February 27, 2024

Isabelle Ann Villa-nueva-Barter is the new chief operating officer of the Venus Parkview Hotel. She is newly married to Ned Ramsey and is a new resident of Baguio.

This early, she already embarked on a mammoth project designed to highlight the rich culture and vibrant heritage of Baguio and the Cordillera.

Thus, “Pride of Baguio, Pride of the Cordillera: Black & White Photography Contest” was born. It started as a small project, targeting only 50 entries, but ballooned to 350 entries.

One can only surmise that the contestants from the Cordillera were proud to showcase their people, their culture, their heritage and the beauty of their land and environment given the opportunity.  

The passion in capturing the charm and natural beauty of Baguio and the rest of the Cordillera through their eyes and lenses was compelling. Thus, magnificent works of photography were produced. You can truly appreciate the two feet by three feet photographs on display.

One winner described his photo as engulfing the three beautiful mountains of the Cordillera: Mt. Sto Tomas, Mt. Ugo and Mt. Pulag, thru a sea of clouds. Mesmerizing? Indeed.

“I thought I met a movie star,” commented Engr. Leandro Tabilog III. Many have pondered, who does she look like?  Isabelle is the spitting image of “Wonder Woman” Gal Gadot. But her staff comments further, that is she is not only kamukha ni wonder woman, she is “wonder woman” herself.

Armed with a degree in History at the University of California, graduating cum laude, she immediately immersed herself as one of the pioneers of the Mendocino Farms.  It’s a restaurant in the United States whose goal is to make people ‘eat happy’. She helped grow this company from one restaurant to nine, and has now 50 branches all over the U.S. A mighty feat.

Because she believed in empowering and developing women through strength training, she established her own business and created a space for women.  This was a neuro performance and strength training gym for women which was accessible to all, especially to those without normal means.

Villanueva-Barter at present carries the torch of the three generations of Villanueva women,  by running  their corporations  VIVE Inc and BLET Realty Corporation as COO.

“We decided to hold this contest to shepherd a new era in our hotel as a long standing institution,” she said.

“We will be upgrading rooms and we thought it essential to incorporate more of our local heritage. There is so much this region can share with Philippine and international tourists and we want to be a part of cultivating that sense of adventure and discovery. Our goals were: to discover local artists, to foster community relations and to discover what is unique as a point of pride. We want the rest of the world to discover about our incredible city and region. This is not just photography.   It is about embracing the stories that breathe life into the Cordilleras. It is about honoring the traditions, the landscapes and the people who call this land their home. And finally, It is about building bridges, understanding and helping the community,” she added.

The 350 photographs tapered into 194 entries. They were carefully chosen, printed and mounted for display. Then they invited three professional Baguio photographers to narrow the selection into 12 entries for the final judging.

The panel of judges includedRic Maniquis, a multi-awarded professional photographer specializing in dance photography; Dave Leprozo, a freelance broadcast media professional who does Cordillera exhibits; and  Eliza Consul, another veteran  professional photographer.

The last 12 finalists were judged by Leandro Tabilog III of the Office of the City Mayor, who is also digital creator and artist, Tommy Hafalla, an author and professional photographer and documenter of ethnolinguistic books, and Alec Mapalo, the City Tourism Officer.

Declared winners were Adrian Dungo as first place with P20,000 cash prize; Marc Jan Calub as second place with P15,000 cash prize, and Leslie Reyes as third place with P10,000 cash prize.

Paul Anicoche did a wonderful job interviewing participants and guests on what their thoughts and feelings were. It gave a more understanding of the photos.

The selection of the final winners was made more memorable with the special performances of the Saint Louis University Glee Club and the University of the Cordilleras Dance Troupe.

Among the distinguished guests were Councilors Betty Lourdes Tabanda, Leandro Yangot and Elmer Datuin; Engr Jose Tabanda; Vice Mayor representative Rafael Resuello; UC Board of Trustees Chair Ray Dean Salvosa; Department of Foreign Affairs-CAR Director Ed Canta with his staff Mike Dulay, Mayette Iniguid and Ella; BGHMC board members Bina and Parveen Budhrani and Marie Ragma; and Baguio Museum curator Gemma Estolas.

Villanueva-Barter thanked her entire “team” for bringing this idea into fruition and hopes that what they have started can continue for years to come .providing more exposure and discovery to hidden talents and destinations.  

Baguio Association of Hotel members, Pete and Emma Siapno, Zeny, Rocky and Maricel Cating were also present with the rest of the contestants.

The B & W photography contest concluded with a great sense of shared pride and a renewed appreciation for our beloved Baguio and the rest of the Cordillera.

Participants carried a new sense of respect for people and land’s unique charm. The contest and interpretations have revealed that pictures indeed interpret the heart and soul of a place.

Congratulations to Isabelle Barter and her team. (Photos by Chad Dizon) – Stella Maria L. de Guia