Text by: Chris Quintana
Inside the white room, framed square iron sheets hang, bearing in tangible perpetuity the artist’s attempt to make sense of the world—faces and shapes from the shadows inked in black surface from the bare white void.
Photographer Veejay Villafranca opened his latest exhibition “IRONIC” on July 15, 2015 at Pineapple Lab, a newly opened cultural center and photography gallery devoted to the Filipino artist in Poblacion, Makati City. “IRONIC” showcases Villafranca’s photographic explorations while doing a personal project that documents displaced communities, possibly the first exhibition in the country to feature large-print smartphone photographs.
“Basically, very few people are familiar with Veejay and his work here in the Philippines even though he is already an internationally recognized artist,” points out Romain Rivierre, owner of Pineapple Lab.
Experiencing artistic fatigue, Villafranca was trying to find an outlet, wanting to take a break from the usual work that he does. A few friends suggested he try using an iPhone, which he didn’t have during that time. When he finally got one, he started taking photographs with it and learned how to use Instagram, reinvigorating his passion to make images. He even became one of the pioneers of Everyday Philippines, an Instagram-based project. He narrates that part of his fatigue is caused by the public’s lack of responsiveness to his images, which he believes point to important issues. Instagram seems to address the situation, providing instant feedback from a wider audience, but falls victim to social media’s high volatility, with issues burning twice as bright but only half as long—hence the need to go back to prints and to do exhibitions.
Villafranca, initially looking for an alternative printing process, came up wanting to print on metal. Luckily a local studio had the equipment available. The prints were eventually done using iron sheets 8 feet long—the measurement the machine’s computer will read.
Apart from using unconventional materials—smartphone as an image source and iron sheet as a printing medium—Villafranca, primarily a photojournalist, presents his latest images, notably, using double exposure and panoramic exposure as means to communicate visually the complex social issues he is currently documenting.
The idea for the images, he narrates, is a result of both a happy accident and a longing for a new, creative way of visual storytelling.
The images, rendered in black and white, are graphically rich and highly artistic due to the use of overlapping imagery, darkened shadows, high contrast, and dreamy, sometimes ghostly, exposure—treatments which, as he says, photojournalists, especially the more purist ones, would likely frown upon.
“The exhibit is quite good. It’s all right to explore other fields. It’s veering away from photojournalism, but that’s part of his goal,” says one of his colleagues Jes Aznar, a veteran photojournalist shooting for the New York Times.