Meet Yen Baet, Filipino Photographer and Finalist for The National Geographic Exceptional Experience Photo Contest

Yen Baet is a Filipino photographer and another inspirational Filipina to be featured on Fil-Am Ako. One of her photographs has been selected as one of only six finalists in the National Geographic Photo Contest, which is based in the US. Baet happens to be the only Filipino who made it to the finals, and is very proud to represent the country. However, the winner will be determined by public voting and that’s where she needs the support of her fellow Filipinos and Americans, since only US legal residents are eligible to vote.

We all know that our very own Efren Peñaflorida won the CNN Hero of the Year by public voting – this goes to show you how fierce and determined Filipinos are when it comes to showing their support for their fellowmen and getting recognized around the globe. For these reasons, it surely would be a historic moment to put a Filipino in the National Geographic map. National Geographic, which was originally based in Washington DC, is a prestigious institution. The magazine has worldwide circulation in 33 language editions of nearly 9 million, with more than 50 million subscribers. This is no small feat and Yen Baet shares her story on why you should support her efforts.

Please tell us who you are.

Hello everyone! I am a full-time photographer currently based in England. I am a full-blooded Filipina born in a little-known Spanish town called Ozamiz in the island of Mindanao. I grew up with almost no permanent residence in the Philippines having moved around constantly due to my father’s work. Raised in a modest middle-class family, I spent most of my school years in San Pablo, Laguna until my family moved to San Fernando, Pampanga where we finally settled.

I discovered my artistic talent at about 10 years old, when I ambitiously took on the Mona Lisa and painted her on a poster board using only an 8-color watercolor set. I only had a small black-and-white encyclopedia print of Mona Lisa and a creative imagination as my guide. Several years later, when I saw the real Mona Lisa in full color and with my own eyes at The Louvre, I wept in disbelief.

I dabbled in this type of visual arts up to my teen years, while I also discovered my love for writing. I found that this type of artistic expression was different from painting in the sense that writing, as a medium, was not only cathartic, but also powerful.

My love for writing has led me to pursue a writing course in college where I finished with a Bachelors degree in English. As a writer, I had my works published in various forms of literature in the Philippines and Japan. I’ve also worked briefly as an editorial assistant to the late Filipino maestro, Redentor Romero.

My life as a transient during childhood has continued through adulthood. It is both my love for travel and what I would consider fate that has taken me to different parts of the globe. I immigrated to the US in the early 90’s where I also got my citizenship, lived in Japan and Germany, and I’m now currently residing in England.

I used to consider myself a painter, then a writer, and lately, a photographer. Nowadays, I’d like to think of myself as merely an artist with a camera and a vision. And while I don’t have an extensive experience as a photographer to speak of yet, I would like to make my mark in this competitive field without time, race or gender being an obstacle.

What inspired you to pursue your passion for photography?

It is only when I moved to Europe that I discovered photography. Although I wouldn’t think less of the natural, rugged beauty of the Philippines compared to the grandiose architectural wonders of Europe, the beauty of Europe is almost too irresistible not to capture.

When digital technology was introduced and became popular in the 90’s along with the Internet, I too played around with point and shoot digital cameras. It was not until many years after the big name brands like Nikon and Canon started coming up with the digital SLRs, that I became more curious about photography. I got my first d-SLR on Christmas of 2007. Like clockwork, I knew I was ready to take on the challenge, having full control over the camera and making the decisions myself. It was like magic. Just like the comfort I got with a paintbrush and a pen, the camera quickly felt like it was home safe in my hands.

What is Rainy Night in Hallstatt?

“Rainy Night in Hallstatt” is my entry to the National Geographic Exceptional Experience Photo Contest. It also happens to be my very first entry to any photo contest. I submitted the photo on the day of the deadline not thinking much of it and was surprised to get an email from National Geographic congratulating me for being one of only 6 finalists.

I took the photo 2 years ago during a rainy and cold autumn day in Hallstatt, Austria. I already had a vision of that scene in my mind. I was only waiting for the rain to let up, so I can take my shot. Taking shelter from an empty church nearby, I sat and waited for an hour, listening painfully as the rain only got stronger by the minute.

When twilight came, I walked to the door and found the streets of a usually tourist-infested Hallstatt to be empty. Braving the pouring rain under a small umbrella only protecting my camera, I trudged up the hill to where I would take my shot – and there it was, the church sitting quietly on the still lake, grazed by wisps of low-lying clouds, and embraced in soft mystical light. It looked like a dream.

The winner of the photo contest will be decided by public voting. And although I think that it is unfair to determine the best photo by how many friends you have or how many people you know, winning a contest sponsored by a prestigious institution like National Geographic would be a great accomplishment.

Voting is only open to legal US residents and will be run until March 10. National Geographic will ask you to register but it will only take a couple of minutes, and then you’ll be taken to the 6 photos where you can vote.

This is where I would need the help of everyone in voting. You can vote for “Rainy Night in Hallstatt” at the official NatGeo voting site at nationalgeographic.com/chasesapphire

What are your latest projects and travel destinations you plan to go on?

When 2011 came, I felt like I was ready for bigger things and I was up to the task. I have only been taking photos for only three years, but with the amount of time, dedication and passion I’ve poured into my craft, I’ve watched myself get better through only a short period of time.
Some of my photographs have been featured in travel books, calendars, catalogues, and even in an exhibition. I would love to see myself get published more in familiar magazines around the globe. National Geographic is on the top of my list.

I am currently putting together materials for a photography book I hope to publish this year. This will be a collection of images taken during the blue hour in Europe. The “blue hour” is the time of the day after sunset and just before complete darkness at night. “Rainy Night in Hallstatt” was taken during the blue hour.

Not a day passes when I am not planning on my next travel destination. As for my more immediate plans, later this month I will be shooting at the famous Carnevale in Venice, Italy. I have plans for Scotland in the springtime, and since I just moved to England, I would like to explore more of the country and the rest of the UK.

What I would really love though is to re-visit the Philippines and travel the country. My current portfolio covers mostly Europe because I’ve only started photography since moving here, and I find it a waste not to use my God-given talent to share the beauty of my native country as well.

What does being Filipina mean to you?

The days when Filipinas were seen as second-class citizens are quickly whittling by. The modern-day Filipina is confident and ambitious. She feels that she not only needs to prove something to herself, but also to the community in order to gain recognition for her work and to represent her country proudly.

Being a Filipina, to me, means I am confident to compete with and be pitted against my male counterparts and have a fair shot at success, as well as being given the same level of recognition.

I’ve had my own share of being looked at unfairly as a female photographer while out shooting in the field – a few snide remarks here and there that aim to belittle my technique. This only motivates me to push myself even harder and create photos that will blow their minds. A Filipina is not intimidated.

Also, being a female photographer who shoots mostly at night, safety is a major concern, especially when I’m traveling alone in a foreign place. Being a Filipina, to me, is being fearless and unrelenting. A Filipina will make sure she gets what she came for before leaving. A Filipina photographer knows that her tripod can also be used as a weapon.

What do you feel needs to change with Filipinos and how we can better represent the community?

We’ve come a long way from being a little-known breed of people to producing excellent award-winning talents in varied fields. We already know how amazingly talented we Filipinos are and that we can compete and be ultimate winners. Sometimes all we need is that little “break” to make it even further. What I feel that we are still lacking is more exposure of our yet-unknown talents who are working hard to get that “break.”

In the US, they have excellent programs like Balitang America or segments featuring the Global Pinoy give recognition to award-winning Filipinos, but most of this is done after the fact. I think we need to spotlight more of the Filipinos who have yet to prove themselves – these Filipinos need to feel that they can keep their hopes alive by knowing that his fellowmen are behind him.

I’ve always believed that there are 2 groups of Filipinos: (1) the ones who are genuinely out to support you and (2) the ones who are still, sadly, trapped inside the “crab mentality” and want to pull you down. However, I still want to think that there is more of the first group among us.

I truly think that Filipinos should earn the support of their own NOT ONLY because they’ve already won something but because they want to be given the chance to win something.

When was the last time you visited the Philippines?

The last time I visited the Philippines was two Christmases ago. It was nice to see my family again after several years. It was a chance for me not only to bond with them, but also to be reminded of my humble roots. It’s so easy to forget where you come from when you’re surrounded with the luxury and convenience of the States, or in my case now – Europe, flipping the remote to a hundred different channels on your wide-screen TV while nestled in your big sofa in an air-conditioned or centrally-heated room. It is easy to be so consumed with our jobs and plan to get richer so we can have this and that that we forget how it is to LIVE SIMPLE. Going back to the Philippines puts you back on the ground.

In my travels around the world, I’ve learned to appreciate different cultures. It is funny how the definition of beauty changes when you visit the less-privileged places – you tend to look more inward and more into the people and their culture.

Beauty is definitely relative. When people ask me what I think is the most beautiful place I’ve visited, I find that it is impossible to answer. There’s the obvious physical beauty of European countries, their fascinating history, opulent castles and churches that have benefited from a rich, monarchial heritage. In the States, it is the contrast of modern cities against rural landscapes, along with rugged canyons and breathtaking seascapes. And at first you’d think, “How can a third-world country like the Philippines compete with all that beauty?” And that’s when I realize that beauty is more than mere physical aspects. As a photographer, I know I have the responsibility to look deeper. That’s why I am excited to take on that responsibility and try to capture my own country in all its untamed beauty. And since I didn’t have time to do that on my last visit, I have to go back again.

On my last visit to the Philippines, I went to Roxas Boulevard to capture the famous sunset of Manila Bay. Armed with a camera and a slew of lenses and a tripod, I was quickly surrounded by squatters and street folks who got too close for comfort. I still took my shots, but with one eye on the camera and another behind me. I’ve never been so nervous shooting a sunset before. This clearly told me I need to be more comfortable in my own country more than anywhere else – a rude awakening that brings to mind a Rizal quote, “Don’t be a stranger in your own country.”

Who are your role models and people in your life that help shape you into the woman you are today?

Growing up with humble beginnings, I had nothing but inspiration and support to help me pursue my art. I would have to give credit to my mom for shaping me into what I am today as an artist. The Mona Lisa I painted several years ago was nothing but a child’s artwork, but my mother proudly displayed it in our home. She convinced me it that it looked just like the real thing. That unwavering confidence she had instilled in me with the thought that I needed to take pride in my work. Being my own worst critic right now, it is always a struggle to be satisfied with each photograph that I take, but one thing’s for sure – I’ll proudly hang my photograph on the wall like my mother did with my Mona Lisa.

What are your favorite Filipino dishes?

That’s like asking a woman how many shoes she has and what her favorite is.
Having lived in the Philippines for the most part of my life, my tongue is trained to love all kinds of Filipino food and I look for it when it’s not readily available. Now that I live so far from home, even substitute ingredients or mixes for sinigang or kare-kare will just have to do. What I don’t see here too often are what we call “kakanin” which I used to love back home like sapin-sapin, suman, puto and kutsinta, and even the bibingka and puto bumbong that’s popular at Christmas time – those are what I really miss right now.

Is there any additional information that you would like to share?

First of all, I would really appreciate your vote in National Geographic. Please vote for “Rainy Night in Hallstatt at nationalgeographic.com/chasesapphire

My photography portfolio can be found on my official website at www.yenbaet.com

I also have a Flickr site that I update regularly at www.flickr.com/photos/rainprel, and so with my photography blog titled “When It’s Not Blue” at rainprel.wordpress.com.

You can also check my latest project or see where I’m traveling to if you follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/rainprel


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  • Anonymous

    nice shot, nice view

  • Anonymous

    your winning photo is glorious and nostalgic. more power to you. and if ever you wanna shoot gorgeous sunsets in the phils., i have 2 places that you should go and highly recommend. these 2 places are in cebu. i dont know if u still speak cebuano but nindot gyud kaayo ang atong mga sunsets. check them out…Malapascua Island, daang bantayan, cebu and Nalusuan Island off marigondon islands near mactan. again, congratulations and hope to see more of your works. God bless!

  • sherwin lim

    Ms. Baet won the grandprize…. congratulations! We are proud of you! See link for details http://www.nationalgeographic.com/chasesapphire/winners/ 

  • Yen Baet, your writing and your photography is both beautiful, expressive and fascinating. You are one truly artistic and gifted individual. May the Lord continue to bless you abudantly and send his holy angels to protect you…..