Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tim Long Talks About Burnham in the Phillipines

Image: Tim Long, Daniel Burnham building in Manila (2008)

Tim Long, Chicago photographer, will present an exhibition of photographs that were taken in Manila in 2008. These photographs delve into the rift created by the United States' ambition to create a democratic state in a vastly distant and different culture. See ArtSeen's earlier post here. The name of Long's exhibition is ironically named, Daniel Burnham's Enduring Vision for the Phillipines and will be located at The City Gallery from September 4 - to mid December, 2009. Below is some insight into Long's approach to Burnham's work in the Phillipines.

Image: Tim Long, Manila, Phillipines (2008)

I stumbled across Burnham’s work in the Philippines while doing research for an ongoing photography project about the long shadow the U.S. casts over it’s smaller less powerful neighbors. The U.S. took possession of the Philippines, after the Spanish American War, as they did Cuba (temporarily), Puerto Rico, and Guam. Though I was familiar with some of our history with the Philippines during and after WWII (my father was based there during the war) I hadn’t realized how tangled our relations were from the start. More reading revealed a number of parallels between our efforts to establish a commercial foothold and a democracy in the Philippines and our trials and tribulations in Iraq.

When I went to Manila in 2007 I expected to find the buildings and streets built to Burnham’s plan to be obliterated by development or boarded up or simply in ruins. My simple intention was to somehow engage the futility and damage done by American imperialism in the pictures. What I found was both more complicated and more interesting.

Manila, or Metro Manila, as the entire urban entity is now known, is a mega metropolis suffering tremendous pressures of scarcely controlled development, under-built infrastructure, massive over-population, and extraordinary poverty. In the midst of this deeply chaotic place, in old Manila, stand the park and the core of the street system that Burnham drew and a dozen or so buildings designed by DB’s architects in familiar Beaux Art and early Art Deco styles. Many of the buildings are in use (city hall, hospital, post office, etc) and Rizal Park is well maintained and well used. Rather than the intrusive presence that Burnham’s work must once have had, in today’s reality this thoughtfully designed area provides a much needed respite from an overwhelmed and overwhelming urban environment.

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