“Everytime I shoot either in a remote location or any place I am not familiar with, I always ask questions about the things that I do not know. It’s a sign of respect to the people you just met in that place. It’s also a way to educate the self.”
My Visual Story
The Sacrilege in Faith
Pampanga, Philippines is a place where, during the Holy Week, you see flagellants walking along the street, whipping their blood-soaked body under the warmth of the sun. Despite Catholic church’s rejection of this idea, people who practice the acts believe that this is a form of salvation and expression of faith in God.
The Sacrilege in Faith is a visual story based on the personal experience of emerging Manila-based photographer Jet Rabe, who spent a couple of days in the barrio of Sta. Cruz in Porac, Pampanga where a group of men who call themselves kunsilyu observe the Holy Week through an act called pamagsalibatbat (flagellation). One of these, a resident named Rolly Catacutan, who is the leader of the group shares his story of healing and redemption as a magdarame (flagellant) for 14 years and serves as the “Nazareno”. Wearing a burgundy-colored vestment with his face covered, he leads the group at dawn in Pulung Maba where hundreds prepare their body for self-mutilation while they chant their prayers before pamagparaya (slashing the back to open up the wound when whipped). Jet Rabe was a witness to this.
What is your overall experience with the Magdarame ritual?
For the longest time, I have been intrigued by the way how this is happening. In the past, I am only seeing this on television or newspapers. I am a bit shocked and overwhelmed by the experience. And it was a very relevant event for me to shoot and attend because aside from the fact that this was my first time to experience such a ritual, I am seeing myself going back to this place to document their stories.
What are the things that you considered and thought about when you started photographing these people?
In all honest, I am not familiar with the subjects. But every time I shoot either in a remote location or any place I am not familiar with, I always ask questions about the things that I do not know. It’s a sign of respect to the people you just met in that place. It’s also a way to educate the myself.”
What was your focus in the documentary? What did you find out with this?
Rolly Catacutan. He has been participating in this ritual for the last 14 years. I found out that the reason why he holds back on doing this is because he had a crippled daughter that he thought was a hopeless case. Since he commenced doing the annual ritual as the “Nazareno”, her daughter, little by little was able to walk. Call it faith and miracle, he thinks that his annual devotion to this act resulted in a healing spiritually and physically.
What is the reason why you prefer that look and treatment in showing them in photographs?
I always shoot spontaneously because I trust that there are random moments that cannot be staged or repeated. In doing my personal documentary, I am constantly aware of when to tell my subject to look at my camera, thus making them conscious as well as when I shoot them like an invisible spectator where they do things unaware of a camera sneaking through.
How important is photography in showing this particular subject?
Photography is a very powerful tool for explaining things to us. If you run out of words to describe what’s happening in a particular moment, showing a photo helps create a visual image, thus, a visual message.