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An AP Photographer picked his own path when trying to make the perfect Mud People Festival photo

BIBICLAT, Philippines (AP) — Aaron Favila has been working for The Associated Press in the Philippines for 26 years, covering everything from politics to crime to sports to disasters to everyday people. He was at the Mud People Festival in Bibiclat in the northern Philippines for the first time since 2016 when he made this extraordinary photo. Here’s what he had to say about the shot.

Why this photo?

There are many religious festivals in predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines and each has a unique flavor to it. The Mud People Festival, or “Taong Putik,” is very unique and was worth a revisit because the last time we covered this was in 2016. We planned logistics and looked at past photos to get a better idea of how the annual event works.

I was looking for an interesting subject and this boy caught my attention because not many young people join the event. The practice has been going on for generations, and villagers told me most of them started attending when their parents would bring them. It was both a religious and nostalgic experience for most of them. Devotees participate to pray for a favor or to say thanks.

I saw the father of the boy putting mud on his child’s face and then placing the banana leaves over his body. The boy walked in front of the father. I ran and followed them thinking this would make a great representation of the story — it shows the rural setting, the mud, the face of the boy (probably still half awake) and the banana leaves. All of these elements contributed to making a good storytelling photo of the Mud People Festival.

How I made this photo

We left our hotel around 3 a.m. We met with photographer friends who knew the area much better than I did. We were led by a local student photographer to