Asia, United States
I thought I would spend some time and put together my highlights from 2014 in photos. I’ve never done this before, but I haven’t done many blog posts this year and therefore thought I should get another one in before the year ends. At times this year was extremely busy and at other times I was able to do more of the behind the scenes work that always seems to pile up. I had some firsts this year, including my first solo exhibit, and I took on more commissioned work than in previous years. It’s been an extremely steady year and like always it seems to go by in a blink. I’m not one to really look back on things as I like to keep focused on the now and what’s next, but nonetheless here are some highlights from 2014.
Guards at Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Guards at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan.
The year started with a big project hosting the Forgotten Ten exhibit for the Katutubong Filipino Project, my first solo exhibit. Asia Society Philippines wanted to help promote the Katutubong Filipino Project and we agreed that an exhibit was a great way to reach a larger audience and help educate and get our message out. It took months and months of preparation and planning and now looking back it’s great to know our effort made a bit of difference. Honestly, this event was really rewarding and I enjoyed the learning that was involved. It isn’t often you get to see your photos in print and going through the printing process gives a different meaning to your images. Aside from the technical aspects of preparing the photos, seeing your images printed really brings them to life. I would say that the whole process certainly makes you a better photographer. Here is more info about the exhibit.
The Forgotten Ten showcased a year and a half of my documentary work from various indigenous communities around the Philippines. In partnership with Asia Society Philippines, the exhibition gave an inside and depictive look into the diverse and culturally rich lives of our nations often forgotten people, featuring images of their everyday life, culture and traditions. ‘The Forgotten Ten’ refers to the estimated 10 to 20 percent of the Philippine population considered indigenous and the exhibit highlighted groups such as the Badjao, Agta, Mangyan, Tagbanua, Manobos, Kalinga, Applai, Pala’wan and more. The aim of the exhibit was to educate and help foster a heightened appreciation for our indigenous brothers and sisters while emphasizing their major struggles to self-determination.
Opening night
Guests during the opening night of The Forgotten Ten exhibit in Manila.
Early in the year, I was able to witness a unique ritual practiced by the Abelling tribe of Tarlac. This is the first time they performed the ritual in 10 years. The Abelling Tribe believe that Anitos (spirits) will reveal to them certain parts of their future by inhabiting the body of a tribe elder for a given time. For this to happen, the elders perform a long-standing ritual that lasts for three days. There is constant dancing where spirits enter the bodies of the elders and on the last day a pig is sacrificed and the elders drink the blood of the dying pig. The home where the ritual takes places is decorated with bamboo, hanging food and other symbolic items. There was a lot of fainting and dramatic chanting as the spirits entered the bodies of the elders.
Anito Ritual
One of the elders does a small dance after drinking pigs blood on the last day of the ritual.
Anito Ritual march
Women march around the main ritual home chanting to a pig that will be sacrificed.
Anito Ritual - Sleeping
Everyone from the community gathers in the main ritual home and the activities went on late into the night. Many people found an area in the home to take a rest.
I’ve been doing a one-on-one workshop for a couple of years now, but this is the first year I helped lead a small group with photojournalist Karl Grobl. We had a great group of participants spending our time in Manila, Cebu and finally Palawan. One of the highlights of the tour was seeing Gilbert Bargayo being crucified on Good Friday. Something that not many people get to witness. Ending the tour in Palawan was also a great way to do some R&R while exploring the fantastic scenery. If anyone is interested to join the 2015 tour all the information is here.
Human Crucifiction
Gilbert Bargayo crucified for 20th time in Tuburan, Cebu. Gilbert’s hands and feet were pierced with nails on Good Friday in front of a large crowd in Tuburan, Cebu. He remained on the cross for roughly 40 minutes before he was taken down to wash his wounds in the sea.
Holy Thursday at the Santo Nino Basilica
A man passes by covered statues on Holy Thursday at the Santo Nino Basilica in Cebu.
Training at Flores Boxing Gym in Mandaue City
Training at Flores Boxing Gym in Mandaue City, Cebu. One of the popular stops with the tour is seeing a more rustic and authentic boxing gym – a very popular sport with Filipinos.
Morning light in Honda Bay
A lone hut in Honda Bay, Palawan.
Snorkelers at Miniloc Island Resort
Snorkelers at Miniloc Island Resort, Palawan. Our final place of lodging with our small group photo tour.
After our photo tour it’s always necessary to get some editing and other other work done that tends to pile up. When I’m at home in Cebu or editing photos I find it almost always necessary to get out once and awhile to change scenery. Sitting inside looking at a computer can make anyone go a little crazy. I found myself taking some trips into the city just to shoot around town anything I came across.
Family lights candles
A family lights candles to offer their petitions at a church in Cebu.
Fish vendor at the Pasil Fish market
A fish vendor at the Pasil Fish market in Cebu City.
Men working on a coconut plantation
Men working on a coconut plantation in Mindanao.
Danajon Bank, Bohol, Philippines. Aerial
Close to home. Flying over Danajon Bank on my way home to Cebu. Danajon Bank is the Philippines only double barrier reef and one of the few documented double barrier reefs in the world.
In June, I traveled to Compostela valley in Mindanao to spend time with the Mansaka tribe. The Mansaka are just one of a number of indigenous groups living in Compostela Valley and Davao del Norte, but they are the most numerous in the area. I had the kind privileged to spend time with a number of Mansaka families, witnessing life as it is today, both in their more traditional rural communities and in the modern city of Tagum. I learned about their many traditions, beliefs and the changes that are happening within the tribe, but more importantly, I witnessed an incredible sense of pride, even among the younger generation, and what it means for them to be called Mansaka. You can see the full blog post here.
Mansaka Datu
Mansaka Datu (Chieftain) Romeo Pio Tilam Dansigan
Mainit Hot Spring
Mainit Hot Spring. Considered the birthplace of the Mansaka people, this hot spring is where the first Mansaka man was from, his name, Inangsabong. Inangsabong had seven wives who eventually settled in different areas of Compostela Valley creating the different Mansaka settlements still present today. Inangsabong’s grave is said to be at the top of this hot spring
Mansaka hands holding mama (betel nut)
Mansaka hands holding mama (betel nut). Betel nut is the seed of the fruit from the areca palm and is communally used by different indigenous groups throughout the Philippines and tropical Asia. Mansaka are also fond of chewing tobacco which is often partially seen on the outside of the lips (you can see this in the photo above of Bia Dansigan). You will also notice the shell and wooden bracelets and the circle silver breastplate (paratina) that were once used by many of the Mansaka women. The material for the wood and shell bracelets were traditionally traded for because they could not be found in the valley.
Gold mining
A Mansaka man collects stones on the river edge which will be processed with the hopes of extracting a small amount of gold. The Philippines is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire that contains much of the world’s copper and gold resources and Compostela Valley (ComVal) province is often dubbed the ‘golden valley’ or the ‘gold mining capital of the Philippines’.
Small scale gold mining
Collecting soil and rocks inside a family owned gold mining tunnel. Aside from mining companies which employ thousands of local workers, small-scale gold mining has emerged as an increasingly important livelihood for people throughout Compostela Valley, including the Manasaka and other indigenous groups.
Bia Dansigan
Mansaka Bia Dansigan.
Another first for me this year was shooting the cover and feature story for Cebu Pacific’s inflight magazine, Smile. The story was about Dumaguete and the surrounding area in Negros. I enjoyed my trip exploring a city I had not been back to in many years. The team we had was a lot of fun and I think the cover and article came out great. Smile is certainly one of the most read and nicest inflight magazines in the Philippines. You can see the online version here. On another note, Smile Magazine also featured the Katutubong Filipino Project in their January issue to help promote the Forgotten Ten exhibit in Manila. You can find that feature here.
Smile Magazine, August 2014
Smile Magazine Cover and Feature Story, August 2014.
Spinner Dolphins, Tanon Straight
Spinner dolphins along side our boat in Tanon Strait, Negros.
Every year in the Cordillera mountains of Luzon a ritual is held to celebrate the end of the rice harvest season. Over a two day period, three barangays gather to give thanks and blessings of post harvest with the celebration culminating in a “punnuk” (tug-of-war) which is held in a river flowing through the heritage rice terraces. The celebration was revived in 1999 but 2014 was the first year outside visitors were allowed to attend and I was fortunate enough to be there. It certainly was fascinating. Throughout the two day period all processes are performed by a “ritual specialist,” a person ordained specifically to administer the various blessings required. The first day known as “huwah” proceeds at the house of a prominent elder who will receive other respected members of the community and guests to partake in the drinking of a rice wine especially fermented for this event (the rice harvest blessing). Before and during the opening of the wine the ritual specialist will conduct a blessing which takes the form of verbal chanting. The blessing involves five areas of tribal spiritual beliefs that need to be satisfied for the post harvest. The following day the punnuk takes place in the river – as a means of cleansing the soul and spirit with organic figurines being offered to the river as a means of thanksgiving. The event is a time for the whole community to come together in unity to celebrate. Three barangays challenge each other in the tug-of-war ritual with men,women & children partaking. Instead of rope two long sturdy branches known as a “pakid” are interlocked & bound together. You can see more images here.
Punnuk Rice Harvest Ritual - Ifugao
Punnuk Ritual: Instead of rope two long sturdy branches known as a ‘pakid’ are interlocked & bound together with the winners being the team who pulls the other across the river.
Punnuk Rice Harvest Ritual - Ifugao
Punnuk Ritual: As communities come down from the rice terraces they dance and shout across the river to the others making their way down.
Punnuk Rice Harvest Ritual
Friendly competition during the annual punnuk. One of the organic figurines can be seen here placed in the middle of the branches being pulled.
Drinking Rice Wine
Punnuk Ritual: Men enjoying each other’s company and drinking rice wine on the first day of the ritual.
Portrait Ifugao Woman
Punnuk Ritual: A prominent elder who hosted the huwah. Behind her is the family’s rice storage.
Over a year ago, on November 8th, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan swept across the Philippines. Millions of homes were destroyed and more than four million people were left without shelter. The typhoon destroyed not only infrastructure, but also 600,000 hectares of agricultural land. Overall, 14 million people were affected, including six million children. I took on a lot more commissioned work this year, most of it for organizations doing humanitarian work related to Typhoon Haiyan. It’s really wonderful to not only be able to help tell the stories of the work these organizations are doing, but also to learn about the process.
NRS International - Flexiway Solar Solutions
I took photos for a new line of solar products called Flexiway Solar Solutions, created by NRS International, one of the biggest suppliers of humanitarian relief goods. One of their products is a solar headlamp which has a lot of practical uses for areas without electricity. In this photo a fisherman is using one while fixing his boat at dusk, Tacloban.
NRS International - Flexiway Solar Solutions
A child uses one of the solar products inside her temporary tent that she has called home for over a year.
Flexiway Solar Catalog
One of the pages inside Flexiway Solar’s new catalog.
Caritas Austria - Philippines
I spent a good amount of time in the field visiting a number of Caritas Austria’s projects in Cebu and Panay. Their work includes shelter building, education support and livelihood projects for people affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
Livelihood development
A mother with her child look on as her husband leaves to go fishing in Antique, Panay. These fishing boats were provided by Caritas Austria as part of their commitment to rebuild livelihoods in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
Rebuilding after Haiyan
Almost one year after the storm and many families are still living without proper housing or adequate shelter. Here a man near Roxas City is gathering bamboo to repair his home. Many beneficiaries are still being identified to receive support from a number of organizations.
School children with uniforms that were donated as part of Caritas Austria’s Typhoon Haiyan relief and community development.
The Philippines was spared for the most part this year with natural disasters, although we did have Typhoon Hagupit pass through which hit some areas very hard. Masbate was one of those areas and the island lost more than 3000 head of cattle mostly due to pneumonia brought on by the rain. I went to Masbate after the storm with the response team from World Animal Protection. The team went to some of the hardest hit and remote places to vaccinate and medicate animals in urgent need. Helping animals after disasters is often an afterthought for many people – myself included. I learned a lot from the veterinarians over the weekend and the importance of protecting many farmers main source of livelihood.
Farmer with cattle, Masbate
A farmer bringing in his cattle to be checked by veterinarians after Typhoon Hagupit, Masbate.
In October, I made it back to New England in time for the autumn colors. I wanted to go back to the area where I grew up and reconnect with some childhood friends. It had been many years since I last returned. It turned out to be a great trip and the timing was good as well. I got to visit the Granville Harvest Festival, a small town festival that I remember from my childhood. Autumn was is full swing and the colors were beautiful.
Connecticut shoreline
The Connecticut shoreline.
Apple picker in an orchard
An apple picker in an orchard of rural western Massachusetts.
Making apple cider the traditional way
Making apple cider the traditional way at the Granville Harvest Festival. I remember these fall days and the smell of cider as a child.
Peak colors of autumn
Peak colors of autumn in New Hampshire.
Portrait of Larry
This is Larry, a man I met at the Granville Harvest Festival in Massachusetts. Larry is sitting in front of the towns old drum factory (one of the places my dad used to work before us children came along).
There was a lot of good things happening behind the scenes this year including a new website design, becoming part of the Wonderful Machine roster, adding new images to the Corbis collection and I joined a new brand called Offset. There really is a lot of work that has to happen aside from shooting and editing and this year brought about a lot of good changes.
Photoshelter Happy Hour
As a PhotoShelter Ambassador, I hosted a PhotoShelter Happy Hour in Cebu for local photographers. We had a great evening with good conversation and lots of food and drinks.
DOT Thankyou Campaign
The Philippine Department of Tourism ran a worldwide thankyou campaign three months after Typhoon Haiyan. They used two of my images to show on billboards, magazines and newspapers around the world. It’s really special to see your photos being used in such iconic places.
  Think Tank Photo was nice enough to send me a Retrospective bag to try out and in return my friend Rolando Pascua and I made this short video. I really do like this bag for city shooting or just to grab and go. It really makes it easy and I like the low profile look of it.   It’s amazing how fast a year goes by and there is always much more I wish I could have accomplished when looking back. But again I’m someone who likes to look forward and next year is already starting to take shape. I have a list of goals on my mind for 2015, but it basically boils down to being out in the field more and creating more imagery. Cheers to a travel-filled and creative 2015!
Prev The Mansaka of Compostela Valley
Next New Video Reel from Tawi-Tawi

Would you like to know when new stories are published here?

All I need is your name and email. Don't worry, I wont share your info with anyone.