Burying the Lead

14 Dec Burying the Lead

Following Typhoon Haiyan, 60 Filipino families were forced to move into Leyte Provincial Jail after being left homeless and destitute. For close to a year, they lived alongside their incarcerated relatives, some of whom were accused of rape and homicide. I gained access to the prison and verified that families continued to live in the jail after 6 months.

Since this series was shot, the families have long since left the jail, but their fates are unknown to me. I began to question where these people and these portraits fit into my own life as a result. It disturbed me how quickly news breaks and inevitably disappears while one’s images remain interred in the archive.

In 2015, I resurrected this series by creating one-of-a-kind ambrotypes (photographs on glass) using the 19th century wet-plate collodion process out of my original digital files with the help of Molly Rapp of The Penumbra Foundation and photographer Lisa Elmaleh.

Everything about this series is obscure from the aesthetic to the location itself. The captions are traditional Filipino riddles that I’ve collected and view as parts of a poem. They present questions or statements with no immediate answer.

As opposed to an exercise engaging in nostalgia, my decisions emerged from a need to consecrate and imbue these seemingly direct images of Filipino faces with the fragility and unseen idiosyncrasies of that traumatic moment in time.

Within the context of my interpretation of Filipino culture, the fact that families would move in with their incarcerated spouses or relatives reveals the Filipino family unit to be a complex and compelling force that seems to make its own rules about right and wrong.