Questions by KRISTOFER PURNELL
As his English Breakfast tea is served, Reiner König reaches out for the large book in front of him. The German points out several photos as he flips the pages, clearly some of his favorite—a man carrying a sack as he hangs onto a jeep, a bunch of children crowding into a frame, a woman posing under a tree.
The book is one of Reiner’s many compilations of his photos during his trips to Manila, which have become more frequent in recent years. What is astounding is Reiner does not use a professional camera, or any regular camera for that matter, he uses an iPhone. During his most recent trip, Reiner paid a visit to Intramuros—one of his favorite places to shoot in Manila—and sat down with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle to share why he prefers shooting with such a device, and in Manila of all places.
How many times have you visited Manila?
I’ve been coming here since I first visited five years ago. Back then I only stayed four or five weeks, now I stay two to six months. I visit more often now since I started making books, like twice a year. For me it’s safe in Manila, I can talk with everybody. In Germany life is very cold, I can’t smile at you and you won’t smile back. Here in Manila, it’s easy.
I go around maybe eight to 10 kilometers in Manila, looking here and there, staying here and there, I meet people, talk to them, and take pictures. Each time I come to Manila, I venture bigger and bigger. I’ve been to Tondo, to Smokey Mountain, even to Baclaran. I just ride a jeep and if I see something interesting, I get off.
Why do you like shooting in Manila?
Because Filipinos are easy-going. If you take pictures of people in Europe —say Paris, London, or in Germany—they would say, “What are you doing?” You can even get a penalty for taking a photo of a stranger. So I go to the Philippines and there’s no problem, once I take out my iPhone and they see me taking pictures, they shout “Hey, hey! Take a picture of me!” It’s a totally different mentality.
And you only stay in Manila, you don’t go to other cities?
I go to other cities, but the people I know are in Manila. I always try to see them again and again. There are also some in Puerto Princesa and Cagayan de Oro, but the difference is when you are in paddy fields or rice fields you see photographers with high quality cameras taking excellent photos—I can do my best but I won’t have the same quality. Here, I can go close, and it’s no different.
Do you like taking photos with your iPhone?
Yes. When I started out, one of the first cameras was a Polaroid, and they released a camera with a chip. I started taking photos with it, and Polaroid published what I took. But it was too late, because by then all the camera companies—Polaroid, Kodak, etc.—were crashing. So I stopped photography for a while and only did newspaper and magazine production, advertising, and at last when I retired I remembered photography.
Then I had my iPhone 4, when I take pictures it wasn’t really nice, the quality, but with editing I can push up. So I took my time, two years.
When I came to the Philippines for the first time and took pictures, I had more time and was able to put personal identities into my photos. I probably took around 20,000 pictures while in Manila, and one of my friend said “Come on, make a book.” And so I did, and I showed the book to Apple and they were like, “What? These were all on the iPhone?” So they gave me a new iPhone to let me try, and so yeah, I made one book after the other – they give me money for printing.
Why do you like using your iPhone for taking pictures?
If you go around in Manila and you want to take pictures like these, if you take out an iPhone no one will take you seriously because everyone has a phone, everyone is taking pictures. So for memories, yeah?
No one expects you have a plan for high quality or something like this. If you have a big camera and you take it out, people get scared, you can’t get the same intimate picture like with a smaller camera. To take a picture like this, I have to be really close.
But they still look so personal?
Yeah, I know these people. Like these guys here [pointing to a photo], they’re holding up my last book where they are also in. Every time I come back [to Manila], I know where they stay. This man here [pointing to another photo] is always standing by Robinson’s [Ermita], I meet with him, I buy him lunch and dinner, we talk, and we take pictures.
And they remember you?
Yeah! They know me.
Reiner edits his photos on an iPad using the app Snapseed, just so he can bring out the details in his shots. You can check out his photos on Flickr (REIKOE) and Instagram (REIKINGTOP).