Women empowered, Durango Herald, May 18, 2007



Phil Borges photos showing at Open Shutter Gallery

photos clockwise from top left: Humeria, 11, from Kabul, Afghanistan, sells eggs on the street to help her family survive.

Asgeli is a midwife to the Afar people who has
performed hundreds of female circumcisions. Now
she leads a campaign to end the practice among the 1.3 million Afar people.

Akhi from Bangladesh was sold as a sex worker at
the age of 13. Within three months she had bought
her freedom and started an organization to strengthen the rights of sex workers.

“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 Web site.

The photographer is trying to change the world.

His current exhibition at Open Shutter Gallery coincides with the release of his book Women Empowered. The book is a result of his partnership with the organization CARE to bring attention to the necessity of empowering women to eliminate poverty.

For more than 30 years, this former dentist has lived with people of indigenous cultures. 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 ink, then he created a negative in the printer and made a contact print. Later, he sepia-toned some of the images and printed the color.

The effect is magical. Each image is framed with gentle brush strokes. The women in his portraits are focal. The background is faded, yet subtle tones draw the eye away from the portrait and back again to the woman or the child.

The images are printed on gorgeous paper, and the story of each woman or girl is written along the bottom of the page. The person’s name and age, along with her village and country are identified.

Empowered Women is the fourth book Borges has compiled from his photographs. A portion of the proceeds from the book goes back to CARE.

“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 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, Borges turns his Hasselblad into a vehicle for compassion.

artsjournalist@centurytel.net Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the visual arts.

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