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Through His Camera Lens: Lights, Landscapes and Life Abroad

by Lu Sobredo

~Celebrating the many dimensions of my husband James Sobredo: his interest, talent and heart as reflected through his camera lens.


Yes, my son and I, and sometimes our friends take very good pictures with our mobile phones. But the person, whose camera lens I totally rely on to document life's moments and special places, is my husband James Sobredo. Being around him and his photography partner and close friend, Steven Montalvo when on their photography shoots, is both meditative and exhilarating to watch. As if their eyes are connected to their hearts. And after many hours and enormous patience, they might be happy with the outcome. I know I am.

Folks have asked me why I find blogging so much fun? Other than the fact that:
  • My family actually have visited the amazing places I write about.
  • I get to meet fascinating people and who have become part of my family’s life. 
  • As strange as this sounds, it’s even fun to awkwardly attempt speaking a different language when abroad.
  • Of course, I have tasted the food shown in the photos. 

All of these make writing more pleasurable. The bonus that makes me giddy in the process of writing my blog? It’s having access to a massive collection of photos taken by my husband during those travels.

So when presented with the selection of photos for possible inclusion in my blog essay, I feel like a kid in a candy store, or more accurately, a big kid in a dessert shop. (I’m more drawn to scrumptious dessert cakes, puddings and tarts as an adult; in my mind, a mature version of a candy obsession). Not only is the essay brought to life by the accompanying pictures; those pictures are spiritually uplifting  as well. And for someone who lives with a chronic illness with undefinable pain on a daily basis, I find pleasure even in the simple things. 

As a tribute to my husband’s passion for the art of photography, with his permission, I present a Photo Essay. James views the world differently. He sees the world in a panoramic and an expansive perspective. Although a lot of work is involved, if the place he photographs seems to whisper wanting to be seen from more than one vantage point, he takes multiple shots of the scenery or subject. He then patiently stitches together the ones that meet his standards. It is a work of love. Some of these photos are most appealing on a 32x16 canvas and a few are available for purchase. 

How did I select the photos for this essay? I must admit, my motivation for choosing what photos to include was mostly subjective and personal. But here are factors I considered:
  • Light: Photos that showcase the play of light and darkness; maybe light in the night from lamp posts and buildings when captured by the camera lens with enough details to enchant.
  • Landscape: Photographing landscapes is what gives my husband the unfettered joy when behind the camera. The photos are evocative when in daylight, and magical when saturated in moonlight or sunrise peaking slowly in the horizon. They exult the organic land and water, or the complex history and culture of the place.
  • Life: Photos depicting people as backdrop or at the core in places we have visited. These photos showcase a unique human dimension to our travels. They represent the pulse, rhythm and texture of the place. They invite one to imagine possible stories behind the faces and activities. They evoke both wonderment and dissonance that self-resolve. They capture the imagination.

Photo Essay

Without further ado, here are some favorite images of light, landscape and life from many of my favorites of the photographs by Dr. James Sobredo, the university professor who has a deep passion for photography. Three photos are grouped under one title descriptive of the photos’ commonality and connectedness. 


Douro River Sparkles in Portugal. ©James Sobredo 2016
The three photos might not easily conjure up a dissonance: the quiet appearance of the places, in contrast to the-not-so-ideal conditions surrounding the act of photographing them. 

No matter the weather, the photographer ventured on a long walk from sunset to dusk to admire the iconic river showered in lights in Porto, Portugal. The photographer chose to stay oblivious to the humidity and the hot temperature of the night, as well as the discomfort of stepping on undulating streets of cobblestones. Instead he seemed to have found solace in the privilege of what the camera lens could capture. The result, Douro River in lights.

Clouds and Mt. Pulag Converged in the Philippines. ©James Sobredo 2013.
When I say my husband has many dimensions to his interests, that includes outdoor adventures. Waking up at a high altitude, in the cold of early dawn while at camp during his mountain-climbing-adventure in Asia on his sabbatical from the university 2013, his camera lens captured the convergence of clouds and mountain—Mt. Pulag. The third highest mountain in the Philippines, after Mt. Apo and Mount Dulang-dulang, Mt. Pulag is Luzon’s highest peak (9,600 ft above see level) in Northern Philippines.

Thunderstorm and Torrential Downpour in Gijon, Asturias in Spain. ©James Sobredo 2016
As locals and tourists ran for cover during a thunderstorm, the photographer, indifferent to the elements, promptly covered his camera to protect it from the rain. He moved closer to the interesting life scene on the promenade in Gijon--a couple under an umbrella being led by their dog. Thunder and lightning were accentuated by the sound of fighter aircraft engines from an air show. The black and white of the photo gave a peaceful quality, a sharp contrast to the multiple stimuli in the environment. The eye of the photographer in focus, undistracted.


Morning Sun Shines on Angkor Wat, Cambodia. ©James Sobredo 2013.
There’s nothing better than nature’s light to bathe and symbolically cleanse the scene of where the Pol Pot regime executed the people in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. As my husband’s university lecture includes: “Pol Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge movement led Cambodia in 1975-1979. About 1.5 million Cambodians out of about 8 million of its total population died of starvation, execution, disease or overwork.” 

The photographer had to wake up at 4 a.m. to take a bus for the opportunity to capture this scene at 5:30 a.m. A place of history, inhumanity and brutality, it is now visited by many in a seeming pilgrimage.

Douro River at Sunset, Porto Portugal. ©James Sobredo 2016.
Spending ten days in 2016 in Porto, Portugal gave ample opportunities to view the place through the camera lens at different times during the day and night. The photo at sunset highlights the graceful silhouettes of boats lulling in the water, a huge contrast to the commotion that occurred in daylight.The job for the boats and their operators of transporting tourists on the river was done for the day. Not a bad way to end the day for these boats, for the river, and the photographer.
Symphony under the Stars in Florence, Italy. ©James Sobredo 2016.
One of the perks of being a professor, who does research and social documentary, is the privilege of travel to many parts of the globe. And it just so happens that some of those places also present wonderful traditions, as in Florence, a nighttime symphony in the Square in the summer months. Exhilarating to the senses: music, crowd, and enough light for the camera lens.


Colors of the Night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. ©James Sobredo 2013.
Water fountains at the Petronas Twin Towers in a colorful display at night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Petronas Twin Towers maintain the distinction of the tallest twin towers in the world. Although scheduled to travel to Shanghai and Bejing, travel alerts warning of H7N9 bird flu convinced James to forgo Shanghai. He opted for Malaysia instead. He managed to take these photos as he packed up his camera gear before the onslaught of rain and thunderstorm.

Tunnel in Porto, Portugal. ©James Sobredo 2016.
While walking towards the Douro River, the photographer came across this space at night. He patiently waited for the car traffic to clear, and momentarily the usually bustling place evoked tranquility and interesting possibilities. A huge contrast to what it looks like when cramped with vehicles, particularly in the daytime. As my husband would tell me often: Patience is what makes a beautiful photograph. 

La Boqueria at Las Ramblas in Barcelona. ©James Sobredo 2010.
This famous market place at the Ramblas in Barcelona is always wall-to-wall with vendors, locals, tourists, and pickpockets for sure. The scent of jamon, fresh fruits and vegetables, and the chatter of the crowd in multiple languages and vocal inflections all add to the color of the place. It is also where the infamous pickpockets hang out, so watch out. (See essay on: Watch Out for Pickpockets in Barcelona and Elsewhere).


Light Show at Hongkong Harbor, China. ©James Sobredo 2017.
One of the fun memories of my visit to Hongkong with my husband in 2005 was the light show across from our hotel restaurant in Kowloon. It was like watching multicolored lights pulsate on skyscrapers. This photo was taken in January 2017 when the photographer attended a conference at Hongkong City University. He also took photos of overseas Filipino workers, as he has done in previous travels when documenting Filipino transnational migration from the Philippines to many parts of the globe. The festive lights were a sharp contrast to the stories of struggle among the Filipino overseas workers in the city.

Villa Cipressi Along Lago Di Como in Northern Italy. James Sobredo 2004.

Italy is one of those destinations abroad for overseas workers from the Philippines, and a country my husband visits for his research. During one of our almost two-month travel with family in Europe in early 2000, we were blessed to have spent almost a week in the town of Varenna along the famed Lago Di Como in Northern Italy. Varenna is a quaint small town of 882 in population then. To the south of the town along the Lake are: the 19th century Villa Cipressi, converted to a hotel that sits at the edge of the Lake; and the Villa Monastero, now a conference center. It was once a monastery.  

Villa Cipressi is surrounded with gorgeous gardens, and exquisitely scented by flowers. You could see the flowers cascading down from the hotel to the lake.

Filipino Immigrant Workers in Barcelona, Spain. ©James Sobredo 2017.
Photos do paint a story. It is truly a privilege that the scholar/photographer could take profound photos of real people struggling to make a life in a foreign land. Moreover, this privilege includes hearing the immigrant stories of making a living at low-end jobs, and knowing they would remain in that predicament for the rest of their days in Spain even after they’ve achieved citizenship. Imagine learning another language and building a community under the most trying of circumstances? This photo represents a neighborhood, underprivileged in many ways, where the refugees and immigrants make a life. The infamous pickpockets in Barcelona also live in the same neighborhood. It is also home to Filipino immigrant families.


The Promenade in Lights in Donastia-San Sebastian, Spain. ©James Sobredo 2017.
There is something inviting, magical and romantic about promenades by the water.This photo of a promenade, lit up by street lamps, looks out to Playa de la Concha, the beach off the Atlantic Ocean in San Sebastian, Spain. 

A promenade by the water is a  familiar scene that we see in our other home— Sausalito, California. The promenade on Bridgeway looks out across the bay (Pacific Ocean) to the skyline of the city of San Francisco. (Photo not included in this essay).

Communion of Land, Sea & Sky, Aklan, Philippines. ©James Sobredo 2017
In January 2017, my husband visited my beloved aunt Lucia, a retired school teacher in California (and the Philippines in her youth), who chose to live out her retirement in our ancestral home by the sea. This photo captures the liveliness of the waves seemingly meeting up with land and sky. It’s an image that’s very much at the center of my early childhood memories.

A Walk Through Bavarian Forest: Mother and Son. ©James Sobredo 2004. 
Photographs are great chronicles of ordinary moments. Even though I don't clearly recall walking in the Bavarian Forest with our then-ten-year-old son, judging by this scene, I am sure we were having one of our mom-and-son conversations. The photo was taken on my son’s first travel to Europe; this one in Isny, Germany. This photo tugs at my heart knowing full well those early years are now banked in my memories. 


The photographs selected for this Photo Essay are the ones that delighted the senses, tugged at my heart and propelled my imagination to another space and time. Some showcased light, both natural and human-made. Some others evoked layers of emotions in me, especially the photos from years ago. Why? Knowing it might be difficult for me to ever return to specific places because of my debilitating chronic illness. And I am at peace with that. I hope for the photos to bring on a smile to friends, family, and new readers. Maybe, these photos might even provoke questions or inspire healing thoughts. Maybe, all of the above.

Great news! If you wish to see these photographs up close, some are likely to appear in a one-month photography exhibit scheduled in November 2017 at our favorite boutique cafe in Northern California. Thanks to Cynthia and Paul Marsh, owner and proprietor of our favorite hang-out in Stockton, Mile Wine Company will be the beautiful venue for the exhibit. 

In 2016, Cynthia and Paul hosted a three-month photography exhibit--LANDSCAPES OF TWO HOMETOWNS: STOCKTON AND SAUSALITO by James Sobredo at Mile Wine. Customers smiled as they entered, and continued smiling upon noticing the framed photos and those on canvas gracing the walls of the Cafe. Grateful to many who made a new home for some of the pieces on exhibit. Photos from the November 2017 exhibit will also be available for purchase. 

The date for the Artist Reception will be posted on my Facebook site @lutravelsabroad. Come join us at the Artist Reception, and anytime, particularly in November. If you time the visit just right in the early evening most Thursdays to Saturdays, you might just be entertained by live music while tasting the latest creations from the kitchen or toasting fine wine or craft beer from the wine bar. 

Mile Wine Company is located at 2113 Pacific Ave., Stockton, CA 95204. Open at 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., (209) 465-9463. See you there for lunch and/or dinner. Open everyday, except Sunday or when closed for a private event. It is a welcoming place where Cynthia, Paul and the staff call you by name. So don’t be a stranger at any old place, come home to Mile Wine Company.

So, when asked why I find blogging fun? Other than those reasons I have already mentioned at the start, I see writing for my blog a saving grace. This medical condition RA has a way of pulling focus on the pain it brings me daily. Pain and other symptoms have been my companion since the diagnosis over four years ago. Fortunately, writing has been a consistent companion in the past two years and counting. I am determined not to let the illness define me. Maybe, my writing will, instead. And that would be a much more welcomed and palatable challenge.

Vian Andrews, Welcome to Varenna from Jesse’s Journey. October 14, 2006, Web. 29 August 2017.

Acknowledgement: A huge thank-you to my husband James Sobredo whose photographs are featured in this essay. He also provided the background stories that made it possible for me to write the descriptive narrative for each photograph.

Essay ©Lu Sobredo


  1. Thank you Loretta Lee for sending me your comment and agreeing I post it:

    "I love your travel blogs...Your posts, keeping me occupied and dreaming of places afar. Thanks. Keep up the posts."

  2. I still haven't figured out how to make this Comment section more user-friendly. So I am posting in quotes a reaction to the essay by my best friend Ken Miller:

    "What a delight to view James' stunning photography and read your evocative descriptions, mia Sorella Lu . . . you and James give me hope, courage and inspiration to move forward in my own life with your artistry . . . love to you both and to dearest Adrian . . ."

    It is simply rewarding for my closest family to read my post and find it inspiring. Thank you, my brother/friend for being in my life. Lu

  3. Can anyone knows here how do camera lens read ?

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