FOR a collective of six photographers, the past year under quarantine has allowed for introspection and the development of new ideas from observing events in the country and the world as they remained indoors.
Established in 2020, Strange Fruit is composed of photographers Jes Aznar, ESL Chen, Jason Quibilan, Veejay Villafranca, Francisco “Paco” Guerrero, and Raena Abella. The name Strange Fruit is taken from Mr. Aznar’s ongoing documentary project about the various facets of Philippine society. The collective’s mission is to use photography as a medium to illustrate the Filipino socio-cultural landscape.
“The pursuit of Strange Fruit is a continuous observation of what is happening around us as Filipinos,” Mr. Villafranca said in a group interview with BusinessWorld via Zoom on May 5.
The photographers said that the past year has allowed them to look through their archives and recall ideas that were yet to materialize. The result of this can be seen in Strange Fruit’s exhibit in this year’s Art Fair Philippines. This is the group’s second year of participation in the major Philippine art fair, which in normal times is held in a Makati carpark, but which has migrated online because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“These past 12 months have allowed us to go into our archives and put the work together. It has given us time to think about the work and why we photographed it,” Mr. Guerrero, a travel and lifestyle photographer, said.
NATURE, ANIMALS, AND EVERYDAY OBJECTS
Ms. Abella returned to exploring images from the sea for this year’s Art Fair. The bodies of water and sea creatures are the artist’s representation of the “beauty and strangeness of the sea and the feeling of wanting to escape.”
Mr. Aznar’s series of photos is part of the artist’s ongoing study of cockfighting in the Philippine which shows the grace of movement in conflict.
Mr. Chen’s selection for this year’s Art Fair is a meditation on movement and the lack of it. His images of waves conveying an anticipation of motion were taken in 2019 during his first trip to the beaches of Aurora province.
“I took the photos for no purpose really. I just thought it was nice… I did not expect anything to come out of it. It was my first time to go there. I’m not really an ocean person. But somehow, when I was there, it’s a nice memory until this day,” Mr. Chen said. “Somehow, during this time of meditation, I learned to appreciate quieter images and to find meaning in them.”
After releasing the Portraits in the Field series during the last two editions of the art fair, Mr. Guerrero is showcasing a new series of images of land, sea, and air.
Meanwhile, documentary photographer Villafranca’s Barrio Sagrado (excerpt) is a series of images that highlight the religion and secular faith that shape the Pinoy identity.
Mr. Quibilan’s sub/objects, a series which he began in 2019, is an examination of objects through X-rays. The series features X-ray images of the Filipino staple dried seafood or daing. The dinaing na pusit (squid), espada (beltfish), sapsap (ponyfish), and galunggong (mackerel scad) reveal an “invisible dimension.”
“We were forced to look back on our previous work. You see it through different eyes given what you are going through now. There is always something else there,” Mr. Quibilan said of how the pandemic and the preparation for the exhibition has affected their work.
“You thought you were already done with the image series. Then, you see something different because you are a changed person since you have gone through something you have never been through [before]. So, you start seeing something new and [it] takes you down a different path,” he added.
For Mr. Guerrero, adapting the showcase to an online exhibition at the Art Fair provides a new opportunity to examine how audiences react to images.
“It enriches us as photographers to see how they critique and react to images,” Mr. Guerrero said. “It’s still a mystery for me, even after 20 years (as a practitioner in the field), what in a photograph engages an audience.”
Strange Fruit’s exhibit is on view online until May 15 at https://artfairphilippines.com/gallery/strange-fruit/. It is possible to visit the physical gallery of their Art Fair Philippines 2021 showcase by appointment at the 3rd floor, Shutterspace Studios, 175 Citigold Plaza, Brgy. Bayanihan, Quezon City. For appointments, contact 0917-127-1502, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit https://www.strangefruitph.com/. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman