Arts & Entertainment

These Volunteer Photographers Take Free Portraits To Spread the Love

Juan Portrait tells stories that demand to be heard.
IMAGE Larry Monserate Piojo for Juan Portrait
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They're less an NGO than a loosely defined community of volunteers—mainly photographers, some professional, most of them dedicated amateurs. The good that they do is difficult to quantify, but what they want to do is very simple: “Through photography, we aim to take action and give back to the community,” says co-founder Christopher Linag.

Juan Portrait started out as the local offshoot of the global Help-Portrait initiative, with the single aim of taking photos as a form of outreach for people in need. The group’s first project took them to the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC), where they took photos of patients with cancer. That poignant first outing in 2011—which they have since replicated—struck a chord, and, along with the group’s membership, Juan Portrait’s mandate grew, too. After traveling to remote parts of the country for portrait projects and partnering up with other grassroots organizations, the renamed Juan Portrait started the Community Frames project, which allowed photographers to mentor schoolchidren.




When the photography mentors unleashed the children, armed with borrowed cameras, back into their world, they brought back some unique and poetic images, sometimes reflecting their secret dreams and aspirations, sometimes just limning their world in their newfound art. “[Children] living in remote villages [find it] easy to perceive visitors from Manila as the prime sources of skill and knowledge. We wanted the communities to know that they themselves have the skill and the talent to produce exceptional work,” says JP volunteer Tata Yap. “Teaching photography to children, and not just making them the subject of photographs, helps them realize their own capacity. It heps them cultivate a sense of self-creation... and hopefully, this sense of self- creation [stays with them], so they can mature knowing that they have the capability, and that their perspective will always matter, despite living in a remote area.”

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Storyteller extraordinaire, Rey Bufi, in his usual animated self, dramatizing a story from a book for the students of Pagsawitan Elementary School in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Philippines. An active volunteer of Juan Portrait, Kuya Rey, as he is fondly called, is the Founder of The Storytelling Project (TSP), a Juan Portrait partner that "aims to spark hope, inspiration and imagination through storytelling; to make reading an enjoyable experience for children; to start a reading habit; and to instill the love of reading and learning in all our TSP kids. We’ve tirelessly crossed rivers and excitedly conquered mountains to reach remote communities – to bring our own brand of happy learning." #WeAreJuanPortrait #JuanPortrait #TSP #TheStorytellingProject #everydayphilippines #volunteerism #mission ???? by @dancelmd

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Juan Portrait came to our attention for the May 2016 issue of our magazine, through their Juan Hundred initiative, which took photographers to the streets of Manila to take portraits. By treating everyone they met with dignity and respect befitting any photogaphic subject, and by listening to their stories, Juan Portrait’s photographers imbued what could’ve been an ordinary photo with deeper meaning. Volunteer Lawrence del Mundo says, “Hopefully, we end up with, not just portraits, but also the names and stories behind the faces to share.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Esquire Philippines. Edits and updates have been made for this online version.

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