If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then what does the rest of our body say about us?
In his latest photo exhibition titled Busted, Johann Espiritu affirms that there is certainly more to revealing a person’s identity than through the eyes alone and explores what happens when anonymity is thrust upon someone—the same way popular media obscures a person’s identity by covering the eyes with a black bar. When these windows to the soul are shut, how much of the person do we really see and how much of it is real?
Busted examines the hidden dimensions of anonymity and the imagined identity that arises in its place in the absence of truth. The show reveals how personal biases, prejudices, and predispositions can shape our perception, particularly on people, and how much of the stories we choose tell ourselves about others are mere inferences born within the limited sphere of our own individual experiences.
The collection brilliantly plays on the Gestalt effect—how the human brain is able to perceive images as whole despite seeing an incomplete picture, as long as enough elements are present for the eye to complete the figure on its own. Each piece cleverly demonstrates how we readily make assumptions on people based on visual cues, oftentimes even without seeing their entirety.
Inspired by people watching, Espiritu delicately presents anonymity in this show as a passive relationship between the observer and the observed, where no profound interaction is made and yet emotional connection is somehow achieved.
“I think everyone loves to watch people. The secret to good people watching is to never make eye contact,” Espiritu explains. “And in these fleeting moments, our mind always finds the need to complete the picture and make up elaborate stories based on the little that we encounter,” he adds.
Most people featured in the collection are complete strangers to Espiritu. He approached each one of the and asked their permission to take their photo, and, interestingly, only one refused out of all of them. Busted features each and every subject that Espiritu had asked to photograph—all 99 of them—leaving no one on the cutting room floor. “They are all part of the show, no one was edited out. It’s part of the whole randomness of the people I watched,” Espiritu reveals.
Johann Espiritu is a Manila-based photographer and legal professional. He is also a professor of law at the Ateneo de Manila and a regular lecturer on photography at the Silverlens Gallery.