photography

Meet photographer Geloy Concepcion, who makes art from things left unsaid

Maria Leonor Euna Regaspi
Meet photographer Geloy Concepcion, who makes art from things left unsaid

Geloy Concepcion's Instagram

In his ‘Things You Wanted To Say But Never Did’ project on Instagram, the San Francisco-based artist weaves anonymous, intimate notes into discarded film photos

Are there things you’ve always wanted to say out loud, but never have? You are certainly not alone, and one art project, by San Francisco-based Filipino artist Geloy Concepcion, has turned out to be the perfect space for pouring out your hidden thoughts and feelings. 

Who is Geloy Concepcion?

Born and raised in Pandacan, Manila, the 29-year-old Concepcion worked as a portrait photographer in the Philippines for eight years before moving across the continent to raise a family with his wife and daughter. Geloy takes pride in being a house husband while working on his projects.

He had several frustrations upon moving to a foreign country. For one, he couldn’t work for three years due to a delay in his papers. After that, he tried looking for photography-related jobs upon getting his work permit, only to come up short. He was about to take a break from his photography to try other jobs when he decided to make one last project: #thingsyouwantedtosaybutneverdid. 

#ThingsYouWantedToSayButNeverDid

In January 2020, he saw a folder of discarded film photos in his archives, and thought of a way to put them to good use.

Scribbling on photos has always been a trademark of his work — adding words to video projects, photos, and paintings — so he decided he would scribble responses to the question “What are the things you wanted to say but never did?” onto the film photos he found and start posting them online. 

During the first few weeks, only few answered his question, which he had set up on Instagram. Geloy suspected that it was because you couldn’t answer the question anonymously on the platform. To his relief, when he moved the question to Google Forms, where people could then answer it without him knowing who they were, he started getting more responses – now a thousand notes per week as of writing. There’d be lover’s confessions, painful recollections, admissions of regret, stories of broken dreams, etc. 

Sabi ko sa asawa ko, ‘parang meron akong nasimulan dito na kakaiba, dito sa ginagawa ko,” Geloy said during the interview with Rappler. 

(I told my wife, ‘I think I’ve started something really different here.’)

To date, Geloy continues to post photos paired with scribbled notes from strangers on his Instagram page, @geloyconcepcion, which has over 400,000 followers.

In the beginning, he would only use his own photos, but later on he started accepting pictures from strangers worldwide. Now in its third iteration, he uses images from thrift shops — previously owned and taken by strangers from the past – including pieces from the 1940s.

It became so popular, it even caught the attention of Vogue Italia in December 2021.

Lone Wolf

One-man team lang talaga ‘to. Kasi minsan nakikita ko ang daming nag memessage na, ‘Oh, saludo ko sa team nyo.’ Kumbaga, akala ng iba meron akong mga kasama pero sa totoo lang, wala, ako lang ‘to,” he said.

(I’m just a one-man team. Sometimes, a lot of people message me to praise “the team,” thinking I have other people with me, but in truth, it’s really just me doing this.)

Geloy never even imagined taking on a project so different from his usual work.

Wala sya sa isip ko na yun nga, magiging project ko sya dahil photographer ako; ang nasa isip ko lalabas ako para kumuha ng picture or makinig sa kwento. Kumbaga, ayun yung gusto kong gawin talaga pero tingin ko naman, sakto din sya para sa akin kasi sa totoo lang parang, wala ako nung mga experiences noong mga nababasa ko eh. So, hindi sya super…kasi mahirap yan eh, mahirap basahin yan eh kung, lalo na kung may mga nangyari sa ‘yong iba, ‘di ba. Medyo triggering talaga sya pero kumbaga sa akin, kumbaga mas nadadala ko sya. So, tingin ko, meant to be na lang din siguro na binigay yung project kasi yun nga,” he explained.

(I never thought this would become a project of mine since I’m a photographer – I keep thinking I’d be going out to take photos and listening to stories in person. That’s really what I want to do, but if you think about it, the project does suit me since I’ve never experienced the things I’ve read in these submissions. It would be too hard to read these pieces if you can relate too much with them. They can be triggering, but at least I can handle it. I guess that means I was meant to take this on.)

Tsaka yung project naman na ‘to, medyo tinitreat ko pa rin sya na portrait work kasi parang kada picture, may tao doon eh. May tao na nagsabi non, may tao. Hindi lang natin sila kilala, hindi lang natin sila nakikita pero may nagsabi non eh,” he added.

(And I still treat this project kind of like portrait work, since there is a person in every picture. A person said those words. We don’t know who they are, we don’t see them, but they spoke those words.)

He also takes pride in how the project is a shared experience, and serves to highlight a collective struggle.

Akala nila sila lang nakakaramdam noon, tapos nabasa nila na marami pala. Oh ‘di ba. Feeling nila hindi sila nag-iisa. Yun yung pinaka naging message nung project,” he said.

(People think they’re the only ones who feel a certain way, and when they read my work, they realize they’re not alone. That’s the most important message of this project.)

Where does the project go from here?

Tuloy-tuloy lang sya hangga’t may nagse-send eh. ‘Di ba, kung walang mag send e ‘di tapos na, pero marami nagse-send.

(The project will continue for as long as people respond to the question. If people stop responding, that’s when it ends, but for now people still send answers in.)

Actually magkakaroon sya ng libro, pero hindi sya goal para sa akin. Para syang, ano ba, siguro, instrument sya para mas kumalat pa yung project. Hindi ko sya tinitingnan as, ‘Naku, gusto kong magka libro ‘tong gawa ko.’ Hindi ganon, kumbaga, kung magkakaroon ng libro, okay. Kung hindi, okay lang din, exhibit, or ano. Pero ano sya, maganda siyang way para ma-amplify pa yung project.”

(This project will be turned into a book, but that wasn’t my goal. The book is just an instrument to help spread word about the project. It wasn’t something I hoped for. If I end up with a book, okay, and if not, or if it becomes an exhibit, that’s okay, too. It’s just a way to amplify the project.)

Ultimately, Geloy wants to be remembered through the honesty and authenticity he dedicates to his work. 

Totoo ako doon sa ginagawa ko. Yun lang. Parang, honest ako doon sa pinoproduce kong mga trabaho ever since, kahit kailan pa. Kahit noong nagsisimula, yon yung pinakaproud na ano ko, maipagmamalaki ko na honest ako doon sa mga ginagawa ko,” he said.

(I am honest with my work. I’ve always been honest with what I produce ever since. Even when I was just starting, that’s what I was most proud of – that I was honest in everything I did.)

Geloy capped the interview with a message to the readers:

Meron tayong lahat, kahit ano pang status mo or regardless anong gender mo, anong race mo, kahit saan ka pa nakatira, mayaman ka, mahirap ka, meron tayong shared experiences so konektado tayong lahat. Hindi ka nag-iisa talaga, and reach out ka kung may pakiramdam kang hindi maganda. Pwede ka lagi mag reach out. Yang project na yan, open space yan kahit kanino. Safe space yan sa lahat,” he said.

(We all have shared experiences regardless of our status, gender, race, geographical location, economic class. You are not alone, and you can always reach out to someone whenever you don’t feel well. Always reach out. That project is an open space for anyone. It is a safe space for all.) – Rappler.com 

If you have photos or feelings that you want to unload, the #ThingsYouWantedTosayButNeverDid project is ongoing via Instagram. Click this link to submit or support the artist: https://linktr.ee/geloyconcepcion. Submissions remain anonymous. 

Maria Leonor Euna Regaspi is a Rappler intern under the Life & Style and Entertainment section.