Arriving In Manila

Posted by / Filed under Travel, Personal Work

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.


Every picture depicts the ups and downs of the Philippines but I am not that comfortable about the country being a center topic for prostitution, because like any other third world country, it is a part of it, one way or another. On the bright side, people enjoying their stay here means a lot to the country, specially to the Filipino people. I hope Mr. Keatley had a blast.

POSTED BY Selwyn on 4-4-2012

Selwyn. Prostitution is not a comfortable subject, and I definitely didn't take this assignment to feel comfortable. In fact, I turned it down at first, before deciding to take it on. Nobody is implying the Philippines are the only place prostitution and human trafficking exist, but it would be irresponsible and dishonest not to acknowledge what is going on there, and do what we can to fight it. Angeles City in the Philippines is one of the largest sex tourism destinations in the world, and it doesn't end there. Simply ignoring a problem and pretending it doesn't exist does not make it go away. Thankfully I met some incredible people on my trip who have given their lives to care for the women caught up in all of this, but more people need to take a stand to really make a greater impact. Hopefully someday sex tourism will not exist in the Philippines, but today it does. I think the Philippines are a very beautiful, but my trip was not a holiday.

POSTED BY John Keatley on 4-4-2012

[...] This is the second post from my assignment in the Philippines for Arts Aftercare.  You can read the first post here. [...]

POSTED BY John Keatley - Survivors in Manila on 4-9-2012

I live in New York City and there is prostitution everywhere. I was out at a bar the other night where I was approached not less then three times by different prostitutes. Walking the street outside I saw a few women on the street who looked like prositutes. When I opened up Craigslist and Backpage, I saw a few ads for escorts (aka prostitutes). I kind of wonder why you dont go to New York City to showcase the out of control prostitution taking place there? Thats because you are racist. Instead of featuring the prostitution in your own community and cities you decided to take a trip to feature a bunch of brown skinned people engaged in the act of prostitution in some third world country. Prostitution is everywhere my friend. Its not just in the Phils. Its probably right up the street at your neighborhood bar. Focus on your own community before you take a shit on someone else's.

POSTED BY Mike Rodriguez on 4-28-2012

Amazing pictures... I miss Home... my beloved Philippines. You're eyes are great!

POSTED BY Genia Ferro on 4-29-2012

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