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Aug 212013

Back to the House of Soda photo series. I split up the text and album portion so as not to overwhelm readers.

green house  (I shot all the photos illustrating this post, but none of them are actually part of the House of Soda series. I just thought I’d put them into the post to liven it up.  Click here to view House of Soda.)

I remembered reading about the anti billboard project embarked by the mayor of a Brazilian city some years ago, stripping all their billboards blank. There was a hue and cry about it, but I think it was pretty successful, wiping the visual landscape of Sao Paulo clean, even if just for a short time.

There have been clamors in Manila for that kind of billboard purge from time to time, especially along EDSA (the major highway in Metro Manila), but it’s usually for somewhat different reasons. Once in a while, some denim or perfume company will put up some sexually suggestive photo that offends the sensibilities of certain self proclaimed guardians of morality. Or when the huge billboards on EDSA topple over during one of the numerous typhoons that batter the city yearly, there will be an outcry for their removal or stricter regulations, for safety reasons.

Even if the whole city is wiped clean of billboards however, it won’t really change much of the visual landscape of Metro Manila. For billboards are not the only ad placements here.

politicians' signs

Everywhere you look, there’s a banner or a sign advertising this or that product. Electric poles are pasted full of little flyers. Politicians’ smiling faces and names in big block letters hang from electric wires strung from houses and traffic lights, ditto on walls. These are not temporary ads during campaign season, but permanent fixtures, telling you that your councilor is to thank for having a certain street paved, or the mayor put up lights on a street.

politicians' signs

Fast food company and telco streamers are also everywhere, many hanging from the windows of private homes. One of the most ubiquitous commercial logos though, are those of Coca Cola.

The red background with distinctive swoosh and lettering can be found on the walls of homes, stores, streamers, curtains, roofs, every conceivable place.

coke curtains

These Coca cola logos are so ingrained in our consciousness, that they no longer seem out of place when we see them. In fact, you could walk down any street right now and be able to take photos of 20 Coca Cola houses. (The photos in this series however were not shot in a day. They were taken over the course of four years, from 2007-2013, and it’s still an ongoing project. I wanted to take a variety of pictures of Coca Cola houses from different places all over the country.)

old house

There has been no huge outcry to have them removed/ painted over, and this photo series isn’t also meant to be anything as heavy handed as a criticism of the soda industry, or the commercialization of private life, or bad even bad architectural decor. I undertook this project as just one of the varied series I make on documenting the urban landscape of Manila.

Some of my projects focus on small and unobserved things like street corner pocket Virgin Mary grottos, etc, because I want to bring people’s attention to these unique artifacts. These Coke houses certainly can’t be classified as small, nor are they exactly invisible, as they’re everywhere, you can’t miss them. But in a way, their ubiquity has made them a bit invisible, as we’re so used to them, we no longer notice that even if we, as a culture, love Coke*, there’s still something a bit odd (even if we don’t want to hastily judge it as “bad”) about having a private company’s logo occupying such a central part of the visual landscape of our city.
*Coke has a pretty positive image in the Philippines, unlike other countries where it’s one of the leading causes of obesity. I myself love drinking Coke. We don’t binge drink Coke in crazy portions unlike many Western nations. In middle to working class neighborhoods, Coke is sold in small 8 ounce glass bottles in small corner stores. That’s smaller than a regular can.

Coke sponsors a lot of outreach programs too, which is much appreciated in this developing country. Their TV ads don’t just go along the lines of “drink this, it’s refreshing”, but are very attuned to Filipino culture, which is family centered.

napping vendors

In some other countries, you won’t find Coke on the menu of certain high end restaurants or tiny local eateries (just local tea or whatever). In this country, you can’t open a restaurant, or bar, or a hole in the wall carinderia (kind of like diners) without selling Coke. It doesn’t matter if it’s some posh place, there will be always one patron who will throw a fit if there’s no Coke on the menu. The current President of the nation in fact, is known to be a big Coke drinker. Although he supposedly drinks the “light” version which I believe to be an abomination.

Back to the House of Soda photo series. I split up the text and album portion so as not to overwhelm readers.

 Posted by on August 21, 2013

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