Here is a story about two photos taken around the same time at a pivotal moment in Philippine history.
The first photo, taken by internationally renowned photojournalist and Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas, was published in Aperture magazine (issue 108, Fall 1987). She spent five months in early 1986 in the Philippines documenting the last days of the Marcos dictatorship. The photo, taken during an anti-Marcos rally, looks down upon a mass of brown people raising the “L” (for Laban) signs with their hands. In the upper left, a huge effigy of Cory Aquino stands above the mass with a sign reading “Cory Power is People Power.” Brown and yellow, brown and yellow: the vivid colors scream hope, the contrast captures the political polarization of the moment. This is the kind of photo that good photojournalists always take of a big crowd.
The second photo was never published. It was taken by Uncle Dado Saturay, a former health worker and amateur photographer in the anti-Marcos movement who immigrated to Seattle in the late 80s. It was salvaged from a box of hundreds of slides that sat in the Filipino Workers Action Center in Seattle for a few years and was almost thrown away in 2006 when the center shut down. I’ve been slowly digitizing this big ass box of slides since. Here, the photographer is not aiming down at a crowd, but aiming upward from it. His gaze is fixed on a small group of people posed in a performance with their arms raised upward to the left. One holds a sickle. They stand in front of red banners with lots of long words. Unlike Meiselas’s photo, the colors are drab and faded. The word DRUG takes up more space than anything else. This is not a hopeful image, but a defiant one. It foreshadows the history that would soon follow after the colors from the first photo faded.
And just inside the far right edge of the frame of the second photo stands Susan Meiselas, camera in hand, looking away at something else.