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FotomotoPH

After over a year of living with masks, a festival lets us see faces again

By IRIS GONZALES, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 01, 2021 8:37 pm Updated Dec 03, 2021 10:28 am

There is an age-old adage that says photographs take a piece of you.

FotomotoPH, deliberate or otherwise, breaks this myth and effectively turns it the other way around to actually bring back a part of what we may have lost during this pandemic--little, tiny pieces of ourselves.

For 20 months and counting, in this nation of 110 million, in this land of the absurd and the strange, we've been trekking this eerily surreal journey, going about the daily fair of surviving—with our faces covered with masks. 

FotomotoPH, touted as the country's first annual photo festival, takes off these masks for us, giving us a much-needed reminder of who we are and what we are behind the covers and the shields, and the experiences and beliefs that shape us individually and as a people. 

The photos are visceral reminders of who we are and what we are—before and beneath the masks—and who we will be. 

This is done through close to 300 stunning portraits of individuals—of the living and the dead; of the famous and the infamous, of nameless strangers and their enigmatic lives—captured brilliantly by over 100 photographers from all over the country. 

The inaugural exhibition is currently on display across 11 different venues in the metro—bars, restos, speakeasies, our comfort zones and the backdrop to our human connections before COVID-19 struck. 

 Inside The Spirit Library in Poblacion during the opening night of FotomotoPH series of exhibitions, on Nov. 25

Spirits library

At the Spirits Library in Poblacion, for instance, portraits by photographers Neil Oshima, Veejay Villafranca and Jes Aznar allude to the forces that influence our beliefs and our will.

The images at The Spirits Library dive deep beneath what is visible or what alludes to the spirits, says Oshima whose portraits of the shamans and spiritualists from Mindanao are on display.

In "Oración," Villafranca's portraits depict afternoon prayers and meditation. The series follows the theme of spiritual practices and redemption, taking off from Villafranca's earlier documentary project "Barrio Sagrado," which tackles spiritual resistance from colonisation.

Neal Oshima’ Maguindanao Shamaness and Veejay Villafranca’s Oracion series on the second floor of The Spirits Library during the opening night of FotomotoPH series of exhibitions, on Nov. 25

Photography does not necessarily represent the truth but cannot exist without reality, says Aznar whose "Theatre of Dreams" series explores this allusion. In his series, one might find a visual depiction of what our minds or the subconscious may look like; a kaleidoscope of colors and images, representing our desires, our fears.

Oshima, Villafranca and Aznar are among the founders of FotomotoPH, along with fellow photographers and artists Apa Ongpin, ESL Chen, Gio Panlilio, Jason Quibilan, Miguel Nepomuceno, Paco Guerror, Raena Abella, RJ Fernandez, Sandra Palomar, Tom Epperson, and Wawi Navarroza. 

What is Fotomoto? 

FotomotoPH "is a photographers' collective that aims to promote Philippine photography as a nation, with its diversity in perspective, including gender, socio-economic status, age and geography and as an art form that expresses our identity and culture," the group said in its profile.

The group plans to establish FotomotoPH as an annual festival of photography as it acknowledges and celebrates the revolutionary medium that started in the early 1800s. More importantly, the group acknowledges the need for our country to be able to catch up to the flourishing visual language brought about by the digital age.

It kicks off with the biggest photo exhibition ever launched in the country since the pandemic struck.

That the theme of the inaugural exhibition is Portraits, is no coincidence. It is, in fact, deliberate and timely. As I said, the photos are visceral reminders of who we are and what we are—before and beneath the masks—and who we will be. 

Veejay Villafranca’s Oracion series on display on the first floor of the The Spirits Library in Poblacion

Each and every photograph is a representation of our boldest, truest and most authentic selves, our heartbreaks, grief, despair, joy, ecstasy and all or "what we had before we retreated into the safety of our face masks," says photography writer AG de Mesa, in the exhibit notes.

As the name itself says, Fotomoto, (a wordplay on the Tagalog-English words, photo mo ito), this is your photo. It's a photograph of you, by you or about you. 

So go take a look at the exhibition. You'll see anthropometric depictions of strangers; portraits of the widely known and the unknown; of naked burly men lying on the floor; you'll hear screams of pain and joy; you'll see shadows and lights. Maybe you'll laugh a lot or hurt a little.

On display at Karrivin, Makati

On display at La Collina, Poblacion

Design Story at Karrivin, Makati

Kondwi. With Miguel de Quiros (one of the photographers)

The Spirits Library, Poblacion

Kondwi (photo of the author with a portrait of Eddie Garcia)

On display at Karrivin, Makati

On display at La Collina, Poblacion

Design Story at Karrivin, Makati

Kondwi. With Miguel de Quiros (one of the photographers)

The Spirits Library, Poblacion

Kondwi (photo of the author with a portrait of Eddie Garcia)

CLOSE

But most of all, you'll see yourself amongst the photographs—little pieces of you and who you are. It's cathartic, mind-bending and visceral. And if you look close enough, you'll slip into a thin membrane in this moving, turning and spinning world, and maybe, just maybe, you'll find parts of yourself again, parts you may have lost along the way, between time and space, between love and pain, between dreams and nightmares.

(FotomotoPH, which opened last November 20 at Kondwi in Poblacion, is ongoing. The exhibit will have more openings on December 2 at Manila House in BGC and in various spots in Poblacion on December 4. Health and safety protocols in place. Visit fotomoto.ph