As prescribed by Paulina Constancia

Passion for Photography 5: Rick Rocamora – Documentary & Marginalized Subjects (USA)

From the Windy City we head to the Golden state to meet award-wining documentary photographer Rick Rocamora. His has been an interesting life journey from being an executive in an international pharmaceutical company to embracing his true passion for telling visual stories of the marginalized. His honest and moving portrayals of the unheeded and oppressed are visual ‘calls to action’ for governments and citizens around the world.

For me, his documentary photography is a form of “satyagraha” – a term coined by Mahatma Gandhi from the Sanskrit words satya (meaning “truth”) and Agraha (“polite insistence”, or “holding firmly to”); loosely translated as “insistence on truth”. via Wikipedia

Name: Rick Rocamora
City/Country base: Oakland, California, USA


RICK ROCAMORA has won awards for his images and picture stories from Asian American Journalist Association, SF Bay Area Press Photographers Association, New California Media, Media Alliance; he was awarded a California Arts Council Art Fellowship and a Local Bay Area Heroes Award from KQED and Union Bank of California for his work about Filipino WW II Veterans. His work is widely exhibited in national and international museums and galleries. His work is part of a collection of American arts most recently exhibited at the Court of Saint James in the United Kingdom and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. His work is included in the traveling exhibition “Points of Entry-A Nation of Strangers,” which was exhibited at the Smithsonian, Center for Photographic Arts, Museum of Photographic Arts, and other venues. His images are part of “Pork and Perks – Corruption and Governance in the Philippines” a National Book Award winner in the Philippines in 1994. “Second-Class Veterans” a film produced by Don Young that profiled Rocamora’s undying efforts to document the day-to-day lives of Filipino veterans was broadcast on PBS stations in 2003 and 2004. His book about Filipino WWII veterans, “America’s Second-Class Veterans” was published in 2009. He is also working on a project about Muslim-Americans after 9/11, Immigrant entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Overseas Filipinos and Balikbayan Journal, a visual diary of his occasional visit to his motherland, the Philippines. Rocamora worked for 18 years in the US pharmaceutical industry in sales and management positions before launching a career in documentary photography. Rocamora co-founded Exposure Gallery in San Francisco with Pulitzer winner Kim Komenich. Read more

The Camera:

DDoA: What was your first camera? Tell us the story behind it
RR: Nikon and bought in Hk by Ed Gerlock, then a Maryknoll priest deported by Marcos. Most of my work was using Leica immediately after I have an M3, then M6 and M7 and my favorite lens was the 21mm lens.

DDoA:  Your camera now
RR:  Fuji XPro1 with 14mm and 23mm lens

DDoA:  What would you recommend as a starter camera for somebody who wants to pursue photography as a hobby? as a profession?
RR: The best camera to use is what we own and whether as a hobby or as a professional, it boils down to what we can afford. Lenses to use is relative..depending on our own personal needs and the kind of images we make.

PHOTOGRAPHY:: Passion, Profession & Purpose

DDoA:  What made you pursue a career in photography? Who/what inspired you to go into photography? What was your profession before?
RR: I gave up a lucrative corporate career so that I can make less money and pursue with passion and purpose the kind of stories that i do focusing on issues about immigration, discrimination, injustice, inequality, civil liberties and liberation movements.

DDoA:  Was there a defining moment or a photo you took that made you realise that taking photos is what you want to do for the rest of your life?’
RR: There is no specific picture but after  making pictures in Nicaragua in support of the Sandinistas Nd work for the human rights commission of theFMLN, and my early work in the Philippines, I decided to give up my corporate life for good in December 1990.

DDoA:  What is your definition of a good picture?
RR: An image of a moment that triggers an emotional reaction using a pleasing available light on the subject or subjects composed with geometry and layers of details and faces or body language.

DDoA:  What are some of the advantages & disadvantages of photography as a profession?
RR: Don’t expect to make a lot of money but you must know how to convince your clients that your work will benefit them or their cause and you are the right person to do the job because of your good understanding of their pains and anxieties and the purpose for what the body of work will be used. There will always be somebody better than us, it will be better to learn from them than be jealous and angry. There is no exclusivity in telling visual stories. Develop a good understanding of the world around us and be an expert of the issues that your story  is about. Photography is not just about making pictures but also having a developed point of view. Learn to give something back, we cannot ride on past glories. Remain active because there are many important stories that need to be told.

DDoA:  What tips can you give to photography enthusiasts on taking documentary photos  & photos of the marginalized?
RR:  Our images will be better once we can identify with the pain and conditions of our subject. Our work is about them and not about us. We only provide them with a vehicle to tell their stories.  A photojournalist must be on top of local and international news and must be conversant about different issues of the day. It will be difficult to be working on an assignment with limited knowledge of issues. We need to know more about the issue and be able to explain and argue about our points of view. We must have a working knowledge of the different perspectives about the story we would like to tell.

cuba Si x2

Ballet School
“Cuba sí ” series by Rick Rocamora

El Salvador

Street Scene
“San Salvador…City Under siege” series by Rick Rocamora

South Africa

A long walk for a bucket of water
New South Africa, Photo by Rick Rocamora


Sleeping units for rent, Manila Detention Center
“Clogged veins of justice” series by Rick Rocamora


Fair price guarantee
From the “Life’s Arcade: Quiapo” series by Rick Rocamora

DDoA:  What message or advocacy do you wish to communicate and promote through your images?
RR: Part of our work is to make sure that it reaches our target audience. We must use all distribution channels available to create awareness and educate others about our work. Distribution plans should be an integral part of our plan even before we make the first image. It is always about them and not about us. Making photos of the  marginalized is not about showing our skills or how expensive our tools are. If we don’t have an outlet for our work to show their flight, we must refrain in doing them because clearly we are just taking advantage of their vulnerability.


Official merchandise
From the “Pinoy sa Amerika” series by Rick Rocamora


Memorial for Ahmad Shah Massood.
From the “Freedom and Fear: Muslim-Americans after 9/11” series by Rick Rocamora

DDoA:  How do you think photographers can influence the way people perceive the world? Do you think photographers are able to motivate people to make positive change in the world?
RR: We remember images first before we attach a name to the photograph. If our image is good enough to be remembered, it can hopefully make an impact to our audience.

Here are some videos to give us a deeper understanding of documentary photographer Rick Rocamora’s passion and purpose:

Rick Rocamora was assigned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)to document the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan and the agency’s relief efforts.

Rick Rocamora:  “The Future of Visual Storytelling at TEDxDiliman

To see more of Rick Rocamora’s images visit the following:


Contact Rick: 

image for headerSo do… remember Rick Rocamora’s wise words about documentary photography: “Our images will be better once we can identify with the pain and conditions of our subject. Our work is about them and not about us. We only provide them with a vehicle to tell their stories.”

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This entry was posted on September 12, 2014 by in Communicate, Connect and tagged , .
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