Free Love 2018: Project Headshot Clinic’s pride month campaign shows the beauty in diversity

Amanda T. Lago
Free Love 2018: Project Headshot Clinic’s pride month campaign shows the beauty in diversity
The photo project's latest shoot includes people from all across the spectrum

A profile photo may not be the first thing one thinks of when it comes to starting a movement. After all, what really is a headshot more than a mild indulgence in vanity – perhaps even a con act?

But as it turns out, a profile photo can be quite a powerful thing – especially to a community for whom the simple act of expressing their identity may cost them their dignity, or even their lives.

Case in point: Project Headshot Clinic (HSC) – a photo project that has endured for almost a decade, supporting various advocacies along the way.

HSC’s most recent project is its third annual Free Love campaign, scheduled right in time for Pride Month. Since it started, the campaign became a platform to celebrate diversity, inclusion, and the beauty of people who are able to express themselves freely.

This year, they partnered with beauty studio Strokes by Momoi Supe, and the shoot itself – held on 3 separate days throughout June, proved that the project does more than capitalize on peoples’ vanity.

For starters, there was an HIV screening booth right by the entrance of the shoot, where professionals from HIV advocacy group The Red Whistle can administer an HIV finger prick test or answer any questions people may have about HIV, AIDS, and safe sex practices (free condoms and lubricant were also available at the booth).

The shoot itself saw its fair share of personalities all across the spectrum: from the casually-dressed to the glamorous, from the bare-faced to those with the sharpest contours, from single people, to couples, to families. There were even several celebrities. If anyone needed an idea of how diversity works, this was it: so many people so very different from each other, sharing a space and conversations, and simply just letting each other be.

In a quick Q&A, HSC founder Niccolo Cosme talks to Rappler about how the project came to be, and how the campaign has become a part of the local LGBTQ community.

Why did you think of doing profile photos as a means of sharing an advocacy?

When I first initiated Project Headshot Clinic in 2006 it was only to try out how digital marketing would be like using profile photos on social media platforms. I realized that profile photos online have the potential to be digital billboards, and can be a great platform for advocacies. So I explored that immediately in the succeeding series’ and proved its effectivity. 

What was the first ever Project Headshot Clinic campaign?

The first one didn’t have a name. It was just a simple headshot series taken in 2006 and released in 2007. Had a grey background and quirky people in it! The first one was just a shoot. And then I realized there has to be something more than just headshots so the next ones had advocacies already.

What was the first advocacy that Project Headshot Clinic took on?

The first one was the One World series which celebrated unity and oneness and was brought to Cambodia, Vietnam, Macau and ended in Manila in 2008, followed by the Aware series for World AIDS Day on the same year in December. 2009 was HSC One Youth which travelled around the Philippines to highlight advocacy on youth empowerment. It had 1,600 headshots, the most ever in a series.

HSC is known for supporting various advocacies but especially for being supportive of the LGBT causes. When you started HSC, did you always have in mind that you wanted it to be a big part of the LGBT community?

It was inevitable for me to support causes involving the LGBTQ community because it is the same community that I belong to. Although the Free Love series is only 3 years, our HIV awareness themed projects started as early as 2008 and an LGBTQ campaign followed in 2009 when the Commission on Elections disqualified the Ang Ladlad party on the grounds of morality.

We realized it was high time that we streamline LGBTQ campaign through the Project Headshot Clinic Free Love series to serve as a drumroll for our goals as a community, as a society. 

With the HSC campaigns for Pride and for HIV awareness in particular, how has it impacted the community? 

Our contribution is definitely gearing towards positive behaviour change in our community, breaking stigma and barriers. Having constant reminders through profile photos I think is one of the best way to get messages across. Not only is it personal, but its reach online makes the campaign effective as well.

One supporter of HSC has mentioned before that to her HSC has become a communion, feeding her with energy, thoughts and feelings each time through the various stories presented in each campaigns, most especially for our HIV and AIDS HSC campaigns.  

How have the shoots evolved from when you first started to today?

There is definitely more depth now in the campaigns that we do than the first time we started, and we’ve formed a community of supporters all thorough the years. I get approached every now and then by random people reminding me that we took their headshots from years ago and how our projects have impacted them. It is truly a great affirmative experience. 

What are your future plans for HSC?

We are now on the stage of exploring branching out again, we have tried this in the past when we engaged photographers from Europe, Middle East, Australia and the US which I can still assess as a success at that time but we had to stop because we found it hard to monitor and evaluate. We are currently exploring this again and will probably have a global series by the end of the year.

View this year’s campaign on Project Headshot Clinic’s Facebook page. –

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Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.