24
Apr

Angeles City

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work, Travel

This is the fifth post in this series. You can see all of the posts by clicking on the Arts Aftercare tag.

Required Reading: I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia page on Human Trafficking in the Philippines.  It will give you better context for my story and the situation in places like Angeles City.

The final destination of our trip was Angeles City, the second largest sex tourism destination in the world.  This was a difficult way to end the trip, but at the same time, I’m really glad I didn’t start the trip with this.  It was a dark, heavy place, and I was definitely out of my comfort zone.

While I was taking pictures in front of a bar on the Walking Street, a man approached me and asked me to take his picture with a group of bar girls (pictured below).  After the group shot, and an off-color comment, the man introduced Becker and I to his girlfriend, who is in the next picture.  He told us what a great time was waiting to be had in Angeles, and we chatted with him for a few minutes.  Before we parted ways, he asked how he could get copies of the pictures I took.  He gave us his email address, and after we returned to our hotel that night, we looked him up on Facebook.  Turns out, his name is Michael Wiener, and he is a former New Mexico State Senator, and the current County Commissioner in Bernalillo County.

Angeles was a strange place, because for the previous 8 days in the Philippines, we saw very few caucasians.  As soon as we arrived in Angeles, we saw hundreds of middle aged and older white men everywhere we went with young Filipino women.  I saw some extremely disturbing things, and felt a heavy darkness in Angeles.  I don’t really know if it is necessary to go into any detail about all of that stuff, but I also don’t really feel like talking about it any further.  I think these images say what I feel needs to be said.

This is the one picture from this series that is not from Angeles.  Pegasus is in Manila, but it fit so well with this series, and I had to find a way to show it.  The sign says it all.  Pegasus is a high end club that is known for selling very young girls.  They charge $500 just to get in the door.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Michael Wiener.

18
Apr

PREDA Foundation

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work, Travel

This is the fourth post in this series.  You can see all of the posts by clicking on the Arts Aftercare tag.

I love and hate these pictures.  From a photographic standpoint, I am really proud of this series of images taken at the PREDA Foundation.  On the other hand, I hate that these pictures need to exist, and that this is a story which needs to be told.  It seems impossible to ignore the devastation and loss of innocence these images also represent.  But fortunately I do see hope in these images as well.  I believe we were created with the capacity to choose great evil, but thankfully we also have the choice to love, which I believe has the power to overcome all else.  At PREDA, I met some wonderful people who have made the decision to simply love, and care for the people who have been exploited and experienced so much devastation.

I arrived at PREDA with only 2 hours to work with before Becker and I had to take a taxi to Angeles City.  It was a bit hectic when we arrived, and we didn’t have much back story or time to prep for this stop.  After meeting Alex, the program director, I asked if I could take a tour and look around.  The tour started in the administrative offices, followed by the kitchen and then some classrooms.  It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for or interested in.  Eventually, we went down a hall and into a large room filled with colorful metal bunk beds and bright blankets.  Half of the room was lined with large windows, streaming in midday light.  As I took it all in, I asked my tour guide what the room was, and she told me it was the girls dorm, for children 9 and under.  To clarify, these are children age 9 and younger who have been sexually abused both commercially and domestically.  Unbelievable.

I started the day expecting to make portraits, but this room was speaking to me, and drawing me in.  I didn’t have my camera with me, and after looking around for a moment, I burst out of the room, and down the hall to get my camera and tripod.  I think my guide thought I was a bit strange, leaving the way I did with no explanation, but I couldn’t move fast enough.  I was in a zone.  I spent maybe the next hour shooting these images of the girls dorm, although it felt like I was only there about 5 minutes.

Girls lockers.

Primal therapy room.

Father Shay, founder of PREDA Foundation in Olongapo, Philippines, on Subic Bay.  Father Shay has dedicated his life to fighting for children who have been sexually exploited both commercially and domestically.  He has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize 3 times, and I sincerely hope he is recognized by one in the near future.

I just can’t decide between these two portraits.  It is usually pretty easy for me to make these kind of decisions, but there is something about each of these that I can’t get past.  It doesn’t help that everyone else I have asked have said both as well.  What do you think?

Father Shay’s desk.  Nearly 40 years of hard work has happened here.  I can’t even imagine the phone calls, letters, and meetings that have taken place here over the years.

PREDA Foundation is a service provider for sexually exploited children in Subic Bay, Philippines, which infamous as a destination for sex tourism. From their website:

“In 1974, with Filipino helpers, Fr. Shay Cullen established the PREDA organization (Peoples’ Recovery Empowerment and Development Assistance Inc.) to give shelter and protection and recovery to victims of abuse and more importantly to change this unjust situation in society that abandons children and criminalizes them and prostitutes them or allows them to be abused without getting help and justice.”

PREDA provides many crucial services to the children, including residential care homes organized by age – one for girls as young as 9 years and under.

 

16
Apr

At Home in Manila

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work, Travel

This is the third post from my assignment in the Philippines for Arts Aftercare.  You can see all of the posts from this trip by clicking on the Arts Aftercare tag.  For those of you who are just joining in, the following portraits are of people who have been affected in some way by sexual exploitation.  Some of the people are volunteering, or caring for survivors, some of the people are survivors, and one person is simply family member of a victim of sexually exploitation.

Some of my favorite moments in the Philippines were when I was able to walk through neighborhoods, and photograph people in their homes.  It took several days before I was able to find transportation, and arrange times with people, but once I was able to establish some trust and familiarity, things began to fall into place.  I only wish I had more time in Manila to take more of these.  I have intentionally left out some of the names for various reasons.

The mother in this family is a volunteer at Samaritana, where she teaches women how to sew.  I photographed them at their home just outside the garbage community in Manila.

Jonathan Nambu is the co-director of Samaritana with his wife Thelma.  They were our wonderful hosts while we were in Manila.  I photographed him at his home in the backyard.

This young woman is in the Samaritana program for women who have been sexually exploited.  She lives in a small home with a large number of her family members along with extended family.

This is the girls father (pictured above).  He collects recyclable garbage for a living, and has a small shop in the front of the family’s home.

I was able to spend quite a bit of time with Krys on this trip, and got to know her a bit more than others.  She works at Samaritana, and spends a good amount of her time on the streets at night forming relationships with pimps, and women who are being exploited.  She has such an amazing heart, and her story is deeply moving.  This shoot was especially fun, because we got to ride a trike, transfer to a jeepney, and then take a long walk to get to her apartment where this portrait was taken.  I’m a sucker for a good trike ride on the deadliest highway in the world.

This woman also works at Samaritana, and she lives in a squatter community, which is like nothing I have ever experienced before.  A squatter community is exactly as it sounds.  People build homes right on top of, and next to each other, regardless of who owns the land.  Power lines and other resources are spliced, and it looks a bit like controlled chaos.  From a photographic standpoint, one thing I love about many of these images, is that there was often only one natural light source in each home, which provided a single stream of beautiful light to work with.

Survivor in the Samaritana program, photographed in her friends home.

I shot all but one of these images on my Vanguard tripod.  It was fun to work this way for a change with natural light.  It made me slow down and take a different approach.  I even slowed down my breathing, to accommodate the timed exposures.  I feel a deep connection with each of these images, and I also feel a different kind of appreciation for these because of the process.  I am really looking forward to creating more work like this at some point.

04
Apr

Arriving In Manila

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work, Travel

Last month I wrote about an upcoming assignment in the Philippines for an organization called Arts Aftercare.  Here is a link to the post if you are interested in the backstory, but basically I was working with the story of sexual slavery, human trafficking, and the work people are doing to help survivors.  I was gone for 10 days in the beginning of March, and  I got back to the States a few weeks ago.  After taking some time to rest, and reflect on the trip and what I saw, I finally feel like I am at a point now where I have processed enough of the trip, and I can share my thoughts and more importantly, my pictures.  I feel like this project makes the most sense when split up into 4 or 5 different stories.  The first part of the story is arriving in Manila and getting somewhat acclimated to my surroundings.

I have never had to think so much about an assignment as I did on this trip.  There are so many variables to consider, which I have never had to think about on past assignments.  One of the things I found myself thinking about a lot on this trip was journalistic integrity.  Thankfully I was traveling and working with my close friend, and filmmaker Eric Becker who I learned so much from.  It would have been a totally different experience for me if I didn’t have him there for support, and just overall great companionship.  When I was in Liberia last year, I took pictures of anyone, because everyone in the entire town I was in, was effected in one way or another by the lack of clean drinking water.  It was something that had a broad reach, and just about any person, place or thing seemed relevant to the story.  In the Philippines, I was trying to tell a story about sexual slavery.  Although prostitution seemed to be everywhere I turned, it is not so easy to create a visual story without being painstakingly careful.  For example, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Resort when we visited Angels City.  Just in the short time I spent in the lobby during a 24 hour period, I saw 20 or so men bring back, or meet prostitutes in the lobby.  Everyone knows what is going on, but at the same time, seeing a 65 year old American man and a 20 year old Filipino girl walking to a hotel room is not proof of what is going on.  Sometimes the age difference was not so great, and it certainly isn’t fair to assume every white guy and Filipino girl are in anything other than a serious relationship.  Being a portrait photographer, I wanted to photograph so many different people, but I knew I needed to be careful what I was implying by including someones portrait or picture in a series like this.  I didn’t photograph the bellhop at the hotel I was staying at and say he is somehow a part of the story, anymore than I would want someone photographing me in the Philippines and saying I was somehow involved.  There is actually a lot of human trafficking that happens in Seattle.  Seattle is a major player in human trafficking unfortunately, but that doesn’t mean you can photograph anyone in Seattle and say they are part of the story.  Some of you may be thinking what I am saying seems pretty obvious, but it was  new for me, and took a lot of thought to work through.

With all of that being said, these images are from our travels to Manila from Seattle, as well as wandering around and exploring Manila after we first arrived.  Which I might add, we didn’t have much time to explore.  None of these images are linked to or are intended to be linked to prostitution or human trafficking, but they help set the stage for where I was in the Philippines, and what my surroundings were like.

I am really excited to share more from this trip in the coming days and dive into the images I am most excited about.  As always, thanks for your interest!

On another note, all of these images were edited with VSCO Film which is an amazing image editing tool for Lightroom, Aperture, and Camera RAW.  It has totally sped up my workflow, improved my images, and is one of my favorite tools as a photographer.  Check it out for yourself here.  I also wrote a couple of reviews here and here with processed images if you want to find out more.