WELAB’s interview with Rollence Patugan, director and photographer of the film, “We the People: An American Portrait”
WELAB: Your film, “WE THE PEOPLE: AN AMERICAN PORTRAIT”, will be making its international debut at the XIV Festival de Cine y Derechos Humanos de Barcelona. Does it surprise you that a film about Americans can find an audience outside your country?
Rollence Patugan (RP): If the film was made 4 years ago, I would have been somewhat surprised to have it find an audience outside of the U.S. In our current political climate though, where Americans who are people of color, immigrants, or members of the LGBTQ community are under threat, the discussion of inclusion and diversity takes on a more global meaning. Photography has the ability to communicate as an international language and I think that helps strike a chord.
WELAB: The images in the film are quite beautiful and patriotic. How did the city of Los Angeles influence your creative decisions?
RP: Thank you. While English and Spanish are widely spoken first languages in Los Angeles, there are over 200 more spoken in the city. This diversity made the decision to represent America in this fashion relatively easy. Because I have a personal connection with each subject in the film, I wanted to portray the America that I experience. This is the America that I have always believed in, a nation rich in diversity with roots going back to pre-colonial times.
WELAB: For someone visiting Los Angeles for the first time, what would you say the “can’t miss” food is?
RP: Los Angeles has a food culture just as diverse as its people, so this is a tough question. If there was a list of cuisines to try when in LA, then Mexican food without a doubt would be at the top. When visiting Los Angeles, one must get a street taco from a food truck or a taco stand to receive the full experience.
WELAB: Can you tell us what you are currently working on?
RP: In the summer of 2015 while visiting a friend in Denmark, I learned that the country has a Korean adoptee population dating back to the Korean War. While these individuals are 100% culturally and socially Danish, I was curious to find out how they managed growing up and living in a predominantly homogenous environment. Did they feel or were they ever treated as outsiders in their own country? It raised questions of identity and nationalism similar to WE THE PEOPLE. I returned to Denmark in the summer of 2017 to interview and take portraits of the adoptees in their homes and personal spaces. In 2018 I plan to exhibit this project called, “The Danes”, in Copenhagen.
“I will always be drawn to people. Having come from Baldwin Park, CA, a small but diverse town in the San Gabriel valley in Los Angeles county, I want my work to reflect the ethnic diversity that has always been part of my experiences and reality that often times I do not see being represented in popular media. My influences stem from cinema and editorial print. I gravitate to stories, emotions and ideas captured in a single frame. I start with simple ideas and build layers incrementally from there. We are all different, and I love photographing that.” – Rollence Patugan