Mastery of photography enables college drop-out to explore the world
At 22, River Chad Pullis, a native of Tabuk City, Kalinga but is currently based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), earns enough as a full-time freelance photographer to enable him to see the world whenever he wants.
As this is being written, Pullis is sharing photos and videos of Kosovo, North Macedonia and Bulgaria marking his seventh tour of the European Continent. His longest stay in the continent was middle of 2018 when he spent two months exploring the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain, Germany and The Czech Republic.
Pullis recalls that he was pleasantly surprised when he received his Schengen Visa on May 2018 because instead of the eight days he applied for, the Netherlands embassy gave him three years.
“They welcome people whose sole purpose is merely for tourism. I mentioned in my cover letter that I really love the Netherlands and Europe and would want to promote their places through my photography,” he stated.
Outside of Europe, he has been to Canada and Singapore once and laid over for some days in Thailand each of the three times he took a break home after relocating to the UAE in 2016.
Pullis maintains a website (https://riverchad.com) for his travel blog and photography where his love for writing comes into play as he shares his travel experiences through blogposts, mainly to help his readers acquire essential information which they can use in their future travels.
On ordinary days, Pullis attends to clients in the UAE mostly in the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where he stays in a pad with a Scottish friend. Having no office, he finds clients through social media, recommendations of previous clients, through his photo credits in UAE publications and the calling cards he hands out to people he meets for the first time.
Apart from the photos, Pullis also does graphic design for advertisements and writes content, lays out the page with the photos and other elements. He also provides the write ups subject to the approval of the client.
Based on the average age of photographers he has met which is from 30-40, Pullis had earned his spurs relatively quicker – even phenomenal when one considers he is largely self-taught.
He knew nothing about cameras when, in search for the chance to earn extra-curricular points.
he decided to join the screening for junior photojournalists at the Tabuk National High School during his junior year in school year 2012-2013
The quality of the images he captured with a point and shoot camera he borrowed from an uncle offset his bad mark in captioning and he got one of the two slots. He did so well that during his senior year, he was the chief photographer.
The photos of Whang-od, the legendary Kalinga traditional tattoo artist, and her village Buscalan in the town of Tinglayan taken with a point and shoot camera which he posted on Instagram opened the door for what he calls a breakthrough in his development as a photographer.
Parenthetically, Pullis’ visit to Buscalan in the summer after graduation from high school in 2014 was also a chance to connect with part of his roots because his grandfather Pablo Pullis belongs to the Butbut tribe, the tribe of Whang-od.
Loic Bourgeois, a French professional wedding and travel photographer based in Australia at the time but has since relocated to Luxembourg, saw the Instagram posts and asked him to accompany him to Buscalan to which he agreed.
Pullis relates that the week he guided Bourgeois to Buscalan and then to the towns of Bontoc and Sagada in Mt. Province became a crash course in manual photography. Up to that time, he was relying on the automatic settings of the camera. Some hours of each day was dedicated to transferring the art of manual photography with the Canon 60D camera of Bourgeois.
Pullis dates back his discovery of the magic of manual photography when they were at the Bokod Falls in Sagada when he saw the mesmerizing effect of manual focusing and long exposure on the flowing water.
“When you manipulate the settings you have more freedom to manipulate the light, the scene and the whole photo. Basically it’s like painting with the light. I feel like an artist when I do photos with manual settings,” River Chad says.
After they parted, there were times when Pullis felt as a loss owing to the absence of mentor. When he communicated this to the Frenchman, the latter replied that based on his own experience, the difficulties Pullis was encountering are normal and what is important is to forge on and eventually will be able to learn on his own.
That’s what he has been doing since then with some help from other photographers.
“It is important to surround yourself with people who are willing to share their knowledge. I am still learning from other photographers because they have sets of skills and styles which I do not have in the same manner as I have some of my own which they do not have,” Pullis said.
Leap of faith
In June 2014, Pullis enrolled in Bachelor of Science in Communication at the University of the Cordilleras in Baguio but did not enroll for his second year due to financial constraints.
“I took a leap of faith by boarding an airplane to Palawan in search for some opportunities without my family knowing. I stayed there for a couple of months but nothing interesting happened, so I decided to try my luck in Cebu where surprisingly, I landed a job as a customer representative,” Pullis recalls how he took matters into his hand in 2015.
After a year, he quit the job because the pay did not allow him to save for the rainy day and because he did not like the stress.
After some months back at home in Laya East, he took a trip to the UAE as his elder brother Aidan who was going there to work at the arrangement of their mother Marissa who works as an all-around assistant in Abu Dhabi was afraid to travel alone.
But when they got there, his mother told him that since he was already there, he might as well find a job and that was how he became a marketing assistant of the Saint-Gobain Gyproc Emirates Industries LLC, a French construction, engineering and infrastructure company. Only 19 then, Pullis was the youngest among the 400 employees of the company in the Middle East.
His job gave him the chance to hone his photography and writing skills as it involved “creating digital and printed marketing materials such as brochures and data-sheets of the different products of the company” and photos of projects from site visits mainly for the company’s marketing campaigns.
He liked the job but after almost two years with the company, he decided to pursue his passion in photography full-time.
“This was one of the hardest decisions I had to make since it meant giving up the comfort of having a stable income, health insurance, visa, etc. and there was no assurance of success. But I ended up chasing my passion. I can say it was all worth it since I am doing so much better now compared to when I was still working full-time in an office. Plus I can travel to places whenever I want,” Pullis says.
After he left his full-time job July of last year, his status in the UAE was downgraded to tourist and as such, he has to renew his visa every three months which cost 1000 dirhams or P15,000.00 and likewise, involved getting out of the country. He also had to obtain a permit as a freelancer which meant 250 dirhams or P3,000.00 annually.
Pullis said that he likes the arrangement but does not see himself staying in UAE beyond 2019 as he yearns to stay in a place with lots of nature and where he could be a citizen after sometime.
“Of all the places I have been to, I would like to live in Canada. First, it is beautiful, peaceful and happy country, has good governance, good and kind people, a lot of parks which are a playground for photographers,” Pullis said.
He recalled that in the two months he toured Canada last year, a void within him was filled as the question of where to settle was answered. He targets Vancouver which he describes as urban but with lots of nature “which, as a person, I cannot live without.”
“Majority of the people are respectful. Random strangers in an elevator greet you and wish you a good day and they always say sorry. There is also no racism there. The Filipinos there are not being discriminated against” Pullis says.
Once he settles down in Canada, he will put up his own studio which, according to him, would entitle him to claim that he has already succeeded in his profession.
He will also return to the beaten path by going back to school for a degree.
“I had difficulties looking for a job before because I have no degree. Having a degree still plays a vital role towards acquiring a better career,” Pullis said.
Advice to younger people
Citing his own experience, Pullis said that instead of longing for a sheltered life which most parents give to their children these days, young people should welcome adversity as it makes them better equipped to cope with adulthood and life.
His parents separated when he was only eight months old and had their own families leaving him to his grandparents and to practically fend for himself specially after his grandmother died in 2011 when he was in second year high school and the rest of the extended family in Laya East transferred to Baguio City. In order to keep his body and soul together and support his studies, he worked for a relative during weekends.
He is very thankful of that struggle because it was the main reason Fae Peralta, a Filipino in the US who is a friend of one of his aunts, positively responded to his appeal for assistance so he could purchase the DSLR camera, a required equipment for BS Communications students.
“She thought her money would not be wasted on me because even with my situation, I was able to cope with the demands of the Science Section and at the same time be part of the school paper,” he said. **Estanislao Albano, Jr.