Pulitzer Prize winner thanks Filipinos for photos of Edsa I
COLUMBIA, Missouri—Photojournalist Kim Komenich talked to many Filipinos, took their photos for his American newspaper and won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.
But he forgot to say thanks to most of the people he had photographed.
So 25 years later, he came back to the Philippines, tracked down the people in his photos, talked to them again and now he wants to show how grateful he is by going around universities and museums in the United States to show the photos that marked the highlight of his career and immortalized what he called the “grandfather” of people power revolutions.
In his numerous trips as a young photojournalist to the Philippines that culminated in his coverage of the peaceful uprising that brought down the Marcos dictatorship in February 1986, Komenich used more than 1,100 rolls of film and took close to 30,000 photos.
History was rapidly unfolding in front of his eyes.
“I never had the chance to say thanks,” he said. “I just shook people’s hands, took a picture, and then waved goodbye.”
Time to say thanks
So he came up with the idea of tracking down the people he had photographed—from those who were in power, such as then first lady Imelda Marcos and then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, to those nameless people he found on the streets and in the countryside.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to thank the people who really helped me a lot,” Komenich told students at the University of Missouri on Friday.
Komenich’s iconic photos and the new ones he took last year have been on display at the Missouri School of Journalism, the world’s oldest journalism school that also gave Komenich his master’s degree in 2007.
The same photos were displayed in Manila last year to mark the 25th year of the People Power Revolution that brought democracy icon Corazon Aquino to power.
In the United States, he first brought the exhibit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis before bringing it to Columbia. He has scheduled exhibits in other parts of the US this year.
He is specifically targeting cities with big Filipino populations, hoping his photos will not only bring back memories and pride to the older generations of Filipino immigrants but also help explain a glorious moment in Philippine history to their children.
Komenich witnessed the same thing when he opened the exhibit in Manila last year.
“The parents who were there were proud of themselves,” he said. “Their kids have heard about the events but they have not really seen the pictures or read the stories but have just heard it from their parents.”
Thus, he has set up a website archiving his old and new photos. The website has a brief annotation of the days leading to Cory Aquino’s inauguration as President on Feb. 25, 1986.
Komenich also plans to release a video documentary and a book. He said this would be a tribute to the Filipino people whom he admires for their “resilience.”
Airport still chaotic
Now an interactive media professor at San Jose State University, Komenich said the project was also a central part of his application for tenure.
He came back to the Philippines last year and found 25 people who were in his original photographs. He noticed how a lot of things have changed.
The humidity remained the same, but even the airport looked different.
He remembered Manila International Airport as crowded, chaotic and hot. When he flew in at Ninoy Aquino International Airport last year, it was still crowded and chaotic, but the airconditioning worked well.
He also remembered seeing a lot of schools and a lot of superhighways, saying “a lot has improved in terms of infrastructure.”
But poor are still poor
“One of the sad things for me is that the train goes right on Edsa, in between (Camp) Aguinaldo and (Camp) Crame,” he said, laughing.
It was between these two camps where he shot many of his unforgettable photographs: nuns holding rosaries surrounding soldiers carrying guns; protesters joking with soldiers; Enrile and then Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos turning their backs on Marcos and joining pro-Aquino troops.
Still, a few things were unchanged.
Komenich found that the people who were in power in 1986 were still in power 25 years later. The rich remained rich, living in lavish houses or occupying important political positions.
Similarly, he found the ordinary people he had photographed in 1986 still living in the same farms and slum areas where he came across them 25 years ago. The poor remained poor.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.