On Good Friday every year, thousands of Filipino Christians engage in violent acts of penitence in a tradition which dates back to the 1950’s.

Near the city of San Fernando, north of Manila in the Philippines, hundreds of men have their backs cut open and then parade through the streets whipping themselves in with wooden flails until their backs are completely blood soaked.

The day takes on a bizarre festival atmosphere as children run around following the penitents and vendors sell sweets, souvenirs and pets to visitors who flock to see the annual spectacle.

After a few hours of watching the penitents flagellate in the streets, it was time for the performance of the Passion of the Christ. Actors portray the final days of Jesus, which culminates in three men being actually crucified, with nails being driven through their hands and feet before they’re raised up on crosses for the crowds.

After a few minutes, they’re brought down and all immediately cared for by medical staff, but the crosses are left open for any other volunteers who wish to be crucified, with several people taking up the offer.

I photographed this for Shutterstock Editorial with the support of Young Pioneer Tours who helped organise transport and logistics for me. I used the following kit to cover this unique assignment

  • Canon 5d III
  • Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4
  • Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4
  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L III

It felt like a privilege to be able to witness such a unique tradition, it is always a joy as a photojournalist to be able to step into other people’s worlds to try and capture a sense of a story, this was a real highlight in my career so far.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments below. To see more documentary photography, click here.

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