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Life's witness 

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"Photography only touches the surface," says Brian Doan. "It's still the way I tell my family's story and help my people who can't speak for themselves."

Doan's "people" are those who fled Vietnam's political chaos and settled in refugee camps in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, China and the Philippines before seeking permanent homes around the world. Doan's family left the Philippines for California in 1991.

"We were the lucky ones," he says earnestly, noting that his literate parents passed the immigration test. Many of the other 2,000 refugees -- some of whom were denied education as bi-racial offspring of American soldiers -- eke out marginal lives as street vendors, or worse.

The pure lines of Doan's striking black-and-white photographs on exhibit at Phototroph, an exclusive photography gallery, are minefields of understatement: Gazing into a woman's face, you're suddenly rocked by a lifetime of emotion, cradled tenderly by Doan's lens for your eyes. Sales from a stunning book of the work, The Forgotten Ones: A Photographic Documentation of the Last Vietnamese Boat People in the Philippines, is on sale at the gallery for $24.95, and benefits the refugees it honors.

An unpretentious talent living in Colorado Springs (his exhibit Echoes of the Land records the sacrifice of local wilderness to the ravages of development), Doan runs on passionate compassion. He points to the image of a naked man crouched away from the camera, who asked Doan, "Father, may I have some water?"

"I asked an attendant why this man thought I was his father. She said, 'No, those were the last words his daughter spoke to him' on the boat of 150 refugees. He was one of only five who survived, resorting to cannibalism."

Like that man, Doan can't forget. Neither should we.

-- Rebekah Shardy

capsule

The Forgotten Ones

Phototroph Gallery, 16 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs

Through July 3 Call 685-1313 for hours.

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