As a photographer documenting a social issue, Phillippines-based Jose Raymond Panaligan (b. 1969) believes he should be emotionally invested in the story.
In 1992, Jose started his career in photojournalism and began photographing the Mangyans, an indigenous group made up of seven tribes, who live in the forests on the island of Mindoro, where Jose grew up. The Mangyan tribes are reclusive and each tribe has its own language and customs.
As a boy, Jose watched the Mangyans fetch water from the river and would marvel at their ability to live as one with nature. He imagined the Mangyans as the original Filipinos before the Phillipines were colonised by Spain in the 16th century.
“In a way, when I am photographing the Mangyan people, I am tracing back my childhood and my past,” he said in an interview in Siem Reap. Jose is here for the opening reception of “The Mangyan Photographs” at 6.00PM this evening at the E.F.E.O.
But over the years, Jose said he has changed from just photographing the community to becoming an observer-participant with the Mangyans’ struggles. The Mangyans is marginalised and face serious threats of losing their ancestral lands to logging and mining companies that are often backed by the military.
Jose not only ate and lived in the homes of the Mangyans, but also helped them to conduct hunger strikes to protest against the land-grabs they faced. “To really tell the story, you have to side with the community you are photographing, no question about that,” he said. “You may call it a propaganda for all I care.”
He believes the basic tenets of photojournalism are bridging the gap between people through stories and compelling people to think or take action after seeing these stories.
Jose’s socially-engaged work has not gone unnoticed. In 1999, he was a grant recipient from the Asian Cultural Council in New York City. He was also among the first recipients of the Ateneo Center for Journalism/World Press Photo Foundation Photojournalism scholarship grant in 2006.
To keep him grounded, he constantly questions whether his photographs are really helping the people and finding new ways of telling the story about the Mangyans. When not photographing, Jose pores over his contact sheets to look for new situations to photograph.
Although he has spent more than two decades photographing the Mangyans, Jose said he is not about to stop. “It will be ongoing,” he said. “As long as these photographs serve as the Mangyans’ voice.”
Catch Jose Raymond Panaligan’s ‘The Mangyan Photographs’ at the E.F.E.O at 6.00PM this evening. The exhibition runs from 29 November 2014 – 15 January 2015.