The camera is a tool,” says Jose E.B. Antonio. “It is a means to experience, to discover, to uncover those aspects of life that you don’t ordinarily see.”
Better known in business circles as the chair and CEO of real estate giant Century Properties Group, as well as the country’s special envoy to the United States, Antonio is also a keen travel photographer, wandering well off the beaten path in pursuit of pictorial revelations.
In Bhutan, he braved altitude sickness to see a tiger station 7,000 feet above sea level. He lived in a yurt in the Gobi desert to capture the nomadic way of life of the Mongolian people. He slept on the floor of a Buddhist monastery in South Korea, and endured subzero temperatures to photograph Iceland and New York’s Lake Placid in the dead of winter.
Most people would be content to post their travel snapshots on Instagram, but Antonio is after a more lasting validation than social media can offer.
“Across the Continents: A Travelogue Series” will be the inaugural exhibit of the Antonio Gallery which opens Nov. 21.
Located on the fourth floor of Century City Mall in Makati, the gallery is envisioned by Antonio to become a hub not only for photography, but also for art in general.
“I’ve always been interested in photography as a form of artistic expression,” he says. “I started with film cameras, but I didn’t have the patience to wait for developing and printing.”
Digital photography offered instant gratification. When digital technology evolved enough to match and then surpass film’s resolution, Antonio began working with Leica and Hasselblad cameras. He joined the Camera Club of the Philippines and the Leica Club Manila where he found kindred spirits who pushed him to improve his camera skills.
“You are with the masters, the best in the Philippines,” he says. “Since we have monthly competitions, you are forced to submit entires which are competitive. In a way, it forces you to excel because to be competitive, you must be good.”
A display of trophies from photo contests past has pride of place in Antonio’s office.
Photography also turned out to be the perfect complement to his other passion: travel.
“I love to travel,” he says. “Travel to me is education—it’s learning new projects, new communities, new developments, new architecture.”
Being considerably more adventurous than the average tourist, Antonio began to join the expeditions organized by the National Geographic Society. Apart from being more arduous than your average holiday cruise, these trips also offered unique photographic opportunities.
“I wanted to document my trips because I’ll probably visit these far-flung places only once in my life,” he says. “I take pictures to share my experiences with other people.”
Photography offers a relaxing change of pace from his regular work, but Antonio attacks it with the same drive to excellence that he applies to his company’s development projects.
“Just as I do my due diligence before every commercial venture, I do a lot of research before I go on a photographic expedition,” he says.
“In business, your objective is the bottom line, etc. Here, your objective is to capture the moment, and produce something that others can enjoy.”
Beyond the creative satisfaction that comes from capturing indelible images, however, the experience of immersing oneself in other cultures can offer illuminating insights into what is really of value in life.
“It gives you perspective and brings back a sense of origin— where we all come from,” says Antonio.
“You go to places like Bhutan and Mongolia, and you see that people there are not wealthy, but they’re happy. Why? There’s peace, there’s tranquility. Material things can give you temporary happiness, but it’s inner peace that can give you a sustained feeling of contentment.”
“Across the Continents: A Travelogue Series” by Jose E. B. Antonio opens 6 p.m., Nov. 21 at the Antonio Gallery, 4/F, Century City Mall, Kalayaan Ave., Makati City. Proceeds will benefit Operation Smile Philippines and Haven for the Elderly.