Hannah Reyes


Young Explorers Grantee

Picture of a woman wearing a headscarf standing by a wall of photographs

Photograph by Hannah Reyes

Picture of Hannah Reyes in a helicopter

Photograph courtesy Hannah Reyes

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I've always wanted to be a photographer. I grew up in a very small space and my family didn't travel much. As a child my mother was very protective of me, and she didn't want me to play in the messy streets of Manila. So my world growing up was this tiny area, but my mother owned some National Geographic magazines, and I would look at the images and wonder how the places and the people in these images could exist. So I wanted to be a photographer, but I think back then I thought that kind of photography was a kind of astronaut dream, just a nice thing to daydream about but very much out of reach. It never occurred to me until I was much older that it would be possible.

How did you get started in your field of work?

I started with an internship with European Pressphoto Agency. At first I thought I would be doing clerical work for their office in Manila, but my boss and my first mentor, Dennis, let me take photographs and offered a peek into what it could be like to be a photographer. I learned how to work fast and how to work with editors in different time zones. I listened to my colleagues and their crazy stories. I loved it.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to photography?

Photography has always moved me in a way that no other form of communication could. Photography has made me ask questions and puts me in situations I would most likely not find myself in otherwise. I'm learning it, and it's turned into an obsession and a hope.

What's a normal day like for you?

It depends on where I am or what I'm working on—when I'm in the field a normal day can be anything from spending time with poachers, to being underwater, or flying. I also write a lot when on assignment. When I'm at home I like to spend time reading and planning and listening to loved ones tell stories.

Do you have a hero?

My heroes would be the women who raised me to see people with empathy.

What's been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?

The hardest part for me is the loneliness. I try to immerse myself in work but there are still moments where I find my mind wandering back home, pining for my loved ones.

The best moments at work for me are the ones that allow me to take a closer look at other people's lives. I've met so many people who have achieved this transcendence, this state of grace amid complex situations. I hope that I learn it, even just a part of it.

Reyes's site




In Their Words

Photography has made me ask questions and puts me in situations I would most likely not find myself in otherwise.

—Hannah Reyes

More From Hannah Reyes

Meet All Our Explorers

  • NationalGeographic_1289095-flag.jpg

    Explorers A-Z

    At the heart of our explorers program is the quest for knowledge through exploration and the people who make it possible.

  • Photo: Michael Lombardi diving

    Explorers by Category

    Browse our different areas of exploration and discover the fascinating people behind the projects.

Our Explorers in Action

See Photos »