“When it comes to photography, I always say, a good story takes us somewhere we haven’t been before.” – Hannah Reyes Morales
Judge of our 2022 Visual Storytelling Award, Hannah Reyes Morales is a Filipina photojournalist, whose exceptionally perceptive work conveys the human stories behind some of the critical issues of our time.
Born and raised in Manila, she discovered the power of visual storytelling at an early age when she happened upon some dusty copies of National Geographic and Time, that belonged to her mother. Though at the time she was too young to understand the text, the images she saw engendered a Damascene response and made her care about the world in a manner incomparable with other mediums.
From that moment, she knew that she wanted ‘to engage with the world’ and that it was the camera that would be her conduit.
“I’ve always been interested in photography, but I think I fell in love with it when I realised there could be more to it than beauty – its ability to make people think, connect, empathise, care.”
She went on to study speech communication at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, and concurrently completed an internship with the European Press photo Agency, covering daily news in her homeland. Shortly after, she received a grant from National Geographic and mentorship with renowned photojournalist Erika Larsen.
Be it photojournalism or social documentation, since the medium’s incipience, great photographers have sought to convey stories through their work. As with these eminent forbears and indeed, some of her most accomplished contemporaries (such as Larson, or judge of our 2021 Visual Storytelling award, Nichole Sobecki) Morales’ practice is firmly grounded in humanism. She seeks to convey the often complex stories of her compatriots, the marginalized, oppressed, and voiceless.
“I think for a photographer to create any meaningful impact, they should be deeply considering the people and places in front of their camera, and asking themselves why they are taking the photographs, and for what reason. I find that the photographers who create the most impact are those who constantly consider their ’subjects,’ and have taken the time to make sure their voice is part of the images they create.”
She gravitates to those who she says possess a ‘certain resilience’, individuals ‘who show how love, joy, and tenderness can exist within adversity.’ Her diverse subjects include survivors of atrocities committed by the Japanese army during the second world war; sex workers in the city of Angeles, many of whom left their rural homes, to escape the abject poverty, caused in part, by natural disasters; inmates of the notorious and intensely overcrowded, Manila City Jail (many of whom will await trial for months or even years).
Blending candid shots, with portraiture, landscapes, and subtle minutiae, she creates honest and intimate work that is simultaneously visceral and tender.
Her practice offers a nuanced, and often revelatory perspective to her homeland, untinctured from the preconceptions that can sometimes inform the work of outsider photojournalists and thus further cement pervasive narratives. Yet even when working internationally she retains the same veracity and percipience.
One of her own, favourite projects, (she describes the process of making it as ‘quite magical’) portrays the nomadic Altai Kazakh people who reside deep in the asperous peaks of western Mongolia, and specifically, their love for the ancient craft of eagle-hunting. It displays the same rare attributes that define her other works and testifies to her prodigious perceptivity and talent.
“What are the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my career so far? – I guess learning to trust my own voice, and learning to trust that I can photograph what I think is interesting, or what I think is important. It took a while for me to affirm myself instead of trying to emulate a gaze that wasn’t mine.”
Over the course of her still relatively burgeoning career, her work has been published in such renowned publications and platforms as The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Geographic, and Al Jazeera, to name but a few. She has received a host of awards and accolades, including, the 2016 SOPA award for excellence in digital reporting (for her work in the Outlaw Ocean series for The New York Times) and the ICP 2020 Infinity Award for Documentary Practice and Visual Journalism. She is currently part of World Press Photo’s 6X6 Program and was recently selected by the Nobel Peace Prize to present an exhibition on the work of 2021 laureate, Philippine journalist, Maria Ressa.
Morales’ work stands as a paragon of photography’s communicative power; its ability to move, inspire, and ultimately, affect change. She is, therefore, a befitting juror for our annual Visual Storytelling Award, wherein we hope to identify some of the most eloquent photographic authors of today.
“I’m hoping to see images that are surprising, to learn about committed photographers, and to see differently through the eyes of others.”
All images © Hannah Reyes Morales