LOOK! An Earth Day exhibit inspired by La Union waters 2
From ‘SOUP,’ by Mandy Barker. Photo courtesy of Emerging Islands
Culture

LOOK! Startling photographs from an eye-opening Earth Day exhibit inspired by La Union’s waters

“Follow the Water,” which runs for a month, invites viewers to rediscover Philippine waters and the challenges it’s confronted with.
ANCX Staff | Apr 22 2022

When the pandemic lockdowns were implemented in 2020, documentary photographer Hannah Reyes Morales, independent curator David Loughran, and creative and communications strategist Samantha Zarandin found themselves in the small surftown of San Juan, La Union.
 
With the Covid situation in Manila rendering them unable to do business and creative pursuits, they said yes to the invitation of Nat Geo explorer Nicola Sebastian, who’s been based in the coastal town, to have a short vacation. The three intended to seek shelter, find healing, and recalibrate their plans.

From the ‘SOUP,’ series by Mandy Barker, a piece co-created with Emerging Islands.
From the ‘SOUP,’ series by Mandy Barker, a piece co-created with Emerging Islands.

The La Union waters proved nurturing, to say the least, allowing group not only to rediscover themselves, but also nature around them. In the process, Morales, Loughran and Zarandin found a deeper purpose for their stay.
 
“As artists, we thought we had to form our own response [to the pandemic situation], find a venue so that people can continue to make art and tell stories,” Sebastian, a writer and surfer, tells ANCX. Because San Juan provided a way for them to innovate, explore ideas and possibilities together thru art, the group formed Emerging Islands, a coastal-based arts organization and residency.

From ‘Langit, Lupa, Impiyerno,’ by Geric Cruz
From ‘Langit, Lupa, Impiyerno,’ by Geric Cruz

The project began with a workshop Morales led with fellow Nat Geo photographer Mandy Barker who is globally acclaimed for her work involving marine plastic debris. They provided training to photography students who come from different backgrounds—one was a marine researcher, some were fine art photographers, and there was also a surf photographer. Over the course of a few weeks, Morales and company also mentored them on the issue of plastic in Philippine waterways.

From ‘Guardians of the Marsh,’ Photo by Gab Mejia
From ‘Guardians of the Marsh,’ Photo by Gab Mejia

With the help of local communities in La Union, plastic sachets were collected from the area’s waterways. The gathered trash was sent to Barker, a conservation photographer based in the UK. She came up with an incredible artwork called “Dip Sea KISS,” a map of Luzon formed by plastic sachets.
 
Barker’s work inspired the outdoor photography exhibition “Follow the Water,” which opens Friday, April 22 at Flotsam and Jetsam Artist Beach Hostel, in San Juan. The photography showcase, which runs for a month, invites viewers to rediscover Philippine waters and the challenges it’s confronted with, as well as journey to other coasts and islands across Southeast Asia through photography.

‘Butanding,’ by Hannah Reyes Morales
‘Butanding,’ by Hannah Reyes Morales

“What we’ve realized, as we explore other stories from other areas within Southeast Asia is that they have similar questions, ideas and sensibilities when it comes to coastal culture,” says Sebastian. “They have the same issues when it comes to climate change and environmental degradation. There are really echoes and resonance across the different stories.”
 
The “Emerging Islands” project allowed the group to understand the idea of a global archipelago. “We can start to connect over these issues of climate change, and understand that we have to work on these problems together,” adds Sebastian.

From ‘Pearls,’ photo courtesy of Archie Geotina, Bren Lopez, and Ikit Agudo
From ‘Pearls,’ photo courtesy of Archie Geotina, Bren Lopez, and Ikit Agudo

Aside from Barker’s work, the exhibition also features photographs of award-winning foreign and local photographers. The foreign works include “The Banda Journal,” by Muhammad Fadli, which explores the impact of colonization in a remote island in Indonesia; “Mekong, Mother of Rivers,” by Huiying Ore, which documents the damming of the Mekong River in Laos; “What the Water Gave Us,” by Woong Soak Teng, which takes a look at how objects of civilization find their way to a riverbed in Vietnam. 

From ‘What the Water Gave Us,’ by Woong Soak Teng
From ‘What the Water Gave Us,’ by Woong Soak Teng

Works by Filipino photographers include “Langit, Lupa, Impiyerno,” by Geric Cruz, a long-term project that looks at the devotees of Manila Bay; “Pearls,” a collaborative work by Archie Geotina and Bren Lopez featuring Ikit Agudo, which centers on Filipinas in surf; “Cities Made of Water,” by Morales and Sebastian, which documents coastal communities in the heart of the Coral Triangle; and “Guardians of the Marsh,” by Gab Mejia, which lovingly documents the stewards of the Agusan Marsh amidst its destruction.

The exhibition likewise presents student work from the workshop mentored by Barker and Emerging Islands. 

From ‘The Banda Journal,’ by Muhammad Fadli
From ‘The Banda Journal,’ by Muhammad Fadli

Loughran says “Follow the Water” is a prime example of how artists can take on the issues of the natural world. “It’s not something that we do a lot in this country,” he observes. “That is why this project has a workshop component—we want to show how artists could do things, think about the issues in their local environment and to use art to tell those stories.”
 
Find out more about Emerging Islands on www.emergingislands.com.

Photo courtesy of Emerging Islands