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As real as it can get

Philippines
Society
Photography
hands on memorial

© Photo taken from tumblr with permission from EverydayPhilippines

The Everyday Philippines Instagram project reveals life in all its diversity, writes Iris Gonzales.

A pair of scissors, a chair and a worn-out cloth to collect falling hair; there is a little boy and a lanky barber, himself in need of a trim. The barber ‘shop’ is pop-up; it can come and go when the cutting is done, here in an empty alley in downtown Manila. There really is no shop with huge mirrors or swivel chairs in leatherettes or the trademark helix of red, blue and white, the barber pole that dates back to medieval times.  

There is a woman, with long hair cascading down her shoulders, sitting alone inside the Oarhouse Pub on Bocobo Street, described as one of the last remnants of Manila’s colourful past.

In a mass grave in Leyte in the southern Philippines, the names of the dead – those who perished when Typhoon Haiyan came in 2013 – are cast in stone and etched in gold, remembered forever.

And in a town of water lilies, a woman covered in blue stands in the middle of an empty cornfield. She is the wife of a dead rebel, the mother of an infant son and four other children, now without a father.

Welcome to the Philippines, where little boys can have their hair cut anywhere, anytime, in empty streets or in crowded barber shops, where children roam fishing villages in Snow White costumes and town elders read the livers of freshly butchered pigs in fog-covered mountains in the north, and where empty cornfields become massacre sites.

This could be Colombia, where magic realism runs through its veins. Or New Orleans, where life can go on even after the world ends. This is the Bronx, where criminals are out on the streets when there is a boxing match. Or South Africa, where the sunsets are postcard perfect. Or China, where the traffic is at a standstill.

Indeed, there are countless stories in the Philippines, countless vignettes of life here, so much more than just poverty and corruption.

And one can see all these and more at EverydayPhilippines, an Instagram project put up by three Filipino freelance photojournalists, Tammy David (tammydavid.com), Veejay Villafranca (veejayvillafranca.com) and Jes Aznar (jesaznar.com).

A country of 94 million people, the Philippines is a storied place. Surrealism runs through the daily lives of people. And the stories are as endless as they are varied: every cartographic reality has a story to tell, as age-old traditions exist alongside the ephemeral.

It is as real as it can get.

All these stories define this country. And it’s not just poverty, grime and dirty politics. This is what the three photographers seek to tell the world about the Philippines.

The Instagram project joins the growing global Everyday movement inspired by EverydayAfrica, which started in 2012 initially as a Tumblr Blog by photographer Peter DiCampo and writer Austin Merill. EverydayAfrica inspired similar Instagram accounts, put up by mostly professional photographers: EverydayIran, EverydayBronx, EverydayUSA, EverydayEasternEurope, EverydayMyanmar. Others covered non-geographic issues: EverydayClimateChange and EverydayIncarceration, among others.

The EverydayPhilippines project officially started on 1 January 2015 with the goal of breaking stereotypes about the country being just another nation mired in deep poverty, says David, who is also a video journalist and whose works have appeared in both local and foreign publications, including the Wall Street Journal.

Villafranca, a photographer represented by Getty Images, said it has become difficult to pitch stories about the country: ‘The Philippines on its own is very rich [but] when you pitch [stories] to the Western media, there are a lot of misconceptions,’ he says. And yes, some people zero in on the country being just another ‘Third World’ nation.

Aznar, whose works appear on the pages of the New York Times, suggested the project to his two friends, both of whom happened to have had the same idea, inspired by EverydayAfrica’s success.

It is easy to be part of the project and share one’s stories, say the three proponents. The photographs must be square-shaped and captured using a phone camera, as much as possible.

More importantly, the photographs must be visually stunning and must provide enough context that they are able to tell a complete story.

To post their photos, photographers must have their individual Instagram accounts and use the hashtag #EverydayPhilippines on the photos they want to contribute.

The best photographs that appear on the hashtag search are the ones that are curated and reposted on the EverydayPhilippines account.

The result is a visually stunning feed of photographs that show the different vignettes of life in the Philippines. But don’t take my word for it. Go to EverydayPhilippines on Instagram and see its 98 posts (to date).

Three months since it started, EverydayPhilippines has already received a lot of positive feedback.

‘I’m going to follow this now – such interesting posts,’ says one Instagram user; another wrote: ‘Awesome feed, love the stories.’

The ultimate goal of the project is to change or expand the way people see the Philippines.

‘What we hope is for the project to make a dent on people’s perception,’ Aznar says.

In the meantime, the visual storytelling goes on – every moment is every photographer’s chance to tell a story, the many, many stories of this storied country.

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