Hannah Reyes Morales Manila, Philippines

Hannah Reyes Morales was born and raised in Manila. She is curious about the stories people tell themselves in the midst of adversity. This includes photographing human trafficking at sea for The New York Times, reporting on forced marriages in Cambodia for Al Jazeera America, and documenting changing indigenous cultures in the Philippines for a grant from National Geographic. Recently, through a grant from the GroundTruth Project, she documented the lives of displaced Filipina women who wound up in the sex trade after frequent typhoons.

She is part of MAPS, a collective effort proposing new ways and approaches of storytelling to address the world’s changing environment and societies. She is a recipient of a SOPA award for excellence in digital reporting for her work in the Outlaw Ocean series for The New York Times. In 2017 she received the Chris Hondros Memorial Award, and is currently part of World Press Photo’s 6×6 Program. She is based in Manila.


Hannah Reyes Morales

Hannah Reyes Morales was chosen by photographer Charmaine Poh



Laatikkomo’s interview with Hannah Reyes Morales February 5th, 2018.

L:  Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?

HRM:  I was born and raised in Manila City, and grew up seeing the messy parts of it. I’ve lived here for most of my life, but lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for three years. Manila greatly influences my work and my life. Our history is one that is largely colonial, and it manifests in our complex present. I am grappling with ideas about our identity independent of colonization while being attentive of how it is indivisible from my everyday experiences. 

L:  What is your first memory of photography/film?

HRM:  My very very first camera was from my grandfather – he went to America and brought home an Olympus camera for me. My mom also eventually bought me a Polaroid i-zone, which produced 1.5×1 inch instant photographs that I would adorn our room with. I still have a soft spot for tiny photographs because of that camera. 

L:  Even though the subject of your reportages is often heavy, the images themselves are beautiful and polished. In your opinion what makes an image beautiful?

HRM:  I took a workshop with Christopher Morris and he has this obsession with images that stand the test of time, or are masterpieces. I think he drove that point home to me, especially with the intimate knowledge of my own quick consumption of images. He would always ask what made some images stand the test of time, so I began to look a little closer and began to create a folder of images that to me, were timeless masterpieces. I consume images on a daily basis – I send my friends photos of where I am, I am constantly on instagram and facebook and I communicate in emoji a lot too. I am certainly of my generation. But I paid attention to the images that never left my mind, and I began looking closer. They evoked things in me and they made me feel connected somehow. There are also images that surface to me only after a second look. It is easy to be caught up in what images get more likes, but some images really stay in my heart and my mind and they make me feel things.  To me this is what makes an image powerful; and this is what separates some images from others. 

L:  It seems like most of the reportages you make are somewhat local to you. Are there other places in the world you would like to document?

HRM:  Absolutely. I would love to travel again, and I would love to explore other places deeply as I did in Cambodia. But for now I know this is where I need to be.

L: Photography, and documentary photography in particular, is often a tool for telling stories. Do you have a story or message of your own that you sneak into your images, apart from the assigned story or obvious scene?

HRM:  I am always interested in telling stories about how people live ‘normal’ lives amidst adversity. I heard this story about women in war asking not only for diapers for their children, but lipstick for themselves. This really struck me and made me feel so close to people so far away. So in my stories I try to make sure I include moments of life that is not so alien to a viewer, things we might be able to relate to. Small things, like laughter, or an embrace. Covering the violence and the difficulties are necessary but I believe in needing to portray how life goes on, how life is lived, and how life is survived.

L:  Could you list five or more words related to the work you are showing in Laatikkomo?

HRM:  survival, pain, intimacy, softness, choice 

Thank you so much Hannah!!