Photographer of the Week: Allan Mendez
By Maan D’Asis Pamaran
Memories of sheer beauty of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range drove Allan Mendez to delve into photography.
“When I was a kid, my grandfather would take me and my siblings to his cattle ranch, farm plantations, and vacation barns up in the Sierra Madre Mountain. These are the places where I developed a sense of love for Nature and the pastoral scene. When we migrated to the U.S.A. 30 years ago, I realized I never had any images of my hometown (Tanay, Rizal), just memories. It was a big change from living in a quiet town in the Philippines to a busy and bustling city of Oakland, California. It didn’t take long before I yearned to see images of places from my childhood years,” Allan recalls.
As luck would have it, a photographer friend who broke his Nikon F4 offered Allan his set of four Nikon lenses and an external camera flash. “I just bought my friend's equipment, purchased my first Nikon film SLR camera, and then I started shooting. My friend, who also became my mentor, taught me the technical aspects of photography. He told me that it would make me a better photographer if I discovered and explored my creativity through artistic vision, personal point of view, aesthetic, and composition.”
His subsequent homecomings became a flurry of photographic activity, where he took photos of every aspect of his hometown including festivals, people’s livelihood, marketplace scenes, transportation, places, nature, landscapes, waterfalls, and even food.
Thus, he started his lifelong love of learning about the art. He took a few classes at the California State University in 2005 that included a class on Professional Photography, with guest teachers who taught different aspects of the art, and what drew him the most, he says, was Still Life. “It was the beginning of my love affair with antique props. This genre introduced me to the many possibilities of what story can be shot on a small table space.”
By 2008, he was taking classes at the New York Institute of Photography, from which he received a Merit Award upon graduation in 2012. “It was around this year that I started working as a freelance photographer. I rented a studio and started shooting commercially. Still, I made time for my still-life projects.”
He discovered the work of Harold Ross, the originator and inventor of the Sculpting with Light Method a.k.a. Light Painting in 2016. “I never stopped light painting ever since. When done correctly, a light painted image would look like a painting or illustration at first glance, but when viewed closer, it’s 100 percent photographic with details and textures that look very realistic.”
Allan aims to promote not only a love for photography but also photographers’ rights, as an associate member of the American Society of Media Photographers. “I’m also a member of my hometown’s Tanay Photography Club which was founded by my nephew whom I’ve been mentoring since 2003. My love of the Sierra Madre Mountains prompted me in 2009 to become an ambassador and contributing photographer for The East Bay Regional Park District, where my images of this mountainous area have been featured in promotional materials.”
Last March, he joined a Fujifilm SF Bay Area photo contest hosted by Ken Rockwell and judged by Benjamin Kanarek, who remarked on his Lemon Tea entry as “in the manner of Rembrandt’s paintings,” he shares happily.
He sees himself both as a visual storyteller and an artist linking the present to the past. “Whenever I would make a still-life photograph, I would always show the concept that stories can be found anywhere and on anything, and are worth capturing and preserving. There is a story in the past and the present, people’s faces, abandoned places, and unwanted objects. To me, photography is a powerful medium to capture and preserve stories we have envisioned and can communicate the message we intend to share – it can arouse emotions, spark imagination, delight senses, and lead people to think and see in new ways.”