16 November 2015

The Image Looks at Itself by Aaron Vicencio

Reflection on PGS/UGAT Conference Participation

The world of the Geography Department of the University of the Philippines is expanding. Last 22-24 October 2015, the Philippine Geographical Society came together with Ugnayang Agham-Tao for a joint conference hosted at Silliman University, Dumaguete City.

The theme was "Dagat ug Kinabuhi / Maritime Cultures, Spaces and Networks - it looks at the bodies on, under, near and far from the sea. The conference aims to reveal spaces and cultures linked to making lives near the water. A panel with Jake Cadag, PhD talked about mapping for disasters, while Andre Ortega, PhD discussed his paper on counter-mapping for people without a voice in development. A welcome surprise was the UST Sociology undergraduate students, who presented their respective individual undergraduate theses with professionalism and mastery of their topics. The conflict on South China Sea, West Philippine Sea and the contested islands gathered the most interest from the audience. However, people were generally eager to learn and share their research, revealing the wealth of information from the sea.

I was part of the panel entitled "Maritime Knowledge Conservation and Research: Visual and Performance Approachesand it was moderated by my teacher and UGAT president, Maria Mangahas. I was presenting after Andrew Limond of Visual Folklore, Inc. and his film Song of the Arayo - which was a firsthand peek of how visual anthropology is used in recording cultural practices on camera and allowing a shared performance of culture and media. Liby Norman Limoso, Ma Rosalie Zerrudo (University of San Agustin) and Dennis D. Gupa (University of the Philippines Los Banos) presented their dance and paper Barangay ni Humadapnun:Panakayon sa Sakayan nga Bulawon: The Mythical Roots and Routes of Humadapnun, (the man of gold) who journeyed on a golden a boat barangay.Their paper was an interesting interpretation of performance and myths, of how the sea shapes our experience of the world.

After my presentation, I was approached by academics interested in using photography for their research, not much about visual culture. Their questions were about the technical conundrums and storage practices. It was interesting to listen to Yamauchi Terue give her artists talk about her project, Human Seascapes. Andrew Limond, Yamauchi Terue and I talked after the conference about our shared difficulties in doing our own methods, of how many cameras we have destroyed over the years, and how GoPro cameras have changed the game.

It was my first time to present in a conference outside of UP. It was my first time to present tangents of my research and photographs outside of workshops. It was the first time I was presenting as a photographer influenced with a academic geographical lens. I shared my experiences as a tourism photographer and its difficulties. I remembered that anything can get wet except for my camera. And as a reflexive photographer, one should be cognizant of how waves of images can flood our perceptions of spaces and places. Studying geography has provided me with a unique lens of looking at the world. However, I have come to realize that the visual and aesthetics are not utilized much in research here in the Philippines. Maybe by being more visible in conferences and active in research, the visual will be a vision shared by disciplines.

Aaron is a photojournalist and is currently taking up Master of Science in Geography at UP Diliman. 

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