“Burnham Park is basically my backyard,” says photographer Dave Leprozo, born and bred in Baguio, living with his family in nearby Legarda Road. We asked the 59-year old to take photographs of the park after we heard the country’s summer capital has plans of gradually reopening to tourists this September—as a sort of preview to those inclined to visit and go through the safety protocol required for entry.
Leprozo took the pictures just this Wednesday, before noon. It was cloudy, he says, and there were only a few people in the park, mostly locals. “It’s like having the park to yourself,” he says, “Maganda pala siya with less human traffic”—which prompts him to say those words sound a little selfish. He knows a lot of livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic. Baguio, being primarily a tourist destination, was hit big time by the closure to outsiders.
You feel the same way looking at Leprozo’s honest images of Burnham Park. You want it to be as pristine and serene as it looks in the pictures, but you know at the same time many people depend on it, not just the vendors and the pony boys but the businesses near the 34-hectare property. It has recently been declared as a National Heritage Park but Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong has requested the City Council to wait for the development plans to be ready before he can make it official.
Meanwhile, it remains a respite for locals like Leprozo. “The lake hasn’t changed!” he says, all these decades he’s been seeing it. Having spent most of his life in Baguio (he used to go to school on a horse!)—leaving only every two years for his photography shows abroad—he has many memories of Burnham. Like when he and some friends used to do “illegal fishing” here when he was younger, “back when they put carps and tilapia in the lake,” he shares with a laugh. He used to bring his dates here when he was still binata.
“Burnham Park is like the center of my universe,” he says, which remains true now even with the pandemic. He brings up a memory from two years ago when a show brought him to Daly City for the Philippine American History Month. On a side trip to Chicago, he found himself standing beside a woman who was admiring the majesty of the Burnham Clan Building. “Do you know we have a Burnham Park where I come from?” he asked the stranger, his voice most likely heavy with Baguio pride.
Photographs by Dave Leprozo