Curatorial Talk | Exhibition: Being Here and There

Exhibit poster, courtesy of the curator
Photoma got to chat with Marco Ugoy, curator of the photography exhibit, Being Here and There, which was held at Acceler8 Coworking on May 26 and June 2, 2017. The featured artists are Patrick Casabuena, Christine Chung, Dianne Rosario, Jhemuel Salvador, and Dennese Victoria, and some of Christine’s and Dianne’s works featured here in Photoma were shown in this exhibit.
Part of Photoma’s mission is to open discussions on experimentations and critical perspectives in photographic practices. Being Here and There not only showed the endeavors of budding photographers, but also studied the relationship between photographs, reality, and perspective, by projecting slideshows of photographs without context nor name.
Documentation of the exhibit, courtesy of the curator
Photoma: For the show Being Here and There, what was the initial point of departure for the project? Did you have the thematic framework in mind before you selected the artists in your show or did it stem from the realization that the artists you wanted to work with had this particular concern that somehow could be developed into a curatorial discourse?

Marco: The show was conceptualized based on an unconscious observation on the contemporary local landscape of art and photography, mostly concerning group shows. I never appreciate a group exhibition wherein the works of different artists don’t complement each other. It defeats the purpose of the intent of conveying a single or communal theme/expression which group shows are supposed to do.

At the time of conceptualization, I was interested in how photographers in progressive countries utilize alternative space and execute new ways of presenting photographs. There was one specific show in the UK that inspired me to curate a group show that focuses on stripping authorship and making a whole new fictive work. It was a group show dedicated to the writer Oscar Wilde and it was presented inside a conventional prison. The show was headlined by iconic artists that work with the medium of photography such as, Nan Goldin, Roni Horn, Steve McQueen, Wolfgang Tillmans, Robert Gober, and Marlene Dumas. The very notion of combining different works with different contexts to create a single intention made me wonder if it could be done with different genres of photography. So, with the curatorial screening of the five artists, even though they worked with different subject matters, I saw a commonality with their works when it came to aesthetic and process. The visual association of each of their photographs serves as a conversation between the context of the work and also the perception of the viewer. Thinking about it now, personally the curation of the show was a personal thought experiment as to how viewers will react to a sequence of photographs that has no given background or details, not even the name of the artist.

Photoma: Can you please guide us through some specific photographs that artists in show exhibited?
Works by Dianne Rosario (left) and Patrick Casabuena (right)

Marco: The first photograph is from Dianne Rosario’s body of work, Black Matter. A documentary piece about illegal Black Sand mining and how it affects the lives of people living in the area it destroys. The second photograph is a single image by Patrick Casabuena, part of his ongoing self-documentation of the social circles he’s in. The person in the photograph is part of the younger generation of an influential political family which I’ll refrain from mentioning.

An archival photograph by Christine Chung, part of her ongoing documentation work of friends’ gender transitioning.
Another archival photograph by Christine Chung
A photograph by Dennese Victoria, part of the set of photographs that didn’t make the edit of her past work, “Birds, Curtains, & Objects”.
Single images by Jhemuel Salvador, based on his ongoing interest with abstraction and space.
Photoma: In your written statement you quoted a question from Mirrors and Window: American Photography since 1960 from John Szarkowski, the former New York Museum of Modern Art Photography director. The premise of this show was to demonstrate what Szarkowski postulates that since that time, American photography focused more on the personal vision of the photographer’s gaze rather than social praxis, can you expand this notion based on the photographs that you projected in your show? How does this 1978 geo-culturally specific thesis that Szakowski postulates compare to the Filipino context and temporality in which you and the photographers that you exhibited relate?

Marco: Szarkowski’s notion that at the time, the way of looking or appreciating a photograph relied heavily on the perspective of the photographer which affected the intention of the work itself. In my opinion, that’s still the case today and in no way will it ever deviate to a purely objective and unbiased perspective. One of the main intentions of our show was to highlight the significance of perspective when it comes to looking at photographs, and to me it doesn’t solely rely on the viewer but also to the author. Even an objective journalistic or documentary work will still have a hint of the photographer’s view on the certain issue. One of the reasons why I stripped authorship of the work is to deviate from how we normally view a visual work. Not knowing the author and the context, relying entirely on what they see—it’s interesting what the viewers were able to perceive with such process of looking at a photograph. I think the relation I found with Szarkowski’s thesis on American Photography and representation with the Filipino context is the general viewpoint of the medium itself. I believe Philippine photography is highly influenced by the Western theories and principles regarding the medium, which I guess also affects our process of making honest work.

Photoma: Focusing on the exhibition design, what made you decide on the format of your show? Was the decision to use projected images, rather than print them, related to the notion of mirroring the image?

Marco: One of the biggest reasons why we chose to project the images rather than the traditional presentation of prints, is that we had curatorial freedom. We weren’t bound to the standards of any gallery and also we had no intention to make it a selling show. We were playing around the idea of a photograph being ephemeral. The idea of projected images that’s temporarily viewed, it gives the essence of long-term memory in a way that constitutes what could be sentimental or relatable depending on the perspective of the viewer.

Photoma: As a photographer and curator, how do you position your exhibition within the ecosystem of contemporary art in the Philippines, specifically in Manila?

Marco: I guess our exhibition is part of that small community trying to deviate from traditional practices, utilizing new technology and alternative spaces. I also hope we succeeded with that intention and that other artists see our exhibition as a possibility of something different.

Photoma: Are there any upcoming projects that you are curating?

Marco: Well, for now I’m not yet working on another show but recently I’ve been interested in making a photographic installation show that utilizes public space. Just because the idea of the exclusivity of photography in the Philippines is somewhat contradicting its reputation as a democratic medium.

To learn more about the exhibit, visit its event page on Facebook.

A conversation with Jed Bacason and Julie Batula, founders of WIP, and Photoma

(Image courtesy of WIP)

“WIP SlideFest is a collaborative project that aims to show the diversity of photographic art coming from emerging photographers and be recognized by a broader audience locally and internationally. The name of the event itself – WIP or work in progress – connotes this cause. In contrast with other photography-related events, WIP caters mainly to the newcomers, the new breed of photographers who share the same passion as that of veteran and established photographers. We would like to think that WIP can become the jumpstarting point in their photography career.”

(From the WIP Website)

(Image courtesy of WIP)

Photoma: I think it’s essential that initiatives like WIP SlideFest happen. It contributes to the development of photographic practice in the Philippines. How did it start out?

Jed: The concept of WIP was to give the Filipino photographers here in Dubai a chance to show our works to the public without asking for help from the established photo groups here headed by other nationalities – Indians, Pakistanis, Emiratis. The norm is that Pinoys just follow whatever large photo groups decide on and there’s no initiative headed by fellow Pinoys that promote the interest of Filipino photographers. So that’s how it started, but the current mission of WIP is really far from what it started with.

Photoma: And this was in 2016?

Jed: Yup, last year.

Photoma: Jed, so you are based in Dubai, and the first WIP was held both in Dubai and Manila?

Jed: We did a Dubai x Manila SlideFest for WIP 1. Simultaneous slideshows of all works from both sides, which sounded really progressive and doable, pero di na nasundan because of lack of materials from Dubai side.

Photoma: And when did you guys bring the exhibition to Manila? Can you and Julie please tell us how it initially happened?

Jed: Julie has been handling the Manila side since WIP 1. She pooled the Manila submissions while I handled the Dubai side. Julie handled all the succeeding WIPs and it’s been really successful.

Photoma: So WIP is an open call?

Jed: Our current format is we look for a curator of the show and he/she looks for participants. Our focus right now is to provide space to emerging or relatively unknown photographers to show their works.

(Image courtesy of WIP)

Julie: Jed forgot to mention that we also invite professional photographers to present para may interaction between them and the emerging ones.

Jed: Yes, we want to build a bridge between established and emerging photographers.

Photoma: How do you define “emerging” or “relatively unknown photographers” because this is something that might be problematic?

Jed: Most photographers you might know are the same photographers everyone else might know. Most of them from Manila, too. The others who are not “famous” but have great potential, those we’d like to give a stage. I spent 10 years in Manila and got to know the photography scene firsthand. We at WIP love the underdogs.

Photoma: I gather you are not from Manila?

Jed: I’m from Bicol.

Photoma: For the curators in each WIP, how does that happen? What is your selection process?

Julie: We ask for help from professional photographers. We ask their POVs. Kat Palasi volunteered. Jay Javier naman got invited. Luis Liwanag naman, we invited him as one of our guest speakers for Manila platform. Then Donell Gumiran naman for Dubai platform for WIP 1. WIP 3 naman, we asked for JL Burgos’ help to collect groups that were focused on Human Rights issues. Then he asked Jes Aznar’s help na din.

Photoma: Do the curators decide on the theme of each WIP show?

Julie: With WIP 1, it was mine and Jed’s idea. WIP 2, Kat’s idea. WIP 3, mine and Jed’s. WIP 4 din. Mostly kami ni Jed. Then we look for people who specialize sa naisip naming theme. We decide on a theme then we look for an authority on that subject and we work on the details. We give the curator a free hand on how the show goes, we just take care of matters like the venue, promotion, logistics.

(Image courtesy of WIP)

Photoma: Julie, you mentioned that WIP is looking for a physical space?

Julie: Yes, for our slideshows.

Photoma: You guys recently held WIP at Mono8 Gallery. A wonderful, new gallery space that is open to experimental modes of art practice, how did that come about?

Jed: Julie started the communication with Mono8.

(SlideFest 4 at Mono8 Gallery. Image courtesy of WIP.)

Photoma: Can you please tell us what your plans are as of now?

Julie: For the next WIP, we asked Veejay Villafranca and Rony Zakaria to give a talk on book publishing. Veejay through a publisher, and Rony (from Indonesia) self published book. Since we’re looking for a space, we asked PCP (Philippine Center for Photojournalism) to work with us so they could help us get a free space. So we’re targeting the National Press Club for WIP 5.

Photoma: When is it gonna be?

Julie: December 16. Always a Saturday. We tried Fridays before, okay naman kaso we get feedback from people na gawin Saturday especially because Malate area pa kami lagi noon (WIPs 1&2).

Photoma: Julie, Jed, so WIP is not an open call but it depends on the curators you invite for each WIP exhibition. Are you open to creators reaching out to you guys?

Jed: What do you mean by creator, sorry.

Photoma: Jed, thanks for the question. For Photoma, we’ve been debating about the definition of three things: creator, photographer and artist. In terms of photographic practice, not everyone sees themselves as artists or photographers. It’s not a generic term, but an open-ended definition. It also allows us to question certain identity-practice issues related to photography.

Jed: To answer your question, WIP is an open format platform. We do not follow a specific format really, we go with whatever is at our disposal and work hand-in-hand with the guest curator. We might do an open call, we might go with the curator’s list of artists. We have plans to do WIPs in Cebu, Mindanao. The thing that kept us going so far is the possibility of evolving WIP into something we haven’t done before, that makes it fun.

Photoma: I think it’s essential that initiative like WIP happen. It contributes to the development of photographic practice in PH.

Jed: Agree. We started with slidefests. The last WIP we tried our hand in doing print exhibits, next up we will try to do workshops and try to expand our horizon. The participants learn new things. We also learn new things. It’s a win-win for all!

 

To learn more, visit the Facebook page of WIP or their website.

Physical Form of Photographs

by Joseph Yap

Part of Photoma’s mission is to pose questions on the photography, including on the materialization of images and alternative image-making equipment. The platform takes a passive stance, often simply observing and sharing information in the hopes of catalyzing relationships and critical discussion. This essay hopes to make sense of recent observations and spark discourse.

Within the past few months, there seems to have been many developments in contemporary Philippine photography with regard to the physical manifestation of photographs. A few days ago, WIP (Work-in-Progress) hosted its fourth slideshow presentation, and guest curator Jay Javier discussed the printed photograph: the relationship between the creator and the beholder, the tangible experience of the object, and the grounding of context through details in the choices of its physical manifestation. Basically, the choice of physical manifestation of a photographic image is a major artistic decision.

In Jill Paz’s exhibition, “The Past is a Foreign Country,” various materials like canvas, cardboard, wood, and matte paper were laser etched with images. Her use of laser cutting was integral to her story of connecting the present, the past, and home. Meanwhile, Karl Castro explored chlorophyll prints in the group show “Dissident Vicinities.” His use of leaves suggested the ephemeral movement of people in a forest.

The physical manifestation of a photograph also affects the economic systems an artist must work with. An article that Thousandfold shared a month ago discussed why photobooks are relevant in this digital age: they offer economic and institutional alternatives for budding photographers. In Photobook Club Manila, photographers can distribute their works to various enthusiasts at a relatively low cost compared to other art objects, making their works quite accessible, even though photobooks are still niche.

The choice of how a photograph is given a physical form affects its aesthetic properties, context, economics, accessibility and the relationships it can form with people. This insight might not be new, but it is crucial in how photography might thrive in the Philippine context. How else might the physical form be explored?

Related Links:

WIP 4
Jill Paz’s “The Past is a Foreign Country”
Karl Castro’s works in “Dissident Vicinities”
Thousandfold
“Why photobooks are booming in a digital age”
Photobook Club Manila

About This Section

This space is reserved for essays and dialogues on photographic practices and photography in the Philippines. If you have something to share, please email photomainfo@gmail.com