New Voices is an event series presenting the work of the photographers who are part of the 2021-2023 VII Mentor Program. The VII Mentor Program is made up of ten gifted young photographers with diverse experiences who were chosen from nearly 300 applicants from 65 countries.
The series, hosted by David Campbell and Ilvy Njiokiktjien, showcases the stories the photographers are working on and discusses how they are creating a viable career in visual journalism.
In this event, we speak with Kimberly deal Cruz.
David Campbell: So, Kimberly, welcome. Thank you for joining us, particularly as you’re up very late in the night, actually early the next morning now that we’ve started after the hour. You’re going to be doing a presentation and showcasing what you’re working on at the moment, what you’ve done previously, but just tell us a little bit about how you got into photography and what you’re currently working on.
Kimberly dela Cruz: Well, it’s a long story, so I’m gonna shorten this up. But I started— my first camera actually was during my college years studying journalism. And during the time, I also became an activist. So, I started carrying camera at protests. With this images, I use it as my portfolio for my internship for a local paper and then became a correspondent for them after I graduated. That’s how I got my start. With my projects, well, this project that got the— my project on the war on drugs, basically, this part of the work is over. I’m working on its derivatives, which is like collaborative processes. And I’m also working on a project on— that is afforded by the micro grants of the VII Foundation, and also a project in my hometown, which is about climate change and decolonization.
David Campbell: So, you started as a journalist, as a, in the past we would say print journalist, text journalist I suppose, and then switched to being a photographer. What made you switch?
Kimberly dela Cruz: I was a photo correspondent. So, I was covering news, lifestyle, business, society, sports for the local paper, but I’m also writing on the side and doing research, doing productions. I was never employed. So, technically, I’m freelance. I’ve been freelance for a while now.
David Campbell: So, why don’t you take us through the presentation because you’ve got some great images to show, some great stories to show. Share your screen?
Kimberly dela Cruz: Okay.
David Campbell: That’s great.
Kimberly dela Cruz: My name is Kimberly Dela Cruz. Friends call me Kim, Kimmy. I’m a photographer based in Manila. I started documenting the war on drugs in 2016 on my own time, joining other journalists covering the nightshift. I was a photo correspondent for a local newspaper at the time getting random assignments. Aside from working as a photographer, I’ve also freelanced as a fixer, writer, producer and researcher while working on this topic. This helped me sustain the project financially and intellectually. This body of work grew organically as other families would ask me, why am I not photographing them? Then a conversation begins. I attended many grief counseling sessions for families and orphans here in metro Manila, only photographing them when trust is established, and there is mutual understanding of the risks and meaning of remembrance. From there I was able to view the magnitude of this traumatic period of modern Philippine history, through the experiences of their families. In 2021, I was awarded the Eugene Smith Grant. There is a parallel between our first projects. His is the Country Doctor while mine is Death of a Nation. I’ve had strong reactions in past public discussion about this title. But often it comes with the comparison of the suffering of other countries. Friends here in Manila told me that I’m the first Filipina photographer who got this grant, but this project is more. I was looking for resonance. How the shattering of the democracy that has always been fragile could be watched by millions here and abroad and still feel unheard. Like a desperate cry for all the things this has caused. I’m not the only journalist to cover this. When the government implemented a one-sided war that targeted citizens without due process, with a full understanding that it’s going to be a bloodbath. This is mass slaughter. There are 1,000s of victims undocumented, very few cases are challenged in the local courts, and most are in limbo in a problematic justice system. This is impunity. There is an abundance of fear, trauma, grief, but I feel that yearning amidst chaos is stronger. I came out of this project with stories, learnings and more questions but I’m hoping that this would be my contribution to the desperate cry for accountability and memory and ask the question to the viewers. What does healing mean when something as violent and senseless as this and when does justice begin? Um, I’m going to play music while I’m going through the pictures on the next slides. So, let’s have a look.
9:50 All right. This is Lena. After documenting the crime scene, I shifted my lens to the life that comes after, that for the families, lives that have been altered by the war on drugs completely. Others have become more desolate and are still going under trauma from such a violent loss. Some were able to find organizations and advocacy groups that help them get back on their feet and process their grief. Others have become fierce advocates themselves, joining protests and speaking out in public dialogues. Seeing this transformation when they found a community to share their pain and yearning for justice was a beautiful turning point for me in this body of work. This is Maria. It’s a name she chose for this project. Her grandson and his girlfriend were murdered by men on motorcycles in 2017. They left a cardboard message in the crime scene. They also left bullets outside her home and gave her two printed images. The one without the curtain would always be for her as a symbol of her courage. She passed away last year. We could go back and forth on the images in the q&a later, but let’s move forward. In 2018, I was part of this exhibition at Ateneo de Manila University. It’s a private and Catholic University with a long history of student activism and participation in social dialogues. There are few schools this open in providing spaces for discussion. And another university once told me not to show my war on drugs work as they deemed the war on drugs too controversial. This was in 2018. I had to withdraw from that commitment in protest because I don’t believe that the war on drugs should be censored in the place of learning. I was really overwhelmed seeing this image used as this giant poster for a group exhibition in the school. The victim’s name is Nursey and she was only 16 when she was abducted and killed. She was a big fan of this Sanrio character Hello Kitty, and her coffin was covered with stickers by her friends and family. What do we talk about when we talk about the war on drugs. As journalists of the modern age, we are competing for spaces in the public’s attention and memory. In 2017, I left the local paper I was corresponding for and joined the PCIJ story project. Sheila Coronel, then dean of Columbia Journalism School in the States and one of the founders of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, decided to start this program as an experiment. She tapped me as its project coordinator and for a year we were supporting projects that were collaborations between journalists and artists. A lot of its output lives on the internet and span many derivatives in tangible forms. First there’s a story about the murder of a minor at the hands of the police. He was not the first nor the last. And his name is Kian delos Santos. The night he died there were 30 more people killed in his city alone. His story true triggered public outcry. So far, he is the only victim of the war on drugs in a police operation that reached a guilty verdict for murder at the hands of the police in the local courts. I talk about our process for the bookmaking here. In less than two weeks we uploaded the story in social media, a TV network here then produced an animated version of the illustrations with a voice narration and published it online. The story was in printed book form on the 40th day of Kian’s death. A publishing house helped us print it, anonymously at first. We distributed for free in schools or for whoever wanted it. Anyone could print it for nonprofit and educational purposes. The project won a National Children’s Book Award and was included in the world trade catalog which is an international youth library. This also grew from the same project. The only job to photograph this album cover through a common friend, but I’ve been waiting for this album for a while. I saw the proposal when they applied for the grant, and I knew that it was gonna be something special. The rappers composed the songs going through headlines, interviews and research, collaborating with academics, social workers and urban planners. This album is on multiple platforms. And they were giving away USB drives when it was launched. Hip hop is big here, and it went platinum. Sometimes you can hear it in like public spaces being played by random people. I’m always open for collaborations. I’ve accepted all kinds of work through the years, a good project, a good story, or a good contract, for the bills, for the gear, and for film, or just for the love. I licensed my image as a book cover to the first edition of this book of essays by academics and cultural workers, published by the same progressive University. The book cover designer is the curator of the exhibition that I mentioned. And I think I need a book in the future of my own. But I got this grant and the same time as I got the Eugene Smith Grant, Para Site Hong Kong awarded me and other artists from different disciplines here in the Philippines this kind of residency, they call it a residency. They gave us money to go to like, it’s money for unpaid artistic labor. Both grants gave me the liberty to go out and photograph without expectation of making a photograph, especially in covering the victims of the war on drugs towards the change of administration here in the Philippines. This grant bought me the time I needed to ponder and process. It afforded me Polaroids, a decent and bulky recorder, it gave me freedom to work on derivatives of this project and others that I’m currently working on. There’s this article also coming out about this project, and about the grants. But this is coming out this week. I talk about the emotional toll of like covering such a traumatic topic and how I think the war on drugs is always misunderstood in terms of which is more violent here. Is it the blood? Or is it the trauma? Or is it the effect in society? So, watch out for this article. Thank you for listening, here are the other means to connect to me. My name is Kimberly dela Cruz, this is my last slide.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thank you, Kimberly, for sharing. Well, I hope that wasn’t too short, that they could see your email. It was gone so quickly. We’ll put it in the chat. Maybe that’s even better.
Kimberly dela Cruz: I’m gonna type it and copy it.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Exactly. But thanks so much for sharing. It’s a really—I know, the work, I guess people watching, some of them might also know, but I saw many images that I actually didn’t know. And you covered so many different angles. It’s amazing. Did you start this in 2016? Is that what you said? When did you start?
Kimberly dela Cruz: I started in July 2016. So, at first, I think I didn’t realize it was a project until I pivoted towards the families because I was just there, like gathering research, photographing. I mean, I guess coming from a news background, right, like that sensibility of like photographing what it is, as you see it is pertinent. But I started thinking that like even I don’t want to go through like 1,000 photos of dead bodies, right? Like, I need something that has a lasting impact to a viewer that doesn’t make them go away or like that doesn’t push the viewer to hide from the image. I want something that seduces the audience to consider this. Consider what is here.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. And you need the personal stories for that for people to be able to connect. And at the same time, I feel you also need the newsy images of course. So, I think you made the right combination. Are you still in contact with these families? Or?
Kimberly dela Cruz: Um, yes. Like, they added me on Facebook, I always give away my card. I’m always noticing like the same communities as well, because, like, they’re densely, there are areas that are densely victimized by the war on drugs. So, like, sometimes I’ll be in the same community, and I won’t realize that, oh, you live like a street over to the other girl. So, this is why I’m always like carrying a bunch of prints as well, just in case I see someone that I’ve photographed before and I could give them a print and maybe start the conversation because I’m having a spin-off of like just to sign up for this project, like, a collaborative process something to, I guess, share with the people who have like, given me their trust, and participated.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: When is a project finished. I mean, you’ve published it now, is it? Is it ever finished? Or would you go back maybe? Or?
Kimberly dela Cruz: So, this is, the Death of a Nation part is finished, I think. To me, I’ve made my peace with it that it was looked towards, like, in 2022. But like the ones that I’ve been working on now, the derivatives, it’s like, of what remains. So, it’s more of like, I guess, in terms of material and separating the other materials that I need for this and like other I guess applications, for example, if I want to pursue like a big exhibition or like a book, a multimedia project, so I want the variety.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Why is that important to you— Some photographers, because I’m curious, because I like the variety, too. I do the same. With my last project, I really wanted to have an e-book. And a multimedia, like a interactive website. But there’s many photographers that are not as interested in doing that. So, I’m curious to know why you like to have it on different platforms and to tell it in different ways.
Kimberly dela Cruz: I guess because it just makes sense right now, in terms of like, when we talk about the origins, what are we really talking about like, oh, how are we counting this, right? Having it live in different ways and platforms, it has a better chance to survive. And at the same time, the viewers have a better chance of like, going through the work extensively rather than hey, here are nice pictures with nice composition, nice light, and nice shapes. Like, I guess there are spaces for that, right? Like there are books for it. But in terms of like other applications of the work, like why are we limiting ourselves to stills? Why are we limiting ourselves to like pictures that when there is more to discuss, like images cannot really have a dialogue, right? Like it needs captions, it needs you to present it, like it needs a lot of material to have a sort of like backbone to stand on.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Is there a favorite to you out of these different ways of telling or presenting a story, one that matches the story best maybe in this specific case?
Kimberly dela Cruz: I don’t know. But I like the process that I’m working on now. Just because it’s more of like, when I was working on this project, like the Death of a Nation part, I always feel like that kind of pressure in terms of like, how do I interpret this story that a person could understand by just by looking at an image like, this is why I’m always also veering away from something as reductive as like, oh, a woman is crying on the side of the road or a woman is crying beside a coffin. Like, I want something that is complex, that like what is here, in something that is like a woman is staying up as late as like 2am just because they’re afraid of nightmares. So, in the morning, they’re sleeping in. So, like, I want something that is complex and something that is more I guess inviting to the dissect rather than hey, here is something you need to know and you need to digest it now because this is what happened. Like, I get, I want something of like, I want to demand something from the viewer as well rather than just like feed them what I know right? Like I want to demand like, I don’t know, like discernment, something like that.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: You want them to think about what they see as well. Instead of the easy—
Kimberly dela Cruz: I hope they’re not thinking about like the technical mark like what is the ISO what is the shutter speed, like, it’s asinine.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: What? What was the last thing you said?
Kimberly dela Cruz: It’s French.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh there, you got me. So, there was one thing you mentioned right in the beginning of your presentation that I didn’t fully understand. You mentioned the counseling sessions with the families. What was that about? Exactly?
Kimberly dela Cruz: So, there’s this organization headed by a priest who’s like, partnered with a mental health center. To talk about it in broad terms, I always get lost, but like they’re partnering with legitimate counselors, or therapists. They’re not therapists, they’re counselors. So, they have like this 10-session counseling and then a retreat. And then they get to sometimes have trips outside the city to be in nature. That’s why I have images of a woman and—
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: —in the water. Yeah. Beautiful.
Kimberly dela Cruz: One of the hikes, so it’s something of— I attended three groups of mothers, widows, things like that, and then another batch for orphans, like it’s all separate, because I was always, I guess, trying to find people that I could connect with. And they’re open to this kind of project because, well, in those sessions, everyone is talking about what happened, right? Like, not a lot of people are chasing for accountability, like that. There’s too much pain that they’d rather move on. So, I guess like listening to this counseling session, I just get to gauge with, open to this kind of stories. And then I would get to pick who I have the most chemistry with. And others would tell, ask me, like, why are you not photographing? And I would say I didn’t know that you wanted to, let’s talk about it. Right? Like, it’s something of I was not chasing after the story. I was chasing after in terms of who am I drawn to at the moment, because I’m also shifting towards different aspects of the story all the time, because I’m following different families, different struggles, different situations, right. So, it’s like a tangle of webs that I didn’t realize it’s gonna be this big until it was like, oh, my God, I have to buy so much hard drives.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: This is growing. Yeah. But it’s, I mean, it’s such an important story. So, and to have the different angles makes it, you need that in a story like this, because not every victim experiences a similar thing. I forgot to mention that everyone should really feel free to ask any questions to Kimberly in the q&a. There is a question already from Grace. Actually, I’m gonna read it to Kimberly, it says, powerful work. I think we all agree. Did you work with local authorities a lot? And how did you handle access?
Kimberly dela Cruz: So, at first, I come from a local newspaper, right? So local journalists have day shifts, have afternoon shifts and have night shifts. It’s a thing. So, like, I covered the night shift before as an intern for this paper. And it’s mostly like covering road accidents and fires and the police would tell us that we’re going to this crime scene, we’re going to this thing and like the media is allowed to tag along because the press office is next to a police station, right. So, I guess when the night the war on drugs, this launched it’s just natural that journalists were informed, what is happening, like where they’re going, where the crime scenes are. But like when the, I guess the reporting peaked in 2006, they started hiding the crime scenes, to end up not informing the journalists. So, we have to be creative about it, like, establish context, more drivers, things like that. And also follow things on social media, because people are also posting when someone was killed in their state or things like that, like, it’s a lot of different things. But like with the authorities, in terms of data they should have the more accurate, I guess documentation of the data, because every crime is reported read, like every killing, every abduction. If they’re recorded, they’re only being recorded by the police. But the thing is, like, there’s so many deaths under investigation. So, when you ask for these things, you get blocked by the police. They started clamping down on access for the data, I guess around 2017. So, at first there was some kind of open relationship to that, they would tell us where they’re going. But once they didn’t like the reporting that was coming out of the war on drugs because to them these kinds of crime scenes before were not involved in politics, right, then suddenly it is.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. Oh, no. Oh, yeah, you go, David, I want to say there’s another question coming.
David Campbell: Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: But you go.
David Campbell: I just wanted to ask about that and follow up on that question about access and the change in access. So, I mean, why did why did the police go from a situation of inviting you to come along to the crime scenes to then wanting to hide the crime scenes?
Kimberly dela Cruz: It is also like a lot of journalists ruin the crime scene, like they interfere with the crime scene. They’re basically obstacles, but at the same time, if something is like, in reality there are different bureaucracies, right? And a lot of like cops that I’ve talked to before will also explain this to, a lot of them are just after saving their jobs, rather than being politically involved. Not all of them agree to this. It’s just that their lock on the company, that bureaucracy. They have mouths to feed, things like that, right. And a lot of them are career officials who have a heart. I’ve known these officers before that were really, you could tell that they’re genuine hearted, but when I was asking them for data for the war on drugs, they would just keep going in circles. And I will ask them, can we just be straight and give me a rejection letter and they can’t even look at me because that would be a record of them denying the right of people to know. So, it’s a very tricky situation. And I had a police tell me before that we’re not going to help you ruin the reputation of the police. And I’m like, it’s not really cool at the moment, so.
David Campbell: So, what is the current situation in the Philippines with the war on drugs? Is it an ongoing policy of the government? Or has that changed?
Kimberly dela Cruz: The change of the presidency, they said they’re gonna continue it, but in a different manner. I guess the effect that it has was more of like, it became normalized that people just get shot on the side of the road on motorcycles. When before, things like that happened before, but not in this magnitude, and not in these random situations, right? Like, somebody was just drinking coffee outside their home and got shot. So, also many of those things that you’ve got to think about, like, why this person? Right? Is it because they’re wearing a color red? Like I said, a mistaken identity, is it, you know, it could be all kinds of things, because who do you ask, who does know what is happening? Right?
David Campbell: I mean, the phrase war on drugs suggests and official government policy, but the people are being shot by masked individuals on motorcycles and so on. Who are these people on motorcycles? Are they part of official government policy or is it something else?
Kimberly dela Cruz: I guess nobody knows. Nobody would admit in words. But like, I’ve heard people say that, oh, we know they’re the police. They’re just wearing something that’s not under uniform or because in terms of like confirming the stories, who do you ask really? The only thing that I know is that like, there is like, during the Duterte administration, there was a, they were bragging about, like the decline of petty crimes, but there was a right heavy rise of heinous crimes, which is murder. So, this kind of, this was like, confusing for me as well, for a long time. Because, as a journalist, you want to know, the certainty. But I realized that there’s no certainty to this, because sometimes, there’s no explanation to it. They were just the wrong place at the wrong time. Or they have the same haircut, the same name or the same alias because there’s no due process. There’s no proper, there’s no proper campaign. It’s just mass slaughter.
David Campbell: And how did the public at large—you’ll have to generalize about this or make some assumptions about this. But as policy, was the war on drugs popular? Is there a popular opinion that supports these extra judicial killings or was this something that was unpopular.
Kimberly dela Cruz: So, official surveys would say that Duterte’s popularity was high until he stepped down and the war on drugs is also high. But there was also a survey that says that a lot of people believe that the story that the police is coming with in terms of like the ones they killed that the victims fought back is a lie. So, there’s all these conflicting things, but like, I guess it makes sense now, because we have this kind of government again.
David Campbell: Just one more question on the war on drugs itself. I mean, how do you think that the visual coverage of the war and its victims has impacted public opinion? Do you think it’s had an influence seeing the victims of the killings? Or do you think that not enough people have seen these images to have an impact in the Philippines itself?
Kimberly dela Cruz: Um, I think for, I think there’s so many echo chambers about it, that like in my echo chambers and a lot of my friends’ echo chambers, I know they’re against the killings. But I’ve also been to places where people think that it’s not enough, right. Like, these are people from the edges of society where people think they’re dispensable or they’re not worth much attention, right. No, I don’t know anyone who’s making a decent wage. When I started covering the war on drugs, they’re always like, doing odd jobs, trying fighting tooth and nail to survive daily. So, I don’t think I mean, I had this idea that it didn’t make a dent in terms of how the reporting affected the public because I thought that at the start of the war on drugs in 2016, 2017, that people would be like, this is wrong, this is murder. But I felt more of that like negative outrage when there was a battle in reproductive health care, rather than like, stopping the war on drugs. Even the church at first were like moving in circles in terms of giving their stance against this. There were many church groups that eventually came forward and like help families but it was not as united as it was against reproductive health. That’s just one of—
David Campbell: Let’s shift gear a little bit away from the actual situation to kind of how you work and how you support your work. I think it was pretty clear from the presentation that you’ve been very successful with a couple of major grants and support and so on. Is that the principal way that you’re able to do your photographic work, through grants, or are there other ways that you are able to earn a living to support your photographic work?
Kimberly dela Cruz: Actually, technically, it’s my first grant, I think. It’s my first grant.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It’s a really good first grant. The best one, I think you can get the first grant.
David Campbell: Yeah.
Kimberly dela Cruz: I was a finalist for—, for Alexia, others, like, I’m always a finalist. So, I guess it’s like this grant waited for me, because it’s also my first time applying, or at least making sure the application— and I was so broke. I was broken. It came and I was like, Thank you, Eugene Smith.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Beautiful. Happy you got it. Because it’s I mean, it’s not only the grant, it comes with, I mean, so much talk around, I mean, your name was out there constantly. It’s, I mean, that helps a lot too, right. Does it help?
Kimberly dela Cruz: I think it became something of like, suddenly, I’m a photographer to consider, because I’ve been always thinking about this project. And like, I keep getting, like work offers for other things, right? And now suddenly, I’m a photographer. I mean, it’s a weird thing. But to me, it’s more of like, now there’s less probability that the work will be erased or forgotten, because it’s going to be—
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s so important. Actually, someone in the chat—can we do that now, David—has a question specifically about the Eugene Smith fund. So, it’s a question from Ellen, what were the steps you took to start your submission for the Eugene Smith Fund grant? Did you consult an editor? Or did you self-edit your work?
Kimberly dela Cruz: Um, I’ve always had like a working proposal since 2018, because I was applying for grants in 2018. But the thing is like with the Eugene Smith Grant, I scrapped the original proposal and rewrote it from scratch. Because I felt that those years are different. This one is like the last year that I’m really gonna, it’s going to be done by this year, even without the grant. So, I had to rewrote it. But like, the thing is, like, I’m always telling people about is it like grant writing would have been easier if you always think about your project, if you’re always like, constantly questioning your perspective on your project and thinking about the dimensions that you’re being limited to. Right. So, I always have that, like, thinking of like, in terms of the proposals that I’ve written before, it’s like, what did people like? What did it what does the institution is asking for, right? A project, title, summary proposal, output. So those things you have to cater to, but like in your own process, you have to think about, why are you working on this? What is it for? Why are you so taken with this project? Like things like that, that is important to be answered.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I really like that about grant writing, actually, I mean, to be honest, I really don’t like grant writing. But one thing I like about it, is that you can really write down exactly the reason why are you making this? Why should it be you making this? How do you want to tell this story, it just helps you to work on the story. While you narrow it down on paper, it becomes much more clear what you actually want to do. So, even if you don’t get the grant, it’s usually a nice way to get your thoughts on paper and to give some direction into a project I feel. Yeah,
Kimberly dela Cruz: I think you like it’s you get to meet a different dimension of your work as you write about it in like proposals, right? Because in terms of this kind of work, this is academic work, like applying for grants, applying for things. This is academic’s work. So, you get you get to go into the thinking like I spent so many times looking for, like how does an academic say this? Like, how do I like, example of a proposal, things like that. And also like, how just you condense the data? Because you have like in journalism, you have to include a data like how do you condense a lot of data into just like a tiny proposal that is going into your project. So, it’s a lot of work. But I guess in terms of like, applying for grants. I don’t apply too much to a lot of grants, because there’s a lot of work, but at the same time when I apply for a grant, I make sure that I’ve done my research, I’ve at least looked at the past winners, what they said about the grant or what the institution is published in the past, because usually they have like a q&a or FAQ, they have like, a lot of scattered materials in the internet, where they’re telling you, this is what we need from you in your proposals, your projects. Yeah.
David Campbell: That’s really, absolutely essential advice when applying for a grant. Answer the questions that the grant giver asks you, make sure you provide exactly the information they want in the format they want. Because they’re getting so many applications, they’re going to be looking for reasons not to move your application forward. That’s how they cut the numbers to start with. And if you don’t answer the questions, you’ll be out. So, but there are a number of people who— there are too many people come up with a draft grant application that they use for multiple different sources. Sure, you can have a draft that you worked from, but you have to tailor it for the organization to which you’re actually applying and actually answer their questions and so on. I’ve been on the other side of reading piles of grant applications, and you’d be surprised the number of people who don’t follow the basic instructions. And that’s the first reason to go out. Yeah.
Kimberly dela Cruz: I mean, I feel that like Alexia published a good like guide for grant writing in like 2021, I think, because when I was listening to that, I was like, Oh, I can’t apply for Alexa anymore. But then I applied the learnings from that to my Eugene Smith proposal.
David Campbell: Yeah. Yeah. So other than grant applications, are you able to make a living out of your photographic work and if so, how do you do that? Or do you need other forms of work to support the photographic stories that you want to do?
Kimberly dela Cruz: I think I’m in that sweet spot, right now. In terms of like this, because I’m coming out of this project, right, and I’ve worked my ass hard for the past months. But the thing is, like, I’m always like, I don’t have many irregular clients, right? So, I’ve learned to ride the seasons in terms of like, this month, the seasons are, like, where the work would come and like to save for the winter, things like that. But I’m also not fussy with work like, I’ve done interior work before, I’ve done weddings. So, in terms of like, work, as long as the pay is good, or the project is interesting, then— also the timeline, because timelines are tricky as well, when you’re freelance, right?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Which way What do you mean by that?
Kimberly dela Cruz: Because sometimes, like when, I don’t know, like, I’m having this, like multiple conversation with other freelancers, like, in terms of like, sometimes you get an email, and it’s the same week. Like, like, I don’t know, if you experience it, but like, sometimes I always have that experiences, either it’s like before a trip, or like, well, I’m on a trip, or while I’m on assignment, and like, I was out of work for like weeks before. But now you want me when I’m busy. But like, I guess it’s really a different practice, right. Like I said, it’s an interesting practice. And it’s a gruesome practice. But I like its freedom. And like, its freedom in terms of like, I get to say no to projects that I don’t want, and I get to say yes to projects that I feel excited about. And I get to follow the stories that I want. And like when I was working for a newspaper where I get assigned randomly to places, and I don’t even get a chance to digest what is happening.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, so you have more time now, or you want you make more more time. That’s quite a brave step. I mean, if I look at my own work, for many years, I took many assignments, or took, I mean, I was also lucky to get many assignments. But of course, they also take away that time you have to work on your longer-term projects, but it really sounds like you have it quite well in balance.
Kimberly dela Cruz: Not yet. I think I mean, like commissions, I guess, like in the last couple of months, I was busy, because it was like, I got this grant and it’s like a huge responsibility, right. So, it was way worth it, that I know that I would need in the future, but I just can’t handle at the moment. So, I mean, I want to pitch more moving forward, right? Like, I want to pitch more moving forward, I want to expand my base, not just in Manila. So, we shall see.
David Campbell: We have a few more minutes so if anyone else in the audience wants to ask a question, drop it into the q&a box. But while people are thinking about that, Kimberly, what’s your ambition? Now moving forward? What if you, if you could have something regardless of whether there’s funding or whatever, what’s the thing that you would most like to do in the next stage of your career?
Kimberly dela Cruz: I mean, I would love to do a book, I would love to work on the book and published a book that is, like, have a huge market, or at least as distributed for like a big circulation. But I want copies for school libraries. Like, I want to find a deal in terms of like, in book publishing, because I’ve seen its effect in the previous children’s book that I did, like, it’s something that could live in libraries, that can be browsed by teachers, it could be passed on to students for the future. So, that I want and maybe a residency. But in terms of like the future, I don’t know because I really like incorporating a lot of Polaroid in my work right now. Because it’s really just a fun experience shared by like you and the person you’re photographing and it’s also like, a way to give away or to give back to people your photograph. So, I would just like enough money to buy film.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: There’s a question coming in from Jim. The question is what is in the way of you doing the work you want?
Kimberly dela Cruz: Money. In a way I have so many limitations, right? I’m Filipino. I have a Philippine passport. I’m not from a rich family. Like, those are limitations that I did not choose for me. But I think, I mean, I’m surprised that I found myself here in this program, in this talk. Like, when I started photographing, I just wanted to take pictures, like there’s no direction for it and just like taking pictures, and even now, while I’m shooting this project, I have a lot of images that are unrelated to my work.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Do you always bring your camera everywhere? Do you see it as a work tool? Sorry, related question.
Kimberly dela Cruz: Ah, no, I have like many cameras, like I have different Polaroids, I have two phones, I have a Sony. So, like, it depends on like, what—if I’m serious, I’m gonna bring the bulky camera, but it’s always coming, it is it’s always coming with a Polaroid. So, like, when I’m using the SX70, it folds. So, it depends on like, the space of my bag. And like and what the day— I’m looking for.
David Campbell: Well, that’s great. I think— Kimberly, you wanted to say something else.
Kimberly dela Cruz: No, I think it’s I was just gonna say like, I think we’ll see each other at some point and I’m gonna be without a camera, even if I’m in a group of photographers.
David Campbell: You won’t be the only one.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, no, you’re right. There will be there will be more. Yeah. Well, Kimberly, thank you.
David Campbell: We, oop—just as you close, there’s always one person who drops in a question. We’ll do this last question. And then our time will be up. From Carlo, the question is, what was the thought process in moving forward with such a complex project, namely, the war on drugs. How did you resolve it conceptually and emotionally? That’s a big question.
Kimberly dela Cruz: I mean, isn’t this ending? It’s a big question. Like, what is the process of moving forward in such a complex project? Oh, so I guess in terms of like, while I was moving forward with the project, it was a project of six years, right? So, I always have to step back and rethink my steps. Like, am I forcing my perspective in this? Am I just recreating the same images that basically is just a perfect formula for good composed image. So, I always have to think about that. And also, like I have to gauge like, a followed families who also told me that like, at first, when you photographed me, I was so sad, and now look at my images and look happy now. So like those changes, I have to incorporate that because there’s no monolith to the emotions that I’m seeing in this project. Right. So, I want to convey that complexity. And also, always question myself as the author of this work. Like I’m only, I’m just harvesting images. I’m just harvesting stories.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Never finished. If you put it that way. Yeah. continue like that.
Kimberly dela Cruz: I think the harder work comes now in terms of like, out, I will always be dedicating space for this, right. I’m going to keep like saying yes to discussions, exhibitions, or whatever. So, I know that it will always be part of me. But in terms of like the Death of a Nation aspect of photographing it, I’m moving forward in a different concept, because the concept for this project was a nightmare. And I’m done with the nightmare. I’m done with looking at it in the sense of like, an ongoing trauma.
David Campbell: Kimberly, thank you. That’s a good place to conclude. Because our time is up. But thank you very much for the presentation. And thank you very much for the open discussion. And it’s been great to be able to showcase your work to the audience as a whole. And in the early hours of the morning in Manila, we’ll let you get some sleep.
Kimberly dela Cruz: Thank you so much, like I appreciated the discussion. I knew it was gonna be short, but I hope we could do this again in the future and I look forward to like also be in the audience in the other sessions.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thanks so much.
David Campbell: Thanks Kimberly.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It was lovely, was really nice.
Kimberly dela Cruz: Thanks so much.
David Campbell: Bye-bye.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Bye.