Music & Culture
Music & Culture

Mynila Meets Photographer Veejay Villafranca

Mynila Meets Photographer Veejay Villafranca


Mynila Team April 5, 2018 Music & Culture

Mynila meets Veejay Villafranca for a very interesting interview about photography and his works

Veejay started out as a staff photographer for national news magazine The Philippines Graphic before venturing into freelancing. He also worked with several international news wire agencies before concentrating on his documentary projects in Asia.

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He is the the recipient of the 2008 Ian Parry Scholarship grant for his project on the lives of former gang members in Manila which also garnered him a residency at the Visa Pour l’Image photojournalism festival hosted by Crossing Point residency program in the same year. He was also the first Filipino to be selected for the 2013 Joop Swart Masterclass program.

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Vee Jay does editorial assignments as well as working on his long-term projects which tackle issues on the changing Filipino culture and religious practices, displacement due to the drastic change climate/weather patterns and his current exploration of Filipino diaspora through different landscapes across the Philippines.

He has been published globally with his work appearing in The New York Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Bloomberg Businessweek, World Policy Report and has worked with several aid organizations such as Oxfam International, U.N. World Food Program, UNFPA, UNICEF, Greenpeace International amongst others.

He is currently based in Manila, Philippines and works around the Asian Region.

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How did your background influence your choice of documenting the Filipino cultural changes and religious practices?

This theme has always been part of a news photographers grind. Annually, there are several religious practices and festivals happening in the Philippines. It is but natural to cover them for the news outlets. After a few years of shooting, I didn’t want to keep shooting the same thing over and over so I decided to invest in it long term. I grew up in a devout Catholic family but my mom would always call on the albularyo (folk healer) or manghihilot (traditional masseuse) whenever we would get sick or when she didn’t have the money to bring us to the doctor. Having witnessed this scenario in different environments in the country, it was apparent that I should pursue a story on the fusion of pre-hispanic practices and Roman Catholicism. I randomly selected several feasts and practices since 2004, the project is still ongoing.

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You are currently working on a project titled “Displaced earth: Climate refugees in the Philippines”, can you tell us more about this project?

This project is now entitled ‘Signos’: a re-telling of resilience after the strongest storm. It’s my project that’s dedicated to tackling issues that abound communities displaced by extreme weather conditions. It started right after Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, I followed several communities affected by severe flooding and landslides. Little did I know that 2013 would be a testament of the changing climate, the strongest storm ever recorded in recent history made landfall in the Philippines taking over 6000 lives and displacing thousands more. The events that followed and the recovery was hard and I followed this trying time, recording individuals and landscapes as the country was placed at the forefront of the adverse effects of climate change. This project has just been published in a book.

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What is your approach when shooting arduous subjects such as in “The gangs of Baseco”?

That was my first time to embark on a long term project and I was damn clueless about what I was doing. What I do know is that I wanted to do a story on the youth, culture and something that my generation can relate to. I encountered a group of kids sniffing glue, beatboxing and breakdancing. I asked them a few questions which was met with a lousy yay or nay answer as they were mostly high from the glue. Weeks after I went back only to find some of the kids in the same spot, I asked if I can follow their group. They pointed me to the real gang members, it took a while before I could get their attention but eventually opened up. It took me around two years to come up with a working edit and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Did you ever feel like putting down your camera when experiencing a deep interaction with locals?

Most of the time, this was my approach ever since. There’s a danger of being too close to the subject and maintaining objectivity is key in making documentaries. But there’s no other way, to depict humanity one must first and foremost be, human.

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What are your favorite spots in Metro Manila for:

  • Dining: haven’t actually been out much for dining except my wife and I love Japanese and Sake so our little go-to place for that is Little Tokyo in Makati.
  • Dancing: this, I haven’t done in ages! haha but I am a closet hip-hop fan. I love a good beat, the occasional spoken word, but nothing like real quality hiphop. A bonus if it’s by a Pinoy artist!
  • Drinking: Im a regular at Fred’s Revolucion, that’s a second home. I like the occasional Malate trip, of course the Oarhouse is a staple. I learned a lot from this bar. Tap station is also a good joint for craft beers. Curator for some really good cocktail and good vibe, the mixologists are always spot on.
  • Shopping: hahaha ask my wife!

Which area of Manila do you like the most and why?

Cubao. I grew up here and now, coincidentally, I live here with my family. It’s raw, organic and less pretentious. A microcosm of Manila. I like some parts of Malate, and refurbished areas in Manila. I love how #vivamanila is restoring the glitz of this city. Now, Escolta is making a come back which is really exciting, best thing about it is that there’s this place called HUB which is organized by group of artists and creative geniuses which is helping the rise of Escolta. Another good thing, Fred’s opened its second branch in Escolta!