Martin Romero is a multimedia creative based in New York. He documented fashion and sports events such as New York Fashion Week, Philippine Fashion Week, and University Athletic Association of the Philippines games. Here, he tells MB Life how he made it happen, the experience, and his learnings along the way.
Is being a multimedia creative always been your life goal?
When I was in grade school, I remember telling people that I wanted to be a veterinarian. Haha! I just loved animals. I would have all these pets like dogs, lovebirds, hamsters and rabbits. I even told my family that our farm carabao was mine and named her “Matilda” or whenever my parents would visit the States, I would always ask them to bring home a squirrel. But I digress.
Photography allowed me to be imaginative and express my artistic side. It became a jump off point in exploring creative media.
If memory serves me correctly, my first experience of ever using a camera was when my uncle bought disposable cameras for my cousins and me as Christmas presents. I would take candid and random (read: awkward and funny) photos of family and I guess it snowballed into a hobby. I became part of the school paper in grade school and high school and won 3rd (?) in the City Schools Division Press Conference in my home province, Tarlac.
In college, I decided to join The Guidon, the official student publication of the Ateneo de Manila University; however, I got rejected and got accepted to the Operations Staff! That crushed me. But this gave me a year to improve my portfolio. I reapplied the year after and became part of the Photos Staff. By the end of the school year, I became Photo Editor.
Being part of the school paper, gave me the opportunity to cover events ranging from sports to political rallies. From this, I was able to use my portfolio and become a student correspondent, as a writer and photographer, for one of the national broadsheets in the Philippines. My editor back then was able to get me an apprenticeship for one of the leading photographers in Manila however, I had to reject it as I was offered an opportunity I couldn’t refuse, working for former President Benigno S. Aquino’s communication team. When I started working seven years ago, photography kind of took a back seat. But I always daydreamed of pursuing something creative.
Can you tell me about the moment when you decided to go for it?
For me, it wasn’t a moment of dropping everything. It was a slow and steady progression to the pursuit of a career as a creative.
After working for government, I was working as a copywriter/strategic planner/account manager for one of the ad agencies in Manila. But every now and then I would ask my editor to give me assignments, so I was still able to cover events but not as frequent as before. Occasionally, during television commercial shoots, I would bring my camera to take behind-the-scenes photos.
It was after I moved to New York City for graduate school that rekindled my love for photography.
I had a class in New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications called “100 Days of Making” and as the name suggests, we had to create something every day for a hundred days. I told myself, this would be a great opportunity to combine photography, relearn Photoshop and the media and technology I’ve been learning in school.
Since then, I’ve been taking a lot of landscapes and sports photography and the occasional portrait, event and behind-the-scenes photography such as New York Fashion Week, political rallies and even covering behind-the-scenes for Pia Wurtzbach in her final photo shoot as Miss Universe!
I saw that you’re currently shooting the CrossFit x NYC, can you tell us something about the project?
Yes. Currently, I am shooting a lot of CrossFit and fitness athletes as well as everything about New York City.
New York is very alive. As I always tell my friends, there’s always something happening, there’s sound and music in every corner and there’s always something to look forward to. These make the City and the surrounding places the perfect subject. What once were to me only images on screen through televisions shows or movies or coffee table books is now the city I live in and in a sense I want to share that experience.
But more than the City itself, what makes New York “New York” to me is the culture – the people and food. New York is the melting pot of the world, where diverse cultures, races and ethnic groups converge. You meet a lot of people who are different than you physically and culturally but at the same time are so much alike with you in so many ways. And it’s from the people you meet that you learn about the different events to go to and foods that you can eat and connections to different subjects.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been blessed enough to document Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach through Filbert Kung, a brilliant fashion photographer whom I consider a mentor and a friend. I’ve been able to cover Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senator Bernie Sanders in some of their events and even shoot New York Fashion Week and the New York City Marathon (This was last year when Anne Curtis ran and yes I was able to take a picture of her! Haha!).
Then there’s the food. I feel like I’m eating my way through New York. Every day I feel like there’s a new restaurant opening. And whatever you’re feeling of eating that day, you can make your choice with all the cuisine that New York has to offer whether you’re craving barbecue burnt-ends, Hawaiian poke, Halal chicken rice, or the latest Filipino ube dessert variation. Of course, all of these happen not without documentation!
So during college, I covered the University Athletics Association of the Philippines. It was a second job to me, next to being a student. I recall during basketball Finals, I’d be in Araneta Coliseum before 11:00am even if the game was at 4:00pm that day just to secure my place courtside. Afterwards, there would be post-game coverage. Next, I had to edit and process photos and then send to my Editor-in-Chief if we were going to press the day after. There was such a rush to it and I missed that. Everything happens very in the moment, emotions are raw and it kept me on my toes waiting for the perfect shot.
So I’ve been doing CrossFit for almost four years and I asked the coaches and athletes in my box (read: gym), CrossFit Union Square, if could take pictures of them training. They agreed and allowed me to bug them during their training sessions.
Fortunately for me, I get to train and take pictures of awesome athletes so much so that I’ve been lucky enough to photograph and video CrossFit personalities, Regionals and Games athletes and coaches such as my coaches and siblings Jay and Liz Adams, Andre Crews, Annie Thorisdottir, Frederik Aegidius, and Jami Tikkanen to name a few. My photos have been featured a number of times by CrossFit Media.
Something about your experience so far?
I’ve always thought that I was a very shy and introverted person but New York has toughened me up and made me more outgoing. I’ve learned that in New York every day feels like a race and you have to constantly be on the grind. As they say in New York, rent is due every day. You have to be bold and take chances and just do what you want to do not second guessing yourself.
To add, these days, I feel like everyone is extremely competitive to the fact that you can’t limit yourself to one medium. It’s all about expanding what you know through different forms by using a variety of media. So for me, I don’t consider myself just a photographer but a multimedia creative since I’m able to translate my knowledge of photography, visual language and creating commercials through my own videography.
What’s your favorite subject to shoot?
It’s very hard to say because it also depends what I’m feeling and my mood that day. Haha! I’ll make it general and answer two: People and Places. People for when I need to surround myself with positive energy and places for when I need to rejuvenate during my alone time since for me photography and taking videos is social and solitary, respectively.
Who are your influences when it comes to photography?
Depends on the kind of photography. For landscapes and nature, I love Chris Burkard. Food, Mylene Chung. CrossFit and sports, Preston Smith. Current events and photojournalism, Pete Souza. Honestly, there are too many to mention. I feel like I can go on and on. Inspiration and influences are overflowing thanks to social media.
What made you decide to move in New York?
I’ve always wanted to study abroad but I never imagined I’d be doing it in New York. In fact, right after college, I got a partial scholarship to a design school in Madrid. It was a master’s degree for a communications and photography program. However, my parents urged me to postpone my education and work first. In hindsight, I’m glad I did.
I was working in advertising at the time and some of the questions that our clients kept on asking us were “How do we make this campaign go viral?” or “How do we progress this campaign further”? They would also show us examples of all these creative technologies and how they’re applied into digital campaigns and activations and it made me think. Inisip ko na pwede kong gawin ito – think of different ways to use technology and new media for the campaigns.
So I looked for courses related to technology and media and I was able to find the Interactive Telecommunications Program in New York University. I actually read about ITP a few years ago but I always thought I could never qualify since I wasn’t an engineer, or a coder. However, the beauty of the course is that they want people from diverse backgrounds. Here I was, a guy from the Philippines with a halo-halo background in photography, public service and advertising trying to make it as a creative technologist. Buti nalang they saw something in me and natanggap ako.
I thought the hard part was over which was getting into NYU but really it was just the start. The first few weeks of the program was so hard considering we had to go back to the basics. Things I thought I had left in high school and college were coming back to haunt me. I had crash courses in subjects like math, geometry and physics because after all how can you code, fabricate with materials or do circuitry without knowing these things.
But because of ITP, I was able to expand my knowledge in telling stories in new forms and ways. Before, when I would think of info graphics I would immediately think that they would be placed on websites or in broadsheets however now to make it more impactful and meaningful I would think of ways to embed the data into objects by 3D modeling then 3D printing. Or for example, I explored the cultural intricacies of shyness and small-talk. Through the use of microcontrollers, muscle wires, and paper, I was able to make paper-plant like installations that mimic the interaction of shy plants (makahiya plant). I think this program has made much a much better multimedia creative.
So again, I’m glad na nakinig ako sa magulang ko kasi I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t listen to them.
What is life like in the Big Apple?
It’s overwhelming at first. Well, it still is. Para kasing ang daming nangyayari.
Living in New York City is not all glitz and glamor – taking selfies on Times Square, catching shows on Broadway, devouring every new food trend you see on Tasty on Buzzfeed or Facebook.
When I first moved here, I felt that everyone was running on fourth gear while I was running on first. Alam mo iyong Filipino saying or joke na… “Papunta ka pa lang, pabalik na ako”? in the first few months of living here ang feeling ko “Pabalik na sila, papunta pa lang ako.”
Everything feels so fast tipong feeling mo kapos ka sa oras kada araw because you really do everything by and for yourself. Like, in as much as I would love to eat out every day, I can’t. I have to meal prep and plan my food for the week. Weekends are devoted to personal engagements and chores like laundry, cleaning the apartment, cooking, doing grocery and going to church then before you know it, it’s the start of the week again and you have to do your daily grind. But now I’ve adapted to the City. After all, I’ve been living here for three years.
But yeah, living in New York is not without its perks. In the second month I moved here, I was able to win free tickets to the Global Citizen Concert in Central Park and the musicians performed full sets not just two or three songs! I was able to watch FUN., Carrie Underwood, No Doubt, Sting, and Jay-Z. The year after, I won again and was able to see former first lady Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, former Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon, Jill Biden and former Vice President Joe Biden and watch Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Pearl Jam and Beyonce!
New York has its ups and downs. It’s a love-hate relationship.
What makes it worth it?
I’ve grown tougher. Gained more friends. Lived and experienced a lot in the past three years. I still can’t believe I’m living in one of the greatest cities in the world. I’m still taking it all in.
Do you have any advice for people who dream to be a multimedia creative?
I’ll use photography as an example. I guess with photography nowadays it can seem overwhelming in the sense that social media has amplified all these great content. It can be burdensome for some to do the same and feel like they have to be the best right away.
With photography as with any discipline, it’s always a progression. For example, it’s hard to be a sports or fashion photographer without knowing basic exposure or how to work your camera. I see all these people rushing and buying the best gear in the hopes that they’ll be instant hits or get to recreate the same photographs just because they have the same equipment as the pros do. For me it’s simple, learn the basics and then progress. Parang sa CrossFit lang, if you want to do a muscle up, you need to work on your strict pull-ups and then work way up.
Eventually, your skills translate to different disciplines. Like I feel that my photography sensibilities transfer to the ways I film, or how I frame or layout a presentation or design. Personally, I’m still learning a lot and I always tell myself not to forget the basics because they’re all connected.
Lastly, call, message and even FaceTime with your family because they will always be there for you no matter what. All of this goes without saying that my family has helped me pursue my dreams. I get to live my dreams because of them. My mom checks on me regularly to see how I’m doing and it keeps me sane. My older brother, two younger sisters and cousins constantly message and make me feel as if I’m not halfway across the world. And every now and then, when I feel like I’m about to give up, I go back to what my dad said, “Kung ako lang ang nabigyan ng ganyan na opportunity gagawin ko rin. Kaya hanggang kaya ko, susuportahan kita.” It it makes me feel good that I have such a great support system back home. I can be who I want to be because of family.
Illustration by Madel Crudo
MORE INTERESTING READS: