LET’S MEET UP WITH… CINDY AQUINO

First of all, congratulations! You are the winner of the 2013 Pride Photo Award with a photo from your series ‘Bond’, which depicts two Filipino women during a tender, intimate moment. The photo also received second place in the ‘Extremely Normal’ theme category. How has the experience been so far?
 
It is a wonderful, overwhelming experience. I certainly wasn’t expecting to win. I only wished that one of my photos would be included in the exhibition. I decided to participate in the contest because the goal of Pride Photo Award – showing the LGBT community in all its diversity – is close to my heart. I have quite a lot of family members and friends who are gay and lesbian. They are still being discriminated here in the Philippines, since it is a conservative, mostly Catholic country. So, the recognition means a lot to my family, my friends and me.
 
This is actually the first recognition I have received as a photographer. I now feel assured that I chose the right creative path. I hope this inspires other photographers to pursue their dreams.
 
How did the idea for ‘Bond’ come about?
 
I created my photo series specifically for the Pride Photo Award contest, within a period of less than two weeks. At first, I was fascinated with the fact that some lesbians in the Philippines wrap a bandage around their chests to hide their breasts. I asked two of my friends, Onek and Thalia, to pose in front of my camera. Onek attended the same college as my husband and Thalia is the vocalist of the ska/reggae band The Dandimites. They are both lesbians.
 
I spent a whole day with Onek and Thalia. First I took some photos of them while they were sitting down, having a chat and bonding with each other. Then I took some solo shots of each of them. While posing, both girls told me that all they want is acceptance and love. I then decided I would take a picture of them together, locked in an embrace. Later I changed the title from my project from ‘Bondage’ to ‘Bond’, to stress the fact that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and, not to forget, transgenders are perfectly normal. Like everyone else in this world, they just want to find love, bond with others and live a happy life.
 
What are the issues the LGBT community faces in the Philippines?
 
Discrimination is still a huge problem. Unfortunately, people are not always allowed to be themselves. Yet, there are positive developments. Since 2003, there is an organization called LADLAD: the first Filipino – and perhaps Asian – LGBT political party. There is also the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Phillipines (also known as ProGay Philippines), a service and advocacy group that organized the first gay parade in Asia ever in 1994.
 
Both Onek and Thalia are not afraid to be who they are in public. They are very blessed by having a family that accepted them easily. Onek told me that her first crush was her female kindergarten teacher. She came out of the closet on the moment she dropped her feeding bottle. Her family was cool with it. Thalia has had a similar experience. She is very thankful that her family members are understanding and have a good sense of humor: they make playful jokes about each other’s sexuality.
 
Is there something you would like to pass on to future participants of Pride Photo Award?
 
Respect your subjects. Have an open ear and mind. Then ideas will come easily. That’s exactly what happened when I created ‘Bond’.
 

Niels van Maanen
art historian and critic, Amsterdam

 

From the series 'Bond' by Cindy Aquino, Philippines winner of the Pride Photo Award 2013

From the series ‘Bond’ by Cindy Aquino, Philippines, winner of the Pride Photo Award 2013

Pride Photo Award is an annual international contest for photos about sexual and gender diversity.

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