Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Tabada: 9/11


A QUIET place.

SunStar Cebu photographer Amper Campaña took what my untrained eye considers as one of the best photographs taken in a long, distinguished career in photojournalism. Last Sept. 11, the newspaper published the moment he captured two women who lit candles and prayed before a crypt at the Carreta Cemetery in Cebu City.

One credits the eyes behind a great image when actually a symphony takes over to capture what could just have been an ephemeral moment: the heart drawn to the meaning of a random act; the mind rapidly orchestrating all elements to replace disorder with symmetry; the finger pressing the shutter or button at the critical moment.

Campaña’s photograph published on Sept. 11 captures the mystery of death and its power over the living. Viewing the photo on, I feel the hush when one slips into the presence of enigmas.

What separates sentience from eternal silence? No line is visible between the warm golden tones of the women’s flesh and the bright flare of the candles that melted and flickered out beyond the moment preserved in the photograph.

The dark fall of hair down the women’s backs is twin to the opaque darkness of the unsealed crypts encircling the women. The grittiness of the unfinished walk and the unpainted crypts vie with the density of the shadows closing in on the dwarfed human beings.

To be mortal is to die. But for as long as there is love and remembrance, the dead are not obliterated.

Campaña’s photograph drew me to this meditation on the significance of Sept. 11. Codified by journalese into 9/11, the day is infamously associated with nearly 3,000 persons killed inside the World Trade Center (WTC) and on the grounds of New York City during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by the terrorist group al-Qaeda.

Among the indelible 9/11 images is “The Falling Man,” which shows a man dropping from the WTC North Tower photographed by Richard Drew of the Associated Press and published around the world.

The news media’s use of “The Falling Man” raised discussions and criticisms. The most searing question perhaps was asked by a participant in the 2006 documentary, “9/11: The Falling Man”: “... who... (are) we through watching that?”

Campaña’s photograph would be timeless but for a detail that dates it: the face masks worn by the two crypt visitors. To prevent a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the authorities will close cemeteries and columbariums in Cebu and Mandaue from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.

Isolation was the sting of the pandemic. Thanks to the gifts of Campaña, his image transforms 9/11: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)


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