Can Beauty Save the World?

 "Beauty will save the world."


Title: 1st Lagoon
Morning kayakers paddling around the 1st Lagoon.

This seemingly naive yet incredibly profound idea penned by Russian philosopher and novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky has inspired much debate for over a century. And though our insatiable appetite for all things beautiful is beyond question, when has a dazzling sunset ever really saved a life? Can looking at the perfect face cure a disease? Could an awe-filled experience truly change our lenses of perception?

In the case of renowned Negrense graphic artist and documentary photographer Aeson Baldevia, his love affair with capturing beautiful moments began at an early age. Born into a family of accomplished photographers and artists, he had an inherent fascination for finding the extraordinary in the otherwise mundane. He tells us, "I'd still remember the turning point when all these came to fruition. My dad would lend me his Fujifilm point-and-shoot camera, and I would take random photographs for fun. Social media wasn't even a thing then. It was capturing images in the purest sense, a bursting sun before it sets and migrating birds doing a quick stop as they fed themselves for dinner in front of the historic Silay wharf." Sensing that a seed had been planted, Aeson's dad Bes egged him on to join different clubs in the hopes of exposing him to the broad world of photography. He also drew inspiration from his uncle, seasoned photographer John Tronco, who covered the first Filipino Everest expedition team. And while some might assume that Aeson had it easier than most, given his family background, growing up under the shade of accomplishment also meant higher standards to live up to.

Title: Clownfish in Anemone
A school of Clownfish freely swims among anemones.

In search of his own identity, he took the initiative to enter his work in competitions and exhibits. “Even if I was blessed with an artistic family, I seldom get feedback from them. The contests I joined became my gauge if I was doing my craft correctly. This boosted my confidence as a newbie photographer.” Aeson tells us. And though he'd eventually win some and lose some, it soon became glaringly obvious that he was born to do this, and that his tasteful eye was something the world needed more of. As the trophies piled up and the stages got bigger, photography opened up new doors for Aeson, some of which even led him to represent the Philippines around different corners of the world.

Title: Coconut Crab
Among the marine animals on the island is the Coconut Crab.

Aeson’s popularity as a photographer peaked earlier than most, and soon he was left seeking a deeper purpose. In 2019 he came across an ad by the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation, Incorporated (PRRCFI) seeking volunteers with a passion for the environment. That instantly lit a fire within him. "It was as if the ad spoke to me. I approached the team and eventually became their in-house graphic artist and advocacy support staff," Aeson shared with us as he went on to explain how this decision connected the last dot to going full circle.

Title: Milky Way over Moray Lagoon
The Milky Way gives a majestic show over Moray Lagoon.

Aeson flashed back to 2006 as a camper in Danjugan Island where photography was more of an outlet than a profession. Owned and operated by the PRRCFI, Danjugan Island is a 43-hectare slice of untouched paradise south of Negros Occidental, which is also a protected ecological and wildlife sanctuary. "Danjugan is the real world. It is a place where you wake up to the sound of birds, breathe fresh air, see the colors of the sky change, and where fish and wildlife thrive in harmony with humans," says Dave Albao, the Executive Director of Danjugan Island.  And indeed, this taste of the real world had Aeson on adventures through forests, inside caves, and underneath crystal clear waters alongside the various species of wildlife that nestle under Danjugan’s motherly wing. Being given this kind of access to nature in her most candid state allowed Aeson to experience beauty in its transient form and opened his eyes to the effort it takes to preserve it. Thirteen years since his camping days and armed with a better understanding of the power his lens wields over the damaging effects of time, Aeson returned to Danjugan to encapsulate the island’s splendor through a series of photographs including a magnificent shot of the Milky Way galaxy over Moray Lagoon.

Negrense fine arts photographer Aeson Baldevia captures a photo of his wife, April, swimming in the waters around Danjugan Island.

Aeson volunteered for two years with fellow artists, lending his talents in creating visuals and collaterals, primarily aimed at building awareness for Danjugan's cause. "Creatives like Aeson have the opportunity to use their talent and skills to truly engage communities for nature conservation and sustainability," explains Dave. "There is a side of conservation that is not technical, and this aspect of our work appeals to the artistic, cultural, and spiritual. That's why photographs, films, music, and visual and performing arts play crucial roles in raising public awareness." he goes on to say.

"I think it starts with awareness. From there, we create action," Aeson affirms Dave's point. When asked about the importance of his role as a photographer in this fight for conservation, he tells us, "As a photographer, I think it is our duty and responsibility to share the truth as much as we can…I've been taking images of the good and bad. For example, the majestic eagle tree that inspired PRRCFI to acquire Danjugan Island. Fortunately, I snapped a photo before Super Typhoon Odette struck the island and knocked the tree down." This just goes to show how a simple act like the clicking of a shutter can be a defiant stand against life’s impermanence. "Photography is a form of communication that transcends languages. I also dream that the photographs we take will help evoke the emotions of our audiences that would someday spark action for the progress of our communities," he goes on saying.

Title: Seagrass
Various types of seagrass are found in Danjugan Island.

With the pandemic triggering monumental shifts that ushered in a "new normal," the overall impact this has had on our environment is still in question. With the harsh restrictions limiting everyone to a mere semblance of what life used to be, Aeson chose to pursue personal projects to keep his stream of creativity flowing. "When the pandemic struck. We were stuck in our homes. With the afterthought of the possibility of running out of food supply, we planted fruit-bearing trees in our backyard." This led Aeson to his current project entitled "Steal Life," a collection of pictures of vegetation throughout the various cycles of life and death in an effort to remind everybody about the things we neglected before the pandemic, but then ended up keeping us sane.

Aeson's story allows us more insight into what Dostoevsky may have meant. Because although beauty alone captivates us enough to a heightened state of awareness, it is only through finding the truth in beauty's ephemeral nature that we are inspired to take the collective action needed to preserve it.  And when the day comes that beauty finally does save the world, we look forward to falling in love not only with the photos we take, but more so, with the moments that compel us to take them.

For day trips and overnight stays at Danjugan Island, you may contact them through the following channels:
FB/IG: @danjuganisland

You may check out more of Aeson’s works on his website,

Text By: Mayumi Espina
Photography of Aeson Baldevia

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