Jeff Dojillo, The Romance of Morning

I WAS BORN ON JUNE 9th, 1979. I am the youngest of three children and the product of Filipino immigrants. I grew up in the greater Los Angeles area in a Roman Catholic family raised largely by my sisters and my mother.

Religion has played a large part in my life and upbringing. It has been a source of comfort and a time for reflection. Like many Filipinos, I adopted the value structure dictated by Catholicism. Over the years I watched my mother seek and obtain emotional refuge during trying times through spirituality via prayers and scripture, especially during her tumultuous marriage to my father—a man plagued with insecurity and alcoholism.

My mother came from a broken family, which left her and her only brother, to be raised by their grandparents in the Philippines. Despite the unfortunate circumstances revolving around my mother’s childhood, she forged a strong bond with her brother.

After my mother and my uncle immigrated to the United States, their bond remained strong. While my father was abusive, my uncle was my mothers only form of emotional support, and the only person willing to stand up to my father when he became violent. It is because of his courage and unconditional love for my mom that my uncle solidified an important place in our (my sisters and mine) lives.

As I became a young adult, my path led me to college and graduate school where I spent about 10 years away from my family. I went home once in awhile and as time went by, I noticed my uncle was ill and his chronic issues began to occur more frequently, lasting longer between bouts. My uncle had always been a strong person, and in my heart, I knew he would over come this ordeal. Toward the end of 2009, I returned to Los Angeles to find out that my beloved uncle fell very ill and soon after passed away.

This series romanticizes the process of mourning by including photographs of my sick uncle, portraits of family members and images that emphasize my personal feelings and emotions while dealing with my uncle’s passing.

My relationship with my family created this project, and it is through these images that I allowed myself to mourn. Surrounding myself with my family made me explore mourning on different levels. The idea of mourning is romantic itself. The story of a loved one leaving is considered a tragedy. The inability to let go embraces the idea of guilt, which creates more than a relationship, it creates a bond such as marriage.

As it had done in the past, photography allowed me to confront the emotions I was wrestling with, by documenting evocative images through my lighting and my specific process of interview and portraiture, I was able to provide my audience with a romantic tale through my photographs.

After numerous conversations with my family, I realized that mourning manifests itself in the form of guilt, passion, love, and stress. I was able to break through their protective shell and expose their true feelings, allowing me to capture private moments in time.

I included vintage photographs of my family members to provide insight into the beginning of life, and its reminiscent quality with regard to a place of origin. These images provide information about my uncle and the people who surrounded him.

I also included images of trees because of the symbolism it represented to me – the family tree. Since the inception of time and the development of various religions, the Tree of Life manifests itself through teaching and scriptures. The branches of the tree also represent different lives and directions people take, yet they are branches from the same tree. Trees also represent veins and arteries through which the heart pumps blood throughout our bodies.

Through this body of work I expressed myself poetically through the language of art, and the language of art is a mirror to life. It is through everyday life that I find the greatest inspiration.