One of the reasons I stuck to photography all these years was a yearning to become a professional photojournalist. My childhood dream was to become a war correspondent, and once I began my love affair with the camera, the dream evolved into photojournalism. Sadly, destiny conspired against me and I landed in a completely different field. While applying to colleges around the world, I was accepted by two top universities in the USA and one in the Philippines, all known for their cutting edge journalism training. Having been the News Editor of the High School paper, I had big dreams and I was aiming for the war correspondence assignments in CNN, BBC and National Geographic.
My father was my first obstacle and didn’t allow me to pursue journalism. He wanted me to find a more stable job in a large multinational corporation and follow his steps in management. We were at loggerheads on this for a while and the impasse landed me in the complete opposite of corporate world: development cooperation. The inability to pursue journalism broke my heart but not my spirit, as I eventually discovered that if my true calling was to serve the poor and make a difference in the world, then development work it was.
My foster parents were my second obstacle. Things took a horrible turn when I went to live with them in the USA. The adults who made the decision to have me live with this couple failed to take a lot of things into consideration, and things just disintegrated from bad to worse from the moment I landed in Missouri. To make a long and ugly story short, they packed my bags and sent me back home and I had an unexpected gap year to come to terms with the broken dream. This was the first schism in the spirit.
When I started my work in development cooperation and acquired the experience for understanding human condition, it was a natural transition to photograph and document the truth, and not the ideal. Millions of photographers out there will aspire to capture the perfect sunset, the breathtaking mountains, the stillness of the sea, while others will aim for the poetry of architecture or the intricacy of insects. The few of us who have the unusual combination of development work and photography behind us are a bit more cynical and veer away from all these, seeking the raw emotions of a cruel social condition.
In a similar manner, when I write a book or a story, I will not dish out the sex or romance (although I jolly well could, after all, I started my literary translation career in erotica fiction!!!), but offer you instead twisted morals, lost values, broken spirits and hardened criminals. It is about making a statement, making people sit up and think, and not lean back and enjoy. I aim to provoke and not be provocative, and I certainly hope that my readers understand the difference. The same with my photographs on human condition. You will not get me to do a staged studio portrait, but tell me to climb a fence or dangle from a helicopter, or even sleep with the cows in the mud, I will.
It is about exploring human condition, telling the story without glossing over it, and making the viewer or reader become more aware of his or her surroundings and less self-absorbed, selfish and self-centred. What brought on this attack on “pretty photography”? Another gift that I recently received entitle Das Prinzip Apfelbaum (The Apple Tree Principle), published by the “Mein Erbe tut Gutes. Das Prinzip Apfelbaum” Initiative. It is all about leaving a legacy – how do you want the world to remember you, what do you want the world to remember you by? Yes, it certainly deals with writing your last will and testament, but more importantly, leaving a lasting legacy that will serve the world and make a difference. Sunsets and mountains certainly aren’t going to do that, but the written word and compelling image will. Thank you BD.