Filipino women in photography share their origins and fight for equality

Filipino women in photography share their origins and fight for equality

It's been an uphill battle for women of color in countless creative industries, but together this fight may just get a little bit bearable.

Even from their early days, women have had to deal with sexism, inequality, and discrimination. Despite all these struggles, it has led to them gaining grit and a thicker skin to elevate their knowledge and confidence in a craft they love. Their passion is seen through their actions, proving that they deserve a space in a creative field that has been unnecessarily gatekept by men. 

Here are seven inspiring and empowering Filipino women who cover different fields of photography and have incredible stories to tell:


Karen De La Fuente

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Karen De La Fuente 🚀 (@rocket)

Tell us the story about how you found your love for photography and the first shoot you ever did. 

Photography to me is a medium that has over and over taught me the importance of connection. It has been the art form that has gotten me closest to the thing I love most—music.

I remember the first time I got to hold a camera near a stage—this was way back when I was in high school, we were watching Pupil live and my mom surprised me with a small digital camera she just bought so I could take photos of the band since I was already near the stage. I didn’t think then that I’d be a music photographer, I just really did love the feeling of catching musicians play on stage.

When I joined Ateneo Musicians’ Pool in college, that’s kinda where I realized that there’s some kind of magic in being able to translate what I hear and what the crowd feels into something visual, into another art. Like suddenly I have this avenue to understand the things I encounter as things that are alive—exudes energy, evolves, connects.

Do you have any favorite shooting memories you'd like to share? 

My favorite shooting memory would definitely be Phoenixsecond Manila show in Kia Theatre. They were one of my dream bands to see live. I honestly have no words to describe how shooting them felt. I remember having to go out for a few minutes and take a breath and cry a bit because I was super overwhelmed, I did feel like I was living something I was just dreaming about.

Ben&Ben’s Limasawa Street album tour would probably be another one, I learned so much about how to strategize and plan the whole shooting process. This is one of those times you are kinda pulled back to the whole essence of capturing moments and being able to anticipate them and that really reflects not only how the band performed on stage but also the spirit of the whole place with the audience interacting with the songs.

There’s this part in the movie Soul where they go into a place called “The Zone” where you’re at that euphoric point as you do something you’re passionate about—that zone for me, I’d say, is the photo pit. 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Karen De La Fuente 🚀 (@rocket)

What kinds of challenges did you face/are currently experiencing as a photographer in the industry today? 

I guess as a music photographer it is a given that the whole standstill of live events due to the pandemic has been the greatest challenge for the past year til now. Losing that whole space of art, expression, and livelihood was hard for the whole industry.

As a woman in the photography industry, there’s this constant challenge of having to prove yourself and work twice as hard to get gigs compared to the guys in the scene. There’s this thinking that because you are a woman in a male dominated industry, you are somewhat conditioned to act extra careful with how you navigate around this world.

For women & LGBTQIA+ photographers, our experiences of discrimination in the photography industry is one of the biggest challenges and hindrances for us to do our work and build a community that younger photographers have opportunities to flourish in. The system is built in favor of men.

What kind of impact on the industry do you hope to leave as a Filipina photographer?

A lot of times I’ve been approached by young photographers asking me how they could enter the scene and build a career for themselves. For me, this will always be the end goal; to make the industry inclusive and safe for young women photographers, because I know how it feels to be denied access to the pit, doubted when I present myself as a photographer, the uneasiness of having men talk to you as if you’re not at their level.

I’m hoping that me and my friends in the scene now can help open up a safe space for younger Filipina and LGBTQIA+ photographers where they could freely express themselves, experiment, and learn. 

What kind of place in the industry do you see female and LGBTQIA+ photographers having in the future?

There’s this certain sense/level of empathy and creativity that female and LGBTQIA+ photographers are able to convey in their work. The power of the stories we want to tell sets things in motion, makes people look at things differently, it gives the feeling of support and solidarity in times like these. I think the space we’ll take up will not only be one to amplify our voices but one that could uplift others’ too. 


Iya Forbes

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Iya Forbes (@eggcheeks)

Tell us the story about how you found your love for photography and the first shoot you ever did.

Growing up in the '90s means early milestones, birthday celebrations and family gatherings were documented by a parent with a film camera. My dad was a film enthusiast and he let me tinker with his cameras when I was younger.

But it was in high school when I first held a digital camera. I was part of the photography club but I took most photographs with my creative friends who were into cosplay at the time. We’d have shoots after school or on weekends just for fun.

Because we were just a bunch of thirteen-year-olds fooling around with shoot ideas, photography really felt like play and a way for us kids to express ourselves.

Do you have any favorite shooting memories you'd like to share?

An assignment I didn’t get to talk about much was the coverage of the first FlipTop Festival last February 2020. It was a very significant event for a huge, supportive community. So it was no surprise that hordes of FlipTop fans showed up despite (1) the heavy rain making the ASEANA Open Grounds a mud fest and (2) the looming pandemic. It was my first time covering FlipTop and it was so fascinating to see the respect people had for everyone involved– artists, collaborators, organizers, and even us, photographers who are usually in the shadows.

My music mentor Niña Sandejas told us about how passionate FlipTop fans are when they see the battles actually being documented. Despite being such a difficult festival to cover, it’s nice to see your hard work being appreciated by a community.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Iya Forbes (@eggcheeks)

What kinds of challenges did you face/are currently experiencing as a photographer in the industry today?

Many of the challenges I experienced when I was a budding photographer in her late teenage years are still prevalent today, even as a 28-year-old professional. I still feel the stares of people when they see a woman holding a camera, somewhat surprised that you’re a professional covering stories in the field or even the official photographer for a certain concert.

Some unsolicited advice is also given by older photographers (mostly men), thinking you’re clueless about how camera gear works. It’s just something I shrug off when I encounter it because I’m just trying to do my work well, I don’t need drama to add to the stress.

What kind of impact on the industry do you hope to leave as a Filipina photographer?

I just want more people to see that it’s possible to be a photographer and that you have a lot more fresh perspectives to offer because you’re a Filipina—not despite being one.

What kind of place in the industry do you see female and LGBTQIA+ photographers having in the future?

I hope people realize that we actually exist and that we have been contributing to the industry for many, many decades. We have, are, and will always be here.

There is more than enough space for different kinds of creatives, storytellers, and truth seekers in our field. Isn’t art meant to be shared? So what’s the use of gatekeeping others from being part of it? I’ve always believed that the more artists there are, the more beautiful and kinder the world would be.


Cru Camara

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by cru camara (@crucamara)

Tell us the story about how you found your love for photography and the first shoot you ever did.

My dad had a lot of photography equipment laying around that I used to play with as a kid. When I was in my 3rd year of high school, I was almost set to become a classical musician but felt really burnt out, so I picked up a camera to help me feel creative again and I just kept going.

My first shoot was most probably with my friends and my dad’s old film camera. I vaguely remember sneaking up to an empty floor of a building to shoot.

Do you have any favorite shooting memories you'd like to share?

I can’t pick a specific memory, but any shoot where things “click” with the whole team and client is always a favourite.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by cru camara (@crucamara)

What kinds of challenges did you face/are currently experiencing as a photographer in the industry today?

I work as both a fine art and commercial photographer, so each discipline comes with a set of difficulties. A lot of my challenges really come from shooting commercially, though.

Rates are a big challenge right now. I’m lucky enough to be part of an agency, but I still struggle with rates or even just justifying my rate to a client at times.

Photography equipment is not cheap and totally expendable after a few years when new tech comes out. Also, there’s a lot of labor involved depending on the shoot. I feel like there should be an open conversation within the industry regarding rates because we as a collective aren’t sure what the actual baseline is nor do we have accurate data that might help improve things.

What kind of impact on the industry do you hope to leave as a Filipina photographer?

I hope I can just help make it better for the next generation, because it’s tough to be a photographer—even more so as a gay, Filipina photographer. Every time one of us opens a door in this industry, it leaves room for the rest of us to walk through it too. We all help each other.

What kind of place in the industry do you see female and LGBTQIA+ photographers having in the future?

In the long run, I think we will have our time. It’s happening slowly and it’s hard to ignore because there are so many people in this community making great work. In the end, that’s what’s going to matter.


Hannah Reyes Morales






View this post on Instagram










A post shared by Hannah Reyes Morales (@hannahreyesmorales)

Tell us the story about how you found your love for photography.

I’ve fallen in love with it across many different points in my life. My first camera was a small Polaroid i-Zone, which let me take tiny instant photos that fit in the palm of my hand. The little photographs felt like little secrets. 

What kind of impact on the industry do you hope to leave as a Filipina photographer?

I’m hoping that the things I’ve worked hard for can continue to be things that I can share.






View this post on Instagram










A post shared by Hannah Reyes Morales (@hannahreyesmorales)

What kind of place in the industry do you see female and LGBTQIA+ photographers having in the future?

The perspectives of women and non-binary photographers in the Philippines need to be seen. It’s a loss for us if we can’t see things from different vantage points, a loss if we mostly see through the lens of men.

When I was starting out, the ‘masters’ of photography that older photographers told me to study were all men. And while I look up to much of that work, I missed out on a lot of critical learning. There were wide gaps in what I was being taught, and asked to look at. I was told that the male gaze was the standard I should be aiming for.

But of course, the world didn’t open up to me in the same way that it opens up to men. The things I feel are worth noticing aren’t the same.

Over the last few years, I’ve been intentional about making sure the photographers I watch come from varying backgrounds—and it has really opened up my world, and also made my work better. It’s allowed me to honor my perspective, instead of trying to form myself into shapes that I am not. 

One of the best gifts of looking at photography is being allowed to see through others’ eyes. And we’re missing out when we don’t recognise the views from where women and non-binary photographers stand.


Kitkat Pajaro






View this post on Instagram










A post shared by Kitkat Pajaro (@kitkatpajaro)

Tell us the story about how you found your love for photography and the first shoot you ever did.

My love for photography was actually realized through rejection. I only shot as a hobby initially. I just shot for fun and then eventually for school organizations. I applied for our school paper in college and got rejected. I was surprised by how much I got hurt by it so I guess it wasn’t just something I did to pass the time. Ever since then, I have worked harder to make my portfolio better and up until now, I’m still trying to.

I remember my first published shoot. It was this mini beauty editorial for Candy Magazine. It was 2015 and I was a college student back then. I remember the disbelief of seeing my work on print. Nothing compares.

Do you have any favorite shooting memories you'd like to share?

My favorite shooting moments would always be my 5 to 10-minute portrait sessions with personalities after interviews.

I have several but my favorite one was with Cole Sprouse. I was so nervous I said something stupid during the interview. The writer even included it in the write-up. It was hilarious and borderline embarrassing. We were only given around 15 minutes with him. And I only had the extra time after the interview to take photos. I started directing him and he said, “This isn’t a normal press conference photo, huh?” And I said, “Yeah, we don’t do that here.” The photo ended up as a cover for Young Star for that month. I actually asked for that shoot with Cole and I’m so grateful they gave it to me.






View this post on Instagram










A post shared by Kitkat Pajaro (@kitkatpajaro)

What kinds of challenges did you face/are currently experiencing as a photographer in the industry today?

Being exposed to different industries through photography, I have encountered various challenges. But I guess, the underlying struggle is being lowballed. A lot of companies try to haggle rates and it affects the photography industry in general. When photographers say yes to these low rates(sometimes we say yes because of course, we need the work), it sets a standard for rates. So much goes into photography and I hope clients see that we’re worth the rates we give.

What kind of impact on the industry do you hope to leave as a Filipina photographer?

I just really want to create a safe space for as many people as possible. There is so much vulnerability and trust that comes with photography especially between the photographer and the subject.

A lot of photographers have taken advantage of this dynamic. I want to cultivate this safe space especially for those who are most vulnerable so that they feel comfortable sharing their stories.

What kind of place in the industry do you see female and LGBTQIA+ photographers having in the future?

There’s a lot of work to do for the future I want for female and LGBTQIA+ photographers. There is a lot of gatekeeping and discrimination happening in the photo pit. And I want it to be an even playing field for everyone. I want to feel safe and comfortable whenever I’m shooting. And so many of my fellow female photographers have been looked down upon or ignored even by others. This is our happy place as much as it is yours. I hope we could share it equally.


Andrea Genota

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by andygen 💐 (@andreagenota)

Tell us the story about how you found your love for photography and the first shoot you ever did.

I always say it was back in high school when I first got into photography. But I recently saw my grade school yearbook and found out that even then, I’ve already dreamed of being a photographer.

While the formation of the dream began long ago, I only started exploring the craft in 2011. It was in 2011 when I started getting into Tumblr and it opened an entire world for me. That was a space where the local creative scene thrived and I was inspired. It was because of that experience that I decided to pursue photography.

I don’t exactly remember my first shoot but my earliest memory of experimenting with my camera was with my cousins, frolicking around vacant lots and trying to create “dreamy” photos. To this date, I would still run around with my camera and muse in shoots. 

People often ask me how I was able to find my style and the simple answer is I developed it through time. Mine was born through frolicking and it still lives through today. 

Do you have any favorite shooting memories you'd like to share?

There’s no one shoot that counts as my favorite. If I were to recount, it would be all the little moments in every shoot that sits in a gallery of my favorite memories.

It's the way people’s faces light up whenever they first see the photos I took of them or of their brand. It’s when a brand tells me that I’ve produced their dream shoot. It’s when I see a burst of confidence in women’s eyes whenever they see portraits I took of them. It’s when I’m able to gift my friends with stolen moments framed in photographs during our trips. 

I remember clearly that one time I was on assignment. There was this dancer on stage. She was wearing a simple tank top but her energy just took over the entire room. She was full of life. You can just see she loves her craft so much. There was sweat on the side of her right eye and when you look at it, you might actually think she’s tearing up. I was so moved. I took a photo of her. With my camera, I was able to capture how she made me feel at that moment. 

I was chatting with this girl in La Union months later. And it was only in the middle of the conversation when I realized that she was that dancer from my last assignment. I shared the photo I took of her. She was so thankful and so surprised when she saw the photos for the first time. I loved how my photos found their way to her.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Andrea Genota (@andygen.photo)

What kinds of challenges did you face/are currently experiencing as a photographer in the industry today?

Oh boy, I don’t even know where to start, haha! I would say, it's the tendency of strangers to make a woman photographer like me feel small.

I could never forget that time when someone approached me while I was taking a photo, trying to teach me how to “properly” hold a camera. It was a school event. And he was an employee. It threw me off guard but then I realized that that was just the start of a lot of mansplaining I’ll be experiencing in this male-dominated industry. I even experienced a guy talking over me in an event I was invited to speak at. 

Besides that, of course, it’s always a struggle trying to get paid right. It’s crazy to realize that some people still think this isn’t an actual career that’s why they don’t respect and pay creatives well. 

What kind of impact on the industry do you hope to leave as a Filipina photographer?

I just want people to know, especially women LGBTQIA+ creatives, that it’s okay to take space. That we belong here and we’re as valid. 

What kind of place in the industry do you see female and LGBTQIA+ photographers having in the future?

Not the current one. Before I didn’t understand how this industry was a male-dominated one. Like with everything else, I was really young, oblivious and optimistic. 

Growing up, I was taught that I could do anything. My gender was never an issue. Not until I was deeper into this industry that I started to see how women photographers are treated in shooting pits. I understood. 

I think in a way things have become so normalized to the point that I didn’t fully recognize at first that women and LGBTQIA+ are treated differently in this industry. So in the future, I’d really want this industry to be an inclusive and safe space for everyone. 


Jazmin Tabuena

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jazmin Tabuena (@jazmintabuena)

Tell us the story about how you found your love for photography and the first shoot you ever did.

Found my love for photography through my tatay taking pictures of us with his film camera in the early 2000s; immediately found the process and relationships made through a humble tool fascinating.

My first shoot—officially, at least was when I joined the Photojournalism category in Division Schools Press Conference (DSPC), in 2012. We only used digicams back then! Never stopped shooting after that.

Do you have any favorite shooting memories you'd like to share?

Shooting one of the protests against the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise. It's a tough one physically and emotionally. At that moment, we were not just media practitioners covering a protest, but also human beings fighting for an equal chance to survive and defend press freedom.

*Fangirl alert! When I had the opportunity to shoot for my favorite band UDD(Up Dharma Down) in 2016! Still a surreal experience looking back now. The best part is the friendship that went beyond the musician-listener relationship. They're a very humble band (sobrang professional at talented), I respect them on so many levels.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jazmin Tabuena (@jazmintabuena)

What kinds of challenges did you face/are currently experiencing as a photographer in the industry today?

Unfair wages, ownership, and gender inequality. It's difficult enough to hear misogynistic remarks in the field, but it is even more difficult to thrive creatively and financially in an industry where you constantly need to fight for equal opportunities, existing men downplay and diminish your hard work because you are a woman and when in some instances, gear/brands bear more weight than your output (yes, this still happens in 2021).

We consistently need to work harder because of our gender when it shouldn't be that way. It's tiring. We still have a long way to go. It's exciting to see our progress day by day.

What kind of impact on the industry do you hope to leave as a Filipina photographer?

To help create more opportunities for women and LGBTQIA+ photographers, and recognize the strength of our vulnerabilities as visual storytellers.

What kind of place in the industry do you see female and LGBTQIA+ photographers having in the future?

A place where female and LGBTQIA+ photographers feel safe, respected, heard, free, and have access to equal opportunities. Abante, babae!

Bandwagon's Stories