Agudo’s, Davao’s classic studio

In the Commonwealth period, three of the popular photography outfits were owned by the Japanese, namely: the Daliaon Studio in Toril, owned by H. Nakano; the Orient Studio in Calinan, owned by E. Watadani; and the Lucky Studio at San Pedro Street, owned by A Magoshi. The Moonlight Studio in Tambungon (Lasang) was owned by Filipino L. G. Agunod.

In the late 1940s, the liberation period, Agudo’s Photo Shop opened amid the ruins that characterized the landscape of Davao City. It became, in decades to come, the official photographer of many schools. It was owned by Vicente Agudo and his wife, Concepcion Villaraez, a former intern in Asilo de Molo (erstwhile Molo Asylum, Inc.) a convent in Molo, Iloilo City.

Prior to his marriage, Vicente, a high school undergraduate who already had experience in a photo studio, learned that American military forces in Manila were selling their personal belongings at a bargain so they would not have to bring such load back to the USA. Some of the articles up for sale were cameras and photographic supplies.  

After the war, using personal savings, Vicente left for Manila to hunt for the bargains. His purchases later spared him the hassle of ordering studio materials for at least five years. After their wedding, the Capiz couple, apprised of the opportunities in Davao, by now home to Ilonggo migrants, finalized their plan to move. Carrying along the photographic supplies, they migrated, boarded a ship to Davao City and permanently settled there.

Upon arrival in late 1946, Vicente, using a trusty bicycle, looked for space to rent and scouted for an area to set up a studio. There was no expectation the business, being new in the city, would promptly gain customers and patrons. They were optimistic, though, their edge in terms of photographic facilities and supplies would make a difference.

Agudo’s first shop was at the corner of Jacinto and Magsaysay streets, in a location where there used to be a gasoline station, in the area where a Unionbank branch now stands. With the help of the Tomen family, also Ilonggo, Vicente opened his first studio there in 1947.

Years later, in the early 1950s, the studio relocated to Claveria (C. M. Recto) Street, in an area where Imperial Hotel now stands and was named Agudo’s Photo Shop. The transfer was promising and choosing the location was deliberate because it was visible to commuters and travelers. The blessing of the new studio was well attended. Everybody was welcome, and Vicente took the extra mile in inviting drivers of auto calesa (forerunner of today’s jeepneys) to partake of the food; it was aa successful celebration.

 Vicente’s affable association with people from all walks of life served him in good stead. Beyond friendship, they became his clients who almost always commissioned him to cover memorable family engagements. To enhance the shop’s image, he acquired advanced German Leica cameras, a far cry from the old daguerreotype processes used in taking pictures.

In later years, three Jesuit priests from Ateneo de Davao showed up at the shop and asked Vicente, a bookworm, to become the school’s official photographer, an event that would open new opportunities for the thriving business.

As luck smiled on the Agudo couple and children Arturo and Nelson, more schools, most of them sectarian institutes, adopted the studio as official portraitist. The roster of clients included, among others, Holy Cross of Davao, Maryknoll High School of Panabo, Holy Cross of Calinan, Immaculate Conception College, and Assumption School of Davao.

During this period, Vicente’s interest now included logging. Among the loggers he associated with was Gaudencio Mañalac, a Davao frontiersman who once assumed the presidency of the Philippine Lumber Producers’ Association. When Vicente decided to build a new studio later, the logger’s help was contributory in the construction of a shop that was made of hardwood.

The second studio had to be relocated later after the Diaz family, owner of the lot where the shop was built, decided to use the property to put up the Imperial Hotel.

The Agudo family, in 1959, decided to lease a lot from the family of Dr. Jose Ebro, just across the shop’s location, and built on it its third studio. The three-story wooden structure was situated beside Aldevinco Shopping Center. Its lower section served as reception area and laboratory; the second floor was a mezzanine; and the third floor was the family residence.

The studio later made its final transfer in the 1970s. It moved to San Pedro Street and was housed in an edifice owned by the Falcasantos family. As the Agudo couple started to feel the wear and tear of old age, they decided to close the shop and retire. There was no one to follow in the footsteps because the sons chosen their career paths unrelated to photography.

A little-known aspect of Vicente’s life as a portraitist and amateur artist was the Mindanao Colleges logo he painted at the instance of Guillermo E. Torres, Sr., a friend and school founder. The logo, which has a sail mounted on the bow of a vinta, bore the letters MC but has since been changed to UM after the school became a university.

Competing with Agudo’s during its halcyon days were Cap’s, owned by the Caperal family; Park’s Studio, with shops at San Pedro and near the Bonifacio Monument, where the Colasa’s chicken house now stands; and D’mour, with outlets at Magallanes (now Pichon Sr.) Street and Recto Street, beside Lawaan theatre.