Filipino Photographer Hannah Reyes Morales Wins World Press Photo |
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Filipino Photographer Hannah Reyes Morales Wins World Press Photo

Hannah Reyes Morales for The New York Times

Photographer and journalist Hannah Reyes Morales has won the 2023 World Press Photo Contest for Southeast Asia and Oceania for her story on the Golden Gays of Manila.

Home for the Golden Gays is the incredibly moving and memorable story of a group of elderly showgirls, published in The New York Times in January this year. The Golden Gays, known in the Philippines as a community of older LGBTQI+ people who live together, has long struggled with discrimination, homelessness, and, during the pandemic, the loss of income they derived from performing in pageants and fiestas. Hannah’s photos and words were commended by the jury for portraying the warmth, joy, and dignity of the community. 

Vogue Philippines caught up with Hannah, who was on assignment in Kenya at the time of the World Press Photo announcement, to ask her about how her story of the Golden Gays came about. She says she had seen some earlier features on them online, but one of her favorites was Geloy Concepcion’s Reyna delas Flores, a series of studio portraits that brought the members together for the first time since founder Justo Justo died in 2012, leaving many of them homeless and back on the streets. According to Hannah’s piece, the Golden Gays were finally able to rent a house for themselves in 2018. 

Hannah Reyes Morales New York Times Golden Gays
Hannah Reyes Morales for The New York Times

“During the pandemic, I knew that performances weren’t happening. And I knew that the elderly population were very much affected. I was really curious about what life was like for them in the context of the pandemic,” says Hannah, who pitched the story to The New York Times. She reached out to Lola Mon, arranging to meet with the group first before she started taking any pictures. 

On a deeper level, Hannah wanted to do a story on what home and family really means. “Mela Habijan told me that the Golden Gays aren’t only icons of the LGBTQIA+ community, but they’re also icons of the home,” she says. “The queering of the home is important, the expansiveness of the idea of home, the expansiveness and the queering of family. It’s important to show and to demonstrate what that looks like and how people actually do it.”

Over the course of her visits to the Home for the Golden Gays—which was very near Hannah’s own childhood home—she realized that the story was also about what it means to age with grace. “To see what aging with grace, with community, with love and beauty could look like and to see that embodied through the lens of the Golden Gays was really quite transformative.” Hannah explains how they also helped expand the definition of pride—their pride in beauty and in family was what kept the group afloat through all their difficult periods. 

Hannah Reyes Morales New York Times Golden Gays
Hannah Reyes Morales for The New York Times

“One of the other things that was wonderful about the Golden Gays is that this is a community that they built together and has stayed strong for decades—through time, through shared suffering, through shared joy,” she says. Being performers, senior citizens, and part of the marginalized population made the Golden Gays among the most vulnerable during the pandemic. But they never felt abandoned by the LGBTQI+ community in the Philippines, who stood by them and recognized how important the lolas were. 

Hannah says she almost did not enter the story in the World Press Photo contest. “But I wanted the lolas to have more visibility, because I feel like they have so much to impart to us,” she says. “Lola Mon told me once that they do not fear even the word death, and I thought that that was beautiful, to have a space in your life where you have that fearlessness.”

The photographer also wanted the story to show how people who struggle can be portrayed without being viewed from a lens of pity. “For me, what was so special about the [story] was that the Lolas have so much to teach us, and so much to give.”

Hannah Reyes Morales New York Times Golden Gays
Hannah Reyes Morales for The New York Times
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