Diocesan News

Look Good, Feel Good: Former Seminarian Uses Photography Skills to Help Unemployed New Yorkers During Pandemic

Photographer Rom Matibag steps out from behind the camera at the 10,000 Headshots photo initiative, held in Midtown Manhattan on July 22. (Photo: Erin DeGregorio)

Former Seminarian Uses Photography Skills to Help Unemployed New Yorkers

By Erin DeGregorio

MANHATTAN On July 22, Richmond Hill resident Rom Matibag used his talents to help out-of-work New Yorkers during the nationwide 10,000 Headshots photo initiative by Headshot Booker and Brookfield Properties. 

In just one day, Matibag joined more than 200 other photographers across the country to provide 10,000 unemployed Americans with free, professional headshots to include with their resumes, portfolios, and LinkedIn profiles.

“When I first moved to Queens [in 2017], I actually experienced unemployment for six months,” Matibag said. “I always went to my parish [Holy Child Jesus], attending the 7:30 a.m. Mass and sitting in front of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph statues until noon. I prayed and prayed for guidance and help.

“As corny as it might seem and sound, I wanted to help the working-class community who has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic through this event.”

Matibag who is originally from the Philippines and lived in Australia for seven years before moving to the United States in 2016 was a former Catholic seminarian. However, he discovered his life’s calling was to become a photographer, not a priest, after he began to shoot everyday life at his Australian seminary. Some of his pictures depicted brothers of the order praying, serving the poor, and even washing cars. 

“People realized that we are also human. The images that I gave were very powerful because they actually encapsulated what we sometimes take for granted,” Matibag said. “I realized I was able to memorialize particular moments, and people were actually touched by that. From then on, I recognized in myself that photography was a powerful medium and a God-given gift that I should really use for not only for the Catholic religion but also for mankind.”

Matibag, who is a private nurse by day, has been using his spare time to capture critical and very-human moments during the pandemic, like residents lining up to clap for frontline healthcare workers and protestors taking part in the Black Lives Matter movement. He has also been helping people find their true image and likeness to God through headshots. At the 10,000 Headshots event, Matibag’s mission was to boost his clients’ self-esteem. 

“Most of the people who are coming today have gone through hell and my task was not just to be a photographer,” he said towards the beginning of his 9-hour day at the event. “I’m here to lift their spirits, give them hope, and make sure they leave happy because one free headshot can make all the difference.”

Long Island resident Andrew Campbell, who previously worked for a small expedition cruise company, was excited to be one of the event’s attendees. 

“I’ve been working on my LinkedIn page and resume, and a professional recommended getting a new headshot. Headshots are expensive,” Campbell said. “This event was a sign for me to sign-up and it really was a win-win situation.”

Upper East Sider and former fashion executive Nicole Knable booked an appointment because her position was eliminated in early May. She noted that this is the first time in her life she is job hunting and that she was anxious upon arriving at the venue. But Matibag’s flexibility for allowing Knable to take photos with and without glasses along with his reassuring statements throughout her session such as “ ‘Yes, just like that.’ This definitely says, ‘You can depend on me’ ” made her feel more comfortable. 

“A part of me was nervous to come but I’m so glad that I did,” Knable said. “Rom was so lovely, kind, and approachable. I couldn’t help but smile afterward.”

Evan White, a former head sommelier in a Michelin-starred restaurant, explained he had lost his job in mid-March when restaurants faced sweeping closures.

“Everyone I knew in the industry had lost their jobs and it was hard since the future was uncertain,” he said.

“I found out about this opportunity through my wife, who saw it advertised on social media. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect,” White added. “This gave me the boost I needed and saved me hundreds of dollars, especially because I needed an updated image.”