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(from a circa 2001~ dream interview.  The plan then was to use this script to do a Q&A interview video.  Looking at doing it still when time permits and while in the process also update some of the information and philosophies that has changed over the years, particularly with changes in newer technologies and products (e.g. film vs. digital, etc.).


For starters, what’s up with the long name?
It is a Spanish tradition… your mother’s maiden name is your middle name. Thomas is my father and Albert from is my uncle who happens to also be my godfather (Albert Ejercito).


Filipinos are known to have oddball nicknames like Tin-Tin and Bong-Bong. And you?
I actually have a friend nicknamed Tin-Tin. So watch it (LOL)! My immediate family calls me Tombet, which derives from my first names. Friends and colleagues call me Tommy, which is what I prefer. I like Atomic though LOL!


When and where were you born?
I was born July 14, 1955 n Manila, Philippines.


How did  you get here in the US of A?
I immigrated in 1973 along with my 5 siblings and dad, a year after my mom arrived in San Francisco. Thanks to my mom’s fortitude and sacrifice, the big family was able to get relocated quickly. We have established San Francisco Bay Area as our home base since then.


How did you get into this field? Tell me about your photography influences?
The first influence would be my dad. He had this Polaroid instamatic camera that he used to take pictures of us. Seeing those photographic papers come to life in front of you were magical to me. I also recall many annual family portrait sessions at a local professional studio where large format or 5×7 sheets were used for those now classic sepia-toned prints.

While growing up in Manila as a teen, I came across a Nikon F completed with a motor drive (MD1?) used by Noli Yamsuan, a neighbor who was a photojournalist. Protest rallies were rampant at that time and Martial Law was imminent. I played in my mind thoughts of the adrenaline rush when he covered the protest marches, the street riots, and the clashes with the police and the Marcos-controlled political establishment. I figured that as long as you were with the press – your were fine! Last I saw him in the Philippines, he was still a photojournalist. In the back of my mind, I thought it would be a very cool job someday.

In 1975, Willie Lira, a Bechtel architect who I eventually found to be a top notch photographer, saw on my desk a framed 8×10 photo that I took of the Trojan Nuclear Power plant’s cooling tower in Oregon. After giving the photo some critique, he encouraged me to join the Portola Camera Club. The involvement with PCC was very instrumental. There, I met and learned from many very serious advanced amateur and professional photographers based around the peninsula. Another big influence was Lisle Kinnear, a Bechtel senior piping designer and also a PCC member. Lisle’s black and white photos and solarization works were outstanding master works similar to if not better than Ansel Adam’s. These mentors were very astute critics whom I learned so much from.

Another photo guru is Gilman Lee, a piping designer at Bechtel who was a pro-grade photographer and another B&W master printer. His knack for rare cameras and his techniques were great baselines to be emulated, specially his infrared landscapes. He got me into Hasselblads and much larger (2 1/4 x 2 1/4) film format and was my source for my 2000FCM.

Besides these wealth of resources, most of what I learned are either self-taught — including reading photo books, surfing magazines, and attending some photo workshops. The most influential workshop I attended was with Ken Marcus on Glamour and Nude photography (he used to shoot for Playboy).


Your website showcase travel photos from various countries. What places do you like the best?
I’ve liked all the locations I’ve photographed so far. I travel with an open mind and with photography and a camera always in tow. I have had many great adventures and experiences traveling to countries that could fill more than a few story books. I have fond memories of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, United Kingdom, Ireland, (West) Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, the BVI’s Tortola and Virgin Gorda, St. John USVI, and Greece’s Crete and Santorini. I was enchanted by the magical power of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, particluarly of the Mayan sites. Recently, I embarked on a personal rediscovery of the Philippines. If you notice the theme here… there are lots of islands!

Still, many places I’d love to visit and shoot eludes me. Chile, Peru, India, China, and Antarctica to name a few. God-willing, I’ll get a chance to do so before I pass on to the afterlife. It would really help if I was either rich or if I can find time. A good budget and some generous funding from angel venture capitalists would be great. Ha, ha!


Tell me about some of your memorable assignments?
Hmmm, the first thoughts that come to mind are the weddings shoots. Wedding photography is not really my first calling. However, I always enjoyed those that I done… usually word of mouth referrals. There is something special about capturing wedding moments. The photographer has a huge responsibility and pressure. My approach tend to be a document it more journalistic and candid. There is no room for missing moments those “once in a lifetime” moments.

In sports, it would be when I covered San Francisco 49ers home games for eight years, an era that I called the “Joe Montana Years.” I was a stringer for Media Dispatch, a small independent news agency. Rene Tolosa was crucial for giving me those opportunities and desirable press passes. I was there the year they rose from the bottom of the barrel and to the three years of Super Bowl wins. Sadly, the team has since been struggling again. Maybe they should let me cover their games again?

Photopia, a SF-based greeting card publishing company, picked one my photos for their publication and distribution. Love and Liberty is a photograph of a couple walking hand-in-hand with the Statue of Liberty in the background. I was thrilled to be included with other well-recognized professional photographers. The compressed perspective making the couple and the statue almost the same size. To correct a lot of 1st impressions, the photo location was not New York City; the photo was actually taken in Paris, France as part of my lifetime Paris: Street Photography personal project.

I love working on self-assignments, particularly photographing places I select and visit in the Philippines after being away for over twenty-six years. At the very least, I try to build up my stock images for future use and sale.

I am also delighted in designing and developing my own website and using the Internet for my portfolio. Being able to do all these facets of creating is like an extension of my life-long pursuit in arts. This activity supplements skills and knowledge I have gained, converging both my IT and my photography skills and interest.


Film or Digital?
Wow, this is the “boxers or briefs?” argument.  There is no “one” final answer really.  Digital technology is continually improving with higher, better resolution, now on the five mega-pixel range.  However, cellulose-based film still has the edge as far as “quality.”  You can’t beat a 2 1/4 format or a 5×7 or 8×10 film when you need to do large prints.  However, I like the flexibility and ease of the digital format.  I’d say there is room for both.

For those who are just beginning but serious about learning photography, I would still recommend they work with a 35mm film camera to get started. Besides the basic need to learn about composition, this provides the foundations learning on lighting principles and use of light controls such as apertures, and shutter speeds. Also doing B&W printing is a must. I’d say learn the basics first. Then, experiment as you become confident and or once you get bored.

In my last trip to the Philippines, I intentionally took only a Digital8 video camera as a self-challenge to experiment and learn more about digital video. There were plenty of situations that I still wished I had a film camera however. I could have had sharper images for enlargements.

[ teb added 11/05: Ken Rockwell articulates this topic better at: www.kenrockwell.com/tech/filmdig.htm ]


What’s next photography-wise?
I continue to dream doing a National Geographic assignment someday (is there anyone in NG out there reading this?).  Also, I would love to cover an America’s Cup race up close and personal, complete with all the necessary credentials.  I did try shooting the America’s Cup in San Diego but was kept away by the Coast Guard Auxiliary most of the time.  Also, do more glamour and nudes, maybe, but that will be a stretch.

I have a couple of book projects continuing to brew in my head.  One is about my Philippines jaunts.  Due to my busy work schedule, my web portfolio is becoming the alternative medium.  The Internet and the web is awesome because anyone, anywhere, anytime can access and view what we can post.

I am in preliminary preparation for the other book project. It would be a collaborative father (posthumous) and son book project, a very personal and likely controversial release. The limited edition and quantity book will combine some of my nude photography with my dad’s poetry writing that I discovered in his belongings that were left to me when he passed away. These powerful love poems are in the genre of Pablo Neruda. It was a delight to find memories of my dad being passionate and creative as well. The plan is to pair up sensual photographs with his poetry musings. I’m looking for models… sign up!


So, what would you want to be when you grow up?
Oh, just do more of the same but doing it better and and try something new along the way. I’ve grown up a lot but I think still have to peak. I know there are still more things to do, experience, and learn. Heck, I am even back to school right now to finish my college.

I want to continue pursuing projects where convergence of my various arts and technology interests can be utilized. I am amazed by what can be done nowadays, I can actually visualize and imagine what else can be done in the future. Technology as an art tool is just so cool!

I’d love to mentor or a facilitate anyone who would listen and who hungers for expressing their creativity and help hone in their talents. I’d encourage them to experiment and even make mistakes along the way, as long as they learn from the mistakes quickly; I want to encourage creativity.


What would you want to be your legacy?

I have learned that in the end, the only thing that really matters are memories. You can make all the money in the world but that does not guarantee nor buy one happiness. Besides, you cannot take any material things with you when you pass away (something Bill Gates is well aware of).

I hope I can be a positive influence and provide good values to someone, particularly to children, despite what type of cards they are dealt with in their life. I have three sons whom I love very dearly, so I know I must. I want to suggest for them not be too conforming. Yes, get along and be involved and help others, but still express uniqueness and individuality. I would like to instill in them the deepest appreciation of our freedoms and of our own choices, to continually learn and grow, to be spontaneous and to be passionate with anything they pursue. Finally, I want them to strive to be on the side of goodness, because in judgment day, that is all that will matter. Yet, they should not fear enjoying life and it’s passages since our time here on earth is really so short and so precious.


If you were to invite a dozen or so people to a dinner party, who would you invite?
I would have these guys for my dinner guests:

  • Russell Francis Troy
  • Albert Einstein
  • Robert Fulghum
  • Carlos Santana
  • Dr. Jose Rizal
  • Jaime Zobel de Ayala
  • Peter Drucker
  • Henri Mattise
  • Deepak Chopra
  • Steven Speilberg
  • Dalai Lama
  • Bill Gates