RP: Hi She, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi, Robert. Thanks for having me here. I am honored!
I am a registered nurse, but I am not practicing my profession. I’ve been taking photos since 2006. After giving up on photography and a long hiatus, I started taking pictures again after getting a camera last July 2015. I love black and white photography. I also started dabbling in film photography last year. My focus now is taking portraits and telling stories about the lives of people I encounter during trips.
RP:what inspired you to become a photographer?
The National Geographic magazines at home. When I was a child, they were in the shelf, unread and collecting dust. I was the only one who bothered reading them. I devoured these magazines and was amazed with how big the world is. I saw different people and cultures that I would never have seen if not for those magazines. I grew to appreciate the wonders the pages of that magazine revealed and I felt that I wanted to do that – to document life by taking pictures. When I got older, discovering the work of Steve McCurry, Yousuf Karsh, Dorothea Lange and Mary Ellen Mark sparked my interest even more. Also, a perennial desire to learn more about different cultures and places gave rise to my interest in photography.
RP: what project are you working on right now?
I have one personal photo project I am aiming to start soon. I have always been fascinated by Sagada, a town in the Philippines. I want to go there and stay a while, get to know people, take pictures and write about their lives. This desire was sparked by a book I picked up back in my university days. The end product is not important to me at the moment. What’s important is the experience I will have.
Other than this, I started a simple Project 365 this year. I find that challenging myself to take pictures everyday helps me in getting to know my camera and also improves my skills. I kept things simple by sticking to black and white.
I also have a series featuring black and white photos of the people and places in the Philippines. I use the hashtag #PHinMono in Instagram to share these images.
I also have a lot of ideas for other photography projects. My dream is to create a body of work that explores the lives of patients in mental institutions. During my duties as a student nurse, I was assigned to a ward in a psychiatric hospital that housed patients who are considered dangerous to themselves and others. Their living conditions were not ideal, and I was touched with what I saw there. These are things you can never forget and they can haunt you. However, my aim, if I ever take on this project is not to glorify the stigma and their living conditions, but to create a lasting document that can initiate reform.
RP: Whats inspires your photography?
People and their stories. I would like to think I am an intent observer of the lives of people. When I encounter people during my travels, I am amazed with how much of their lives they can readily reveal to me. People can be very open to you if you show them genuine interest, kindness, empathy and respect. I am honored and privileged to hear their stories and become a bridge for others to know more about their lives. I see myself as an advocate for people. When I encounter people during trips, I am not afforded much time to get to know them. To have that brief encounter and be aware of their conditions and their lives touch me deeply, so I’ve made it a point to always show their goodness and dignity because I believe people are essentially good. People have stories they long to tell, and all they need is a listening ear. There’s so much more the world has to offer, if you only open your eyes.
I am also inspired by the beauty of the world. I like noticing details that would otherwise be ignored by others. The mundane intrigues me as much as the magnificent things the world has to offer. Nature can speak to us in many ways. The question is, are we ready to listen? I believe in ‘wabi sabi’, a Japanese belief and aesthetic that recognizes beauty amidst imperfection.
I derive inspiration from watching old and foreign films. I believe watching films can teach you a lot about composition, lighting, identifying important scenes, changing your perspective or line of vision.
I shouldn’t forget to mention the people who have constantly supported me and believed in my potential not only as a photographer, but also as a human being. Without them, I would have given up on myself and photography altogether.
RP: What does photography mean to you?
Photography is a form of self-expression, and also a way to connect with the world and people around me. I believe that photography allows me to tell important stories… lending a voice to the voiceless. I’m a firm believer that images are powerful in initiating awareness and change. With photography, I am given a chance to explore the universality of the human condition and the different aspects of what it means to be human . With this, I’ve come to appreciate life and people more. Photography enriches me and provides a means to show myself as an individual in the images I create. It is definitely an important part of my life.
RP: What cameras did you shoot with and why?
I have the Fujifilm X-T1. For film photography, I use a Canon AE-1. When I got back to photography last year, the main thing I considered when choosing a camera was great results in a small package. I never regretted the decision to shift to Fujifilm. Choosing this camera was one of the best decisions I’ve made, photography-wise. It has delivered what I needed and more. Starting out with only one lens, the XF 35mm 1.4, was also a good choice because it allowed me to focus more on the image, rather than on the equipment I used. Of course, this can be limiting in some aspects, but it also gave me an opportunity to enhance my skills.
RP: Any anecdotes you can share?
During trips, I am often mistaken for a media personality or a photojournalist. There was one time we were having breakfast in a small cafe, in a town surrounded by mountains and winding roads, when a man approached one of my companions and insisted he has seen me in TV… I was a newscaster, according to him. I had quite a hard time convincing him that I wasn’t the person who he thought I was. I blame my camera.
Photography can also make you do crazy things. I am terrified of heights, but guess who crossed a 290 meter hanging bridge to get a shot?
RP: What are you looking for in a photo?
Emotions. I like to take photos and look at photos that evoke emotions and resonate with me.
RP: Biggest regret relating to photography?
Giving up on it years ago. I wish I hadn’t. But in hindsight, I believe this was a neceassry part, as well as a turning point for my photography. I’m glad I’m back and I hope I do not give up on it again.
RP: Any closing comments?
I want to share something for those who are just starting out in photography: Trust your instincts and believe in your vision. Expect mistakes and failure, try new things and overcome challenges. Accept feedback. Surround yourself with people who want to nurture you and teach you. Learn as much as you can from others and most of all, never stop learning. Photography is wonderful, and if you would ever pick a camera up with the purpose of documenting your life and the world around you, you owe it to yourself to have fun while doing it.