Hannah Reyes Morales
Hannah Reyes Morales is a Filipina photographer and National Geographic Explorer whose work documents tenderness amidst adversity. Her photography, both visceral and intimate, takes a look at how resilience is embodied in daily life. Based in Manila, Reyes Morales’ work explores the universal themes of diaspora, survival, and the bonds that tie us together.
Her work has been published by CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and National Geographic Magazine; in 2019 she received the Tim Hetherington Visionary Award, and was selected by the World Press Photo for the Joop Swart Masterclass.
What was your latest book discovery? What are your favorite books of all time?
I'm currently reading A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, The Overstory by Richard Powers, and The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. I am usually reading more than one book at a time these days, and I'm somehow enjoying these three together at the same time.
It's hard to say what my favourite books are of all time, but there are books that have shaped me or have stayed with me for very long. I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, and I grew up with the characters, and the books will stay with me for life. I love Open House for Butterflies by Ruth Krauss, and The Persistence of Yellow by Monique Duval. I really love Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I also love graphic novels - some favourites are the Saga series, the Sandman series, Blankets, and Maus.
Most visited blogs, websites? :
MANILA CITY JAIL
‘The alternative is either jail or hell.’ - Rodrigo Duterte
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in the Philippines in 2016. He has since been waging a bloody war on drugs. Since he took office, thousands of people have been killed in his desire to ‘preserve the generation.’
Simultaneous to the deaths, and the government’s desire to exercise power, arrests have spiked up. Philippine jails have become increasingly more packed, exceeding the capacity of the jails. In the Manila City jail, there is one police officer for approximately 500 inmates. In the wake of this, Philippine police have a tacit agreement with the gangs inside the jail to keep the peace and hold the jail together. Few of the inmates have been convicted — most are pretrial detainees — but many will spend months or even years in the jail due to the jammed court system. Some inmates wait years just to be tried for a crime with a few months sentence. “When you are detained in Philippine jails, you are being tortured,” says Leah Armamento, a representative from the Philippine Commission on Human Rights. At night sleep is a precious commodity. Here, 518 men sleep in a cell made for 170.
Today, the Philippines’ overall prison system is the world’s most overcrowded incarceration prison system in the world. And until they hear about the status of their freedom, there is nothing to do but kill time.
What apps do you use the most and why?
I use WhatsApp the most - it's the place where I can reach people I love immediately...
Whats currently on your playlist?
I listen to a lot of songs on loop until I can't listen to them anymore, then I listen to another song on loop, and then when I can't listen to it anymore I'll sometimes go back to a previous 'loop.' Here are the ones in my heavy on loop rotation:
LOVE. FEAT. ZACARI. by Kendrick Lamar, Zacari (my most looped song, I confess)
Forget Regret by The RH Factor
Closer by Powers
Koop Island Blues by Koop
Hard Place by H.E.R
Tuwing Umuulan At Kapiling Ka by Eraserheads
Nont For Sale by Sudan Archives
GONE, GONE / THANK YOU by Tyler, The Creator
Work Out by Chance the Rapper
Satisfied by The Hamilton Cast
Finishing The Hat by Mandy Patinkin
What records would you recommend to hear?
I loved Circa91 by Ruby Ibarra. When I first listened to it I was crying, listening to a Filipina rapper made me feel so seen. I also really enjoy listening to musical soundtracks, often without having seen the show, because I enjoy imagining stories when I listen. I am currently loving the Hadestown soundtrack, because I'm a huge fan of the broadway actress Eva Noblezada, and I regularly go back to the Hamilton soundtrack. I listen to Ivy Sole's Eden album a lot, All Mine should probably have been on my on loop list up there.
Fresh movie finds? What films do you think everybody should watch?
I recently saw the animated film The Breadwinner on the plane, about an Afghan girl and her family during the time of the Taliban. I also recently saw the anime film Your Name, which really, really broke me. My most rewatched film is probably Moulin Rouge - I find myself always crying in airplanes with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. I have always loved Miyazaki films, Spirited Away has been a favourite from childhood.
Which artists working today do you admire most?
'During the evenings, my mother couldn't sleep. You could see the explosions,' Kristine Porcadilla remembers. 'In the mornings our lives seemed normal. We would play and see the fighter jets. We thought we were just playing, but the stench of the dead reeked in the rice fields.' Porcadilla, a young woman joining the Philippine Army, grew up in Mindanao, the southernmost island of the Philippines. It is the seat of the second oldest internal conflict in the world.
More than a year ago, militants aligning themselves with the Islamic State besieged the city of Marawi, the largest Muslim majority city in the Philippines. There were foreign fighters among them, some from Malaysia and Indonesia, a few from farther away such as Yemen and Pakistan. The Philippine Army has declared the city ‘liberated’ from these militants, but today the city is still in ruin, and more than a hundred thousand people remain displaced in one of the most overlooked humanitarian crises in the region. Experts warn that this instability is exactly what the Islamic State uses to recruit more fighters.
Today the islands in the south continue to be plagued with attacks which IS have claimed, and many of them remain underreported in international media. The government continues to play down the presence of IS in the region. Meanwhile, civilians must contend with everyday life. In the camps, there is little to do. Noraima, a young woman, watches her neighbor’s children while their parents scramble for food. ‘It’s like time has stopped for us.’
What are some of your tv top tips right now?
The last two shows that I binged were The End of The F***ing World (did I get the asterisk placements right?) and Russian Doll. Without spoiling it - I loved how The End tackles a lot of the issues I care about in a way that's so nuanced. I really enjoyed Sex Education as well. Also a Peaky Blinders fan.
Who are you following?
I have two accounts, I significantly use one (my photography account @hannahreyesmorales) more than the other. I use it to discover new work, to keep up with my friends on assignments, and to see what goes on behind the scenes. I keep one account just for photography related things because I find it very jarring to see images of crises or critical issues against things my tiny fixations that I look at to unwind, like miniature cooking. I just want to make sure that when I am looking at people's work it doesn't get lost in the noise of the internet of things, so I try to keep my media diet intentional when there's so much out there.
I love the accounts of @luisadorr, @gericcruz, @elliotstudio, @maddiemcgarvey, @maggiesteber, @jennydeluxe, @yagazieemezi, @emilygarthwaite, @womenphotograph, @everydayphilippines, @malinfezehai, @reginedavid, @geloyconcepcion, @phamhaduylinh, @jakeverzosa, @gabmejia, @kiliiiyuyan - the list goes on.
What tools do you use in your work?
Adobe Lightroom is my best friend (except for the one time my catalog got corrupted). I work with Sony mirrorless cameras - I have the A9 and the A7RIII. Full disclosure that I am sponsored by them this year, but I was already using the system before they came in.
What magazines / newspapers do you read regularly?
What are your favorite gadgets?
I'm on the road for big chunks of time so I really value what I take with me - the objects I take with me are sometimes the only things that are familiar to me when I enter new spaces. Somehow these objects also make me feel safe.
I swear by Muji ballpoint pens and the Muji notebooks that have dots in the pages. I cannot leave the house without them.
It took me a while but I think I have a pretty ideal travel set up for gear now - I have the Peak Design 30L backpack, and a Domke reporter's satchel, which fits my whole camera set up.
For shorter assignments where I have to pack clothes and be mobile, my friend Jo designed the perfect duffel bag for her brand Bag Your Brand, and almost everyone in my friend group now has one which makes traveling with them a little awkward.
My favourite pants are my Toqa pants, from recycled fabric - but they're really durable and they make me feel good. I can report in them and be in the office in them too. I'm wearing them as I type this. It's really hard to find utility pants that don't look frumpy so I'm happy I have these.
I just got the waterproof Kindle. I read in the shower, which is a habit I picked up from my partner, who reads in the shower with actual books so no one lends us books anymore.
Finally I don't leave the house without my Marshall headphones (great for listening to music and when I also need silence and don't want people to talk to me), and I always travel with tiny but mighty portable speakers. Music and books keep me anchored.
Manila's shanty towns are not underground, but they may as well be. In the past, walls were erected to hide them. But these sprawling towns are home to millions of Filipinos, and they are one of the densest places on earth. Today it is the backdrop of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's War on Drugs, which according to the emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, 'could more aptly be described as crimes against humanity targeting the urban poor.'
As I covered crime scenes I became much more curious about the residents gathering to witness the deaths, and who would retreat back into their homes. As one crosses over to this part of the city, the rules change. The regard for human rights and rule of law vanishes. But in here, life goes on amid the violence it bears witness to.
Over the last few years the images that have come out of the Philippines have been bloody and violent. I began to wonder - what can I contribute to the narrative that hasn't been told yet? With the constant and necessary portrayal of the death, I believe it is also important to highlight its living face. This part, which I believe is an essential part, is largely missing from the conversation. Behind the wall that was built from shame, and the attempts to ‘cleanse’ these spaces with killing, there is tenderness and there is life.