Having worked in Manila, I became obsessed with patterns of the well-known, popular transportation vehicle there – the jeepney. Jeepneys are to Manila as casinos are to Las Vegas – symbols of place. Patterns of competitive bright colors and chrome trim on custom-built minibuses quickly caught my attention; colored lights and unique names of vehicles made them “part of Hollywood in Manila”. Most of my coworkers commuted in them, quickly entering and exiting rear doors of jeepneys (Figure 1 below) zipping along in all directions. How they knew the routes taken by jeepneys I never quite understood.
Watching jeepneys became my favorite past time the first week there. Standing along a busy avenue, I’d photograph many colorful vehicles and wonder if a jeepney grill was from an old army jeep or a newer Mercedes. Originally, jeepneys were made from old WW2 U.S. surplus Army jeeps (Figure 2 below) converted into minibuses by adding seats behind drivers. Soon, parts from any available vehicle were used, together with custom body work, chrome, and exquisite painting. Custom body shops now create large and beautiful minibus jeepneys for anyone with enough money – minimum US$10,000-12,000 to four or five times that. Not all jeepneys are public transportation vehicles; some are private, prestigious, all-chrome vehicles (Figure 3 below) parked in special spots, which I soon learned were watched by security guards.
After a few jeepney drivers made it clear my photo taking was unwelcome anywhere, I became more discreet. Most photos taken for my collage below (Figure 4) were taken with a long lens from a hotel restaurant table near a busy intersection, as I sipped morning coffee or afternoon cold brew and blended in with other regular patrons.
I tried to collect as many different, colorful jeepney grills as possible, as shown in Figure 5. Each grill was unique, yet each one gave an indication as to the original parts used in a jeepney’s body. All jeepneys together traveling the city added to Manila’s character, central to my positive memories there.
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