Movies & TV

'Ili,' a Photo Book on Cordilleran Culture by Tommy Hafalla, is Launching In London

The images in the book were taken over the span of 30 years.
IMAGE Tommy Hafalla (image from 'Ili')

In the Philippines, capturing the lives of ethnolinguistic communities (also called indigenous peoples) is a feat that many photographers attempt, but that very few manage to do justice.

Renowned photographer Tommy Hafalla has spent his entire career documenting the Cordilleras, amassing a wealth of images that span three decades, and show how Cordillera communities hold on to traditions while also facing change. His first book, entitled Ili (which means “home village”), was published two years ago, and is now making its debut at the University of London on July 14 after a book signing and talk hosted by the Philippine Studies Conference at SOAS.

Hafalla was an airplane mechanic before he was a photographer—he volunteered his time on medical missions in the Cordilleras. Ili is a story in photographs about the life and rituals of the ethnolinguistic groups in the Cordilleras: Kalinga, Benguet, Ifugao and the Mountain Province. The work spans over three decades, from 1981 to 2011. According to the MAPA Books website, this extensive production period was part and parcel to his method: photographing the same rituals over different points in time in order to see how culture and its traditions change, adapt, or shift. “The scarcity of film and processing chemicals in the mountains made the photographer resourceful in his alchemy, using x-ray developers sourced from hospitals as well as home-concocted formularies for his developer, stop and fix,” reads a description on the website.


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MAPA Books is an independent publishing house based in London which gives attention to the works of Southeast Asian creatives. They first made their debut with Ili, along with Signos by Veejay Villafranca. Last month, Villafranca was named an Documentary Award Finalist in the Invisible Photographer Asia Awards 2018 for Signos.

Both books are available locally in multiple distribution points, such as Artbooks.phMt. Cloud Bookshop in Baguio, and Ayala Museum’s bookstore.

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Nina Unlay
Nina Unlay is pursuing an MA in Journalism. She used to be the Features Editor of GRID magazine.
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