BANGKOK—Jose Tan of Iloilo City finished a nursing degree at West Visayas State University hoping to get a job in the United States. But when he graduated in 1997, the demand for nurses in the US was low. He went to Thailand, to visit his girlfriend, Heda, who was a teacher at an international school in Bangkok.
At that time, Jose had no idea what the future held for him. But he was open to any new opportunity.
“I only planned to stay for a couple of weeks in Thailand but an opportunity was presented. I was invited to apply for a teaching job in one of the international schools there,” he recalls.
He took the teaching job. He figured it would be difficult to pursue his nursing career in Thailand because he would first need to master the Thai language.
He also took up his old hobby, photography.
Little did he know, it would be this hobby that would be his passport to success.
In 2001, he stopped teaching to make a name for himself in professional photography.
Now 38, Jose owns his own studio, Jose Tan Photography. His work has taken him to the United States and many other countries where he shoots celebrities and VIPs. He conducts workshops in the US and the Philippines. And he and Heda eventually married.
Hobby to profession
“I decided to let go of my teaching job. I wanted to explore working for myself and photography was there for me to explore,” he relates.
Photography was a hobby he loved. “My first camera was given to me by my parents when I was 17 years old. I am happy that I still have it with me, though I have not used it for years,” he recalls.
It was not easy to start in photography because there are many good photographers in Thailand. But Jose honed his skills. He made the rounds of firms and advertising agencies, showing his works, slowly building up his contacts.
A few satisfied clients referred him to more clients.
He says the key is to make a good impression, particularly on the creative side. Then you must prove your professionalism. “It’s up to you to build fun and lasting professional relationships,” he says.
He knew he had found his calling. Photography gave him a sense of freedom. It kept him on the move and he enjoyed dealing with other creative people. His work opened many doors that have led him to different countries and many challenging projects. Passion for his craft, travel, working with creative people are the factors that keep him excited about this work.
Although relatively new in the field, Jose has proven his talent and professionalism. He has been described as “dynamic” and “arresting” in his craft. Focusing on portraits, commercials and fashion events, he has been commissioned by individuals and companies from France, Italy, Nigeria, Norway and the USA.
The Philippine Embassy in Bangkok also seeks his services when covering important events such as the visit of President Benigno Aquino Jr. and other celebrities like Lea Salonga, Charice and David Foster.
Last April, he did a shoot with Bollywood and Pakistani stars for IAL Saatchi.
Portraits, glamour and fashion photography are his forte. He mastered lighting techniques, indoors and outdoors. “Taking good photos do not come straight from the camera, it also depends on post processing,” he adds.
Making a difference
Photographs tell stories. As a photographer, he believes that photographs are agents of change in society.
“We react to what we see especially if it’s out of the ordinary or has a compelling story to tell. It could change our world view or mindset which in turn motivates us to take action,” he explains.
Every photographer’s dream is to take photos of the most famous people in the world. For Tan, he has already fulfilled this part of his dream. Among the famous people he has photographed are: Liv Tyler, Charice, Salonga, Foster, Peter Cetera, Presidents Arroyo and Aquino, Prime Minister Manmohan Sing of India, Nargis Fakhri, Ali Zafar, Ali Asmat, Atif Aslam of Bollywood, Tata Young (Thai Singer/Actress) and Natalie Glebova (Ms. Universe 2005), among others.
“The excitement is always there, most especially upon knowing that you will be taking pictures of a celebrity. But once you put on your working hat, everything boils down to making your pictorial a success,” he says.
“Photography is a very fulfilling endeavor. But you have to take care of it so it will grow and be very productive.”
Attending workshops also has merit, he says, but adds that one has to find the ones that will “empower you and your craft.”