John Keatley – New Work from the Philippines
How did you get involved in this project with PREDA? Who gave you the assignment and how much time did you have to spend in Manilla?
The assignment was for an organization called Arts Aftercare which was started by some of my friends from college. Arts Aftercare exists to create restoration and rehabilitation for survivors of human trafficking through resources for trained arts therapists and artists of all kinds to engage in the healing process. It was these same friends who educated me on the realities of modern day slavery several years ago, and ever since then, the subject is something I have become pretty passionate about fighting. This trip to the Philippines was the first of it’s kind for Arts Aftercare, and they asked me to go with them to document the training process, as well as tell a story through images about sexual exploitation. We were in Manila for about the first five days of the trip, and three of those days were dedicated to the Arts Aftercare training for care workers from throughout the Philippines. The next stop was Olongopo where I shot the portraits of Father Shay and the still life series of the girls dorm at PREDA. PREDA fights for, rescues, and cares for children who have been sexually abused, both commercially and domestically. When I first walked into the girls dorm, which is for children 9 and under, I felt the room speaking to me. As much as I love portraits, there was something very powerful about the empty room, and all of the colorful beds with random objects lying around. It felt as if the room was alive, and the emotions I felt as I was shooting felt strangely as if I was shooting someone’s portrait. I only had about 2 hours at PREDA, so I was moving faster than I ever had before to respond to and shoot everything I wanted to.
Did you need to do some background research before going to Manilla or did the organization fill you in?
I did quite a bit of research before leaving, and I also had several meetings with Arts Aftercare and a few individuals familiar with the areas we were going to. It got to the point where I felt like I learned a little bit, but it also became obvious that I would just need to get to Manila, and see what happened. Nobody I spoke with had done exactly what I was wanting to do, so it was hard to fully know what to expect past a certain point. Things moved pretty slow for the first few days of the trip after arriving, but I tried to use that time to talk with people, and create a plan of attack. I think part of the process was developing some trust with the people I was staying with. Then once they were able to get to know me a bit and get a better feel for what I wanted to do, things fell into place.
This series is a bit different than your usual assignments, there are still the stunning portraits but it definitely feels more documentary. Was this something you want to do more of and did you feel like you were stepping out of your comfort zone but with the subjects, the subject-matter and also how you were shooting?
Yes, I appreciate you saying that! I’m really proud of this work because it is different from my usual assignments. I felt a strong desire to shoot this assignment in a documentary style from the beginning. I envisioned the images appearing very natural and honest, without too much production or shine to them. I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to show another side of what I can do, as well as challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone a bit. I am always looking to grow as an artist and push myself to do new things, so the opportunity to immerse myself in a new place with new people for 10 days straight seemed like a good time to do something in this style. Not to mention, this particular story just felt like it needed to be approached this way. I rarely have the opportunity to bust out something new like this for most clients, so my hope is that showing this project will not only raise awareness about sexual exploitation, but from a photographic standpoint, it can show a bit of my range to photo editors and art buyers.
The subject matter was definitely uncomfortable, and I have found since returning that it is not only an uncomfortable subject matter to photograph, but most people don’t really want to hear about it or talk about it either. It’s been interesting to process all of that for sure.
(John is based in Seattle. See more of his work, here)