Romanticizing Poverty / by John Javellana

People often ask me the question “why poverty?” It’s usually followed-up with “can’t you go shoot something else?” It can get pretty annoying. But yes, all the queries led me to think why I am so lured by this unremitting issue that is so strongly considered something already timeworn. Why do I risk my own safety and on certain occasions, my life even day in and day out just on exploring a myriad of slums for something people think is overworked? Cliche even.

To start off, I don’t think I ever had a proper acquaintance with poverty. As I grew up, the superlative notion of poverty for me were the beggars panhandling for money while you are inside your car. Yes, I was that superficial. As I became a photojournalist, I slowly started to see on my own what poverty was and the actualities that come along with it. I was shocked to see people hoard trash for a living; to see people actually living and having communities under bridges; people setting up floating shanties along the shorelines because they didn’t have any land to squat anymore.

Seeing all these things and knowing that they exist made me open my eyes that my world is not just about school, home and getting wasted. There were so much more going on, even just in Manila. I know well that poverty is not the only issue that the world should be concerned about, and a lot of people think that I am building my works just on that issue. On the contrary, it was stepping stone to further my inquisition and thirst for experiences and knowledge about the environment I live in.

Sadness is something is the feeling that is usually evoked when it comes to this subject. I always did feel awful, but at the same time it has been my experiences with people dealing with the situation’s harsh realities that I have experienced and felt the true beauty of us as humans. I never have thought that unbelievable resiliency, compassion and kindness could be seen even in the darkest corners of life here in Manila. Somehow I’ve always felt at home and and at a distinct sense of calm whenever I am in these places.

Poverty is dear to me since it has renewed me as a person more than anything. It has inspired me and has grounded; along with its realities that have to be accepted. Yes, a lot of people would say that it’s the most overused of subjects photographically but it is a personal thing for me. I have been naive and shallow before all of this and I am just beginning to see all of this just now. Romanticizing poverty, I must admit. Because it does matter to me.