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001 - Humble Beginnings

by Lucius Felimus | August 15, 2020


Greetings!

First of all, welcome to my little corner of cyberspace!

Ever since my work has gotten a bit of traction on social media, I've been planning to start a blog where I can upload my ramblings - whether about photography, stuff that inspires me, or my own personal experiences.  I consider writing to be one of my key strengths as well, being an amateur poet and a public speaker for Toastmasters when I'm not photographing. Now that I have my own website, this is the ideal opportunity for me to start putting my thoughts out there.

Perhaps some of the questions I've been asked the most by my friends, family, and followers are any variations of these:

"How did you start doing photography?"

"What made you want to work on this 'LEDNoirManila' project?"

"Why cyberpunk of all things?"

I'll tell you a story that hopefully answers all of these questions.

Ever since I was a kid, I've always wanted to be a photographer. But it had more to do with being behind the camera than actually taking pictures. The reason was because of my camera shyness - I hated seeing myself in pictures (I still do today, to an extent) because they made me self-conscious about my own appearance. However, my parents never trusted me with our electronic gadgets, so I never really had the chance.

The first time they did was when I went into architecture college. I needed to take pictures of buildings and streetscapes as part of my course requirements, so they let me buy myself a Samsung digital point-and-shoot camera (as you're probably thinking, this was quite a long time ago when Samsung was still a key player in the camera market). This is where I discovered that I had a knack for composition - I found a strange sense of enjoyment for getting the forms and geometry in place when taking pictures. From then on, I continued photographing architecture whenever I come across some interesting articulations of forms in built environments, then save them in a personal library as references for my architecture work.

Not only do I enjoy exploring the real world to find interesting architecture, but fictional and virtual worlds as well. I've been a fan of science fiction ever since I saw Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones at the movie theater (I was still a kid when it was released). What really made an impression on me were the scenes on Coruscant, especially the part where Anakin and Obi-Wan were going after Zam Wesell in a speeder chase through the aerial traffic. I was so enamored with the worldbuilding of Coruscant that I often daydreamed of futuristic cities with flying cars. I remember that I doodled several futuristic cityscapes with flying cars at the back of my notebooks during class.

Coruscant, the city planet from Star Wars

Coruscant, the city planet from Star Wars

I was also already a gamer at that time, with my family's PlayStation console. One of the games that made an impression on me was Crash Bandicoot: Warped - not only because of the game itself, but also for the fact that there are a couple of levels there that take place in a futuristic city just like Coruscant. I remember playing through those levels again and again even if I've had already conquered them - just to explore around and see those sci-fi neon cityscapes.

Concept art of the "Future Frenzy" level

Concept art of the "Future Frenzy" level

One thing is for certain at this point - there's just something about futuristic urban environments that makes my heart sing.

Throughout my high school and college years, I still enjoyed watching sci-fi movies and playing video games. But my first foray into cyberpunk was when I decided to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution, even if I didn't know what cyberpunk is at the time. I absolutely LOVED it and finished it a few times more - I even obsessed over it for a while, and went back a few times just to explore the architecture of Sarif HQ, Detroit, Hengsha, Picus Comms, Singapore, Tai Yong Medical, and Panchaea. What really resonated with me are not just the worldbuilding and the gameplay itself - but the philosophical implications of the lore as well.

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This is what made me a fan of cyberpunk - I came for the sci-fi neon aesthetics, but stayed for the hard-boiled philosophy.

There's something about this sub-genre of science fiction that reeled me in - how technology, politics, and power struggles play their roles in dystopian science fiction, and how mind-blowingly relevant they are in the present day. From all the media I immersed myself in, I wanted to create my own world based on these ideas - by presenting the world around me in a manner in which I perceive it.

Let's fast forward to several years after I graduated. My interest in movies and games waned due to being busy with work, although I still collected sci-fi and cyberpunk city artworks to take inspiration from. But all it took to spark my imagination again was a post on the local subreddit - this particular one:

"Endgame" by u/eniahj

"Endgame" by u/eniahj

I remember being so inspired at the time that I knew there had to be more, so I played around with the idea of starting a Cyberpunk Manila photography project for a while. I made it my mission to make the content that I wanted to see, so I snapped and edited my first picture after a rainy night:

"Speed Kills"

"Speed Kills"

This was taken using my smartphone on May 26, 2019 - the same date that Blade Runner was released in the Philippines, and also the same year that the movie is set in. Lucky coincidence! (although, I must admit, I've never seen Blade Runner nor read the Philip K. Dick novel at the time).

I remember being in such a frenzy after I made this picture, so I kept venturing out into the streets of Manila after dark. From then on, it was almost everything I did in my free time. I kept improving my craft by learning to use a DSLR camera, learning to use Lightroom, watching YouTube tutorials on how to edit cyberpunk-styled photos, and through many trials and errors. I started the Instagram account @led.noir.manila (looking back, I think this is a really stupid name) so I can post my work online and document my progress as a photographer. I only had less than 20 followers during my first few months, but I didn't mind - I kept photographing and posting anyway because I really liked how my work turned out, and I saw how my photography improved even in the span of a few weeks.

This was but the start of an amazing journey that eventually became the portfolio that you see today. Little did I know that this fun hobby of mine would become an integral part of my identity for months and years to come.

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