It started with the simple childhood wish to document special occasions, most especially during end-of-school recognition day which developed the love of photography in Mandaya-born Jelieta Mariveles- Walinski, the eighth among the 11 children of her farmer-parents in Agusan del Sur.
Her father would promise her a new dress and one photo to capture the school recognition day. “I looked forward to that promise and it became my inspiration to do well in school,” Gigi, as she is fondly called, said.
She had to walk 14 kilometers a day to and from school. On top of that, she and her siblings had to fetch water two kilometers away from home. “It was a difficult life but the thought that there was something more to explore and things to do outside our community was strong,” she said.
As a little girl, she would collect old calendars and marvel at how the photos were presented. “I compiled every calendar that I would find but my father would use them to cover the leaks in our hut,” she recalled. By the time she was in Grade 4, she thought of writing to then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to ask for support to finish her education.
“I always came across her name in the newspapers while selling dried fish in the market and thought that she was really powerful and could probably help me out in my education,” she said.
She actually got an eight-page reply, which included a recommendation to the British Embassy. She didn’t get to go to Manila, though. “We didn’t have any money for the plane fare. Later, my father used the documents to cover our leaking roof. That ended my Thatcher dream,” she said.
But she continued with her education through a scholarship and later pursued post- graduate education while teaching in a public school in Davao City. In 2009, love took her to the US where she married James. It was during the nine-month winter that she realized that she could better make use of her time by studying photography.
In 2010, she was enrolled at the New York Institute of Photography. In 2012, she finished Professional Photography and proceeded to study Digital Photography and finished at the same school in 2014. Her photographs landed in Canon Europe, Western Update (USA-Federal Funded Magazine), and were published in Capture Minnesota Books in 2012 and 2013. She was also awarded the Most Followed Photographer for the two publications. Her work was also published by CBS Television in 2012 and by WCCO television in Minnesota 2014.
She also won the Grand Jury Winner in Boulders Photo Contest worldwide and her work was published in UK’s Best Selling Magazine for Professional Photographers. Her work was featured internationally by Viewbug in 2014. In 2015, her photographs of Shiprock, New Mexico were also featured.
Mariveles-Walinski is in Davao for a fundraising photo exhibit event, “To Reach the Stars.” The featured works delve on her exploration of Astrophotography which has received worldwide acclaim and recognition. “I have a partner who is really supportive of my work and would do everything, even when he lacks sleep, to accompany me wherever I wanted to do my shoot,” Gigi said. An open environment abroad also helped nurture her passion in photography. “Walay bawal, bawal. One is given the space to focus and do their work, no matter what,” she added.
The photo exhibit runs until the 26th of November at the Rodriguez Hall, Community Center of the First Companions at the Ateneo de Davao University. Proceeds from the exhibit will be use for the lumad beneficiaries and scholars of the Kaugmaran Pagpagahum Foundation, Inc.