Text and photos by KRISTOFER PURNELL
People always say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Overused as that phrase may be, a great photograph does indeed have a great story to tell, hidden deep within the spaces and subjects it contains. But more often than not, a photograph doesn’t have something to say. It instead seeks attention so that, in its silence, a viewer can understand what words cannot express.
Such is the beauty of photography captured in the Ateneo Art Gallery’s newest exhibition “Not Visual Noise,” curated by Angel Velasco Shaw, which gathers the works of over 30 Filipino artists from both in and out of the country.
Photography as an art isn’t limited to simply a printed or digital picture—its different fields include photojournalism, long-form documentary photography, conceptual photography, installation photography, and digital-based projects.
“These artists are documentarians—of their interests, aesthetic, and social concerns, and of the times in which they live—merging their past and present, which perhaps inform their future artistic journeys using the multidimensional medium of photography,” says Angel, elaborating on how the exhibit will go deeper into high/low culture and art photography experiencing tension in a media-saturated world.
Angel explains she got the inspiration for “Not Visual Noise’s” theme—apart from her own experiences with photography—from Zhuang Wubin’s book Photography in Southeast Asia, which included a comprehensive history of Philippine photography dating back to 1895, and more recently from her “Provocations: Philippine Documentary Photography” Art Fair Philippines 2018 exhibit that she co-curated with Neal Oshima, whom she also invited to this particular exhibition.
Her goals for the exhibit are to showcase how much Philippine photography has grown in the last few decades, particularly those considered “too divergent,” and to allow photography to have greater visibility in the art industry.
Subjects of the photographs cover a wide range of issues. Quite striking among them are the war- on-drugs series by Ezra Acayan and Raffy Lerma, the Marawi City 2017 siege damage close-ups by Rick Rocamora, and Kiri Dalena’s thespian-like portraits focusing on families affected by extra judicial killings.
On an international level, Rocamora also shares his candid photographs of Muslim-Americans living in San Francisco after the 9/11 attacks, while Emmmanuel Tolentino Santos showcases in an elaborate set up photos of members of Jewish Polish communities whose families died in the Holocaust.
Also on display are similar tributes to their respective families by Geloy Concepcion, Wawi Navarozza, Lizza May David, and Veejay Villafranca, while addressing migration, authorship, and religiosity.
Filmmakers Nana Buxani, Neil Daza, Nap Jamir, At Maculangan, Butch Perez, and Boy Yñiguez tackle topics like labor, body shaming, and urbanity between still and moving images. Romina Diaz introduces an 8,000-piece puzzle of a demolished apartment building, inviting guests to complete an image of what has been destroyed to “make way for something new.” Filipino-American Lawrence Sumulong utilizes Viewmasters in order to show users photos of people in Manila shot over a period of 11 years. Finally Carlo Gabuco’s multi-platform piece invites audiences to see and hear the stories of Martial Law torture victims and Marcos cult members.
Other artists in “Not Visual Noise” include National Artist BenCab, Alex Baluyut, Ringo Bunoan, Geric Cruz, Kawayan de Guia, Kidlat de Guia, Tommy Hafalla, Marta Lovina, Gina Osterloh, Stephanie Syjuco, Wig Tysmans, and MM Yu. To would-be visitors to “Not Visual Noise,” Angel asks that they stop, look, and listen to each of the photographs on display, and figure out for themselves if there is any noise to be heard.