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the-south-asian.com                            March 2001

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'Enduring Spirit'   a book by Phil Borges

Generational_journey-Phil_Borges.jpg (18580 bytes)generational_Journey_2.jpg (16754 bytes)

 A review by Nalini Bakshi


My introduction to Phil Borges is fairly recent. It was Christmas of 1999 when I went into Borders Bookshop looking for a special gift for my home – something that would remain special for all of the year 2000. It could only have been a calendar. Among the ‘Golf Courses’, and all the ‘Best of the Millenniums’, and Monets – I saw the face of His Holiness Dalai Lama – (which also happens to be my favourite face) – on the page of a calendar. Shot in black and white, against a clear sky, the photograph of His Holiness had a hypnotic effect. As I turned the pages of the calendar, the faces of Tibetan children, women, men, senior citizens – came alive – they were real people and not just photographs. They were indeed a picture of compassion – as the aptly titled calendar suggested. The photographs were from Phil Borges’ portfolio on Tibet called – ‘Tibetan Portrait: The Power of Compassion’. I had found myself the perfect gift – but I had also just discovered Phil Borges.

The power of ‘Search Engines’ – in this case ‘Microsoft Explorer’ – led me to the world of Phil Borges. I soon learnt, from an article in Seattle Times, that he had just brought out a book of photographs – ‘Enduring Spirit’ - on indigenous cultures of the world. My next move was the obvious one – Amazon.com!! It was an uneasy wait for the book.

When it did arrive, the book was an endless journey into an ethereal dimension – a dimension most urban animals are unaware of. From South America to Africa, to the interiors of New Guinea, the camera captures images that almost distil the mind. The hand-toned portraits remind us, and in most cases introduce us to cultures that have become marginalised, are threatened and face challenges unknown to most of us – yet, they are existing – and how!

Each photograph is a short story – of children, of adults and the aged. Six year old Kinesi – one of the seven children of Samburu family in Kenya "walks alone nearly four hours - over terrain populated by baboons and leopards - to get to the only school in his district. His mother says that Kenesi runs most of the way - not from fear of predators, but from the excitement of school." Similarly, nine year old Lourdes, a Quechua of Peru, " .. gets up at 5 in the morning to take her cows up the mountain before school begins. After school she makes the three-mile trek back up the mountain to retrieve the cows and returns home to help her mother cook dinner. She carries her 14 month old sister Benigno with her most of the day." A nine year old Quechua boy works as a porter on the Inca trail carrying 40 pounds of camping equipment for tourists on a four-day hike to Machu Picchu – for less than three dollars a day. 78 year old Pao has lived in Thailand for 25 years as a refugee from the civil war in Burma. "She lost her husband in the fighting as she fled her homeland." The photographs are stories of everything that the rest of us take for granted in life.

‘Enduring Spirit’ is about what keeps families together – the co-existence of several generations under the same roof – or the same sky – the togetherness even in face of extreme hardship – it is all about the joy of sharing. Borges has lived among the Turkanas, Karos, Quechuas, and Danis and many other tribes across our planet – and has brought out the best in them via his preferred medium. His subjects are not subjects of pity – they are pictures of dignity and resilience.

If I were to go to space and take with me my five favourite books – "Enduring Spirit’ would certainly be one of them – for a ‘reality check’.



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