for ernie peña, II

it’s 2:51 a.m.

my kuya passed away last night. he was a photographer, a documenter, a storyteller. how do you tell the world a friend has died? by poem, by narrative? here is his story:

he grew up in pennsylvania and his father was a u.s. sailor for 22 years. he went to college for engineering. he was better at art. he bought gadgets and cameras and lenses like a watchmaker creates clocks. he captured moments, dances, laughter, did community work for no charge. he taught photography to anyone with a camera, showed how lighting affects the photograph, the person. he manipulated the shadows and sun.

this was just part of his life. he was an artist. beyond all of this, he cared.

i’ve been thinking a lot about erasure. about the body. this is what he did: he documented philippine festivals, dances, and concerts with flashes. in brief seconds. he created community in bodies, all through a device he held as precious as time. frozen moments. so tell me–

how do you tell the world what we’ve lost?

we lost a man who immortalized our bodies, our culture. a documenter. not an anthropologist–he was one of us, one who fought erasure. one born in this land from the sea, from the shadows and sun. with his palms, he brought light. with his camera, he captured our breath.

for ernie peña. you will always be missed.


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