Gems of history

Solano folk unearth town’s historical treasure

SOLANO, Nueva Vizcaya

“What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.” Roland Barthes, “Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography”

Dr. Bonifacio Ramos wishes he could go back in time, or more than 40 years ago, when the old San Luis Beltran church still basked in its full splendor at the town center in Poblacion North here.

“It was quite a nostalgic feeling viewing the photo of the old church. I remember the times in my younger years when we used to go there, such as to hear Mass in Latin,” he said, his eyes welling up.

Ramos, a retired university professor, was looking at reproductions of old photographs of his hometown, including those of the old Catholic church which has since been reconstructed in 1967 to make room for what would be a bigger cathedral.

For the past two weeks, Ramos’ sentimental look-back to his town’s history has similarly afflicted almost everyone from the town’s 60,000 inhabitants who has viewed the ongoing exhibit of old photographs showcasing Solano’s historical wealth.

High school students from the Saint Louis School in Solano view the exhibit which give them priceless lessons in their town’s history. Photo by Melvin Gascon

Such was also the case for 82-year old Gregorio Garcia, who took time out to view the exhibit on Saturday afternoon.

He was former driver of Vizcaya Liner, the province’s first and only bus company based here.

“Seeing these old photographs, I could not help but smile and recall the good old Solano. They bring back nothing but good memories,’ he said, bending forward to take a closer look at a 1952 class picture of senior students of the now-defunct Dalton Memorial College, the province’s first tertiary education institution.

The exhibit, titled “Sulyap sa Nakaraan (A Glimpse of the Past)” has brought back fond memories of Solanoans of their town, revived by pictures–some dating as far back as the 1920s–that have been preserved, scanned and reprinted, and have now been put on public display here.

With the Solano government at the forefront, the project began as a photo contest in April, which called for the submission of old photographs of the town showing government buildings, churches, and other landmarks, or of events that depicted its people’s rich cultural heritage, mainly of their Gaddang ancestry.

The project was aimed at 1) “instill(ing) awareness of the historical accounts showing the progress and development of Solano”; and 2) “educat(ing) the people about the significance of the past, as their learning avenue in the creation of good visions for the brighter future of the (town)”, according to information materials.

It would soon culminate as a photo exhibit, which had become one of the highlights of the town’s 2012 Pagbiagan Festival, a celebration of its 152nd founding anniversary on October 11 to 13.

The gallery features a collection of some of the best photos that were adjudged winners and finalists chosen from more than 400 submitted entries, and picked based on authenticity, historical significance, antiquity, and relevance to the project objectives.

Since Oct. 8, these have been put on display at the Solano parish hall, a few steps from where the present Saint Louis Beltran church stands, and were supposed to remain there until the last day of festivities on Oct. 13. But the overwhelming public response caught organizers by surprise.

So, they decided to extend the exhibition period for another week to accommodate others, especially those from the schools in barrios who have expressed great interest to see the photos.

“This was totally unexpected. Because of its overwhelming success, we have already begun discussions of a second wave of this project,” said Mayor Philip Dacayo.

Officials said they were amazed by the tremendous support shown by the people of Solano, who dug up their forefathers’ closets, safes and chests in their search of the winning photo.

“One can really help but appreciate the amount of effort put in (by the participants) in searching for these old photographs. These are the kinds of images that have been kept in the most hidden part of the house,” said town councilor Regie Valino-Valdez, planning and management director of the festival.

Choosing the best photographs was a tough job for the members of the panel of judges, as every submitted photograph turned out to be a stunner, according to professional photographer Russell Owen Viloria, one of the three-member panel of judges.

Some of the photos feature townsfolk, posing in front of the town’s landmarks of old, painting a stark but interesting contrast to Solano’s bustling community today.

Other photographs show locals during the town’s important events such as fiestas, schools’ foundation day or graduation rites, and independence day celebrations on the 4th of July at the plaza.

Still others are priceless gems of the town’s history, including a photograph documenting a rare visit here by then President Elpidio Quirino on Jan 11, 1950. As it turned out, the photo exhibit unearthed Solano’s wealth of not only historical, but also sentimental memoir.

“I came upon this old woman who was weeping in front of one of the display panels. She told me that it was her first time to see her father–in one of the photos,” recounted Valdez, also the creative director of the exhibit.

From the field of entries, judges first trimmed down their choices to 65 finalists, and from there, they picked the top three winners.

One that stood out from the rest was a 1948 photograph of the turnover rites between mayors Domingo Lorenzo and Nicomedes Castillo, surrounded by uniformed men in front of the town’s “presidencia” (town hall). Between them, two men were shown planting a sapling of what was described as the “tree of progress”.

The winning photo garnered the first prize worth P30,000 for its owner, Arsenio Abalos Jr.

Second prize went to a 1953 photograph that overlooked the town’s plaza and showing about a thousand residents, mostly in uniforms, witnessing the July 4 celebration of what was then the 7th anniversary of the Philippine Republic. The owner, Teresita Pascua, was awarded a P20,000 prize.

Two photographs, which showed the transformation of the old town hall, were chosen for the third prize, and earned a P10,000 cash reward for Chita Tottoc-Ruasa.

A centerpiece of the project is a coffee-table book which reprinted all the photographs collected from this year’s photo contest.

The exhibit also features a timeline of significant events in Solano’s history, as well as a panel showcasing a collection of trivia about the town and its people. On the long term, officials plan to find for the photo collection its permanent place in the town’s history through the construction of a future municipal museum.

That comes as good news for the people of Solano, including Ramos, who has gotten out of retirement to pursue what he loves most: researching on indigenous Filipino culture.

For this town’s young generation, the photo gallery offers a priceless lesson in history, something they have been dearly missing in this era of the internet, online games and social media.

Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 21, 2012


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