The industry of photography is a realm of images, moving or fixed, whose meaning deepens with the viewer's perspective. In the Philippines, renowned wedding and portrait photographer Jaja Samaniego is driven with passion to show the real beauty in every story she captures.
Whenever she is asked where her passion for photography started, she always has one answer every single time: her mother's garden. ''Where I come from, there is a lot of nature and my mother had this wonderful garden. In the province, you are always close to nature. It is hard to bring that to the city. But I always keep this sense of genuine, earthly realness in my work. I think that really just comes from where I grew up.''
Noted as the warmest city in the Philippines, Tuguegarao City where Samaniego grew up in, is indeed a sanctuary of nature's gems. With plains, valleys, and rivers all around it, it comes as no surprise that she became allured to taking breathtaking sceneries.
''It might sound cliché, but I was that girl from the province with big dreams, who came to the city to chase after those dreams. I think all these years, I work really hard to get to where I am today. I can confidently say that it's possible to get to your dreams despite where you came from or what your background is. It can happen with complete dedication and hard work.''
From then on, a hundred photos became a hundred photoshoots. From one bride to the next, every teary-eyed groom, and the graceful entourage, it is the sincerity in her photo sequence that enthralls viewers.
Despite being a standout female photographer in the country, she shares about how she used to shy away from the crowd. ''Everyone has his or her insecurities. Mine, in particular was my hair. I wanted it to be straight and that really was not happening at that time.''
''It did not help that I had alopecia. Stress was a big trigger. I used to wear a lot of hats, to cover it up. It was kind of a vicious cycle. I would be stressed from work, so my hair would be falling out. Then I would get more stressed because my hair was falling out, so my hair falls out even more!'' she expressed.
This situation may discourage some, but Samaniego is someone who perseveres and trusts that with hard work, anything is achievable. And over time, her major source of insecurity faded in the background.
''At the time I had alopecia, I would keep my hair short because the hair fall would not be so apparent and I hoped it would be more manageable. But eventually, I have learned and accepted that nobody's perfect. If you feel good about yourself, your confidence will show and everything else will follow. Feel beautiful inside and it will show.''
To reassure girls and women who are struggling to stand by the statement their hair brings, Samaniego says, ''believing in yourself is the gateway to achieving your goals. When you have accepted what you have, you can better appreciate yourself, and you will have more confidence and courage. You are never denied, just redirected to where you want to go.''
This International Women's Day, Samaniego reminds everyone that it is a time to recognize women and their achievements and contributions to society, and inspire other women, especially the marginalized – the small-town girl with big dreams.
''It is our moment, why not celebrate it. Women need to believe in themselves, listen to their hearts, so they can stand up not only for themselves, but for what they represent in society.''
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