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Strange Fruit: A Photographers’ Collective

Strange Fruit: A Photographers’ Collective

Strange Fruit Art Fair

A bunch of talented artists got together to create one of the best photography-based art fairs.

Strange Fruit: A Photographers' Collective
Image: Strange Fruit

Artists are often appreciated for what they do because of their beautiful pieces and works. People see them as incredible individuals for having such incredible talents. However, despite their reputation, artists are underappreciated. Because even though people perceive them as talented, they think the work doesn’t involve time and effort. Obviously, they are wrong (and dumb if you ask me). That’s why they get stunned whenever the price of the artist’s work is “pricey.”

That’s why art fairs such as this one we’ll be talking about are important. It spreads awareness about the integral piece of our society. Art is important—it is beautiful and valuable. Strange Fruit will attest to that.

As described by Art Fair Philippines,

Strange Fruit is an artist collective that continuously explores the photographic medium to present images illustrating the socio-cultural landscape.

Photography is art. It remains an undervalued form of communication in the Philippines. The majority of photographers get underpaid, and even in the local art world, photography continues to play as a second act to paintings when it comes to price points.

Because of that, Jason Quibilan and other photographers got together to form the “Strange Fruit” collective. As they aim to convey, it is important to find an audience outside of the social media realm. In February last year at their booth during the Art Fair Philippines, this is the kind of audience they encountered.

Quibilan said,

What’s interesting with Art Fair was, finally, a large Filipino audience was confronted with the photograph as print. Not the image as a jpeg on your phone or laptop but as a piece of art.

The exposure to the Art Fair crowd is 10 days as opposed to just over a long weekend in previous years. This is despite this year’s Art Fair happens almost exclusively online. It is also a way of exposing photography-based art vis a vis painting, in this way helping improve the former’s cachet in the local visual world.

This year, Quibilan, Veejay Villafranca, Francisco “Paco” Guerrero, Raena Abella and E.S.L. Chen finds that the present has completely given their pictures new meaning. It is through revisiting all of their past works. Based on all five turned-in selections, it seemed also to have answered the call of the water, undoubtedly an effect of being away from the ocean for so long.

Meanwhile, Jes Aznar found time to put down his documentary photographer hat to snap some personal work while on assignment. He regularly shoots for the New York Times. Aznar produced some pretty powerful images of game fowls mid-battle, finding grace in the violence of the conflict.

Strange Fruit aims to continue pursuing its “contemporary vision” while showing a wide spectrum of photography-based art tackling the Philippine experience.

Raena Abella

Strange Fruit: A Photographers' Collective
STILL 1⁠⁠” by Raena Abella⁠⁠, 2021⁠⁠. 60 in x 40 in⁠⁠ Pigment on Gold Fibre Silk⁠⁠

“My work for this year is about the strangeness of the sea,” says Abella whose works display her longtime fascination for the ocean. This attachment got even stronger this year, what with the restrictions to go near natural bodies of water. Hence, she wanted the viewer to share her longing, blowing up her images—a still life of an octopus, pictures of waves, of sea foam—so that one feels completely drenched in ocean life, or overwhelmed by an octopus embrace.

Jes Aznar

Soltada III Jes Aznar
“Soltada III⁠⁠” by Jes Aznar⁠⁠, 2021⁠⁠. 60 in x 40 in ⁠⁠ Pigment on Cotton Rag⁠⁠

It is rare that Jes Aznar‘s images don’t readily tell us about the injustices happening in our world. For Strange Fruit, he strips himself temporarily of the journalist mantle and indulges his photographer’s eye, allowing it to be amazed almost exclusively by form and color and movement. We say ‘almost’ because even as the fighting cocks in his pictures are detached from their wider environment, we recognize the conflict the creatures are in while we marvel at their beauty and grace.

E.S.L. Chen

Strange Fruit: A Photographers' Collective
“Barringtonia” by E.S.L. Chen, 2021. 50 in x 40 in Pigment on Bamboo Paper

For Edric Chen, the past year provided an opportunity to reflect on pictures past. “It took a lockdown for me to realize there was a deeper meaning for this kind of work,” he says, talking about his series of pictures depicting sea water swashing as it reaches the Baler shore or the picture of a flower that completely caught him in awe (he says he wanted to effect some sort of movement in the above photo by touching the flower’s tendrils and shooting with a slow shutter).

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Edric’s images often represent a visual memory of a moment. They’re sometimes melancholic, but often they’re expressions of a pure kind of appreciation for what the universe conspired to put together for his eyes to see and capture.

Francisco Guerrero

Wave II Franciso Guerrero Paco
“The Wave II⁠⁠” by Francisco “Paco” Guerrero, 2019⁠⁠. 24 in x 35 in⁠⁠ Pigment on Cotton Rag⁠⁠

The two years before lockdown saw Paco Guerrero hardly stopping to review the pictures he snaps in between assignments. A pandemic afforded him all the time in the world to revisit those images caught on impulse, gave him the chance to discover meaning in them, and re-experience moments. Like that time in the Siargao waters that ended up in a diptych featured in this edition of Art Fair.

“You know those moments when you just get an urge to shoot something,” he recalls of that time. Of course, he also has a photo where the picture-taking is more intentional: an end-of-day portrait of a group of farmers in Penyaranda, Nueva Ecija, shot in the style of romanticized images of small-town America.

Jason Quibilan

Strange Fruit: A Photographers' Collective
“Cut Glass” No.1, No. 2, No. 3 (Tryptich) by Jason Quibilan 2021 36 in x 36 in (each panel) Pigment on Canvas

Recent access to an X-ray machine offered Jason Quibilan literally a new way to see things, which served his choice of a very popular Filipino subject well: the dried fish. In his new photographs, the humble “daing” transmogrifies, its hidden fragility and intricacy finally exposed even as it creates a graphic visual effect.

Veejay Villafranca

Veejay Villafranca The Saviour
The Saviour” by Veejay Villafranca, 2020. Pigment on Gold Fibre Silk 23.4 in x 33.1 in

In his pictures for Strange Fruit, Villafranca continues his exploration of faith and what we hold sacred. Or in his words, “how Filipinos cling to ritual or a personal endeavor to alleviate pain or process a personal experience.”

This is certainly clear in two of his pictures for this year’s Art Fair: 1) the interior of a chapel in Bulacan’s Sitio Mariana, its lower half-submerged in two-year-old murky water, the upper half an altar obviously still attended to by the faithful. 2) the bones of an Edsa billboard just before a storm, with words that say “Jesus is the way, the truth, the life.” We live in a world filled with poetry. Villafranca’s extraordinary eye offers us the evidence.

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