One to follow: Russel Villena, photographer/Instagrammer


It all started on a rainy afternoon in a chilly room where junk crafted into art were up for exhibition. A photographer friend introduces a millennial artist on Instagram. I am not on Instagram like I am notorious for not owning a cellphone, but there’s a mutual interest that will make the self-confessed self-taught photographer and me oblivious to time. His unfeigned laughter calls out to be dissected.

Russel Villena, 22, says, “I shapeshift between mobile and DSLR photography. I’m a visual person, so photography holds a very special place in my heart. My camera phone which I use now is a prize from a Twitter caption making contest sponsored by Nokia (Microsoft). An average income family has other priorities. Baby steps are the hardest. I want to know and learn more, so that I could share more to people, but for me to do that, I need to be able to stand on my own first.”

photo by russel villenaphoto by russel villena


What is your occupation?
I am a nurse by profession. It might seem incongruent with photography, but I originally wanted to go to art school. Unfortunately my parents couldn’t send me, so I took nursing in my hopes I could earn and save money when I become a nurse, and I’ll be able to send myself again to school to take up what I really want. As of now, my degree can’t even financially secure me, not even enough to feed myself. But I needed to channel out my aspiration for art and creativity, hence the photos. Presently, I do volunteer nursing work at our Rural Health Unit in Batac. And every Saturday, along with other artists, we do an Art Show and Tell where I show some of my photos and encourage kids to grow their art especially to do mobile photography.

Yes, I think it’s true, once an artist, always an artist. I heard you have more than 10,000 followers on Instagram, congrats! What is on your feed?
Most of my photos are generally taken around my hometown [Batac] or during a bike ride. It focuses on everyday scenery and things that people usually neglect. In my own little way, I try to give life to them. I started my Instagram with my chasing the sun series. As I said in a previous Instagram post, “Anything fancy that fits in a square is in my gram. But most of the time the only thing fancy in our place is the sun and the sky.” As an aspiring artist, I always have the urge to grow and be diverse. And I usually don’t confine myself into a box or a style. And then the Double Exposure and Magnifying Glass photos came. On a side note, I don’t want people thinking that follower count or likes matter. What matters is that every artist should express himself.

Photo by Russel Villena (4)

What is it about the social network that you love?
It is a community. It’s supportive and evaluative, and the people are so encouraging. And uploading photos in the app doesn’t require much complexity and data usage. It only uploads a light file of the original resolution which fits well the budget because we didn’t have WiFi connection when I was new.

What is your most used app?
The Camera app. Being into mobile photography eats 80% of my battery. Next on the list is OneNote… Instagram.

What is inside your bag now?
This is my little bag [a crossbody bag] which I usually bring especially when I go out taking photos. Inside are 2 phones (but sometimes I have 3), a magnifying glass, a portable tripod, a water tumbler (so costly to buy and to reduce usage of plastic), an umbrella, a wallet for IDs, a coin purse, and headphones (just in case I’ll need my own space).

Photo by Russel Villena (6)

The outdoors or swanky rooms?
The outdoors please. I’m the person who is usually out and about itching for adventures. Some of my favorite hashtags include #NatureAddict #ExploreEverything #WildernessCulture. But I wouldn’t mind swanky rooms, hahaha, googling swanky. Hmm… if something requires being inside then why not.

Your best photography moment?
Being featured in your blog. That’s worthy of a mention. Mmmm, I guess other than that, I’ll always treasure what happened last year. I was given the opportunity to do a photo exhibit. The curator came to discover my Instagram account. As someone who doesn’t have the means to do an exhibit, I actually asked some of my Instagram friends for financial support. Did a crowdfunding campaign. It was overwhelming that people believed in me, my photos, my goals. These are people whom I’ve never met personally. Some were not able to help financially, but they helped with the campaign. It moved me as a person and as an artist.

Thank you. Do you get inspired by other photographers?
We are all influenced and inspired by a lot of things. And we are all products of it all. That actually explains my bio on Instagram, “Instagram taught, Internet raised.” I owe a lot of inspiration dusts to the creative people on Instagram. That’s why I’ve been sharing to everyone the app, so they could be inspired there the way I was. I also want to return the favor to my fellow people, perhaps inspire them, especially the youth and those who do not have access to the internet.

Photo by Russel Villena (5)Photo by Russel Villena (2)Photo by Russel Villena (7)

What hours of the day do you work best for your photography?
I prefer the early morning hours. I usually pretend I live somewhere else and there’s fog everywhere even if there’s none. But when it comes to brainstorming, sorting stuff out or getting things done, late afternoon and evening are usually the best.

The moment you click the shutter, you own copyright to your work, how do you protect your work?
Digital age has made everything faster, including stealing someone else’s work. Others might be able to steal, but it is the photographer who owns the essence of the work. I think creators and viewers alike should uplift a culture of respect among each other. People will only be able to understand if they put themselves in a situation where — you create something and another person takes the credit for it.

Where do you think creativity ends?
I think creativity ends when people become close-minded. When they start limiting themselves.

Photo by Russel Villena (8)

What’s the most outrageous thing you ever captured?
That’s a bit hard to answer. Can we revise the question to What’s the most outrageous thing I’ve ever done for a photo? Hahaha! There was this one themed photo project on Instagram and the theme that week was glitter. I glittered a lot of stuff from fruits, to my magnifying glass and even both of my hands. Transferring helium balloons all the way from Batac poblacion area to far farm areas with a Korean bike. Bringing a rubber ducky to Anuplig Falls, does that count?

Hahaha! What’s your dream project?
Oh, I think underwater photography with some models wearing fancy dresses would be so dope. Shoot something with a drone, shoot for a cover of a magazine or if not have my own little book with some of my photos and my thoughts on art and photography.

Photo by Russel Villena (3)Photo by Russel Villena

All images courtesy of Russel Andrew Villena @rahrarussel +63 926 9336868

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