Behind the Lens of Duterte’s Hell

 

 

Before directing Field of Vision’s latest film, “Duterte’s Hell,” with Aaron Goodman, Luis Liwanag worked as a photojournalist for local and foreign press in the Philippines. In the following essay, he reflects on his transition from taking still photographs to filmmaking, and what it was like to capture the horrors of President Duterte’s “war on drugs.

I discovered photography when I was 11. My family did not own a single camera, but our neighborhood sorbetero [ice cream vendor] had a twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera and would take our family photos for us. I remember we had so many that when I opened my mother’s closet, dozens of photo albums would cascade down from the shelves. My dad, an artist and illustrator, kept stacks of old National Geographic, Time, and Life magazines tucked away in his filing cabinet. I bought my first camera at age 12: a Kodak Instamatic. I guess you could say I was destined to be in this line of work.

As a kid, I would just snap pictures of my friends in school. As an adult, being a photographer has given me the power to make observations about daily life in my country and voice my opinion on certain issues.

When President Rodrigo Duterte came into power, the rampage of extrajudicial killings started. My fellow journalists were covering the night shifts at the police headquarters. Reports would come in—either from radio dispatch or via Twitter—and they would travel to crime scenes in convoys. It was only a matter of time before I decided to started going with them, to see the effects of Duterte’s war on drugs for myself.

A mother cries for her dead son, who was shot dead inside an apartment during a police operation. She claims her son is not a drug pusher and was actually helping the police as an informer. Luis Liwanag

Shooting this and other documentaries has been transformative experience for me. When working as a hired photojournalist, I didn’t really set up my shots—I just filmed whatever is happening right in front of me.

And as I witnessed the aftermath of the slayings, I felt like I was reconnecting to my old self. I was a police beat photographer at the onset of my career, but later shifted to more varied issues and mainstream news coverage. I became focused on issues dictated by the editorial policies of media entities that employed me.

Now, as a freelancer—and particularly with this film—I’ve had the leeway to choose stories that I feel I can interpret better visually. And although the nightly spate of killings numbed me in some ways, I felt for the people directly or indirectly affected by them.

An elderly woman is comforted by her relatives after witnessing her son dead on the pavement in a dark alley in Tondo, Manila. Luis Liwanag

A couple of months into photographing the killings in Manila and its surrounding metro area, Aaron Goodman, an educator and video journalist whom I had worked with previously, saw my images on social media and asked me if I was interested in collaborating with him on a video documentary about Duterte’s drug war.

A suspected drug user lies dead on the ground in Tondo, Manila. Witnesses say he was shot in the face by masked men. Luis Liwanag

While filming, we had to maintain a low-key lighting style, and only expose for the midtones. I wanted to be unobtrusive and invisible while shooting the events so that we left as few traces of ourselves as possible.

Bodies of several young men lie inside a house on Agham Road in Quezon City after they allegedly shot back at police operative during an alleged drug raid. Luis Liwanag

Police flaslights reveal a dead body found during an investigation of a crime scene in Mandaluyong City. The killing was allegedly perpetrated by masked vigilantes who hogtied the victim before he was shot. Luis Liwanag

We had a limited amount of time to set up each shot. When you’re filming events as they unfold, you don’t really have control over what is going to happen. You have to visualize the image in your mind’s eye beforehand, and shoot whatever occurs in the moment.

While filming, we were very attuned to the sounds, textures, emotions and details of each scene. My approach was to linger in a single framed shot as if it was a single image and slowly transition into another well-composed frame and capture the entire story happening between those frames.

Although I am an advocate of still photographs and what photography great Henri Cartier- Bresson calls “the decisive moment,” I have discovered that video, though more fleeting, can be equally powerful in stringing together single images to make a powerful statement.

See Goodman and Liwanag’s film here:

To see more work by Luis Liwanag, visit his website here.

Wide Open Workshops XLVI

DIscussions at Ramsey's Farm (photo by Egay Aguilar
DIscussions at Ramsey’s Farm (photo by Egay Aguilar)

After meeting early in Quiapo, the group walked around Sta.Cruz and ended up in Binondo to have a hearty lunch at the photographer’s favourite  pokestop, Wai Ying . Needless to say that the place is part of the ritual to taking good street photographs.The following are excerpts from the two-day activity. The workshop aims to enhance the way photographers look for pictures.

photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo
photo by Mai Calapardo

 

photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia

ronnieday01-3

photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia
photo by Ronnie Garcia

Dateline: Tacloban, Six months after Typhoon Haiyan

It’s been quite a while since I have revisited typhoon devastated Tacloban City. I was hoping on documenting it’s rise from devastation.
A couple of weeks back, just before the 6 month after typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) struck and destroyed a large swath of the area, I was commissioned to do some video work for the UN’s Farm and Agriculture Organization. Below is the finished short.

May 2014
Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) hit the central Philippines on 8 November 2013, destroying some 600 000 hectares of farmland and leaving tens of thousands of farmers without a source of income, severely threatening their food security.

Thanks to an immediate response by the international community, the Department of Agriculture and FAO were able to assist tens of thousands of rice farmers quickly restore and replant their devastated fields in the wake of the disaster, working closely with the national government at all levels. Within weeks of the disaster, FAO, the Department of Agriculture and their partners, began distributing certified rice seeds and urea fertilizer to severely affected farmers, reaching 80 000 families in time for the December/January planting season.

Some have already gathered their crops, others will be doing so over the coming weeks and into early June, giving farmers hope for the future and kick-starting their recovery.

– See more at: http://www.fao.org/emergencies/resources/videos/video-detail/en/c/231219/#sthash.LGvOepTX.dpuf

Paracale Gold

In the Philippines, gold deposits are can be found in many areas. Smallscale gold mining is thus widespread, employing perhaps as many a 500,000 people across the country. There are essentially two types of small-scale mining in the Philippines: “indigenous”, which is carried out by communities or tribes for collective benefit and somewhat self-regulated by social norms and ritual, and “gold rush mining” which attracts poor migrants an others who work a site until it is considered empty and then move on. Most child labour is found in the latter. Children working in small-scale mines generally work alongside older family members in different steps of the processing and provide support services. The typical child gold miner is a boy between the ages of 15 – 17 years old who is a school dropout and who contributes about 30 per cent of the overall family income. Girls are sometimes involved, particularly in panning, but generally are exploited in other ways – by having to forego education to look after younger siblings are perform household chores, or worse by getting pulled into prostitution or domestic labour for third parties.
In the Philippines, children participate in a particularly dangerous gold mining practice called compressor mining. Here child miners dive into and open, muddy well perhaps two metres wide and up to seven metres deep. They extract soil in a murky environment with zero visibility wearing crude eye masks and breathing oxygen from a tube with the help of a compressor. The miner works in a squatting position, anchoring himself with elbows or knees pressed against the walls while shovelling mud into sacks. He usually stays down anywhere from three to five hours before taking a break.
“Paracale is a gold-rich municipality, 27km northwest of the provincial capital of Camarines Norte.
In Paracale, compressor miners usually operated through offshore makeshift mining houses.
The provincial government in January of this year allegedly cancelled the permits of all small-scale mining operations in Camarines Norte, one of the areas in the country that have sizeable minerals, especially gold deposits.”


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Mangrove Fight club


Under the canopy of the lush mangrove nurseries of Palawan, a few young boys get together to follow their dreams of being a boxer like their idol…Manny Pacquiao, as they cover their tender fists with old scraps of raggedy fabric…to punch on old sacks for practice and hoping to win PHP 500 as prize money for a regular barangay amateur boxing night.

La Oscuridad

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For Asia’s predominantly Catholic country, the Philippines…whose religious and cultural influences came mostly from it’s 300 years of colonization by the Spaniards.
Hence the All Saint’s Day, Dia de los Muertes, or Undas as it is locally called, plays a big role in remembering family members, friends and loved ones who have crossed the river of life into the other side.This is what happens after the lights dim out at the cemetery.

CONECTADOS MANILA 2012

CONECTADOS will be co-curated by Cesar Caballero, Spanish artist residing in the Philippines, and Kenneth Esguerra, Ayala Museum’s Senior Curator and Head of Conservation. This will be composed of a three-part program –

It is an exhibition of photographs by select award-winning photographers from the Philippines, Spain and Mexico, at the Ground Floor Gallery of Ayala Museum from November 8-25, 2012. This will be formally opened on Thursday, November 8, 2012, at 6:30 PM;

It is a five-night, five-hour simultaneous presentations of multimedia projections focusing on select works of the participating artists in five prime locations such as the sprawling black granite façade of Ayala Museum, the Tower One arch, Makati Stock Exchange wall, The Link, and the Fashion Walk at Greenbelt 5. The multimedia projections will be conducted from November 8-12, from 6:00-11:00 PM; and

Watch for special live multimedia performance of the world-renowned Spanish multimedia artist Suso33 (www.suso33.com) during the opening reception on Thursday, November 8. His in-situ action visual performance will highlight the formal opening of the exhibition and launch of CONECTADOS.