Day 12: If I never see you again

The house, children, and pets of Catherine Apas in Laguna, Philippines, who I might never see again. Members of Altermidya interviewed Catherine for a segment on government aid as part of Alab newcast's Labor Day special. 

The other day, my partner attended a free webinar on photojournalism ethics. I think I was cooking or washing the dishes at the time, but nonetheless I feel like I inherited part of the experience because of my partner's responses to the speaker's unpreparedness to discuss the topic with any depth. The speaker was an accomplished photographer who had a career in photojournalism going for him. I told my partner I had heard that this photographer was once asked to contribute photos of a victim of Duterte's drug war, but he couldn't remember documenting the incident. We joked that maybe he remembers his photos better based on where they get published. 

On the topic of ethics, I often wonder about the guilt, or whether it registers to others as guilt at all, when photographers take someone's picture and never see them again. We invite ourselves to people's homes, see where they eat and sleep, we may feel like we are entitled to this information in the course of doing a "story," while as photographers we don't reveal much about ourselves. I only wish this is something we can collectively be mindful about when we carry our cameras, but I also understand that the power dynamics imposed by carrying a camera may just be a primary contradiction in any documentation or media work. It is not so easy to resolve, or rather, photographers must prepare to regularly confront this contradiction throughout a lifelong practice of taking photos. 

Still on the topic of ethics, I have heard, in other webinars, that a basic improvement to the practice could be properly introducing one's self as a photographer and the work being done. Taking the time to explain and giving subjects the agency to decline, even at the expense of the story. After all, it is egoistic to assume that a media ID or the name-drop of a big organization suffices for mutual understanding of the task. There's also multiple strands of considerations of ethics on what to do after the story is published, in continuing correspondences with the people and communities one has documented. But maybe the topic is for another day. 

As an interesting extension of photography practice, I have also heard about photographers taking the extra effort of making sure people see the photos that are made of them, and as a step further, furnishing them a copy. On one hand, it sounds romantic to do to say the least, but I think there is a great potential to politicize the practice, to also improve how photographers take photos, since it could be an effective mechanism to receive feedback, closing the loop somehow. But I can't help but wonder what the workflow could look like to make it sustainable. It would entail printing costs, going back to the community, developing relationships and taking time to make conversation even when a photographer doesn't have to anymore. 

This brings me to a memory in 2016, members of lumad communities in Mindanao traveled to Metro Manila to bring attention to their urgent calls to de-militarize their communities. Brian and I visited their makeshift camp at our university a few times, then a man dressed in colorful, traditional wear must have noticed our cameras and approached us to ask for his picture to be taken. 

We asked him to pose and took some shots. After some time, the camp transferred to Baclaran Church and we attended a cultural night on one of their last days in Manila. We brought printed copies of the man's photos so he could take them home. While there, we had to ask the organizers if they could help us since we couldn't find him ourselves. I don't remember seeing him again, but the organizers told us there were many more who wished they could also have printed photos of themselves.

This experience has since become very memorable, and I wish this is something I can go on to continually do. But to do so, I think I would have to liberate my self and my practice with so much of the things the industry burdens on practitioners. It would take a willingness to acknowledge photography as a political practice. 

Entry 12 / #100Days

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