and then my heart was full || manila photographer

70 women. 70 headshots.

last february i went to the corrections institute for women (CIW) otherwise knows as the women’s prison. my motherinlaw was speaking at an event there. i went along to take photographs…that i wouldnt be able to show to the public, being as they are inside the prison.

but the experience was eye-opening. and my heart also opened as well that day; how AMAZING would it be to photograph these women? each so precious to HIM and to us. women, who you can see in some of their eyes, that dont feel beauitful or worth anything anymore. that could never be able to give back but would cherish such a thing as a beautiful photograph of themselves and see truly how beautiful they are.

i shared this dream with ana, one of the pastors from our church which is involved extensively at the prison. she thought it was a great idea…didn’t know when that would ever be. but said she’d keep it in mind.

this past sunday, ana came to me smiling. they were doing a retreat at the prison this mon, tues and wed. and i was going to be allowed to bring in my camera to photograph the women!!!!

and thats what i did yesterday.

i arrived at the visitors gate and a minimum security inmate, we will call zoe, with big smiles and open arms. she began to tell me about some of the ladies attending…how there were two very well-off inmates that hated each other. one was a major car-napper, the other a major drug dealer. and after the first day of the retreat, without anyone’s prompting, they looked for each other and made amends, with tears and hugs. WOW. and then the very old inmate who is has stage 4 breast cancer, with open cancer wounds who is attending.

suddenly my heart didn’t feel as heavy as it had been the last few days with my own burdens.

i was asked to share briefly why i was going to take the photographs. in my broken tagalog, i told them how i visited in feb. how god showed me how beautiful and precious you all were to him. and that as a wedding photographer i photograph beautiful women and they were no different. when i finished they all cheered. my heart was overwhelmed.

as i watched the women sing and laugh and listen intently to the speakers, my eyes filled up with tears. the speakers were all talking about their identity and who they are. wow. so crazy how it all was tying together.

there were 7 tables of women. we photographed them by tables. i found a couch by a door so i could prop it open ever so slightly to get some nice side lighting. and away we went! some smiled so freely. others needed some prodding and encouraging. while others’ pain was so evident in their eyes, i was lucky enough to get them to look at me. with a tender touch to their shoulders, i thanked them and smiled. some smiled back. others quickly walked away. and some hugged me tightly.

i seriously was on the verge of tears throughout it all.

when we were done ana came to me and said, oh there is just one that doesn’t want her photograph taken. i said, really? we will see. and i quickly sought out for her.

she was a 33 year old. been on hard drugs since she was 10. she shared her story. i dont think she has been in long. i found her and touched her arm, please i would love to photograph you. your face, your hair, they are so beautiful. she sheepishly looked at me and as our eyes met and she saw that i was not scary, she agreed.

wow. wow. wow.

she was the last inmate i photographed yesterday. and her eyes still leave imprints in my mind.

i photographed 70 beautiful women yesterday. each one tells a story. a hard story. but it’s their story.

thank you for letting me love you through my lens.


Upload from September 15, 2011

a view from inside CIW, the only women’s correctional facility in the philippines housing 1800 women. photo credit.

whether i am going to be able to post any to the public i’m not sure. i may know at a later date.


The coolest and most moving thing I can think of. Thank you for doing that Tracer. Thanks xo
Tracey as i read the blog my eyes filled with tears,you are one of the most giving people i know,your life has so much meaning,thank you for sharing,love you so much
marites fernando
..the humbleness in your heart..the love for these women..for seeing the beauty in them..makes you the beautiful expression of GOD's love..the time that you'd spent with us, is an encouragement, of sharing with us the burden for these women..that DAY.. a memorable experience for them to treasure..a time that you capture the beauty..the smile..and their heart..thank you so much, very grateful for what you did to them..thank you for sharing your time with us, your presence makes them feel important..^_^>
I just read your blog Tracey and I am deeply touched. As I told you after my preaching, I was amazed how God tied all of the teachings and your being allowed to take photos of the women all together. I guess it was one of His messages to those precious souls - that they are all BEAUTIFUL! Till next time :)

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