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Nestled in the heart of Manila, within the dynamic fabric of Escolta Street, a sanctuary for creativity has arisen, weaving together the strands of history, community, and artistic expression. Join us as we explore the origins of Espacio Creativo Escolta, guided by its founder, Belg, who unveils the enthralling narrative that gave rise to this distinctive photography studio.

The Genesis of Espacio Creativo Escolta: Belg, can you share the story behind the creation of Espacio Creativo Escolta? What was the moment you realized that this was what you wanted to do?

I have always wanted to become a photographer since I was 17 but after college I ended up choosing a more stable and safe path by joining the corporate world. I did sales and marketing for different multinational companies for 11 years. In 2021, during the height of the pandemic, I woke up one day literally feeling sick in my stomach and realized I could no longer stay in the corporate world. It felt like I was living someone else’s life. It felt like I was following someone else’s path.  After some introspection, I was able to marry my entrepreneurial drive and my love for photography and conceptualized Espacio Creativo Escolta together with my business partner and one of my best friends, Giselle. We wanted to open an approachable creative space both for professional and non-professional creatives that would help them create contents they can be proud of.

The Lure of Escolta Street:

Escolta Street is steeped in history and culture. How does this historic backdrop influence your work and the identity of your studio?

Escolta street is a birthplace of many firsts—the first bank was here, the first building with an elevator, the first theater and even the first photography studio. When we expanded our studio last year, we wanted to pay homage to the birthplace of photo studios in the Philippines, that is Escolta, by offering handpainted backdrops as this was something we would find in vintage photographs. We collaborated with artist Kristian Somera and brought US-based brand Schmidli Backdrops in the Philippines. They are the industry standard for custom hand painted backdrop rentals in Los Angeles and New York. We are the only studio in the Philippines that carry their collection.

Architectural Harmony: Operating within a heritage building must come with its own set of challenges and inspirations. How do you balance the preservation of history with the functional demands of a modern studio?

Operating within a heritage building is a social responsibility, as a studio owner, I often ask myself what can we do more to contribute to the preservation of these heritage structures, how do we ensure we keep that sense of community not only within the building but also alongside our neighbors in Escolta, how do we convert more advocates of history and heritage sites. I feel like all of us creatives in the building share that common goal of ensuring that we honor the space we operate in and enrich the people’s lives whoever stepped foot not only in our respective spaces but also in Escolta. We do this by sharing the history of the street and giving our guests a tour of our building.

Portraiture and the Human Connection: You've mentioned a deep fascination with people and history. How do these interests shape your approach to portrait photography?

I often build connection with my subjects in the studio through sharing stories of familial histories or common threads that connect them to Escolta. I also ensure they have a deeper appreciation of Escolta and why its important in shaping the photography landscape in the Philippines.

Mastering Natural Light: Natural light plays a pivotal role in your photography. Can you share some insights into how you harness and manipulate this element to create the perfect shot?

We are blessed with great natural lighting in the studio and shooting at different hours  produce different tones and intensity on the lighting. I tend to shoot more in the morning as I tend to lean towards more with potraits with soft lighting. We get hard light in the afternoon which I find best to use if you want to play with shadows and heavy contrast.

The Community Canvas: Espacio Creativo Escolta is not just a studio but a part of the Escolta community. How do you see your studio contributing to the cultural and creative landscape of the area?

We conduct activations during our pocket events in the building and recently held an Open Portrait Session during Hola Escolta—an annual event that highlights history, culture and heritage. We also help organize this event together with the other creatives in First United Building.

A Glimpse Behind the Scenes: Could you describe a particularly memorable photoshoot or project that took place in your studio? What made it stand out?

I held a portrait session for Faces of Escolta in my studio with two of the subjects I met on the street. I invited them over at the studio as they were curious why celebrities book the space. They’ve also mentioned that they’ve never been in any of the studios in the building after so many years of working in Escolta street. They mentioned the last time they were inside the building was when they were kids who used to sell newspapers to each room inside the building. So it was really fascinating to have them in the studio, this time as subjects who were gonna have their portraits taken.

Challenges and Triumphs: What have been some of the most significant challenges you've faced in establishing and running a photography studio in a historical area? How have you overcome them?

Perhaps I will echo one of the most challenging things we did as a creative community in the building which is when we mounted Hola Escolta—each creative spaces/offices in the building were juggling their daily work while also coordinating with possible sponsors, drafting proposals, pitching to brands and plotting activations for the event. It was also the first time that we mounted the event after a long hiatus because of the pandemic. It was an overall success with the help of each creative offices in the building.

The Evolution of a Photographer: How has your photography evolved since the inception of Espacio Creativo Escolta? Are there any projects or directions you're eager to explore in the future?

When I was younger I used to produce photos just for the sake of producing beautiful photos. I am now more drawn to producing potent images that translates the story of my subjects and the community I am in. How do these photographs deliver the right messaging to its intended audience? How do these portraits portray my subjects in the best light (no pun intended)? These are some of the questions my team try to address when shooting in the studio.

Collaboration and Community: The creative industry thrives on collaboration. Are there any artists, photographers, or historical figures you draw inspiration from or would love to collaborate with?

I enjoy collaborating with other creatives and artists—I recently collaborated with visual artist, Kristian Somera and asked him to produce a backdrop dedicated to Escolta. I have also done collaborations with resident creatives/artists of First United Building who share the same love for Escolta and they inspire me in giving back more to the community.  I would want to work with other photographer friends. Would be nice to shoot their portraits, that would be interesting!

Preserving the Past, Capturing the Future: Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for Espacio Creativo Escolta? How do you hope to impact the local art scene and the broader field of photography?

We want to contribute in the preservation of history and heritage in Escolta. We want to create an impact on the lives of the community we operate in. We can do this by sharing the message of honoring Escolta street through visual storytelling and converting more advocates of our heritage sites that are in danger of being erased permanently.

A Snapshot of Advice: Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring photographers who are drawn to the intricate dance of light, history, and human emotion in their work?

For aspiring photographers, my advice would be to find the purpose why you do what you’re doing. When you find it, you will be relentless in your pursuit of producing beautiful photos.


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