By Andrea M. Patawaran-Hickman
America’s Photographic Depiction of the Philippines
Photographs of the Philippines did not begin to surface in the U.S. until the end of the 19th century. The American images of the Philippines during the historical occupation of the islands demonstrate a dominant culture’s power to impose its values and ideologies onto a sub-culture. In many cases, negotiation between cultures is not a real option as the dominate culture goal is to reshape the culture and the practices of the people. The 3 year Philippine-American War which began in 1889 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris ended with over 220,000 Filipino solider and civilian casualties (Banta 14). The moral goal of the U.S. according to “President McKinley’s doctrine of ‘benevolent assimilation’” aimed to ‘educate the Filipinos, and uplift them and civilize and Christianize them” (14). The American narrative of the Filipino culture is one that disfavors the Igorot peoples of the highlands. The Igorots, a term used primarily to identify rice terrace farmers and primitive cultures of the island, were rejected by the highly Christianized western ideologies. American photographic collections were used by the U.S. government and media as a justification tool for colonizing the nation to the American public. Although much of photography discussed below exposes a small percentage of the population, prominent American figures, like Dean C. Worcester, used a very small amount of images to create a norm for an entire population and then used those selections to justify the U.S.’s moral obligations to the Filipino people in such a way that the American public would be accepting of war efforts that left a nation dependent on another government politically, economically, and culturally for almost half a century.
Dean C. Worcester, Secretary of the Interior for the Philippines, documents and classifies the progress of civility in the nation through photography. Worcester’s The Philippine Islands and Their People published in 1889 gave America its very first glimpse of the Filipino culture. Worcester’s first interest was not in the people of the country, but rather in the flora and fauna. He was a Zoologist for the University of Michigan who began traveling the islands as an ornithologist photographing native birds. His transformation from “zoologist to colonial kingmaker” is described by Christopher Capozzola in Photography and Power in the Colonial Philippines: Dean Worcester’s Ethnographic Images of the Filipinos (1989-1912) as “a mix of expertise, happenstance, gumption, and connection” (3). During 1901-1913, he and other anthropologists snapped nearly 5,000 photographs to survey the transformation of the people, taking several before and after images of unnamed Filipinos and using their own stature in photographs to show differences in general proportion, size and scale (see also Larry Burrows: Shooting Soldiers In Vietnam).
“Little Brown Brothers”
The photographs were placed on a hierarchical scale that ranked natives from savage to civilized. Many of the first photographs depicted naked primitive people that starkly contrasted against the later photographs taken at the end of the war which portrayed fully clothed, clean shaven Filipinos in tailored suits that mirrored American fashions.
Although Worcester’s studio was located in the urban area of Manila, most of his primitive photographs came from the mountain highlands and distant islands, in particular the Cordillera region of northern Luzon mountain range (Capozzola 8). Worcester was never asked to begin his ethnographic catalogue of the people, but his images became, as announced by Cameron Forbes, The Philippine Bureau of Science, ‘a great science library serving as a storehouse of knowledge not only for the Philippines, but for much of the East’ (8). The ‘unconscious recording,’ which decisively distinguished photography from painting, also signaled it as an exercise of self-discovery” and “the cultivation of the self” (Brunet 44). In reference to the Philippine Islands, the “recording” became an accurate measure of a new cultivation of the Filipino people as they transformed into a westernized consuming society which does not fully materialize into self-government until 1946. The New York Times praised Worcester’s lectures in the U.S. for:
Each picture told a story of the marvelous progress made by Americans in teaching civilization to the savage tribes of the Philippines…. The savage, naked, dirty, and unkempt, was shown in still photographs, while that same one-time savage, clothed, intelligent in appearance, and clean, later was shown in moving pictures (Capozzola 47).
Worcester’s photographic collection of the Filipino people shows “photography’s emergence into public discourse as a social and political medium, indeed a visual form of democracy” that transformed what many assumed to be primitive islands into modernity (Brunet 73). The Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes closed in the 1930’s. Worcester’s collection was then donated to the Museum of Natural History in New York. The collection now resides at the University Of Michigan Museum Of Anthropology. The American photographic tradition in the Philippines initially began as a recording device used to examine the people and record the changes in the Filipino culture. Photography soon advanced in the hand’s of the Filipino mainstream marketplace in urban cities like Manila as the nation shifted to a western enclave of capitalism. .
If photography studios in the Philippines emerged out of a consumer marketplace, then I assume, postcards would naturally follow a similar tradition. Communication through photography did not emerge until after the mid-19th century. Prior to postcards, people were communicating with loved ones through sealed letters (A History of Picture Postcards 1). The concept of the postcard began in Germany in 1865; however, the Australian government issued the 1st postcard in 1869 (1). The general public forwent privacy for cheaper mailing rates. The first copyright for a private postcard was given to John P. Charlton of Philadelphia in 1861 (1). The U.S. government released its first postcard on May 13, 1873 on watermarked card stock. During the Pioneer Era (Pre-1898) the U.S. postcards concentrated on commercial ads; however, the use of the postcard changed when on May 19, 1898, by an Act of Congress, the U.S. began to allow “privately printed mailing cards” (3). The Private Mailing Card Era lasted until 1901 when it was preceded by the Undivided Back Postcard Era until March 1, 1907. The “golden age of postcards” meant that messages could finally be composed on the back side of the divided postcard and the front side contained a full image.
The Real Photo Postcards (RPPC) tradition first emerges strictly as a form of advertising during the Private Mailing Card Era; however, it popularizes during the golden era when over “677 million postcards were mailed” during the first fiscal year. This era began the American collecting “craze” (4).
To date RPPCs, collectors can examine the stampbox markings. Charts can be found on websites such as The2Buds Collection Protection Shop to help identify the manufacturer of the paper. By matching the words and symbols in the stampbox, collectors can date postcards (The2Buds Collection 1-3). The post cards on the left have two different stampbox markings although they both date anywhere from 1925-1940 (2). The top marking reads AZO followed by a filled square in each corner. The bottom reads DEFENDER inside the stampbox. Variations of this type of marking would suggest a different time period. For example, AZO with 2 triangles up, 2 triangles down would suggest dates anywhere from 1918-1930 and DEFENDER with the diamond above or below the stampbox would date between 1910-1920 (2).
Often photographers would photograph and sell images of rural America marketing a single image through a number of prints. Most of the American cards from this era were actually printed in Germany where “lithography was an art” (4). During the White Boarder Era (1915-1930) postcards saw a decline as European publishers were ousted from the American marketplace due to high tariff rates and because the American public started to lose an interest, but the one exception came in the form of RPPCs. In 1906, Eastman Kodak Company released a post card size film the same size as vintage postcards, 3 ½ x 5 ½ to the American public The public gravitated toward Kodak’s real photograph because the images were “so clear” (4). RPPC’s are different from the printed post card tradition. RPPC’s are photographs that are reproduced by development on photographic paper with a postcard back. To authenticate a RPPC, examine the post card under a maginifying glass and look to see if there the photograph is made of dots. If dots appear, it is not a RPCC.
Filipinos, RPPCs, and a Family Narrative
Francois Brunet, in Photography and Literature, describes the post card tradition as a “brand of photographic autobiography” and explains the “popular form of communication” becomes a new form of the narrative (93-94). Looking through old albums of the Patawaran family, evidence of the RPPC tradition was found dating my family communications between the 1920’s-1940’s, prior to national independence. The RPPC’s were mailed to from the Philippines to the U.S. primarily to share private memories with a distant relative. Mainly, the photographs were used as a communicative tool to document special occasions in the private lives of the people photographed and were mailed out a personal keepsake for remembrance. The photographs, decades later, have been passed from one generation to the next without much of a written narrative. Some of the captions are written in Tagalog while others are written in English. Without the original receiver, current generations are left to examine the details of the photographs, inquiry with older relatives, and piece together a narrative that has been lost to time.
Reconstructing a narrative for my family has only left me with more questions than answers and many uncomfortable yet verifiable assumptions about the people who appear in our collection. The images below have a strong residue of Worcester’s pictorialized efforts to prove American progress in the Filipino nation portraying the “type” of people America wished to create at the turn on the 20th century.
In particular, the image to the far left, closely resembles the similiar fashions of those photographed for Worcester’s collection. The image on the right further supports the willingness of the people to transform as it depicts more elements of a western marriage than of a traditional Filipino wedding. The bride is wearing a long white dress reminiscent of the Victorian era. Interestingly enough, the male is dressed in a white suit with a tucked in shirt and a striped tie whereas traditional Filipino wedding customs suggest that men wear the borong tagolog. The borong tagolog is a long untucked shirt made of pineapple fibers.
The RPPC’s in the Patawaran family serve as historical pictorial recorder of a national transition period. After the Philippine-American war, many Americans immigrated to urban areas to help in the construction of the educational systems and business infrastructures. By 1930, many communities were referred to as American Filipino mestizos. The Patawaran family lived on the main island of Luzon, in a largely mix- populated area of Angeles which is north west of the nation’s capital Manila. The American traditions and the blend of the civilized Filipino depicted in the family photographs stem from post-colonialism in the nation; however, it is not solely American.
The art of photography is blended into folklore where participants capture not just the landscape of an area, but also people and certain photographic traditions that help viewers to retrace histories and influences that shaped the national identity of the people. The photograph below depicts elements of the Spanish conquest as well. The fashions of the Filipino lady depict older traditions. The woman’s outfit is similar to a Maria Clara Dress (Holth 5). Yakenssa Holth explains “In The Philippine Costumes” that the dress was named “after a mestiza heroine of one of the novels of the Philippine National hero, Dr. Jose Rizal (5). It is a national costume that includes a baro’t (shirt) and saya (skirt) (5). It is entirety for ceremonial events, it would consist of several different pieces, a collarless waist-length, bell sleeved camisa, a bubble shaped, floor length skirt, a neck-covering panuelo, and a “hip-hugging” over skirt (5). Although difficult to see on a first glance, the young lady below is not wearing a one-piece dress. The shirt is collarless, the sleeves are not fully bell sleeved, but follow another tradition referred to as the terno or mestiza which is marked by butterfly sleeves, lace, and embroidery. The mestiza is the formal dress of the nation (2).
The inscription on the back of the postcard reads “simple but full of memory” which reminds current readers that photography as Wilder notes: “tell concrete narratives like histories of art or political regimes or geographical areas, but sometimes to explain such intangibles as the science of civilization and the function of memory” (81). The image in its ability to endure acts as a fixed remembrance of an individual that the receiver of the postcard may or may not have been able to properly recall or visualize. By the time my grandfather received this card, it is thought that he had been in the U.S. for nearly 5 years.
The RPPC’s to the left depict Filipino children in a similar blended fashion. The Filipina’s are portrayed as conservative properly-dressed developing young ladies. The traditions that became apparent while closely examining the photographic collection of my grandfather’s suggest that females with long hair would photograph themselves with their hair parted and pulled back into a bun. Their dresses were long and the demeanor of the children were staged to depict civility bound by flowers and education.
Another academic paper on multiculturalism in America and national assimilation prompted my exploration of older photographic collections housed in our family collection. However, as I searched for a unique heritage; one that I knew was heavily Spanish influenced (my first and middle name are both Spanish) I found a culture and a society with predominately dual ownership. Although Spanish influences dominate the characteristics of the ladies photographed, I, disappointingly, discovered a culture that was not very far removed from my own.
One fact remains colonialism in the Philippines is responsible for many lost native cultures and traditions The Spanish conquistadors of the 18th century, followed by the American colonization, left few groups free of Western influence. American pictorial experiences from collections like Worcester minimized the realities of the nation and marginally exposed the Igorrotes who resisted assimilation under the Spanish ruling (Villanueva 2). Through their resistance, the people were deemed “uncivilized” living in their unkempt non-modern “backwardness” (2). American collections depict the civility of the nation as a progression that is singularly and uniquely American, but to do so, would be to completely dismiss the prior efforts of Spanish duration. Unarguably the spread of western education,religion, and ideologies dominate the mainstream modern culture of the Philippines which resulted in a very small percentage of the nation living untouched, protected by only by the geography of the islands.
A History of Picture Postcards. <www.co.seneca.ny.us/history/postcards%20history.pdf> online.
Banta, Melissa. “Photographic Encounters in the Philippines, 1889-1910.” IIAS Newsetter.Summer 2007. <www.iias.nl/nl/44/IIAS_NL44_1415.pdf.> online.
Brunet, Francois. Photography and Literature. London: Reaktion Books, 2009. print.
Capozzola, Christian. “Photography & Power in the Colonial Philippines-Dean Worcester’s Enthographic Images of Filipinos. MIT <http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/photography_and_power_02/dw02_essay.pdf.> online.
Holth, Yaknessa. “The Philippine Costumes.” <philippineculture.ph/filer/toldeo- cebu/Philippine-traditional-costumes.pdf> online.
The2Buds:Collection Protection Shop. “Dating Real Photo Postcards.” <http://www.the2buds.com> online.
Wilder, Kelley. Photography and Science. London: Reaktion Books, 2009. print
Villanueva, Cristina. “Preserving Cordillera Culture and History Through the University of the Philippines Baguio Cordillera Studies Collection Libraray and UP Baguio Cordillera/Northern Luzon Historical Archives.” International Conference of Asian Special Libraries. Philippines International Convention Center: Philippines, 2013.