Breaking the Silence

February 20th, 2009 § 5 comments § permalink

veteran

Lolo Bining sat down on a small slender stool in the middle of his shack and waited for me to give him instructions. I had already made a couple of photographs of him, out in his rice field in the afternoon sun, but I didn’t feel I had what I wanted. This shack was special to him. He had a house in the poblacion, but he didn’t want to live there. This dark and creaky shack, with its dirt floor and thatched roof, filled with stacks of cardboard boxes containing farm tools and dusty clothes, smelling of stale urine and cat feces, was where he wanted to be. And so I had to create a photo of him inside it. It was a must-do.

I had initially planned to use strobes, but I was told when we arrived that there was no electricity in the shack. Gas lamps lit Lolo Bining’s nights. So there was only one thing left to do: Bring out the Reflector. I gave it to one of my companions, pointed at a golden pool of sunlight, gave her a few tips about the art of catching it, and, just like that, I had light. God would’ve been proud. The result is the photo above. Among the hundreds I’ve made over the last few months, it continues to be one of my favorites.

What HAVE I been up to these last few months?

Since early last year, back when the dream of having an African-American US president was still just that, and the words “stimulus” and “package”were used to connote other things in the halls of the US Congress, I had been going around the country, searching for surviving Filipino WWII veterans, for a personal project that’s been a long time coming.

During the last days of 1941, life completely changed for a generation of Filipinos. The Philippines had become engulfed in a war unlike anyone at the time had seen. For four long years, our country shed tears for the loss of treasured sons and daughters. But her pain was never in vain. Despite being trampled by the boots of invaders, her courageous children, mostly farmers and youths who have not seen enough summers, fought on. Through sickness and hunger, with ancient and broken weapons, in the wilderness, in secret, side by side with American allies, they made good on their promise to never let our country’s shining fields be dimmed by a tyrant’s might.

Today, we’re seeing a lot of our veterans in the news because of Obama’s fulfillment of a promise he made during his presidential campaign. But once the buzz has died down, these men and women will once again fade into the background. Time will come when even these remaining survivors will be gone. After that, they will simply be names on a stone wall or in a book. Their faces and their stories forgotten forever.

In the last few months, I’ve been doing what I can to keep these valiant men and women from simply passing quietly into the night. I’ve been visiting them in their homes and attending their gatherings to hear their stories and take their portraits, like this one of Lolo Bining, hoping to create a record of their contribution to the pursuit of liberty and freedom, and to honor their spirit and valor, which has not been diminished by old age and time. I have a few more photographs here. And this coming April 9, on the 67th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan, I’ll let you know how you can see more.

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