Value Chain

Value Chain

Presented at: Fotosemana Manila 2015


Artist statement

For many years now, I’ve found myself photographing inside jeepneys, the most basic form of public transportation in the Philippines, during my daily commute. Over time, I realize that my fascination with shooting in jeepneys runs deeper than the grit of street photography, the seductiveness of rose-tinted humanism, the allure of textures and colors, the jeepney as folk art. Rather, in these moments, so many of the seemingly disparate elements in my worldview come together, like seeing the tip of a loose thread from which the whole sweater is woven; I am confronted by ideology made visible, and my immediate impulse is to make images.

What is the face of alienation? I see facets of it here, snatches of surfaces, in the jeepney, a vehicle traversing the barely perceptible value chain. Save for the driver, all jeepney passengers are en route to performing their functions in capitalist relations (e.g. student, employee, worker, etc)—but not yet. All are portraits of people in a temporary state of rest. The mostly pensive or tired faces—fraught with the strain of uncertainty and fatigue, drained of emotion—are those of the people who are primary producers of value, but are valued the least.

Exhaustion, however, is not the only motif that emerges from these images. There is a certain resilience that presents itself in little details. Passengers whose flamboyant personal style persists despite the most modest of means. Families who travel together with all their little children and belongings in tow—and the passengers, total strangers, who assist them and make room. Coworkers who chat and vent in the midst of traffic, helping each other cope with their daily grind. Acquaintances who reconnect by chance amidst the chaos. Lovers who fetch each other after a late night shift, recharging in each other’s embrace, stealing a discreet kiss, savoring the journey home together.

Night photography and the playful lighting of the jeepney interiors bring a different dimension to these images, simultaneously compressing, masking, stylizing, and emphasizing the human drama. Tiny spaces become alcoves of deep black, humans become impressionistic figures rendered in splashes of brilliant color. The somber mood of the subjects interplay with the exuberant hues. The resulting images are as unreal as they are real.

These are images of a people weary of alienation and dehumanization, of a world under the violent rule of exchange value. Yet they carry on, making the most out of what they have as they move toward their next stop.