Rick Rocamora captures faces of Yolanda loss in 'Displaced'
MANILA, Philippines – “Sunset on a place that bleeds” is how award-winning Filipino photographer Rick Rocamora describes his photo of Barangay 89 in Tacloban after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
The documentary photographer known for his images of Filipino World War II veterans, the deplorable conditions in Philippine jails, and a homeless girl’s struggle to finish college recently took on an unexpected assignment: covering the aftermath of the world’s most powerful typhoon.
On assignment for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Rocamora documented the plight of families whose lives the monster storm changed and took away. In his two decades as a photographer, It was his first coverage of a disaster in the Philippines.
Rocamora's work will be on display in an exhibit at the Philippine Senate titled “Displaced.”
“In my previous visits on assignment for other projects, I kept missing the opportunity to document the aftermath of disasters that affected our people,” said Rocamora, who is based in Oakland, California.
“This is my first assignment for a United Nations agency and it was a great learning experience to work with them. Their work is not just about relief distribution but also to make sure that the rights of the survivors are protected.”
The UN's refugee agency is mounting the exhibit from January 20 to 25 to raise awareness about the over 4 million people Yolanda displaced. The worst disaster to hit the Philippines in recent history, the typhoon claimed the lives of over 6,000 people and flattened cities, towns and homes.
UNHCR’s Marmie Liquigan told Rappler that the compelling and powerful photos from Rocamora’s 20-day assignment in Leyte and Eastern Samar are effective tools to illustrate the displaced people’s conditions.
“The exhibit will showcase their conditions right after Yolanda: fleeing Tacloban, scavenging for shelter materials they can still use, the blank faces of men who have lost their families. So with this photo exhibit, we hope we will be able to put the message across that one family displaced is too many. You won’t wish that on anyone,” said Liquigan, external relations and private sector fundraising officer of UNHCR.
Lobbying for IDP law, fund-raising
“Displaced” is also part of the UNHCR’s efforts to renew its support for a law upholding the rights of internally-displaced persons (IDP) in times of emergency, armed conflict and disaster. Liquigan said the group supported the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Act of 2013 but President Benigno Aquino III vetoed the measure.
The President objected to a provision allowing IDPs to claim compensation from the government, and raised concerns about the constitutionality of giving more powers to the Commission on Human Rights.
The launch of the exhibit is timed with the opening of the Senate session on Monday, as the UNHCR lobbies for the passage of an IDP rights law in the 16th Congress.
Liquigan said, “Yolanda is just one crisis, but what about succeeding crises, and we anticipate more because of climate change?"
“It’s high time for us to have a law like this. This is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. We want to have a blueprint, for the Philippines to be a showcase country to have national legislation come into place."
Rocamora said his work is part of his commitment to share in his country's rehabilitation effort.
"Displaced" is also on exhibit at the Exposure Gallery in San Francisco, and will be on display at the Oakland City Hall. Rocamora's slideshow in the US this month raised money for a nurses' group doing volunteer work in the Yolanda-devastated areas.
"This is all part of my ongoing effort to raise awareness about the devastation and to solicit help for the survivors coursed through various organizations," he said.
The photographer earned global distinction, and his work is widely published and exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide. He is the author of Filipino WWII Soldiers – America’s Second-Class Veterans. He is also a Rappler contributor.
The Yolanda coverage was a different experience for Rocamora, who thanked aid groups’ passion and commitment to help the survivors.
“Working for 20 days at ground zero of the super typhoon was not easy but hopefully my work will help contribute in creating awareness of the need that we as people and as a nation have to do to rehabilitate their lives and their land,” he said. – Rappler.com
“Displaced: A Photo Exhibition by UNHCR featuring Photographs by Rick Rocamora” will be on display at the Senate Session Hallway from January 20 to 25. We are posting the photos with Rocamora’s permission. The photos were shot with one camera Fuji Xpro1 body and Fuji 14mm 2.8 lens.