Photography courtesy of
The last two years spent indoors have forced us to reflect on what home means to us.
For Stephanie Frondoso—independent curator, writer, artist, and a founding member of the photography collective Fotomoto—the lockdowns were a massive change that challenged her as an artist at home. Just like many of us, she coped by occupying every available space in her home with all kinds of plants and vegetables. But aside from a source of food, she also saw these plants as materials for art—starting off with creating anthotypes and soon, chlorophyll prints and lumen prints too. Using photographic processes that predate the camera, somehow, she was still taking pictures.
For many artists like Stephanie, creating art at home was a form of expression and documentation of the past two years in lockdown. With the theme of “home,” she and the rest of the curatorial team at Fotomoto invited photographers from all over the Philippines and the diaspora to express what this word now means after years of being indoors.
We sat down with Stephanie so she could take us behind the scenes of this landmark photography exhibit in its second year.
GRID: Can you tell us what the journey was like in choosing “home” as the theme of this year’s exhibit?
STEPHANIE FRONDOSO: We feel that home is something that everyone can relate to. Even if in a hard way, home may not be always a safe place, or a place of comfort, we wanted to welcome all perspectives.
We’re evolving from the first theme, “portraits,” which came about because people had no human contact during the stringent lockdown phases. Now, for the second edition, we expanded a little bit from the portrait to the immediate environment. We feel that people's perspectives on home most likely have changed in the past two years because many had to work from home, study from home; a lot of people also probably had to relocate, they lost their homes, or they had to move to a different province or maybe a different country, even.
GRID: In Fotomoto’s open call, the curatorial team invited artists to bring out both physical and abstract meanings of home. How does that show in the final set of photos you've curated?
STEPHANIE: When the submissions came in, we ended up seeing some common themes. One submission was about homes that were destroyed during typhoons. There was also another submission of very personal photos during lockdown: photos of people who were isolated, in cramped quarters, but still had to show up to work [virtually]. Everyone had to find a space to work. Other common themes were very Filipino practices at home: people dyeing each others' hair, and there was a lot of religious iconography displayed at home. So, [the photos] brought out a lot of our visual culture and practices in the home that reflect society at large.
And then there were some photographs in the exhibit that were abstract because they seem to be capturing a feeling or a mood. Some submissions focused on a detail that we assume is in the home. Somebody focused on the detail of weeds growing outside their window in a very abstract way. One of the founders who has color blindness used these round basahan. He formed a pattern with the rags where if you're color blind, you wouldn’t be able to see it; but if you're not color blind, you would see the pattern. So, there were many abstract ideas, but all of them were still deeply tied to the home.
GRID: Since this was an open call, there must have been a large pool of submissions that the curatorial team had to sift through. What was the selection process like for you all?
STEPHANIE: The first part of the process is that the curatorial team is sent the images digitally, but anonymously. So, we don't know the photographers’ names and we're only seeing their images. We have a voting system of 1 to 5 and we tally the average of those votes — but, how each one in the team grades a work varies. Someone like Tom Epperson would notice technical details that I wouldn't notice. He would notice let's say, a photograph that would make him think, "It shouldn't have been cropped here," and all those little technical details. If somebody submits a series of photos, he knows which photograph would have been better cut off to make the set a little bit tighter.
A photojournalist like Jes Aznar is very particular with capturing people. You have to be sensitive on treating them with dignity. Let's say, capturing street folk—there's a way of photographing them without being intrusive. Photojournalists are not allowed to edit the photos. They focus so much on not altering facts. So, photojournalists have very, very different rules from art photographers. Art photographers, on the other hand, are really creative. It's fine for them to manipulate photos to serve their vision.
I focus on the storytelling because I'm not a traditional photographer, I'm more of an experimental photographer and I look up the narrative or what the image says without any words. I heavily focus on the storytelling of the image and its connection with the theme of “home.”
So for us in general, it wasn’t just about picking pretty pictures. And since the curatorial team all come from different fields, we actually learn from each other and balance each other out. We have healthy arguments because of that.
GRID: As one of the curators of this exhibit, how does it make you feel now that they are all displayed at the Parola: UP Fine Arts Gallery?
STEPHANIE: It's exciting to see what people have submitted, and even more so now that we've printed all the selected submissions. Not everyone has seen their photos printed because, in this day and age, it's so digital, they just keep it on their phone or on their laptops. So for many of them, it's their first time seeing their image printed in these large sizes. It actually makes a big difference. I myself was surprised when I saw them printed because there’s texture, it looked three dimensional almost.
GRID: Fotomoto’s exhibits have become this venue for all these photographers to meet and be acquainted with each others’ work. How has your team been cultivating this space for all these types of photographers?
STEPHANIE: There's a lack of common space for photographers. So, we're trying to fill this gap where we feel something is missing. Right now it feels that everyone is scattered. But we've brought together photographers from different fields: photojournalists, art photographers, commercial photographers. People working for magazines don't necessarily meet up with the photographers who show in the gallery. But for once, they're all together because of Fotomoto.
What's really exciting about what we do at Fotomoto is aside from the actual exhibit, we have also planned a lot of public programming: talks, workshops, portfolio reviews, photo project presentations, and panel discussions. This is how we broaden and deepen the conversation on the exhibit and we hope that a lot of people will attend these talks and workshops.
GRID: What can both photographers and people who appreciate the art of photography look forward to on Saturday and as the exhibit opens?
STEPHANIE: The first thing they can look forward to are the many multiple perspectives of the people who participated in this open call — amateurs, hobbyists, and artists from all over the Philippines and even the diaspora. The curatorial team has tried to make this exhibit as broad and as inclusive as possible. And because we’ve opened it up to everyone, it's quite diverse and some are quite surprising.
Aside from the open call, we also have special exhibitions. We decided to include special exhibitions because some of them were decades-long projects, such as Jacob Maentz’s; he was working with the indigenous peoples of the Philippines for over a decade. He wasn’t just taking photos of them, but he would really be in conversation with them about their lives and their homes and we thought that was an important project. There is also Katherine Jack who has been living in Palawan for almost, maybe, 10 years. For the people there, their home really is intrinsic to the sea. The weather, the tides, the fact that there's no more fish. The fact that these special exhibits are also being shown beside the photos we’ve selected just adds to the richness of the exhibition this year.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Fotomoto 22: Home Exhibit opened last November 19 at the Parola: UP Fine Arts Gallery; it will remain open to the public until December 9. The prints being shown are also for sale on Fotomoto’s website.