Why I like old photographs

- John L. Silva () - June 26, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - People always wonder about my fascination with old photographs. I reply, like any collector, that the search is as exciting as the object sought after. And why that object of all other objects? Ah! That’s a deep personal answer for each collector.

As a historian, a vintage photograph gives me the visual ambiance of say, a passage in an old book. Jose Rizal’s poetic description of a steamship winding up the Pasig River in the first paragraph of El Filibusterismo is greatly enhanced by my photograph of a similar ship chugging up the river at around the time Rizal wrote those lines.

Having researched tens of thousands of Filipiniana photographs in collections all over the world and after amassing a modest collection of the same, I feel no longer a detached historian but one who could almost relive the scenes of the past: manners, dressing, movements, and forms of affection now unknown to us.

Like in my latest book, “A Token of Our Friendship.”

In the countless photographs I’ve encountered, a rare image appears – that of two men holding hands, or embracing a shoulder, or heads leaned towards each other.

There were singular and group poses as well that revealed an allure or camaraderie. These poses, done when 19th and early 20th century photographs became used as mementos, included affectionate inscriptions as well.

These rare photographs were set aside and years later numbered several hundred, enough to put it into a book. Taken as a whole, dissected, and written, they form a wondrous assemblage of male affection before clinical definitions (like homosexual) or macho culture inhibited, if not, ended the practice.

In those days, physical forms of affection carried no stigma or suspicion which today would be inescapable. A restrained show of physical affection was allowed even for those sexually involved, as long as they were not “out” about it.

Photographs chosen were around the first half of the 20th century (give or take a decade) and in that timeline show how affections were stilted and formalistic in the beginning (the Spanish colonial period), more relaxed later, and, towards the end, more spontaneous and emotional. Customs, mores, and even faster shutter speeds contributed to the changes.

Dressing, their accessories, the poses, the hair styles, the backdrops and later the outdoors, with all their evolutions, are added interests to the book and in the exhibition, viewers can examine these archival images and their inscriptions, front and back.

So, when asked why I collect old photos, I answer with some truth to it, that I’ve enjoyed not just my lifetime but several lifetimes before it.

A Token of Our Friendship: Philippine Photos of Male Affection, First Half of the 20th Century will open on June 29 at 6 pm with a book launch and exhibit at Silverlens Gallery, 2320 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City. For more information, call 816-0044.

A TOKEN OF OUR FRIENDSHIP EL FILIBUST FILIPINIANA FIRST HALF JOSE RIZAL MAKATI CITY PASIG RIVER PASONG TAMO EXTENSION PHILIPPINE PHOTOS OF MALE AFFECTION RIZAL
  • Latest
  • Trending
Latest
Latest
Recommended
Are you sure you want to log out?
X
Login

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

FORGOT PASSWORD?
SIGN IN
or sign in with