Jake Verzosa’s ‘The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga’ will have its Philippine premiere at Art Fair Philippines 2015

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After a highly successful debut at Paris Photo Fair last year, Jake Verzosa’s book “The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga” is finally making its Philippine premiere at Art Fair Philippines 2015. There are only 500 copies of the first edition, making it quite a collectible.

It took the photographer some five years before things got sorted and details, ironed out. “Siguro, I shot for three years. And then I participated in group exhibits, had a residency in France, before finally getting the work published in book form,” says Jake over a cup of coffee one Sunday afternoon. Read the rest of the interview below.

So how did you go about publishing a book with Silverlens?
I proposed the project a long time ago, but at first, they thought it was too — I guess it wasn’t very ‘art.’ Eventually I was able to complete the work in 2013. I had a residency in Franace. I printed the whole set for myself. So 1 set for the museum, 1 set for me. When I came home, we brought the prints to Silverlens for safekeeping sana. But when they saw it, sakto deadline for Paris Photo Fair. My work will go well with the two other selected artists, MM YU and Yee I-lan.

How lucky. Which month was that?
Feb 2014, when the prints arrived. I was really just going to ask them if they could safe-keep but when they saw the whole work, Silverlens became interested. They propsed the work to Paris Photo Fair, it passed. Then I said, I wanted a book. So Silverlens said, ‘we’ll help you out.’ It was perfect for me because I didn’t know anything about publishing, about printers, layout. It was really a 50-50 partnership between Silverlens and me.

They saw the prints, you said you wanted the book, when did it all finally come together?
It was Rach [Rillo] and I who were brainstorming. Siguro, it was two weeks worth of meetings. It was easy because the work was complete. There was text already. It was just a matter of putting things together: how the book would look like, the size. It was all very fast.

Yes, the text by Natividad Sugguiyao was very insightful.
She’s my contact there, she wanted to write the book, which is great because she knows everything. I just asked Erwin Romulo to edit in case there might be something there that was too “insider information.”

How about the French guy who wrote the foreword, Francios Cheval?
Ah, when I still had Manila Collectible in Cubao, he came to look at photographers’ work. He is the curator/director of Musee Nicephore-Niepce, where I did my residency. He also has a partnership with Alliance Francios. Anyway, when he went to Manila Collectible, I showed my Southeast Asian portraits. He liked it and that’s how things started. I’d ask him for advice about the direction of the project — he told me to go deeper into the story, do research about the meaning of the tattooes. That’s why I looked also for Naty.

But how long did you put the material together?
Five years after the initial start, but shooting, it took me three years. After three years, medyo may umay na. Umabot na rin naman ng 40 portraits and I was able to go around pretty much all of the villages, so I decided to stop. I felt like I had enough material. But yun, five years because the project was participated in a few exhibits, I did residency in France. I started shooting late 2010.

So you’d go up every year…
Maybe around once or twice a year and then each trip would last 3-5 days. But each trip, I’d visit a different village. I’d be with Naty, who wrote the text of the book. If she’s not there, I’d ask for permission from a Mayor or similar person of authority. I’d show them the old photos and then, pumapayag naman sila.

How do you go about a photo session with the women?
One afternoon. I’d set up my white background, and all the elderly women will just go. Those who couldn’t go down to the town center, [where I set-up] I’d go up and meet near their houses. Set-up ulit.

Did you have to direct them?
Not really. Well, a little. Some of them, first time nila to get their portrait taken. I was more concerned with the film, because I used a film camera for this project so the process was longer. Fang-Od’s photo? That’s candid. She was waiting for me to set-up, akala niya hindi pa ako ready.


Fang-Od. Photo by Jake Verzosa

What camera did you use?
A Pentax 67. I used a medium format black and white film. Madugo siya, nag dark room pa ko. I had to scan everything, retouch. But the things you’ll see in the book, they’re scanned prints already. Hindi na dark room.

Have the women seen the book?
Not yet. I plan to go back up this month to shoot more material — because I will show this in Silverlens in March, so I want something new naman. May be a video installation. Anyway, when I go back up to Kalinga, I plan to bring some copies of the book with me to show them.

There are 40 portraits in the book. How many didn’t make it?
Maybe about 10. About five to 10 images only. I was able to use everything. The ones that didn’t make it, technical difficulties na lang — bad light, mga ganun.

What’s more stressful — showing in Paris Photo or finally showing it here?
Here. Most of the time in Paris Photo Fair, I wasn’t there. Here, I haven’t exhibited everything here. It’s not that I feel pressured, it’s just I haven’t shown the work the way I want to. Lagi lang nasa booth, nakasabit. So I’m also looking forward to the March show because I’ll be able to present the way I want to.

The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga (PHP2,000) launch. 2pm, Feb 7, Booth 24, Level 6, Art Fair Philippines, The Link Carpark, Makati Avenue, Makati.

Photo: armimillari Instagram


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