Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rocamora captures Filipino life in documentary photos

By Anna Valmero

PASAY CITY, METRO MANILA—For renowned US-based Filipino photographer Rick Rocamora, documentary photographs are vehicles for activism and a means to deliver “conscious acts of persuasion” about the sad plight of the poor in society.

On June 13, Rocamora will head the opening of the exhibit entitled “With Passion and Purpose” at the Cultural Center.

Rocamora is a well-published photographer and has co-founded Exposure Gallery in San Francisco with Pulitzer winner Kim Komenich.

This time, the exhibition entitled “With Passion and Purpose” is an apt statement about his vocation and the advocacies he is committed to. He selected seventy images to represent his other series such as those dealing with the Muslims after 9/11, inmates in city jails, juvenile detention centers and maternity wards. Also first to be presented in public is his series of the 1081 Claimants – headshots of the

claimants under the Marcos Martial Law Victims.

Since owning his first camera in 1985, Rocamora was interested in depicting a strong sense of activism in his photos as shaped by Philippine conditions in the 1960s and 1970s. An anti-Marcos activist, he decided to leave for the United States in 1972 and gained a US citizenship in 1975.

Rocamora’s first series of documentary photographs tackled the plight of the Filipino World War II veterans, a concern that led him to eventually make a fulltime commitment to photography more than 25 years ago.

Titled America’s Second Class Veterans, the poignant and often disturbing images were instrumental in exposing the abuses and scams that beset the Filipino veterans.

In the process of compiling this series, Rocamora said he “lived the life of a veteran” allowing him to produce pictures that tell the most intimate stories of his subjects.

His images from his motherland have been described as “very painful and does not uplift the image of the Philippines … to the outside world.” To this, his response is to underscore the responsibility of a

documentary photographer of not hiding “the truth but instead use our work to call attention to issues of our concern or encourage debate.”

During frequent trips to the Philippines, Rocamora will spend most of his days roaming around Metro Manila where poverty was palpable and real. An ongoing series, “This is Our Home,” is about homeless families who he realized are not transients.

He would see them on his return visits in the same place thus establishing friendships. From this he compiled a photo essay on Rodallie S. Mosende: Hope among the homeless of Paterno Street” which influenced a benefactor to grant Mosende a four-year scholarship starting this school term.

For his future endeavors, Rocamora is working on a project about Muslim-Americans after 9/11, Immigrant entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Overseas Filipinos and “Balikbayan” Journal, a visual diary of his occasional visit to his motherland, the Philippines.

His commissioned coffee table book project “Jewels of Rio Tuba” is scheduled for publication before the end of 2012. Several of his images are now part of the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Starting on June 13 until August 12, viewing hours of the exhibit “With Passion and Purpose” are from 10a.m. to 6p.m. from Tuesdays to Sundays. The exhibit is at the Philippines Pasilyo Vicente Manansala (2/F Hallway Gallery).

The exhibit is organized with assistance and support from Human Wrongs, Philippines, Think Tank photos, GAIA South, Inc. Environmental Consultants, UP Sigma Rho Fraternity, Canon

Philippines, and Krispy Kreme.