Image Source: Early Photography of Asia
Title: Manila, Native Carriage
Name: Kane, Albert E.
Date Created: 1932/1937
Note: A photograph of a young Filipino man with a horse carriage in Manila, Philippines.
Images frequently depict an instance in time of an individual within a specific context. It is all too common for observers to overlook the intricacies regarding the time period, background, historical context, etc. that lay the foundation of any image. The image above, Manila, Native Carriage, portrays a young Filipino man alongside a horse-drawn carriage as he seizes the straddle of the horse. Although it may be a difficult endeavor to critically analyze the image above, if we understand the history of the Philippines and the context surrounding the image, it makes it easier to understand the photographer’s motives as well as other implicit meanings. Additionally, we want to understand the historical biases and Colonial Ontologies that are prevalent throughout numerous photo archives and how they potentially perpetuate a negative narrative. Overall, our aim is to genuinely understand the historical context behind the photo and its potential narrative, as well as decipher its implications for the future of the Philippines.
History of the Philippines/Initial Interpretation
To fully understand the historical context, it would be appropriate to provide a succinct history of the Philippines up until the point of its independence on July 4th, 1946. The Philippines has always been an archipelago consisting of numerous islands in Southeast Asia. Prior to Spain’s colonialization during the sixteenth century, the Philippines consisted of vast ethnic groups with over 100 dialects and languages spoken. In 1521, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan settled in the Philippines, eventually leading to Spain’s approximate 300-year Colonial rule over the Philippines until the Spanish-American War in 1898. America would sustain its rule over the Philippines post-Spanish-American War until its official independence on July 4th, 1946 (Philippines – The Period of U.S. Influence). Utilizing the information provided, we can confidently state that this photo occurred during America’s occupation of the Philippines due to its estimated creation date between 1932 and 1937. Through further examination, we notice that the young man is wearing attire that could be attributed to the time period, most likely from American-influenced clothing. The second most prominent aspect of the photo is the horse-drawn carriage. We are able to infer that this carriage is not native to Filipino culture pre-colonialization due to early settlements focusing on living amongst nature and in small communities. The horse carriage was most likely imported either during Spain’s or the United States’ rule of the nation. When assessing both the young man and carriage together, we can further infer that his occupation is a coachman. As a coachman, his occupation most likely required him to either transport Americans occupying the land or other Filipinos living in the area. Aside from the main aspects, we are able to observe a fully built road in the background as well as powerlines adjacently implanted. Objectively, we could hypothesize the photographer’s intent was to simply capture the young man working to inform the American public of life outside the United States. In regard to intent, this photo could be deemed no different from an elderly Vietnamese woman working in a rice field or a middle-aged Indonesian man on a fishing boat. Although numerous interpretations are plausible, this could be deemed the most straightforward answer.
Aside from an immediate interpretation of the image, we can approach image analysis from a different angle in attempting to address the underlying bias and Colonial Ontologies that exist in photos of foreign individuals during colonial rule. In Archival Dis-Ease: Thinking through Colonial Ontologies by Ann Laura Stoler, Stoler centers on the Dutch governance of Indonesia and the colonial records of that period. Stoler states, “In nearly 30 years of working on French, Dutch, US, and South African racial formations and the exclusionary principles stamped within them-Racisms thrive on political rationalities and affective assessments that are almost always above something else” (Stoler 218). Stoler continues to cite instances such as the term inlandsche kinderen and its ongoing role in promoting racism and the separation of people based on their racial background. Regarding her statements’ relation to the image above, this photo could also be interpreted as a foreigner’s attempt in framing a Filipino’s life during colonization. Americans or others viewing the image may perceive the young man provided with a stable job or immense opportunity due to American or European expansion. This interpretation could frame the Philippines and Filipinos in a subservient perspective that diminishes their own culture and heritage.
Future of the Philippines
After discussing two potential interpretations of the image above, a third implication regarding the future of the Philippines and its people could also be included. Similar to numerous Southeast Asian countries, its history is embroiled in colonialism, and any history of pre-colonialism is rarely mentioned or completely forgotten. Regarding its future, the Philippines and other developing countries generally have a lower GDP per capita compared to more developed countries in the West. Currently, the nation is dealing with issues ranging from natural disasters (volcanoes, earthquakes, etc.), globalization and a densely populated Manila, economic equality, potential rebellions, etc. (Bowring). Since colonialism has set numerous Southeast Asian countries to play catch up in terms of their economy and quality of life, the Philippines is no exception to that. Although there is no straightforward or fix-all solution to the myriad of issues listed above, the path towards progression is complex and involves a multitude of individuals ranging from the native people, government, foreigners, etc. to collaborate and target such issues. The image simply represents a timestamp in history that can be interpreted in multiple ways despite its seemingly normal context.
Bowring, Philip. The Future of the Philippines. https://www.asiasentinel.com/p/future-of-philippines. Accessed 25 Apr. 2023.
Philippines – The Period of U.S. Influence | Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Philippines/The-period-of-U-S-influence. Accessed 25 Apr. 2023.
Stoler, Ann Laura. “Archival Dis-Ease: Thinking through Colonial Ontologies.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, vol. 7, no. 2, June 2010, pp. 215–19. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, https://doi.org/10.1080/14791421003775741.