Capturing the Face of the Philippines

A few months ago, I was given an opportunity to visit the Philippines. My intention was to photograph the people without giving myself away. I would be like a street photographer capturing what unfolded before me. I believed at that time, that it would be less intrusive for the locals if I captured images from a distance, so I started off using a 50-140mm. Shooting from afar also gave me the advantage of observation without distraction to the subject. However, this wasn’t a style I was comfortable with.

As I was shooting, I became aware of others watching me and I realized how receptive the locals were to being photographed. I began to understand that being photographed was not an ordinary everyday occurrence for them, especially in the rural parts of the country. So I decided to forgo my zoom lens and opted for the 35mm1.4 lens. This lens brought me physically closer to the subject and allowed for a more intimate photography experience between us. The smaller unobtrusive camera also helped as people were not so threatened. My camera of choice was the Fuji XT-1. As my shooting continued, I realized that I was reverting back to my portrait style of photography also.

Communication with the locals was not always easy, although English is regarded as an official language of the Philippines. This issue was remedied by my guide who briefly explained what my intentions were. All this being said, sometimes words were not even needed, the simple smile, a gesture with my camera in their general direction, or a nod or a flick of the eyebrows was good enough to grant me permission to photograph them. I was even approached by unintentional willing subjects that simply wanted to let me know they were ready for their closeup, though they would never have a chance to ever see their own image, they were ready to let me know they had existed.

As my portraits progressed, I began to notice something about the face of the Philippines. Through monsoons, floods, hurricanes and God knows what other natural, economic and political disasters faced by the Filipinos, they still manage to hold a glimmer of hope in their eyes, a spark that says, ‘I’m still here’, and a quiet resilience that so many mistaken as sorrow.

Here are a few of my favourite images from the trip.