Annotation: Cañete, Aloysius Ma. L. 2008. Exploring Photography

Cañete, Aloysius Ma. L. 2008. Exploring Photography: A Prelude Towards Inquiries into Visual Anthropology in the Philippines. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, 36(1/2):1-14

Visual anthropology remains marginal in the Philippines, and the article is written “to contribute to the groundwork for the mainstreaming of this field in the country” (2). The author uses the history of still photography in the Philippines as a point of departure. The author recognizes that photographs are not passive and that they are “dynamic representations of reality that are constituted in/through the lived experience and milieu of the photographer and the viewer,” but which, ironically, are timeless (3). As Cañete writes, “The photograph perpetuates the past while it is being reproduced (consumed) in the present” (3). He then proceeds to discuss anthropology and its practice of colonial photography used in creating typologies of non-Western peoples, and thus leading to their racialization. The author follows the developments in anthropology (from positivism to subjectivity and reflexivity) which were products of the discipline’s self-critique. He advances a “critical/reflexive approach” to the study of photography in the Philippines, which requires paying attention to both the power relations involved in image-production and -consumption, and the images’ particular socio-historical context, agency, and materiality (6). The author suggests topics that could be researched further — for instance, photography during the American colonial period, used as part of the U.S. project of “benevolent assimilation” of Filipinos. Photography has always been used as an “instrument of surveillance” and as a tool for legitimizing the presence of the U.S. in the Philippines. An unexplored area in the colonial photography genre, according to the writer, is anthropological photography, an example of which is the photography project of the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes, which was led by anthropologists. Missionary photography in the Philippines is also yet to be studied thoroughly, while the country “continue(s) to be the object of fantasy of missionaries up to this day” (9). The author mentions self-reflexive explorations in photography by feminists, such as those by Lila Abu-Lughod and Ruth Behar, which can be used as examples by anthropologists in the Philippines.

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