“I take photos, not as a woman, but as an artist. When I see people commenting on my photos on social media and they address me as a man, it makes me wonder: why would one assume that a male photographer had taken this photo?”
Winner, 2 National Geographic Sponsored Awards
About Yen Baet
Having lived in 15 different cities, Yen Baet has grown accustomed to a transient lifestyle. Photography did not come to her until later in life when it started as a way to document her personal travels. It turned into professional work after landing her first assignment in London.
Yen has won two National Geographic sponsored awards, which earned her a trip to Peru and an exclusive exhibition in New York City. She has photographed in over 50 countries and has displayed her work in exhibitions, trade fairs and ad campaigns around the world. Her work can be found on the covers and pages of books and magazines, websites, and on the walls of conference rooms and businesses.
Yen had the pleasure of traveling with documentary photographer Alison Wright in Thailand for National Geographic and Thailand Tourism, and was under the mentorship of veteran photographer Harry Gruyaert at Magnum’s Tokyo workshop.
One of her career highlights was a fundraising exhibition in the Philippines that sent students to school through her alma mater’s scholarship program.
How do you see Philippine photography as a whole in terms of using it as a language?
I am excited that many Filipinos are discovering photography. Their images appear on my social media feed every day: portraits, landscapes, travel, documentaries, and more. I am inspired by the idea that people are finding their passion and are sharing it.
We have quite an eventful and colorful past and present. As a people, we have endured tragedies and celebrated victories together, and this ebb and flow in our everyday life allowed us to build a very interesting culture. We have stories to tell and views to express, and what better way to convey these than through photography? TIME magazine’s recent photo essay on Duterte’s drug war by Filipino photographers is a great example of how the camera can be used as a powerful collective voice.
What makes the woman photographer different in terms of the manner of presentation of a subject/object/content in photography as compared to a male photographer? Is there really a difference?
I take photos, not as a woman, but as an artist. When I see people commenting on my photos on social media and they address me as a man, it makes me wonder: why would one assume that a male photographer had taken this photo? Should I be flattered or offended? If you look at a beautiful photo and it speaks to you, will your perception of the photo change if you knew who took the photo?
The difference between a male and a female photographer is whether the photograph is good or bad.
What do you think are the limitations a woman photographer has in photography? Do you believe that photography is a male-dominated discipline?
Limitations only exist if you set them yourself. However, there are distractions and annoyances. In my experience traveling as a photographer, I can’t tell you how many times I have been harassed, swarmed by drunk men, pushed and shoved by fellow photographers, catcalled, yelled at, and shooed out of my spot. I have been told a few times by male photographers to get out of the way because they either want my spot or I’m blocking their shot when they could have just easily moved. If you can tell me that men experience the exact same things, then I won’t say it ‘s a gender issue. Let’s just say there are some arrogant and ill-mannered photographers out there.
These encounters bothered me sometimes, but then I also had stories to tell when I got home and had photographs to look at. It’s a good trade-off, I think. Many of my proud moments are made when I assert my right to be there.
Being a female photographer should not sound like it’s a disability or a disadvantage. Often you’ll realize there is really no need to classify. You’re a photographer, end of story.
Is photography a male-dominated world? Sadly I think it still is, but I don’t fault men entirely for this. Maybe women need to be more assertive and confident. I’d like to see more women out there marking their territory and owning it.
What makes a photograph relevant?
It is relevant if it addresses issues that are important to mankind, whether as a whole or as a single human being. It doesn’t always have to be current, trending, or popular. As long as a photograph has a voice, a heart, and a soul, it is always relevant.
What do you think the government should do so young generations will have a more critical way of understanding photography as a language?
I don’t think we should underestimate our young generation’s ability to digest what’s happening in today’s world, whether they see it through photographs, outside their window, or behind their screens. The beauty of photography is that it’s subjective and is open to interpretation. Most of the today’s youth are already critical, aware, and sensitive to current issues. I know firsthand that they appreciate photography and they understand what they see based on what they express on social media.
What I’d like to see are more government-funded programs that will allow our underprivileged youth to discover their potential by getting involved. I see a lot of free workshops out there but they mostly cater to those who already own cameras. With photography being a privileged hobby to those who can only afford it, it would be nice to have venues where there will be loaner materials, sort of like a public library exclusively for photography. I have no doubt that we have many Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange in the making among our underprivileged youth, if only they were given a chance.