Displaying Filipinos

Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th Century Philippines by Benito M. Vergara, Jr. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1995.

This is the product of my master's degree in Southeast Asian Studies which I received from Cornell University in 1993. My master's thesis was published as "Displaying Filipinos" by UP Press in 1995, and was nominated for the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award in the history category in 1996.

Ordering Information:

In the Philippines, the book may be purchased from the UP Press offices in Diliman, Quezon City. I have only seen it in one bookstore in Manila, however (the Filipino Bookstore in Makati), though I have been told that it is sometimes available in National Book Store at the South Mall and in Old Manila at the SM Megamall.

"Displaying Filipinos" is distributed in the U.S. by the University of Hawaii Press for $19.00 (but they may already be sold out). To order by phone call 1-800-956-2840. I have also seen it for sale in San Francisco's City Lights and in Pasadena's Midnight Special. It is also available at Tatak Pilipino and at Tamarind Books. You can also check Bookfinder.


This book examines photographs published in travel accounts and government documents of the early American colonial period in the Philippines. It takes as its premise photography's power as an instrument unusually effective for the presentation of colonialist ideology, and discusses its role in the legitimation of the American colonial enterprise in the Philippines.

Drawing upon diverse examples of American representation of the Philippines -- ranging from travel books, photographic albums and ethnological research papers to the 1903 Census of the Philippines and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 -- this book seeks to show that the production and publication of these photographs is predicated on the same, predetermined colonial narrative. This narrative both engenders and informs the production of colonial photographs.

The power of photographs lies in their capacity to be invested with truth. This makes photography a privileged mode of obtaining knowledge and representing reality. At the same time, however, it is an easily manipulable medium; a spontaneous act of framing is performed the moment a photograph is taken, and so the viewer's boundaries of interpretation are restricted. In this respect, photography can be a potentially powerful tool for colonialism.

Colonial officials, anthropologists, and travelers of different kinds utilized the camera as an instrument of surveillance and display, and imaged Filipinos as racially and technologically inferior. The mass circulation of photographs as commodities, augmented by their reproducibility, helped shape stereotyped images of the Philippines and Filipinos. This book attempts to provide deeper insights into the nature of American colonialism and representation of the Philippines.

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