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In “Filipinotown,” Rozette Rago Explores The Displacement Felt by Filipino Women Living in Los Angeles

Posted by on July 12, 2018 | Photographer Interviews

Rozette Rago’s big break was more monumental than most. A recent arrival to Los Angeles from the Philippines, Rago was assigned to shoot U2 for a music magazine. The band somehow saw copies of the images she took, and asked for permission to use them on U2’s marketing materials. Rago’s images photographs thus appeared on U2’s fan club posters, on the cover of a Blu Ray from their concert, and in the promotional materials for an HBO show about this band. To this day, Rago still can’t believe it happened. “It’s the peak of my life,” she says.

At the tim, Rago was shooting for local music blogs in Los Angeles, and running Restless Cities, a website devoted to independent music and culture, which she launched in 2012. “It was hard to get that first paid job,” she explained. “I emailed every local blog, and said, ‘Let me shoot for you.’ I would be at music festivals, and I’d email every publicist and musician, offering them images.”

She had come to Los Angeles to study film at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles in 2011. In the Philippines, after receiving her BA in Communication Arts at De La Salle University in Manila in 2009, she had worked for Skylight Films, the independent film production company. A career in film seemed more practical than a film in photography. “Photography just didn’t make money,” she says. “I just considered it my hobby.”

But photography was what kept her working in the United States. The big break with U2 gave Rago the confidence to pitch her photographs to national publications, including The New York Times. Today, she counts the newspaper a regular client, and has also done work for The FADER, VICE, HBO and Smithsonian Books.

Even despite her success, Rago is still practical about establishing a career. During the week, she works a regular nine to five as the associate photo editor at the Wirecutter, which is a product review site owned by The New York Times. 

Rago currently has many projects in the work. Below is a selection of images from “Filipinotown,” a series about the Filipino neighborhood where she lived when she first moved to Los Angeles. “I started working on the story because living in Los Angeles, there were some moments where I felt disconnected from my roots,” she says.

She focused specifically on women “because of how Catholic the Philippines are,” she noted. “Los Angeles is such a liberal city, it’s the opposite of how we grew up. There’s not a lot of judgment about what you wear, or how you act.”

The difference is jarring, and for Rago, created a sense of displacement. To explore it visually, she asked her subjects to assume poses found in their favorite photographs taken of their mothers when they were roughly the same age. “I wanted to use our mothers’ photographs as a way to capture a little bit of the cultural cap between the two generations,” she says.

For more information about Rozette Rago’s work, visit her website, or follow her on Instagram.

Below is a selection of images from “Filipinotown.” Rago notes that the series is a work in progress. All images © Rozette Rago.