For those who are personal friends of mine, you may recall that last year, for nearly an entire month, I spent my days in the desolate Philippines, working on a personal project while contributing my time and efforts to the local communities out there. This opportunity came to me unexpectedly, and was paid for in full through trade of some personal work. While there, I worked with the community and photographed children and their families, offering prints for them through the help of Canon.
With Canon, Profoto, Think Tank Photo, and LensRentals.com helping sponsor the trip, I was able to deliver high-quality photos to people who, more often than not, had not had their photo taken before. All of this was done to help raise awareness of child poverty in the Philippines, and in exchange for Canon providing a printer for the trip, I wrote a piece documenting my time in the Philippines. The piece was never published.
The reason for the piece never being published is that since my trip to the Philippines, the country has changed significantly. Upon electing President Duterte into office, the Philippines have been faced with a political genocide, where over 6,000 people have been killed in less than 6 months by the Philippines government, and thousands more arrested and prosecuted. However, I believe that my stories of the Philippines need to still hold a voice, to help raise awareness of the beauty that still lays dormant within the Philippines. Below is my story of my travels through one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been to.
A Country Dressed in Smiles -- My Trip to the Philippines
Recently, I was given a really unique opportunity to travel to the Philippines and photograph children living in the rural areas of La Union, Philippines. When I announced my trip to my friends and family, I was met with apprehension and doubt? Traveling to a country deemed “thirdworld” is perceived as uncomfortable by most and even scary to some. By sharing my experience, I can help lift the stigma of uncertainty that prevents a lot of people from traveling to this area.
Upon arriving, one message seemed incredibly clear. The Philippines is a young country. Not youth in the sense of having recently been acknowledged by the rest of the world as an establishing country, but young in its culture. Through the Spanish settlement in the 1800s, to the United States occupancy in the early to mid 1900s, the Philippines have had a long history of embracing the cultures and norms of others than their own. It wasn’t until the 1980s when the Philippines were really able to develop their own identity through their revolution and their reestablishment of democracy.
That youth extends to their people as well. While traveling through the northern Philippines to Baguio all the way over to Hundred Islands, I was met with a sense of youth and vibrancy that seemed to fill the entire country. And while inexperience comes with youth, the smiling faces I found complemented their hunger for goodwill and their motivation to help make the Philippines better than ever before.
With it being an election year, the city streets were lined with vibrantly colored campaign posters. Though unlike the democracy of the United States, the Philippines were filled with a variety of faces dozens of candidates, all filled with their own set of ideals and how they can help make their world better than the politician before them.
Even still, campaign posters aren’t the only source of color on these city streets. The streets themselves spill with vibrancy, in brightly colored and decorated Jeepneys and Trikes - two popular forms of public transit within the Philippines. Lavishly decorated, these brightly colored vehicles show us the heart and kindness of the people occupying these places. The use of these bright colors, on a place that seems to be catching up with the rest of the modern world, shows a sense of pride in what they’re capable of, and a hunger for something more.
At around 100 million people, the Philippines is the 12th most populated country in the world, despite being a series of seemingly small islands located off the Asian coast in the Pacific. Though with this large population comes an infrastructure designed for mobility, with small huts and architecture pushed up against the natural environment around it, blending itself in almost fairytalelike fashion. In one moment, you’ll find yourself in a busy marketplace, with people scampering around, selling fresh fruits and vegetables. Just a few hundred feet later, you can find yourself on a mountainside, overlooking a vast valley virtually unoccupied.
Though the trip out to the Philippines wasn’t entirely whimsical. I was also met with the hardships of orphanages in the Cordillera Central mountain range. A full heart of love and an able body isn’t all these people need to take care of the children who have been forgotten, but it’s often all they have. Still, despite the hardships of the sociocultural around them, they prevail and show an absolute kindness against all odds. Their inspiring humility and effort for good is met with financial struggles and the mental anguish of never doing quite as much as they could. Their hope and will was nothing short of inspiring and served as an active reminder for my own humility and good fortune yearning me to serve myself as an active body who can do more to help.
I went to the Philippines with an apprehension for what I was going to see and experience, and left with an absolute excitement to go back. While there, I got a true sense of community and patience and was met with so many smiling faces. During my trip, I was able to photograph hundreds of people, and through the help of Canon, print the photos on location and deliver them to the subjects. While this act was incredibly small in regards to the bigger picture, I saw a true sense of appreciation for the small act I was doing, which helped motivate me to continue on this path to provide happiness to others with the work of my camera.
Special thanks to Think Tank Photo for providing me with a camera bag and last minute cheap flights for this trip, Profoto for providing lighting equipment, and a very special thanks to Canon for contributing with a printer and supplies to help me help produce happiness to others. If this story and the collection has inspired you to donate to help those in the Philippines, I recommend donating to the nonprofit LifeChild.org an organization built to provide the basic needs and education to children within the Philippines. The majority of the images highlighted in this article were taken with a Canon 5d Mark III with Canon 2470mm f/2.8L II & Canon 50mm f/1.8. Photos were printed using a Canon Pixma iP2270 and Canon Glossy Photo Paper
More Information About Philippines Genocide
Please take a moment and read further into the Philippines current crisis. This haunting piece by the New york Times visualizes the terror, though it’s graphic.