'PAGBABALIK!' is what I have chosen to call the theme of the first exhibition of my work in my country of birth. I don't come home very often. The last time I was in Manila was six years ago. When I left for good, it was about 32 years ago. So tying up the strings and connecting the dots and going full circle would be one way of comprehending 'Pagbabalik!' I must admit my dots are very eclectic, as is my personal outlook.
I don't know exactly what I set out to become, as a child. I did have monologues and soliloquies speaking atop a hospitable guava tree in our backyard in San Andres Bukid, Manila when I was little. The future was, for me, as for most children, a blank canvas.
Was there art in my life? I think life is art, and art should be about life. In any case, I didn't touch a camera until I was twelve. I remember that my interest then was taking pictures of views and beggars in the streets. My earliest memory of my association with art was a prize from the Manila Chronicle for a child's watercolor art entry when I was seven.
Otherwise, I had no inkling of becoming a photographer or an artist. I did journalism at UP, worked briefly as a journalist in Manila and PNG, but since then published many articles with accompanying photographs and poems, on the side, definitely not for money. The last time I got paid for my writing was in 1974 in PNG.
For bread and butter, I taught communication and social sciences in Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges in Sydney for many years, until my retirement from paid employment this year.
The turning point came in 2000 when I visited the Aboriginal sacred site of Uluru in Central Australia. I was zapped. I stayed there for 12 days and took many photographs, many angles of Uluru. I was perched on one of the smaller rocks and wrote a poem 'Healing from Uluru'. After my visit to Uluru, I discovered a new vocation: sharing my photos with people through exhibitions. I have been involved in group exhibits every year since then. Some of my photos, for me, are personal pieces, for meditation, for sharing.
Leaving aside definitions and dogma about photography and art, what's important for me is that you see something that's different. You find a new way of looking. What matters to me is making connection with your subject. And if you, as viewer, want to get into analysis, then you may explore the signature behind the lens - the person's background, interest, ideals, including the socio-political economic period of the time. They are 'the eye' behind the lens.
The images presented by artists through time may mature and grow or change as their identity, shift and evolve with their life experience.
The artist's biography within a particular time zone and place is like a footprint for the photographs. In my case, I have lived in Australia for over 30 years but grew up in Manila. I write articles about indigenous peoples, about human rights.
I like reflecting on life. I write poems. My photographs sometimes are like poems. The subject is the clue. What subject you choose, how you frame your subject, how you focus reveals your interest - your self-talk, and through that filter, what you want to share with others. Once the image is out there, it belongs to the public. They too filter with their own eyes.
A friend of a friend, after seeing my portfolio, said to me, "lend me your eyes, or at least one of them!" It's like asking me to lend him my soul. The best I can do is 'share' what I see.
I am very fortunate to have come back to find old friends and new friends who too love engaging with life and sharing their art. Without their support, my "Pagbabalik" today in the form of this exhibition would not have been possible.
What's exciting for me is the sharing of art. In their intuitive, flexible, adaptable ways, photographer Ben Razon and artist Ed Manalo are responsible for making this happen. They are friends of a friend, Chat Garcia, who invited them to dinner one night, and we met. Tessie Tomas and Ebong Joson have made possible the merging of three artistic forms: my photos, my poems, and their interpretation of my poems through their own art form as actors.
Upon returning to Sydney, Deborah reflects upon her exhibition in Manila
My father died in San Francisco and his ashes were taken back to Manila six years ago. That was the last time I visited Manila with my sisters. In 2003, my mother died and her ashes were taken back to Manila in 2004. I couldn't join my sisters that time because my Australian husband was very ill. He survived his ailment and is much better now, and works part-time as a teacher/librarian.
Early this year I decided to return to Manila on my own to visit my parents' grave and attend to some family matters. I brought my laptop with me and my 'usb' - useful tools for my writing and for storing photographs. I already had files of images taken in Australia and some new ones taken during my travel around the Philippines. Meanwhile, I caught up with a few old friends.
I told Chat, a friend who previously worked in Sydney, that it would be great if I could have a photo exhibition in Manila. I've been having exhibitions in Sydney every year since 2000. "It's a long shot, I suppose," I muttered. "Not at all," she replied, "we'll invite Butch's photographer friends, and see what they say."
And that's how my 'Pagbabalik' exhibition at The Oarhouse came into being. One of their friends, Ed Manalo, introduced me to Ben Razon who, with a team, decide the exhibition schedule at Oarhouse. The Oarhouse is a bar and restaurant in Malate where photo journalists, writers, artists, and art enthusiasts get together. Oarhouse provides artists a venue for friendship and information sharing about each other's work. Established in the mid-70s, there was a pause in continuing this tradition until its revival last year. Some old timers have returned, and now, Oarhouse is sizzling with an energetic display of a series of exhibits of photographers' work.
It is the sharing, the engaging, the cross-fertilization of various forms of art, which draw visitors. I've been inspired by the like-minded people I've met with such diverse experience - people who look for fresh and novel contributions to the art of photography. I feel that my photographs were appreciated for their novelty.
Questions arose about why I have an interest in Aboriginal Australians and in an indigenous Filipino tribal group and why I have many landscape pictures as well as pictures of a cultural nature? How do they fit into the theme of 'Pagbabalik' (returning)?
'Pagbabalik!' is partly autobiographical. The poem, 'Pagbabalik!' which was read at the launch refers to my struggle in finding the wellspring of 'kaakuhan' (selfhood or identity).
A few years upon my arrival in Australia, I was involved with advocating for the return to democracy in the Philippines through a lobby group. In the 80s, my involvement shifted to advocating for Filipino women's conditions in Australia. Some of the women married to Australians were victims of domestic violence and spousal homicide. In the 90s, I focused on Australian Indigenous issues. I felt that Australia's first peoples were the most marginalized and oppressed in their own country.
I feel that the first peoples around the world are more attuned to nature, and they can teach us to respect our environment. Deforestation, illegal logging, open-cut mining activities and pollution contribute to human exploitation and global warming. Landscape photographs help us see the majesty and beauty of the world around us. I like reflecting on life. My choice of subject reveals my 'self-talk', and what I 'see' now, I want to share with others.
ang isipang 'di matanto
ang batis ng kaakuhan.
simoy ng hangin ay
tumatagos sa kinaibuturan-
ngunit ito' y isang piraso
lamang ng kabuuan.
Sa pusod ng pinagmulan,
ang diwang nahihimbing,
tila bituwing sa looba' y