Every once in a while I feel a tremendous emotional response to an artist, and often I find that artist is a photographer. Perhaps it's because photography takes images from the real world and can transform them into so much more. Art. Poetry. Mystery. Humanity.
I am presently full of breathless admiration at the work of Phil Borges.
Through his travels--to Africa, India, Mongolia, Irian Jaya, Afghanistan, South America--he has created striking hand-toned photographs of people from far-flung places. His images are often of the very old and the very young.
I was lucky enough to meet Phil Borges at a conference at the University of Victoria this Friday.
I'd been listening to some pretty interesting speakers all day on a variety of topics that loosely fell under the subject of perspectives on childcare from multicultural viewpoints: there was a talk on child labour issues in India, a lecture on the experiences of migrant children crossing the border north into the States as seen through their art-work; a talk from schoolteacher trying to reintroduce the Maori language into the New Zealand school system. There was a preschool activist from Hong Kong, a professor from a university in Cameroon, and a representative from the Potawatomi Nation talking about childhood intervention in Native American communities. It was a very full day.
But I think I would have travelled to Victoria just to hear Phil Borges speak for forty-five minutes.
One of the things he talked about was the disappearance of culture, and how preserving diversity was hugely important. The main goal of his photography, he says, is to help preserve the world's diversity through images and story-telling.
Did you know of the 6000 languages spoken on earth today, 3000 of them are not spoken by the children? "Every two weeks another elder goes to the grave taking with them the last spoken word of an entire culture."
Every time a language dies, said Borges, "It's like burning down a little library."
The thought of it hits me in the gut somehow.
As he showed us his pictures, Borges told us fascinating tales from places like Tibet and Nepal---about photographing the Dalai Lama, about meeting nuns just released from years of prison for the crime of displaying a poster asking to free their country, of Buddhist oracles in ninety-pound hats.
He took us deep into the land of Irian Jaya where one of his picture illustrates the results of the custom where each time a loved one dies, the women cut one of their own fingers off.
In another picture, a little girl waits outside the hut where her grandmother lies on her deathbed and he described the goodbye rituals and the special connections between the very old and the very young --for one is just about to return to the spirit world and the other has just left it.
Some of his photos tell stories of heroic women--of a woman teaching girls in a forbidden school under the Taliban, of an Ethiopian girl who bravely defied tradition and single-handedly ended the practice of female circumcision in her tribe.
Some of his photographs, like that of the regal African woman at the top of this post are of shamans. Another of his adventures took him into the jungles of South America where he witness the "shape-shifting" of one of the shamans there, as he took on the essence of the jaguar.
Oh, this person had some interesting travels!
He is also involved in getting children all over the world involved in "telling their own stories" through photography, and then using the photographs they've taken to make little films.
For instance, the children of one Guatemalen village wanted to stop the pollution of the river in their town (people would throw all kinds of things into this, their drinking supply, without regard). After documenting this, the children took their film to their mayor and filmed him saying he would take action. And he did. The river was cleaned up.
In a beautiful little film (that we saw during the talk), a Tibetan girl decides that it is not fair that only boys can have their own football team and she decides to change things...
(Apaprently you can view some of these child-made films online somewhere and I'm going to go and look for the link. )
Anyway, photographer Phil Borges has several books out, two of which I'd love to own. There were samples at the conference, but none actually for sale. Too bad, because I know he could have sold a lot. One is called Enduring Spirit and the other is Women Empowered .