Photographic mission, the humanitarian work of Phil Borges as submitted to the Herald

Editing is a beautiful and fascinating process. Space in a newspaper is limited. Every now and then I like to post the original draft of an article along with the published version. Subtle stylistic changes and eliminated sentences often don’t change the meaning of a piece, but do change the voice. I leave it to the reader to decide which version they prefer. Below is the text for a recent article in the Durango Herald.

“My photographic projects are devoted to the welfare of indigenous and tribal people. My intention is to help bring attention to the value these cultures represent and the challenges they face,” writes Phil Borges on his website. The award-winning photographer is trying to change the world—One photograph at a time.

His current exhibition at Open Shutter Gallery in Durango coincides with the release of his most recent book: “Women Empowered.” The project is a the result of Borges partnering the organization CARE to bring attention to the necessity of empowering women in the global campaign to eliminate poverty.

For over thirty years, this former dentist has traveled the world, living with people of indigenous cultures, spending time in the depths of the Ecuadorian Amazon or the heights of the Tibetan Himalayas. He often enters a village and begins handing out Polaroid images to the children. He stays among the people for many weeks, earning their trust and respect and then he begins to capture their portraits with a medium format Hasselblad camera. The chosen negative is then scanned into a computer and early images in the series were printed with a high-end inkjet printer.

However, Borges found that the black ink metamerized. So he brushed platinum onto the paper before printing, to stabilize the black ink, then he created a negative in the printer and made a contact print. He then sepia toned some of the original black & white image and printed the color.

The effect is magical. Each image is framed with gentle brush strokes that look Sumi-esque. The women in his portraits are focal. The background is faded, out of focus, yet subtle tones and shading draw the eye away from the portrait and then back again to the woman, the girl, the child, who seems to be gazing into the viewer’s eyes. Borges maintained the look even after halfway through the project he upgraded to a new 12-ink printer with archival ink that doesn’t metamerize and the platinum brushing was no longer necessary.

The images are on gorgeous paper and the story of each woman, each girl is written along the bottom of the page. Below each picture the persons name and age, along with her village and country are identified. These also look handwritten, though they are printed.

“Empowered Women” is the fourth book Borges has compiled from his photographs. A portion of the proceeds from the book goes back to CARE and the book brings awareness to the mission of CARE to help empower women around the world.

“While the women’s movement in the West has made much progress, I continue to be shocked by how women’s rights are compromised in the developing world,” Borges writes in his introduction.

He goes on to tell the story of Abay, a 28-year-old woman from Awash Fontale, Ethiopia. As a 12-year-old girl, Abay refused to be circumcised. Her mother insisted, telling her she would be ostracized and unable to marry. The girl ran away and then returned to her village as a CARE station agent. Five years later she convinced one of the women to let her film a circumcision ceremony. The male leaders of her village had never seen a circumcision and were horrified. Two weeks later, the men voted to end female circumcision in their village.

The photograph of Abay shows a confident, beautiful woman in a diptych with a camel. The details of the grasses and the sand at her feet and the gorgeous color of her skin draw the viewer into her eyes. The eyes of a woman who dared defy her mother and her culture to change a tradition of mutilation.

In a world where 80 percent of refugees and displaced people are women and girls, and where one in three women has been beaten, abused or raped, Phil Borges turns his hasselblad into a vehicle for compassion. If only more artists were as humanitarian as Borges, perhaps our world would be a different place. Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the visual arts.

If you go:

Through May 23
“Empowered Women”
Open Shutter
755 East Second Avenue






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