Three Takes: Typhoon Yolanda
As soon as reports started to come out of the Tacloban area days after the storm, the World Health Organization (WHO) mobilized their full capacity to begin their relief efforts. I was drafted into the emergency response as part of the WHO Communications team. By the first week, I was shooting relief efforts in Villamor Air Base, and by November 18, I was on a C-130 flying to Tacloban.
Years on, and I still have conflicting feelings. There were moments of deep sadness when I was just not capable of lifting my camera to my eye. But as a whole, this body of work, shot over 12 months, tends towards the positive, showing the process of recovery and the human capacity for kindness.
I came on assignment from The New Republic magazine, based in New York. The plan was to find a small town to look at that had not been covered deeply.
I came to the town of Hernani after a week of traveling through the region, and the first thing that I did was meet with the principal of the elementary school of the hardest-hit barangay. I wanted to speak with the kids and have them make drawings of their experiences during the typhoon, as a way to make them co-authors of the story. The drawings that they made were incredibly powerful, and all of the photographs that I made were inspired by them.
This assignment left me reeling. It was really hard for me to read back through interviews and to scan film, and not fall into a depression. It reminded me of how cruel nature can be.
Since 2009, right after Typhoon Ondoy, I have been working on the issue of climate refugees or those displaced [from their homes] due to the drastic chance in weather patterns and rising sea levels. The following images are excerpts from that project, called Displaced Earth.
The gravity of the situation in Leyte and Eastern Samar was immeasurable, so I tried to record snippets of that whole scene, hoping to make readers look twice, maybe read and talk about, or maybe even act on what they see.
It was quite challenging to see and talk to people who have lost everything, including their loved ones. The constant thing running through my mind was that I have to make something out of my intrusion. When the images are taken, the photographers intrude into another person’s personal space. And this is unacceptable most especially during times of grief, so I had to be careful and be as respectful as I could be to the subjects.