Phil Borges


OC Metro:
Haunting Photos (2003)

Phil Borges' portraits show children's poverty and dignity.
By Liz Goldner

Little faces from third-world countries peer out at the camera - faces of children as young as 2 and as old as 17. The photographs are filled with passion, intensity and a sense of longing. They tell us that the children in the pictures are very much alive and hopeful about their future - even though so many live in remote, poverty stricken areas.

Many children wear tattered clothing; some wear only beads. Others are clad in well-worn ethnic clothing. Some have faces with signs of malnutrition or illness. Others possess deep sadness, along with world-weary wisdom.

The most heartbreaking photograph is of 8-year-old Merring from the Philippines. The wide-eyed little girl, clad in beads, stands in a jungle-like setting. The caption accompanying the photo reads, "Merring rolls her own cigarettes, smoking one after the other... ."

The photo of Jigme, age 8, from Ladakh, India, shows a girl with disheveled hair, her 18-month-old sister on her back. The caption reads, "Jigme and Sonam are sisters whose nomadic family had just come down from the Himalayan highlands... ."

Mimi, also 8, from Yavello, Ethiopia, is possessed with poise and elegance that cause her to appear years older. The caption reads, "As one of 5 children, Mimi spends most of her day collecting firewood and water. Her parents will soon choose which one of their children will go to school."

These are 3 of the 39 pictures from the exhibition, "Bridges to Understanding: Portraits by Phil Borges," at the Bowers Museum. Borges' works have been seen on the Discovery Channel, in National Geographic, at the White House and at the United Nations.

Trained as an orthodontist, Borges began photographing local residents while vacationing in third-world countries. After the birth of his son, he sold his dental practice and became a professional photographer.

By 1994, Borges was photographing people from tribal and indigenous cultures, full-time. In 1998, he was chosen as the "Photoperson of the Year" by Photo Media magazine. Last December, he was honored with the Humanitarian Award at the 1st Annual International Photography Awards.

Each of his large photos is shot after he has spent many hours or even days living among his subjects. Shooting with black and white film, he masks the natural background, then applies selective color to create pictures with lifelike radiance.

The resulting images, filled with dignity, often are reminiscent of portraits of nobility by Spanish artist, Diego Velazquez - in spite of the significantly lower class of Borges' subjects. The photographer also imbues images of children with the respect and compassion he believes they deserve, yet too seldom receive.

At the entrance to the exhibition are words by Eleanor Roosevelt, chairperson of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. She says. "Where, after all, do human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seek equal opportunity, equal dignity, without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere."

Phil Borges


  • Field Notes, 2001

  • About Phil Borges

    Bequim 8 Paralak, Pakistan

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