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Inspiration

This Filipina Pursued Her Passion and Became a National Geographic Explorer

By Poyen Ramos on December 12, 2016

"I used to look through my mom’s Life and National Geographic magazines when I was younger, and I loved seeing other parts of the world through them."

That was what Hannah Reyes Morales, National Geographic explorer, said on how she first got interested in photography. At a young age of 26, she has been living the life of travel that most of us only dream of living.

However, her travels are not like what we're probably thinking. Hannah travels for assignments in rural areas, capturing ordinary lives of people around the Philippines and in Asia and make it extraordinarily interesting for us to see. Raw and real.

Daydreams to making it real

Hannah grew up in a small space in Manila with her family. They didn't really travel much, and Hannah's mom was strict about her going out to play in the streets. So she stayed indoors most of the time reading her mother's Nat Geo magazines in awe about the photos and people in the photographs. It was there that she got interested to become a photographer, daydreaming that someday she'll become one. It wasn't until much later that her mother bought her her first DSLR. And that was basically the start of a love story.

"When I got that camera, I started to really think about photography in a new way. I started reading more about photography and studying the work of other photographers more closely. A turning point for me was when someone I trusted put the idea in my head that my photographs at the time were just pretty – I wanted to do more than take just beautiful images," mentions Hannah.

A nomad man rests inside his Mongolian ger. The furnishing inside his ger is comprised of both Mongolian patterned rugs, and furniture from modern shops.

Hannah took an elective under Dennis Sabangan in the University of the Philippines Diliman, then took workshops after under Kevin Wy Lee, Christopher Morris, and Sim Chi Yin. She then got grants with Nat Geo and GroundTruth, with guidance from Gary Knight. All these has helped her immensely in her career. Although they were not formal courses, she said that all have helped shaped the way she thinks about photography.

The rough and tough to getting what you want

Like any other dream you want to pursue, it's never smooth sailing and for Hannah this was the case.

"In the beginning, I was just figuring out ways to try to fund my photography. I was reselling clothes from the ukay-ukay, I opened a shoe business, I was shooting weekend nights at a bar in Quezon City, and occasionally shooting for EPA, all at the same time."

December 12, 2014. Koh Kong, Cambodia. A young Kun Khmer boxer is fanned with a towel in between rounds at a boxing match. Child boxers in Cambodia fight to help support their families, and see boxing as a means out of poverty. Hannah Reyes/ Ruom
December 12, 2014. Koh Kong, Cambodia. A young Kun Khmer boxer is fanned with a towel in between rounds at a boxing match. Child boxers in Cambodia fight to help support their families, and see boxing as a means out of poverty. Hannah Reyes/ Ruom

She was constantly trying out different ways to avoid working a 9-5, because she knew that it just wasn't for her. It was definitely a challenge for her. It took a long time before photography became her main source of livelihood. She even said that it wasn't until recently that her career began to pay the bills.

"There are many sacrifices – being away a lot is difficult especially since I am married. But the difficulties have always been a given, I never took for granted that this would be a piece of cake and every day I feel lucky that I get to do what I do."

Woman from the Manobos of Mindanao.

When asked about failures, she said she failed endlessly.

"I’m at the point where I feel that failure is a necessary part of my growth. If I really want this, I know I need to get used to failure, and I need to toughen up and see what I can learn each time."

'Go and make interesting mistakes'

However successful Hannah has been with her career, she says that not all are given the kinds of opportunities she's gotten. However, this is not something that should stop you from pursuing your truest passion.

A man is seen at a carnival in Koh Kong, border of Thailand and Cambodia.
A man is seen at a carnival in Koh Kong, border of Thailand and Cambodia.

For her message for the dreamers and risk-takers, she borrowed Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech:

‘So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.

And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.’

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