Gem Urdaneta


Why do you take and create images?

It’s easier and faster than writing. A long time ago, I used to write, then I didn’t have time anymore. So I started taking pictures of things so I can remember them. And then I started noticing themes of things I like to shoot, so I started collecting them and shooting series of photos.

I only shoot things that fit in the selected themes of I like to collect. I rarely shoot outside it. Can’t really shoot people or babies and all that.

How do you define your photographic/artistic body of work? What subjects do you often explore in your work?

I define it as casual photography. I don’t really have very deep soul-searching meanings to my photos. I just like collecting photos of a similar theme. So I have a lot of series that never end.

These are really the only things I shoot: urban exploration, landscape documentation, language in architecture, graffiti, street art, and signs.

What motivates your work?

I actually don’t shoot that much anymore. But when I started, it was because it was easier than writing when I first got a digital camera, so I wanted to try it out and whatnot. That was 2004.

What relationship does your work have with reality?

My work is a collection of real life artifacts and places.

For you, what is the purpose of art?

I don’t know. I think people are the ones who give objects meaning and call them art objects, and the act of making them “art”. I like certain art objects because they give me pleasure when I view them or listen to them, but I don’t know if that can be considered a purpose.

How do you want the public to respond to your work? Do you have a particular audience in mind?

For the general public who’ve never seen these things in the Philippines, I want them to respond by saying, “Wow, so neat, I didn’t know the Philippines has such cool stuff!” And maybe my photos will remind them of signs or grottoes or other objects they’ve seen back home.

For Philippine dwellers, I want them to respond by saying, “Wow, I didn’t notice these things before, but now that I saw your pics, I notice them everywhere now!” Usually once they spot them, they tip me to the next one.

Yes, I have an imaginary appreciative audience in mind that doesn’t mock or judge me for spending a lot of my time taking pics of random barber shops and trespassing into parking lots to shoot graffiti. Hahaha.

What is your training? Were you trained as a photographer?

Yes, I trained myself by reading a ton of blogs on flash photography and practicing for a couple of years, but this was only for my object [product] photography for eBay and OLX (formerly I sell a lot of my used stuff online. That was very tedious and it made me realize I don’t think I want to ever professionally work in a studio. But it helped me level up my pictures for online selling.

For shooting in the street, I didn’t really need training, as it’s not a very technical thing. I just try to hold my camera (or phone) very still. I just make sure to always read the manual of my camera before using it.

How do you define your actual professional situation? What are your expectations?

I don’t work in a photography related field.

It’s hard to live off art. Does this affect you and your work?

I don’t live off my photography. But while digital photography is very cheap, it’s expensive to print photo books, and that’s how I imagine the final destination of my photos to be. Not huge prints or whatnot, but in photo books. And that’s expensive.

Have you worked with gallerists, curators, institutions and other art professionals? Can you discuss more about this particular relationship?

Nope, but once in a blue moon, random arty types message me, like you cool guys, and once in 2011, once in 2009 to show random urban pics, and I join to do that.

Last year, a very cool graffiti maker messaged me online and invited me to video him doing a wall. He found me through one of my graf pics on social media. He’s not exactly in the official art-making gatekeeper/ institution-recognized art world though. So I don’t know if that counts.

In your opinion, what is the current state of contemporary photography in the Philippines?

For art photography: Seems like it’s booming. My friends took me to some exhibit 3-4 years back, seems like there’s a lot of money to be made. I don’t really go to art world events so I am not updated.

For casual photography of non-art world types: also seems like it’s booming. Everyone’s taking photos of everything now on their cell phone.

How do you want contemporary photography to develop in the Philippines?

I want to not be harassed or questioned when I’m taking pics in the street. For that to happen, I guess there should be a critical mass of weirdos taking photos in the street for people to be desensitized to it. Not just hipsters in the usual urban tourism trek in downtown Manila, but everywhere.

Because I recall as recent as 8 years ago, I would get stopped or harassed when I was downtown shooting, but nowadays it’s so ubiquitous to see people with DSLRs and fancy mirrorless cams in Quiapo and Binondo that nobody stops you.

But elsewhere, when I shoot when the mood strikes me, I still sometimes get questioned.



Name: Gem Urdaneta

Lives in Quezon City, Philippines




1999-2003 A.B. European Studies, Ateneo de Manila University, Diliman, Quezon City