Beyond the lens of cyanotypes and documentaries

With the advent of digital cameras and smartphones, anyone without exception may snap their very own photographs for memories, safekeeping or archival purposes.

However, there still exists a devoted group of artistic and talented individuals who prefer to strike an everlasting partnership with their handy DSLR or film cameras — to the extent of turning it into their passionate worthwhile careers, hoping to inspire others to pick up, adopt and nurture the craft.

They shoot not just for keepsakes or commemoration or for bragging rights. With it, they express their inner thoughts, most private feelings and artistic abilities through images immortalized via their lens.

Darlene Jane San Agustin, known as Dar to many, believes in a more direct, intimate, hands-on, whole-hearted approach to image-creation.

Due to this persistent fascination, she took a keen interest in alternative printing and the blue world of cyanotypes, a slow-reacting method that produces blue-toned films.

Her pieces go against the grain by challenging the elements within the photograph, the entire production process, the living subjects and models and even the ultimate role of the artist.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Photography from the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde and was a lecturer at the same institution from 2017 to 2023.

She is currently taking her Master of Fine Arts in Photography and Media at the California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, California.

Miguel Sy, a Chinese-Filipino photographer, has built his visual career around architectural and advertorial photography, with numerous top-profile domestic and international clients. He has likewise delved into documentary work in countries, such as Cambodia, Nigeria and the Philippines.

An avid motorcycle and scuba diving enthusiast, he integrated these into his profession, with a focus on exploration and archiving. Today, he likewise shares his wisdom as an Architecture and Advertising lecturer at his alma mater, DLS-CSB’s Photography Program.

We took a look at three of their favorite photos and what it means to them. Let’s hear their thoughts:

Dar San Agustin

Dar San Agustin

On Blue Motion: “A recent personal project, I personally appreciate it for I like the idea of combining two aspects I was really drawn to — traditional photography and aerial dance (hoop). This explores how movement translates to patterns on the body suit using the cyanotype printing method. An aerial hoop was wrapped with fabric and coated with cyanotype chemistry while aerialist Nesh performs.

‘Blue Motion’ by Dar San Agustin

As time passes, the pattern gets exposed to UV light and eventually darkens. This parallels how Nesh, as a performer, heavily strains these specific parts of her body and bears it until she eventually becomes desensitized to the pain over time, all to make the whole performance look captivating and effortless.”

‘The Price of Perfection’ by Dar San Agustin.

On The Price of Perfection: “This is my own personal portrait and interpretation of one of my very close friends and muse: Mistress Joyen, a burlesque performer and professional dominatrix. I’m grateful for her trust in allowing me to witness her in such a vulnerable state. Whenever she performs, Joyen exudes an aura of excellence — strong, graceful, elevated and beautiful. The public sees her as the intimidating madam. But behind that strength lies hours of training, sacrifice, frustration and pain — and these leave their inevitable marks on one’s body. And I see them as beautiful scars of perfection.”

‘Tadaima’ by Dar San Agustin.

On Tadaima: “This is my idea of home. Outdoor shoes are left at the shoe rack by the door while my cat sleeps on it. The material of the work, cyanotype on glass, makes it feel the viewer is observing the scene from a window. This is one of the processes I’m trying to study and perfect.”


Miguel Sy

Miguel Sy

On When the tide is low: “This was an initiative headed by a German NGO where we were tasked to create a photo essay on the current situation of Tacloban City, seven months after typhoon Yolanda’s devastation. There were just too many stories to be shared. I focused on the mental state of the communities and how they were coping after this overwhelming tragedy. I wished to shed light on the remnants of what the storm has truly left behind, but at the same time, I wanted to focus on the resilience of our disaster-beaten countrymen.”

On Ichi/Scarification: “This photo taken in Lagos, Nigeria, spotlights on a young boy with ichi (scarification). It is a tradition of marking one’s face with a certain pattern. Its purpose was to show which tribe you belonged, a custom still widely used in the country. I discovered it was done at the age of infancy by the mother. It was very fascinating at the same time beautiful, a permanent mark to express your origin.”

Solaire Casino Hotel Philippines, by Miguel Sy.

On Solaire Hotel Casino Philippines: “This image was memorable for me for I got to use heavy equipment — which was fun — and it was one of the biggest landmarks I had to shoot. This engagement made me think of the possibilities of teamwork. Various groups were set up to block the road and reroute traffic. Others were stationed in different areas to manage the interior lighting. I was up 50 feet from the ground with a walkie-talkie communicating with the whole lineup. It felt like being in one of American tableaux photographer Gregory Crewdson’s sets.”