Sherwin Rivera Tibayan


Why do you take and create images?

It’s a different set of reasons each time. But my answer these days is because I want to make a print. Maybe that’s not a hyper-contemporary answer in 2018, but I really like printing at home. I started printing again a few months back and have relished making prints in a small walk-in-closet I converted into a studio/office.

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

I’ve had horrible vision since I was a kid and grew up needing a stronger prescription almost yearly. My bad vision used to scare me a lot, and I was always afraid of losing it. If there’s a connection here, it’s kind of like waking up in the morning and recognizing my vision and the disciplined act of putting on my glasses—to have forgotten and then be reminded of that fear. So when I do find a picture or subject that holds my attention, I think I have to try to put something else in front of it—like those glasses—or in most cases, the camera to my face. I’m fascinated and made anxious by the ways that I have to act and submit myself to a picture of the world, to a prescribed and instrumental clarity.

What motivates your work?

Usually a picture or concept or idea is where I find beginnings, but the drive to finish and see a work through—or watch it stray from those first impulses—is almost always motivated and sustained by the formal or technical problems I encounter and have to solve for.

What relationship does your work have with reality?

So many relationships!

For you, what is the purpose of art?

I take a lot of encouragement from Robert Adams’ pictures and writings and am convinced that there’s something vital and necessary to art whose purpose is to make metaphors that reaffirm a shared affection for life. That said, it’s a purpose that regularly confronts human failures, tragedy and disappointment.

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

It might be kind of weird to say since photography is often accessed as a very descriptive medium, but if I have an audience in mind, it would be anyone who wants to look at the particulars of a picture in order to get their mind to think about something else entirely, and of which I have very little control. A part of me feels like the agreement we have is that I’ve done the focusing part, now you do the un-focusing.

This is definitely the case with a project like _cloud_, where I’m trying over and over again to find a form to hold and release the anxieties and disappointments I feel about this time and place that we are all living in and through. I need to make and record these very particular shapes to help me get to another place, for thinking, planning, and resisting, if that makes any sense.

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

I finished a Master’s degree in photography where I had a lot of conversations, looked at a lot of photographs, and read a few books. So that was a kind of training to be a photographer. I would say, however, that the bulk of my technical training happened before I went into the program, and more so when I graduated and began doing commercial product photography.

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

I run a business as a commercial product photographer. For some time I was an adjunct instructor in photography at the university level, but left that behind. I don’t know about expectations other than I try to stay vigilant that myself and others are treated fairly and professionally in commercial and art photography settings.

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

In my experience (and I’m one of so so many) there’s a more direct relationship between art and debt than art and income.

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

I’ve had the opportunity to work with several spirited curators and gallerists, and my takeaways have always been constructive, often providing me with alternative and challenging readings of the work. The most fruitful and memorable interactions have always been those that began with a feeling of mutual seriousness and energy—that what we were doing together wasn’t just the next show on the calendar.

In these situations I want to give that energy and seriousness back to them by acknowledging and honoring their time and commitment to working with me, finding and engaging in dialogue that contextualizes my practice with others, and then sharing the works with their audiences.

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

My parents retired after 30 years of working in the US and moved back to the Philippines a few years ago, so I have increasingly been interested in learning more about the contemporary art scene there. I’m still very much at the beginning stages of this education, but I’ve been excited to find and see the works and perspectives of several Philippines-based photographers online. I especially liked finding the work of Czar Kristoff about a year or so ago. I like his expansive formal and subjective experiments with the medium, and was happy to see his interview posted recently on your site!

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

In terms of entry and participation, it’s probably the same sentiment and hope I have for the US: that it move towards increased equity and recognition of the many outstanding works and stories from individuals and groups that have historically been marginalized, exoticised, and exploited.


Name: Sherwin Rivera Tibayan

Born in Subic Bay, Philippines; Lives in Austin, Texas, USA




2009-2012 MFA Photography, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma