Photokunst has joined in celebrating the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People every year since its inception 14 years ago. Ethnographic photography and global human rights topics are an important part of our ongoing work. Our first project was Phil Borges’ Tibetan Portrait: The Power of Compassion, then, in collaboration with Amnesty International, Enduring Spirit, emphasizing commitment to the survival of cultures, where basic human rights are not necessarily guaranteed. The “Stirring the Fire: A global movement to empower women and girls, is Phil’ s most recent traveling exhibition. We have asked Phil to share some of his insight in working with indigenous cultures around the world.
“As a photographer the thing I love about digital photography is the ability to precisely enhance the image file that I capture with my camera. Most editing programs have a reset button that allows me to look at the original image before I begin changing the contrast, saturation, and exposure. I want to see what I have improved and what I have made worse.
For me indigenous people serve the same purpose as that reset button. I have spent much time thinking about what we have gained and what we have lost in the path we in the ‘developed’ world have taken. I have had the good fortune to visit many of the cultures around the world that have for the most part missed or side stepped the industrial revolution and live in a way that most of us did centuries ago.
It didn’t take me long to dismiss the image of the ‘Noble Savage’ but I also began to realized that indigenous people are not just an anachronistic vestige of humanity that missed the boat to modernity. They have a great deal of perspective to offer us with respect to our relationships with each other and our relationship to the earth. I’ll never forget the comments I heard from a group of high school students I took to Peru to help a group of Quechua Students make a film. When I asked what they noticed about their new Peruvian friends they said that they spend much more ‘face time” together and that they were much more intimate with each other. ‘They share things we would never tell each other.’
I’ve often said indigenous people are the Ph.D’s of their land. They not only have to know the flora and fauna and weather patterns intimately in order to survive they sacralize their land. They imbue the mountains rivers and forests with spirit energy. Would we treat the earth as we do if we all had such daily reminder of our connection to it?”
This Friday, August 9, is the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. This year’s theme is “Indigenous People Building Alliances: Honoring Treaties, Agreements, and Other Constructive Arrangements.” As the United Nations says, “the theme aims to highlight the importance of honoring arrangements between States, their citizens and Indigenous peoples that were designed to recognize Indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands and establish a framework for living in proximity and entering into economic relationships. Agreements also outline a political vision of different sovereign peoples living together on the same land according to the principles of friendship, cooperation, and peace.”