‘An initial idea to shoot landscapes of Manila, highlighting the stark contrast between the slums and the affluent cityscape, led me into Ulingan and Aroma to shoot elements of the project. I wanted to show the faces of the people who live in these conditions rather than look at the slums as simple structural constructs.
“However, the project was soon to develop into something very different indeed.
“On arriving in Aroma, the first thing that hits you is the smell – impossible to get out of your nose. The slums have no running water or sewer systems – they have basic trenches, but these are mostly to drain away rainwater.
“There was thick mud underfoot. The residents use rubbish in place of topsoil. It absorbs the mud and fills the thick channels gouged by motorbikes and the few cars that use the streets. There are no roads (apart from in North Cemetery), just these muddy paths full of debris acting as a kind of temporary tarmac.
“There is no preparation for a sight like this – it was overwhelming. However, the longer I spent in Aroma, and slums like it throughout Manila, the more intrigued I became by how resourceful and practical people can be. Starting with nothing, they manage to solve problems and make money. There may not be running water in Aroma, but there are revenue streams – it’s a near-perfect example of creativity through necessity.
“The buildings these people live in are, as you would expect, incredibly primitive. They’re really just knocked together out of scraps of wood and plastic. It almost looks as if they hold each other together – you get a sense that if one was to structurally fail, they would all go. The more I thought about this, the more I realised that the buildings, in this sense, share something in common with the people who built them.
“And so a project about contrasts and separateness became a look at humanity and connectivity, at how people can flourish in the most unbelievable conditions when they build a sense of togetherness – when, like the buildings they live in, they can lean on each other. Affluent or poor, we need the interaction and bonding brought about by community. When we stick together, we can survive adversity; when we rely on each other for support, we become stronger.”