whenever I had time to photograph insects in our backyard.

Three years later, in January of 2020, I accidentally found a street photography workshop advertisement on Facebook by a veteran photojournalist in the Philippines, Luis Liwanag. I got excited, quickly enrolled in the workshop, and took a trip to Manila, Philippines, with little knowledge about street photography. After the two-day trip, I suddenly fell in love with street photography. But the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020 challenged my motivation to engage in and learn the art of street photography. The pandemic limited my movement due to community quarantine restrictions in our area.

With my strong dedication to learn, I constantly watch videos on YouTube, read various e-books about street photography, and still go outside to explore my surroundings. During that time, I discovered and joined this Facebook group, Street Walkers PH (SWPH), where I also started submitting my photos for a chance to get featured on the SWPH, but the group right now it's inactive. One of the SWPH administrators and street photographer from Davao, Philippines, Jose Miguel Lisbona, initially saw subtle details and connections in the photos I have submitted to SWPH. Miguel saw potential in me to do better and enhance my street photography knowledge, skills, and attitude. Miguel surprisingly reached out to me, and I was so happy for the gift and privilege to undergo a mentorship in street photography from him. He facilitated one-on-one learning sessions with me in three months via Zoom and work assignments helping me looking for my “Why” in making photos. Through the process, my “Why” manifested whenever I am magnetized to a particular scene. Miguel soon realized that my anchor in photography is “Moments of Meaningful Expressions Naging Totoo”, MOMENT. The #MOMENT became my visual anchor whenever I go out and shoot.

The constant application of learning through the 52-week project photographic assignments conducted in separate locations (Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao) I shared with Miguel and Marc Lozano, fellow street photographer from Ilo-Ilo City, Philippines in 2022, gradually taught me to be confident while shooting, feel the flow of moments and be visually connected with my surroundings. Later in 2023, I received the first fruits of my labor in street photography when I was included as one of the exhibition artists in the Fotomoto 22: Home Exhibition held in PAROLA UP Fine Arts Gallery, Quezon City, Philippines, and also included as one of the 100 finalists in the 24HourProject 2022 International Exhibitions held in Hong Kong and France.

TPL: Can you discuss the significance of the title “Echo” for your photography project, and how does it relate to your experiences and observations?

ROWELL: When I was consolidating my photos and looking at them multiple times, the word “Echo” popped up in my mind, and words started to flow in my thoughts. The life around me, the multiple faces I see, the stories developing with moments discovered — they are all echoes from different expressions borrowed from the gift of seeing things differently. It echoed with my inner thoughts to translate a candid documentation of everything around me — the mysteries and the unstaged reality. When carried out thoughtfully, street photography can remind us that we can be better at being human.

TPL: What role does observation play in your photography, and how do you cultivate your ability to notice and capture fleeting moments?

ROWELL: Observations always keep my seeing eyes active in capturing moments with the flow of time. As my curious eyes see, the wandering movements of everything around, being curious with my surroundings became my favorite practice and past time even when I am in a waiting situation. My eyes observe everything within my reach and stories keep on developing in my thoughts.

TPL: How has street photography influenced your perspective on everyday life and the stories that unfold around you?

ROWELL: Street photography helps me to confront my inner thoughts and give ease to my mind and soul. Going out and being with everybody around added to my contemplative moments where I can balance my thoughts and wisdom about everything in life. It taught me to visualize moments in front of me at a slow pace, capturing the essence of things and connecting with them lightheartedly. For me, street photography should be enjoyed, we discern beauty in ordinary things, and we are using that perspective to transform them in a creative way.

TPL: Can you share any challenges you've faced while pursuing street photography alongside your day job, and how have you overcome them?

ROWELL: Finding time and keeping my spirits high for pursuing street photography is quite challenging especially with the times I have to prioritize things that are more important to me. I need to work and be productive in order to provide a daily source of income for my family. Sometimes getting too busy with life, the creativity slowly diminishes. Busyness sometimes evolves as an excuse to distract my will to go out to capture moments and produce a good body of work. Even though I experience debilitating effects of working with so many things around, I continue to challenge myself to keep my passion with street photography alive.

Sometimes, ego also interferes and distracts me; it pops out when we separate ourselves from others and feel superior to everyone else. It is a part of human nature, but I have learned to manage it. Having deep conversations with wonderful people who became inspirations to many and interacting with real humans helps me suppress my ego. I learn to manage my expectations by going back to the basics, starting again with little steps, creating boundaries, and enjoying the status of a consistent learner in this craft. A practice and a cycle of maintaining good habits and a positive attitude. It takes a lot of time to become successful in pursuing our craft, but we have to take care of ourselves too.

TPL: How do you approach the ethical considerations involved in photographing people and moments in Philippines public spaces? Are there any particular laws you have to abide by?

ROWELL: I love capturing candid moments of daily life at a fast pace, blending with the crowd, and preserving anonymity, and there are no particular laws to abide by when shooting in public places here in our province of La Union. However, all the time, I remind myself to be respectful and aware of the privacy of individuals in public places. Studying the social dynamics of the locations where I stand, and shoot serves as my guide in making decisions about the scenes I am about to capture. I carefully choose what and who to photograph, and if chance permits, I ask permission if it’s okay to take a photo in the area. I avoid taking photos of people who are obviously weak or vulnerable. I set my boundaries and I abide by my principles.

We should never stop to appreciate everything we see.

TPL: Can you describe to us your creative process when approaching street photography? Do you have any specific techniques or strategies that you employ?

ROWELL: My guide when I am outside is making myself ready to blend with the surroundings, thinking like a child when shooting, being agile and flexible, and always ready to explore. Lastly, I make sure to enjoy the moment. I love hearing honest and constructive feedback from different people on my work; I am content with my way of seeing things; I love the process; and I do not become too attached to the outcomes by chasing likes, reactions, and social media clout. I shoot for myself.

I accepted the fact that when I am shooting, I work within my limits. I always shoot in manual mode with a 23mm or 35mm lens. I love fiddling with the dials of my camera.

TPL: Do you have any favorite artists/photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?

ROWELL: A few local artists and photographers from the Philippines inspire me and have made a great impact on my journey with photography. They are Miguel Lisbona, Marc Lozano, Romualdo Amarille Formentera, Jr., Clinton Anniversario, Raymond Tanhueco, Elpidio Juan, and Veejay Villafranca. That is why I am very thankful for street photography, because never in my life would my radar allow me to meet these wonderful people, who became instrumental in my growth in pursuing street photography. My accomplishments would not be possible without them, and my deepest gratitude goes to these great people for helping me see more with my personal vision and strengthen my courage to try my luck for multiple doors of opportunity for growing.

In terms of international artists and photographers, I admire the works of Alex Webb, Joel Meyerowitz, William Klein, Daido Moriyama, Maciej Dakowicz, Alan Schaler, and Maika Elan.

TPL: How do you stay inspired and motivated to continue pursuing your passion for street photography, especially during busy or challenging times?

ROWELL: We never stop learning. However, it is a choice. By staying diligently focused on the same time, we progress. I practice visualizing everything around me by paying attention to the details in front of me, even without a camera in my hand during busy hours. A part of my awareness in my surroundings partially shapes my experience of the moment. We should never stop to appreciate everything we see. Chance encounters during unexpected moments open up endless possibilities and develop stories within our photographic eyes. Positive habits in personal life with creative curiosity can create more balance and happiness.

TPL: What was the first camera you ever held in your hand, brought to eye, and released a shutter on? What is the camera you use now and your preferred focal length? Is there anything on your Wishlist?

ROWELL: The first camera I held in my hand is the one I bought from my year-end salary bonus in 2017, and it’s a Fuji X-A10. I had it with me for two years, then I upgraded to the Fuji X-T1 and later added a Fuji X70 as my backup camera. Today, the only camera I have with me and am currently using is my Fuji X-Pro 2, paired with a 23mm lens. I am already accustomed to the Xpro 2’s features and limitations, and the 23mm lens forces me to think outside the box, be more creative and it allows me to use my zoom legs to go closer to my subject since it is not a telescopic lens. I love to include everything in the frame with the 23mm lens. I have no complaints with my current set-up and still appreciate the Fuji X-Pro 2 camera that I own and the 23mm focal length. 23mm is my everyday preferred focal length. For my wish list, maybe I can wish for a nice Fuji X100v.

TPL: Can you share with us any future goals or aspirations you have for your photography, both personally and professionally?

ROWELL: I have been a government employee for 15 years, have become successful in my career, and have enjoyed pursuing street photography for four years. As I have grown older, I have had a lot of time to think, reflect, and plan with my future. With my efforts to improve, my future with street photography became my present; it paved the way for me to earn unexpected accomplishments that I had not planned in my timeline. I have been included in multiple photo exhibits, both local and international, shared some winning moments in numerous photo contests, some of my submitted photo essays were published online, I became a community stringer and citizen photojournalist for PonD News Asia, I was able to document and write a story about a former turtle poacher turned to a hero of the sea, and right now, I have a chance to be featured on The Pictorial List website. These gifts came from learning diligently and practicing street photography religiously.

TPL: And when you are not working or out photographing, what else would Rowell be doing with his time?

ROWELL: When I am not working or out photographing, I am working on my thesis. I hope that I can finish it and be able to graduate with my master's degree. Aside from this, I make sure to spend quality time with my girlfriend after work and go home to Luna, La Union, her hometown, on weekends. I also spend quality time going out with my mother, watching movies and attending mass on Sundays. Bringing realistic balance to my work-life activities and cutting ties with the outside world allows me to recover from the pressure and stress of all of what is happening every day. Spending time with loved ones always energizes my mind and body.

In navigating the dual realms of professional commitment and artistic passion, Rowell B. Timoteo exemplifies the harmonious integration of dedication and creativity. Through his project “Echo,” he extends an invitation to explore the vibrant streets of San Fernando, where his lens captures the nuanced interplay of light, shadow, and human emotion. With each photograph, Rowell intricately weaves together moments that transcend the boundaries of time, offering viewers a profound glimpse into the essence of urban life. His ability to balance the demands of his daily work with his unwavering dedication to street photography underscores his profound commitment to both craft and career. Through his artistry, Rowell not only documents the dynamic energy of the city streets but also illuminates the enduring beauty found within the everyday moments of human existence.

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