Interview Danielle Austria
Images Jose Bautista
What made you start The Manila Project?
The “aha” moment happened during my first visit to Intramuros a couple of years ago. Having grown up in the province, I didn’t really get to experience the “real” Manila—not until I decided to relocate here after studying and working in Cebu. Admittedly, I’m not really much of a history buff before I started this project. It was more of like point and shoot whatever I find interesting, then post it on Instagram. Back then, I only had around 143 followers. I started to realize that I can turn this into a lifetime project if I really commit myself to it.
That’s when I decided to buy the domain and started to write articles, mostly of architectural landmarks at first, then came the occasional travel articles and “In Photos” series for street photography.
“Is Manila really as bad as Filipinos say?” That’s the top question on Quora about the city. It’s a very loaded question. If you were to be asked that, how would you respond?
No, I don’t think it’s inherently bad. While there are aspects that make others see Manila this way, I don’t. All cities have their faults. While Manila may be far behind in terms of urban planning and cleanliness, it more than makes up for it in other ways.
If one were to find beauty in Manila, where or how should they begin to look? What is the best way to see the city?
For avid street photographers, the best way to get a feel of the place you’re in is just walk and walk and walk and walk. Having a concrete plan or itinerary and following a strict schedule is a big no for me. There’s no better way to explore Manila than by getting lost. You’ll find your way around eventually. All thanks to Google Maps.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve had during your photowalks?
That only by getting out of your comfort zone will you truly find yourself. Sounds deep but it’s true.
We’ve come to a time when people take pictures mostly to promote a certain aesthetic and rarely to preserve a meaningful moment. Do you find yourself doing that sometimes, too? For future creatives, how would you advise them to move past mere image-building into a more genuine storytelling?
Who hasn’t, really? If there’s anything I learned from my trips, it’s that you’ll eventually grow out of it, at least for me and my friends. Taking a few good photos together is enough. Personally, since I like taking photos of the places I visit, I just capture the things I find interesting and wait for those subjects to appear before me.
Do you have a dream city to explore and capture?
Yes, Tokyo and Bagan. Hopefully [I get to visit] either one of those by next year if I get enough miles. Tokyo, I guess there’s no need to explain why. Even Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern had nothing but praises for Tokyo. Bagan, on the other hand, looks amazing and not yet overrun with tourists. And with the thousands of ancient temples built centuries ago I’m sure I’m going to enjoy it.
What is your hope for Manila?
For everyone to appreciate its contribution to the storied past of the Philippines. And, naturally, have everyone respect the city that they live in. By that, I mean not throwing trash wherever they feel like it. When you visit Fort Santiago and stand atop the old stones of Baluarte de Santa Barbara overlooking Pasig River, just imagine how a dead rat smells like and multiply that by a hundred. That’s how foul-smelling Pasig River is—this, considering that Pasig River stretches over 25 kilometers of Metro Manila. While NGOs like “Kapit Bisig Para Sa Ilog Pasig” certainly contribute to the cleanup, it can only do so much without the help of the national government. •
The story first appeared in the City Beautiful issue, released in 2018.