Jonathan Hodder: Capturing the Inquisitive Side of Philippine Streets

© Jonathan Hodder, Of myth and medicine Binondo, Manila


Although not a professional photographer, Fil-Brit Jonathan Hodder, has been taking some of our favourite images of the Philippines on Instagram. We love the inquisitive, stolen moments his photographs capture and were keen to find out more. He juggles photography with working at the UN and is currently based in the Philippines. He strives to convey a sense of thoughtfulness, happiness, and hope in his work and his images provide a beautiful insight into ordinary everyday life on Philippine streets. Read our interview to discover more.

"I find that the best shots are when you let all the
elements - the subject, the light, the colour,
the story, - fall naturally into place"

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I love photography, and though my work is published here and there, I am not a professional photographer. I currently work for the United Nations in the Philippines, managing governance projects on human rights, anti-corruption, and access to basic services.


You’re British-Filipino, can you tell us a little bit about your background and experience growing up in the UK and juggling this dual identity?

I was born in Cambridge, to a British father and Filipino mother. I spent much of my life in the UK before moving out to the Philippines sometime after university. In all honesty, I never felt that I had to juggle between nationalities. I was quietly proud of both, despite their staunch differences. My Tagalog, however, still needs considerable work.

  © Jonathan Hodder, The Summer Prince Malate, Manila

Your images tend to focus on documenting human emotion and human experience.  Would you say this is difficult to convey just through a fleeting encounter on the streets?

I suppose it depends on where you are. I have always found capturing emotion on the street difficult in the UK, where people are a little more reserved; and the streets are primarily used to get from A to B. Flickers of emotion occur now and then, but it is much more difficult to find.

Asia is very different, where many of the cultures are comparatively more open and expressive. This is especially the case in the Philippines, where the streets are not just used for commuting but also for living, whether that would be brushing one's teeth, taking a bath in a barrel of water, cooking dinner, laughing with neighbours, or playing street games. Wherever you look, there is something interesting to find.

"Photo documentary work is using images
to inform people of an important issue or story,
with the hope that they may take positive action"




How do you seek out the things that you wish to photograph? What is your process like?

Usually, the only plan I have is (a very rough) idea of the location of the shoot, time, as well as the person who I’m going to shoot with, which is usually no one or with a close friend. If you are aiming to take candid photos then it's best to avoid big groups - when there's four or more people holding cameras it makes you very easy to spot. 

For everything else, just go with the flow. Get lost down alleyways, talk to people you don’t know, walk a different route home. I find that the best shots are when you let all the elements - the subject, the light, the colour, the story, - fall naturally into place.

© Jonathan Hodder, 'Keeping your spirits high' Binondo, Manila


Are you conscious of your images conveying what has been dubbed as ‘poverty porn’ and how do you balance displaying both the struggle and the humanity at the same time?


I try to focus on the more positive or inquisitive scenes - those that express a sense of thoughtfulness, happiness, or hope. It is quite easy to find this in the Philippines, as people are generally happy and warm. This is in spite of the fact that the poverty incidence is extremely high, and I have always been uncomfortable taking photos of people in desperate situations, especially when they are deprived of their right to the privacy of their own home.

There are, however, occasions when I will take photos of people in such situations, because the scene represents a wider problem that ought to be addressed. One example is the picture of street children borrowing the lights from passing cars to study math in the evening. Pictures such as these are usually accompanied by a story to provide more detail of the issue at hand, and recommendations of specific policies or movements that they can support in order to address them.

And this is where we should draw a clear line. 'Poverty porn' is a strong and repulsive term; implying that someone exploits disadvantaged people for their own personal enjoyment or benefit. Photo documentary work is using images to inform people of an important issue or story, with the hope that they may take positive action. 

This is the reason why many of my favourite photographers - and people - are professional photojournalists, who carry out their photo documentary work no matter how dangerous or distressing the stories are. Many people are not always fully aware of the psychological and physical toll this takes on their own lives. I could not do what they do everyday. They are heroes. 


We notice your images often feel like stolen moments, people captured half smiling, dozing off, there is something warm about this – is it intentional?

Absolutely. Candid moments are the best. Which is why a lot of my shots are often of children or senior citizens. They have very few inhibitions, and tend to express themselves confidently, whether they are aware of the camera or not.

© Jonathan Hodder, Synchronised Siesta Intramuros, Manila


Does shooting in the Philippines feel more personal?

 Yes. It is home.


What kind of emotion would you like your images to evoke in their viewers?

Happiness, anger, inquisitive, boredom, seriousness, elation, deflation, humour. Anything. As long as you feel something.  

"I never felt that I had to juggle
between nationalities.
I was quietly proud of both"

 All images courtesy of Jonathan Hodder.
© Previous page image: Jonathan Hodder, The Photobomber Makati.