There may have been plenty of images that came out of Reina Mae Nasino and Baby River’s story but this picture by Reuters photographer Eloisa Lopez might as well be its defining image.
No wailing mother makes it to the frame, nor does any speck of blood, but there’s no question the photo communicates a kind of stifled anguish, a soundless mourning—this pair of handcuffed wrists, hands covered in white gloves holding a white daisy. Each element is a symbol, the black backdrop included (in actuality, the mourners' clothes). The picture is almost a direct reaction to the anti-dramaserye camp online, complaining about how media had turned the coverage of the mother-and-child story into a soap opera.
The photograph first came out as the banner for the Reuters feature on Baby River’s funeral.
Reina Mae, who works with the urban poor group Kadamay, was arrested November last year for unlawful possession of firearms. She and two others denied the charges, saying the ammunition was planted. The baby was separated from her mother in August as Reina Mae awaited her trial in jail. The child died this month from pneumonia.
Lopez was following the story the day before she was assigned to cover the funeral at the Manila North Cemetery. We asked her about the picture and what it was like being at the center of it all.
ANCX: What do you remember of that moment, and the situation that led to this photograph?
ELOISA LOPEZ: The Nasino family stood in front of baby River’s casket for hours—saying their last words and farewell to baby River, and expressing support for Reina who only had a few hours to attend the burial.
It was already past 3 PM when the Nasino family asked funeral workers to begin the burial. The apartment-style tomb where baby River’s casket was going to be put in was a few steps away from where they were standing so I immediately positioned myself beside it, anticipating that the family would be standing in front.
Reina was initially positioned further away, but her family requested that she be allowed to come closer. She was standing in front of the tomb when a relative handed her the white flower to offer baby River. She held it for a while, and I took the chance to photograph it as many times as I could, focusing on Reina's cuffed hands and the flower.
ANCX: What was going on in your mind when you shot this one?
EL: From the beginning of the ceremony, relatives and lawyers repeatedly begged jail guards to remove Reina’s handcuffs even for just a few minutes so she could hold Baby River for the last time. They repeatedly refused. When I realized that they were not giving her this chance, I knew I had to highlight that in my photographs.
When I saw Reina holding the flower with her cuffed hands, I knew that was the moment. None of the chaos from that day is seen but it had all the elements that portray her story. They are symbols we are all familiar with especially at this time—PPE, gloves, handcuffs and a flower. It doesn't show much else, but I think it shows her pain. It reveals that at the end of the day, Reina is just like any mother hoping to give her baby a proper goodbye.
ANCX: When you saw it as a picture, did you see it as unlike the rest of the ones you took that day?
Yes. It was the first photograph I filed. Usually, I would edit and caption my pictures as a set before filing, but I knew this one was a little different than the rest of my photographs that day.
ANCX: What was that day like for you?
Heartbreaking. I’m not a mother myself but I know what it’s like to lose a loved one. I also learned earlier that day that Reina is almost just my age. She's 23, and I'm just a year older. I cannot imagine being in that much pain at such a young age.