Semiotic Review 9: Images - article published January 2021

Image into Sequence: Colonial Photography and the Invention of Filipino Evolution

Angela Reyes

Abstract: This article explores photography as a colonial state technology during the early years of American empire in the Philippines. It centers on the image sequence, its enregisterment across the second half of the nineteenth century, and its use at the turn of the twentieth century to depict Filipino evolution as the result of American imperial intervention. The analysis reveals how the image sequence advanced the temporal conception of a one-type racial logic of the “wild” Filipino, while Philippine elites asserted the spatial conception of a two-type racial logic, which distinguished “civilized” Filipinos in the lowlands from “wild” Filipinos in the highlands. This article argues that the enregistered image sequence placed into sequence not only images of ontogenetic evolution but also conceptualizations of destitution, blackness, and indigeneity that provided frames of reference for U.S. expansionism in the Philippines.

Keywords: photography, image, enregisterment, Philippines, colonialism, U.S. empire, race, elite

“It is not reality that photographs make immediately accessible, but images.”
Susan Sontag, On Photography


This article explores photography as a colonial state technology during the early years of American empire in the Philippines. It considers a set of ethnological images from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that not only produced representations of Filipinos, but did so in the Austinian (1962) manner of performing other kinds of action: from justifying tutelary colonialism to fostering elite collaboration. The analysis centers on how the image sequence—an enregistered genre of entextualized image sets as temporal sequence—emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century and was used at the turn of the twentieth century to depict what the United States viewed as a “wild” Filipino before and after American imperial intervention. Interrogating the semiotic eventfulness of the image sequence reveals the performative potential for perceiving not only images as sequences but also evolution across the lifespan, such that photographic images could be entextualized as sequentializing the ontogenetic transformation of a race, even when such images purported to display unconnected person types. I argue that the enregistered image sequence placed into sequence not only images of ontogenetic evolution but also conceptualizations of destitution, blackness, and indigeneity that provided frames of reference for U.S. expansionism in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The image sequence intersected with emerging racial logics about the Philippines and played a central role in the racial subject formation not only of the perceived Filipino but also of the perceiving state actors of colonial governance. Notably, Philippine elites could occupy both positions: as colonial subjects, they were the perceived; as collaborating authorities, they were the perceiving (Rafael 2000; Reyes 2017). Many elites feared that any likeness or iconic sign relation established between themselves and so-called “wild” Filipinos at any temporal stage in an image sequence would hinder their pursuit of national independence. I illustrate how elite distinction was produced through the spatial conception of a two-type racial logic, which distinguished “civilized” Filipinos in the lowlands from “wild” Filipinos in the highlands. The image sequence, in contrast, was produced through the temporal conception of a one-type racial logic which regarded all Filipinos as becoming civilized under American tutelage. The image sequence thus threatened to eclipse Philippine elite desires for recognition as a distinct racial type with a distinct path of progress that had already prepared them for self-governance.

Image and Photograph

Semiotic approaches to the eventfulness of the image can be found across the humanities and social sciences. W. J. T. Mitchell (2004:2), for example, notes that “as a name for likeness, similitude, resemblance, and analogy,” the image “has quasilogical status as one of the great orders of sign formation, the ‘icon,’ which (along with C. S. Peirce’s ‘symbol’ and ‘index’) constitutes the totality of semiotic relationships.” For Mitchell, the question to ask of iconizing images “is not just what they mean or do but what they want—what claim they make upon us, and how we are to respond” (2004:xv). Karen Strassler (2020:9) captures this dynamism in her concept of the “image-event”: “a political process set in motion when a specific image or set of images erupts onto and intervenes in a social field.” Images as events or outcomes of events is also found in Nakassis’s (2019) emphasis on the evenemential dimensions of the “image-text”—that which the Jakobsonian (1960) poetic function regiments—where “images are entextualized and interdiscursively taken up by variously interested projects to various effects” (Nakassis 2019:71). Images are thus far from static, unmediated objects of denotation or likeness; they are semiotically constituted in and as events in the production and perception of social realities.

Yet the myth of image as self-evidence is perhaps most heightened in the perception of photography as a transparent representation of objective reality and divisible time, a view that Henri Bergson (1912) sharply criticizes. Albers and Bear (2017:2) turn to his concept of “duration” to question the “temporal expectations for photographs and their capacity to render duration visible and legible, to serve as an empirically reliable representation of the ordering force of causation in the natural world.” Drawing on Walter Benjamin (1978), Miyako Inoue (2007) interrogates the view of photography as a mimetic technology of reproduction. As a Peircean (1932) icon par excellence, a photograph is a representation of a reality insofar as it produces perceptual modes that rhematize a sign relation of resemblance between a depiction and that which is depicted. Moreover, photographs as copies or imitations “re-present reality not symbolically but indexically by virtue of their ability to capture the contingent and singular temporality of the event” (Inoue 2007:523). Inoue argues that the content and form of a representation matter less than the “metacommunicative signaling that authenticates its indexicality” (Ibid.): that is, the insistence that a representation is real.

Racial Type Photography

Just as nineteenth-century photography could be used for the invention of medical categories such as hysteria (Didi-Huberman 2003), so too could it be used for the invention of racial categories such as Filipino. The images I explore in this article fall within the tradition of “racial type photography” (Edwards 1992) or “ethnological photography” (Rafael 2000) that emerged in the 1860s and 1870s. Edwards (1992) argues that racial type photography was central to the production of anthropological knowledge in the last half of the nineteenth century, particularly under the salvage logics of the discipline to document and catalogue human types. Ethnological photographs could be used to advance racial science, state control, and colonial interests, as eugenics sought biological evidence for race and as nation-states sought disciplinary and expansionist policies (Banta and Hinsley 1986; Sekula 1989; McClintock 1995). Yet such photographs could also be used by intellectuals such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Franz Boas as counter-evidence to the claims of scientific racism (Maxwell 2010).

Examples of the link between racial type photography and anthropological knowledge can be found in Mak’s (2020) work on the “racial atlas” and Maxwell’s (2012) study of “beautiful hybrids.” Mak (2020) examines anthropologist Bernard Hagen’s 1906 “Atlas of Heads and Faces of Asian and Melanesian People” to demonstrate how imperial interests and the anthropological gaze reinforce one another. Connecting racial science and colonial rule, the racial atlas “juxtaposes a view of individualized portraits with a view from above of ‘human variety,’ allowing viewers to compare and analyze other humans as objects” (Mak 2020:329). Centering on the photographer Caroline Gurrey in the early twentieth century, Maxwell (2012) explores how images meant to celebrate the beauty of mixed-race children in Hawai‘i were also used to advance a negative view of hybridity amid rising anxieties over racial mixing. As an example of this, she points to the use of Gurrey’s photographs in a display sponsored by anthropologist Alfred Tozzer at the 1921 International Eugenics Congress.

Much scholarship deals specifically with photography in the Philippines, including the role of racial type photography in the colonial era (Vergara 1995; Rafael 2000; Campomanes 2008; Rice 2014; Balce 2016), and the proliferation of photography studios and photographic portraiture among the Philippine elite beginning around the 1860s (Rafael 1990, 2000). Balce (2016), for example, explores how colonial photography framed the Filipino as “visual abject” to serve American colonial ambitions: “Filipino colonial photographs produce and disseminate the ‘sensory conditions’ that rendered American imperial modernity visible and legible” (2016:55). Rafael (1990) considers how photography began figuring in Philippine elite formations in the last half of the nineteenth century, as self-fashioned portraits were created, gifted, and kept. In “remapping the body of the colonized subject in ways that peel away from the grid of colonial assumptions” (Rafael 1990:607), photographs of male intelligentsia stood in contrast to two main figures: the Filipino as infantilized and inferiorized by Spanish racial stereotypes and the Spanish friar whom the intelligentsia loathed as androgynous and corrupt. In this article, I turn attention to how elite subjectivity was established not by photographs of elite Filipinos but by photographs of non-elite Filipinos that were regarded less as elite opposites and more as elite pasts. To do this, I consider not just any kind of racial type photography, but that which is taken to demonstrate transformed personhood through the image sequence.

Image Sequence

An image sequence is a semiotic type or token (Silverstein 2005). To regard an image sequence as type is to acknowledge its enregisterment as a relatively stable genre that is recognized across a social domain (Bakhtin 1986; Agha 2003). To regard an image sequence as token is to acknowledge an entextualized instance of the image sequence type (Bauman and Briggs 1990). Any exploration of the image sequence must consider the interdiscursive processes of enregisterment (type formation) and entextualization (token formation) that render images as such and as sequence, as temporal progression from a before to an after.

The concept of image sequence can characterize a broad range of phenomena: from the nineteenth-century chronophotography of Étienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge to perhaps all of photography for activating temporal schemas in any encounter with a photograph (Albers and Bear 2017). In this article, however, I am interested in a specific type of image sequence: that which entextualizes a set of photographic portraits as demonstrating the transformability of personhood across the lifespan. Although “phylogenic” describes the evolutionary history of a species whereas “ontogenetic” describes the development of an organism across its lifespan, I use the term “ontogenetic evolution” to capture the radical proposition of the image sequences I consider here: the assertion not that a species can evolve across generations but that an individual can evolve across a lifespan.

How do image sequences come to mean? Roland Barthes (1977:24) uses the linguistic metaphor of “syntax” to describe how “several photographs can come together to form a sequence” such that “the signifier of connotation is then no longer to be found at the level of any one of the fragments of the sequence but at that – what the linguists would call the suprasegmental level – of the concatenation.” Yet sequentialized photographs are set not only in relation to or in combination with each other, but also in relation to “a third, generally unseen, event” (Albers and Bear 2017:2): the implicit source outside of the photographic frame that transformed the before into the after. Captions and other discursive accompaniments can play a role in how images become entextualized as sequence. But I am particularly interested in how the image sequence becomes enregistered as a genre that comes to organize perceptions of photographs as temporal progression even in the absence of explicit textual anchors. In this sense, I interrogate how “photographic genres cultivate distinctive ‘visualities’” (Strassler 2010:18) such that it is primarily genre, not image or text, that guides perception.

In this section, I present three sets of images—from the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s—that pre-date the ones I consider later in my analysis in order to illustrate how the image sequence began to cohere as a recognizable genre that was used to demonstrate the transformability of personhood. The enregisterment of the image sequence within the historical specificity of the last half of the nineteenth century coincided with a peak in evolutionist ideology and in an empirical optimism about prospects of knowing by seeing and making visible. Across all of these images, the notion of "uplift" becomes a central organizing principle for both its civilizing and physical connotations: relating to discourses of class mobility and racial improvement in the late 1800s, and to aesthetic compositions of bodily elevation.

My first example is taken from Lydon’s (2017) discussion of Dr. Thomas John Barnardo, who is credited with popularizing the before-and-after photographic genre in England in the 1870s. Barnardo ran several orphanages and homes for poor children. He used paired photographic images, which were published in pamphlets or sold as cards to advertise and fundraise for his institutions, to demonstrate how young people were transformed from societal threats to future workers (Koven 2004; Murdoch 2006). Barnardo faced accusations that he staged his photographs to exaggerate or fabricate false narratives about the photographed children. For example, he was accused of taking both before-and-after photographs on the same day or claiming that a child was found in the streets when she was brought in by her mother from their home (Lydon 2017).

Below is one such pair of images from the 1870s (Figure 1). The left photograph is captioned: “No. 48.—W. S—R AS WE FIRST SAW HIM. (The same boy as on card No. 49.).” The right photograph is captioned: “No. 49.—W. S—R LEARNING TO READ. (The same lad as on card No. 48.).” Through visual and textual arrangement, these two images are taken to be a before (“first”) and after image sequence of R’s transformation in terms of physical (hair, clothing) and cognitive (“reading”) signs, an experience that has literally uplifted R from sitting on the ground to sitting at a desk.

Figure 1. Home for Working and Destitute Lads; from Lydon 2017:485.
Figure 1. Home for Working and Destitute Lads; from Lydon 2017:485.

For the next example, I draw on Wallace’s (2012) examination of the “black soldier portrait” during the American Civil War. Wallace (2012:247) treats the image of the black soldier as a kind of “visual propaganda” that performs the “imagined picturability of the idea of black civilization.” Wallace analyzes a pair of images of Private Hubbard Pryor taken around 1864 in Tennessee (Figure 2). The photographs were enclosed in a letter from Colonel R. D. Mussey to Major C. W. Foster on October 10 of that year. The caption in the National Archives Catalog reads: “Photograph of Private Hubbard Pryor Before Enlistment in 44th U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment” and “Photograph of Private Hubbard Pryor After Enlistment in 44th U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment.” With the substitution of a single word (“before” to “after”), the captions organize these images into a sequence, which produces the visible transformation of the black soldier in terms of his appearance (uniform) and a physical uplifting (from sitting to standing), demonstrating “the imaginability of his incorporative American remaking” (Wallace 2012:247).

Figure 2. Private Hubbard Pryor; from Wallace 2012:247.
Figure 2. Private Hubbard Pryor; from Wallace 2012:247.

Finally, I consider Wexler’s (2000) discussion of a pair of images taken at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia in the 1880s. Hampton (now Hampton University) was an agricultural and mechanical trade school founded in 1868 to serve formerly enslaved populations. Within a decade, it was regularly admitting Native American students and thus partly functioning as an American Indian boarding school. The curriculum emphasized Christian values and racial uplift, and prioritized trade over academic skills (Engs 1979). In 1888, Hampton underwent federal investigation on charges of inhumane treatment of its students.

The two photographs below were taken by an anonymous photographer in the 1880s with the intention to advertise the capacity of Hampton to transform persons (Figure 3). The three girls were identified as Native American children who arrived at Hampton for a period of education that would likely last years under the terms of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The photograph on the left was entitled: “On arrival at Hampton, Va.: Carrie Anderson – 12 yrs., Annie Dawson – 10 yrs., and Sarah Walker – 13 yrs.” The photograph on the right was entitled simply: “Fourteen months after.” As in the previous examples, the caption provides a temporal anchor (“after”) that entextualizes these images as a sequence demonstrating physical uplift: from sitting on the ground to sitting in chairs or standing. This is accompanied by other aspects of their supposed transformation that comply with “chief symbols of nineteenth-century, middle-class, white children’s lives—hair, dress, doll, game, and book” (Wexler 2000:112). Wexler (2000) explores how such “domestic images” (cf. Stoler 2002 on colonial-era family albums) could be used to advance expansionist policies as well as disciplinary structures of the state.

Figure 3. Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute; from Wexler 2000:109, 110.
Figure 3. Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute; from Wexler 2000:109, 110.

Racial Logics of the Philippines

Shifting to the Philippines, I consider how the enregistered image sequence relates to emerging racial logics about the Filipino at the turn of the twentieth century. By the 1800s, racial hierarchies under Spanish colonial rule (1565–1898) were solidifying around long-standing social distinctions rooted in territory (e.g., Spanish peninsulares vs. Spanish insulares or creole), mestizaje (e.g., racial mixing among Spanish, Chinese, and indio [lowland Hispanicized Filipinos]), and religion (e.g., Christian vs. non-Christian infieles [highland animists] and moros [Muslims]) (Kramer 2006). Local administrative positions rotated around a well-defined provincial elite class of principalía that was closely tied to colonial authority (Francia 2010). By the late nineteenth century, the ilustrado (literally, “enlightened ones”) emerged as the cosmopolitan element of the principalía, largely mestizo intellectuals educated in Europe who benefited from these racial hierarchies and in many ways reinforced them. As ilustrados mobilized for reform through the Propaganda Movement and its main organization and newspaper La Solidaridad, they often subscribed to Spanish racial hierarchies by drawing sharp distinctions between themselves and the supposedly savage populations that they insisted they were also capable of governing.

Through such claims of superiority, many ilustrado elites agreed with the racial hierarchies set forth by Spanish empire but largely disagreed with its temporal claims. For example, José Rizal, celebrated leader of the reform movement, argued that Filipino backwardness was not a condition that Spanish empire encountered but a condition it produced through colonial devastation (Alatas 1977). Yet Rizal and other intellectuals drew heavily on Ferdinand Blumentritt’s “wave migration” theory of racial difference in the Philippines: a first wave of “barbarous” Negritos who quickly retreated into the mountains and forests; a second wave of Malay who mixed with them and acquired their “barbarous” elements; and a third wave of “mild” and “civilized” Malays who settled in the low-lying regions (Aguilar 2005). Wave theory allowed ilustrados to distinguish themselves, whose lineage they traced to the favorable third wave, from the contemporary animists and Muslims, whose lineage they traced to the supposed savagery of the first two waves. Since both the second and third waves were “Malay” according to this theory, ilustrados explained racial difference in temporal terms (times of migration and pace of evolutionary progress), as well as—and perhaps more so—in spatial terms (the first two waves in the highlands and the third wave in the lowlands). Even ilustrados such as Isabelo de los Reyes, who disagreed with wave migration theory, drew on spatial explanations of racial difference, for example, by correlating degree of civilization with proximity to Hispanicized areas (Kramer 2006).

At the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines (and Puerto Rico and Guam) to the United States. Yet American imperial expansion in the 1890s exposed a tension between acquiring overseas territories as a desirable next stage of westward expansion and assimilating these new territories amid concerns of contamination by immigration and political representation. American wariness about Filipino incorporation and citizenship was linked to lingering resentment following the Civil War and Reconstruction, xenophobic laws regarding Chinese immigration, and aggressive assimilationist, removal, and incarceral policies affecting many African American and Native American populations. As the previous section illustrated, poor, black, and indigenous peoples figured prominently in the emerging image sequence genre that claimed to demonstrate the possibility of an incorporative uplift.

This tension surrounding overseas expansion was resolved through the formation of a new political classification: “unincorporated territories” (which Puerto Rico and Guam are still today) that allowed the U.S. flexibility in designating which rights if any would be granted to their inhabitants. Policymakers advanced proposals to treat unincorporated territories differently based on perceived political and racial assimilability. For example, Puerto Ricans were characterized as “friendly and peaceful” and “generally full-blooded white people” in contrast to the Filipinos who were characterized as “unruly and disobedient” and “wholly different races of people from ours—Asiatics, Malays, negroes and mixed blood” (Baldoz 2008:81). Designating the Philippines as an unincorporated territory enabled the U.S. to model its annexation after the federal American Indian policy of political subjugation. For example, Filipinos were “colonial wards,” like Native Americans were “U.S. wards,” both excluded from American citizenship. Thus, understandings of Filipinos relative to Native Americans in particular became important in the creation of these racial and political formations (Baldoz 2008). Indeed, that Filipinos were conceptualized as “little brown brothers” (Wolff 1960) in need of tutelage and discipline drew on “a reserve of racial understandings inherited from American slavery and Indian wars” (Wexler 2000:44).

U.S. racial logics about the Filipino were thus developed through at least four interpenetrating fields of knowledge production: (1) racial taxonomies of the Filipino developed under Spanish colonialism; (2) U.S. racial discourses regarding differentiated peoples within its continental borders; namely, black, indigenous, and immigrant groups; (3) U.S. racial discourses regarding those within its expanding empire; namely, Puerto Ricans; and (4) an emerging racial science that was developing through social Darwinism and eugenics, and to which anthropology and photography contributed greatly. From this complex milieu of global influence and colonial interests, two main competing racial logics about the Filipino developed by the U.S. dominated at the turn of the twentieth century. To illustrate them, I will draw on the “Population” sections in the 1898 National Geographic issue on the Philippines and in the 1905 Census of the Philippine Islands.

The first racial logic homogenized Filipinos as one type—“savage non-Christian Malays”—as the U.S. sought support for the Philippine-American War (1899–1902) and the colonization of the Philippines. This logic is evident in the 1898 National Geographic issue on the Philippines. This issue was unabashedly pro-imperialist and was conveniently published a month after the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War, which marked the beginning of American occupation of the Philippines. The issue contains four articles that describe several aspects of the Philippines, particularly in terms of geography, climate, natural resources, commerce, and population.

In the “Population” section of the article, “The Philippine Islands,” which opens the National Geographic issue, ethnologist F. F. Hilder (1898:278) states that “[t]he bulk of the population is of Malay origin.” The perception that the majority of these Malay are non-Christian is supported by another article in the issue by zoologist Dean C. Worcester, who will be discussed at length further below. His article, “Notes on Some Primitive Philippine Tribes,” begins by dismissing “the most primitive of Philippine peoples” (Worcester 1898:285) as “a rapidly disappearing race” (1898:286), then declares that “[t]he remaining Philippine tribes, whether pagan, mohammedan, or christian, are of Malay extraction” (Ibid.). He then proceeds to only focus on non-Christians, whom he primarily describes as “savage” and “primitive.” Thus, despite an acknowledgment of many Philippine types, the issue frames “savage non-Christian Malays” as standing for the majority, if not the entire, Philippine population.

The second racial logic was not homogenizing but bifurcating (Kramer 2006). This logic racialized Filipinos as two distinct types—as “civilized Christian” and “wild non-Christian”—as the U.S. sought support from Philippine elites to build the colonial state in the early 1900s. In other words, this logic helped separate out two kinds of Filipinos: those who need governing and those who will help govern. This second logic is evident in the 1905 Census of the Philippine Islands, which utilized Philippine elites as “supervisors.” In discussing how the “colonizing gaze” organizes the perceptual capacity to assess images of Filipinos in the Census, Rafael (2000:38) emphasizes how colonial photography presents “the subjects of colonialism as objects of transitional significance whose present is bound to fade into the past as they are wholly annexed to the civilizing embrace of the future.”

The “Population” section of the Census, authored by anthropologist and Chief of Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes, David P. Barrows, distinguishes between two main types of Filipinos: “Christian or civilized tribes” and “Non-Christian or wild tribes.” Using the semiotic quality of “wild,” the Census describes the supposedly chaotic and untamed bodies and tongues of the Filipino, which helps articulate the American colonial project of racial and linguistic homogenization: “the tribal distinctions which now exist will gradually disappear and the Filipinos will become a numerous and homogeneous, English speaking race” (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1905:40). The Census creates a racial taxonomy that is motivated by perceived distinctions along many lines, including body, language, geography, and religion. For example, the “wild non-Christian” includes forest-dwelling Negritos (Blumentritt’s “first wave”), who are supposedly in the process of extinction, and mountain-dwelling Malays (Blumentritt’s “second wave”), such as the Igorot and Ilongot.1 The “civilized Christian,” on the other hand, includes lowland-dwelling Malays (Blumentritt’s “third wave”). “Foreign” is its own category, which includes Chinese and mestizos.

The 1898 issue of National Geographic and the 1905 Census are different kinds of documents that circulated in different kinds of domains, but they represent the general shift in racial logic that guided the U.S. as it colonized the Philippines. Most notable for this article is how the first logic recognized only “wild” Filipinos when justifying war and colonization, whereas the second logic recognized both “wild” and “civilized” Filipinos when building the colonial state. Despite this shift in racial logic—from one type to two types—the enregistered image sequence helped maintain perceptions that all Filipinos were “wild” and only recently evolved as a result of American imperial intervention, much to the consternation of Philippine elites.

One Racial Type with One Path of Evolution

This section explores how the first one-type racial logic is supported through the enregistered image sequence. Considering sets of images used to demonstrate transformed personhood across the lifespan, I analyze how each set forms an image sequence that purports to display “wild” Filipinos becoming civilized through the American colonial project of racial and physical uplift. I center on the photography of Dean C. Worcester as a central part of this supposed evidence of ontogenetic evolution.

Dean C. Worcester (1866–1924), a University of Michigan zoologist who was initially interested in Philippine birds in the 1880s, became widely recognized by the end of the nineteenth century as an expert on Philippine people through his published articles, public lectures, and popular book, The Philippine Islands and Their People, published in 1898 (Rice 2014). President McKinley appointed him to the First Philippine Commission (1899–1900) and then Secretary of the Interior of the Philippines (1901–1913). In the 1900 Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, Worcester and the four other members of the Philippine Commission created a racial taxonomy of the Philippine population that involved 84 tribes across what they regarded as “three sharply distinct races” (U.S. Philippine Commission 1900:11): Negrito, Malay, and Indonesian.2 Yet it was the “wild” Malay that captivated Worcester’s attention and became his primary focus for illustrating ontogenetic evolution as a result of American imperial benevolence. This is because the “wild” Malay that made up the mountainous non-Christian, non-Muslim tribes of the Philippines—especially the Igorot and Ilongot—were understood as capable not only of change (unlike Muslim Malays or Negritos) but of dramatic displays of this change (unlike Christian Malays or mestizos).

I begin with what Rice (2014) calls Worcester’s “Igorot sequence.” It purportedly depicts an Igorot as he becomes a member of the Philippine Constabulary, a paramilitary police force created by the U.S. colonial government in 1901 and active until 1991. This sequence first appeared in print in Worcester’s “Ninth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior to the Philippine Commission” in 1910 (Figure 4).3 Under each of the three images is a year: “1901,” “1902,” and “1903.” The caption begins, “THE EVOLUTION OF A BONTOC IGOROT CONSTABULARY SOLDIER,” followed by: “Showing a Bontoc Igorot in 1901, when he was a head-hunting savage; in 1902 after he had been for a year in contact with Americans, and in 1903 when he was a well-disciplined and competent sergeant of a company of Philippines Constabulary made up of his fellow-tribesmen.” Several scholars have interrogated this sequence, exposing evidence that all three photos were likely taken in 1901, that the subject was asked to remove his constabulary-like clothing in the first picture, that he was instead a prisoner, and so on (Rice 2014).

Figure 4. The Evolution of a Bontoc Igorot Constabulary Soldier; from Worcester 1910:20.
Figure 4. The Evolution of a Bontoc Igorot Constabulary Soldier; from Worcester 1910:20.

This set of images poetically configures ontogenetic evolution by repetition of what is taken to be the same individual undergoing physical and social uplift: changes in hair, hat position, posture, and clothing. The captions organize the set into a sequence by providing a temporalization (“1901,” “1902,” and “1903”) and linking types of personhood to stages in the progression (how “Americans” turn a “savage” into a “sergeant”). This temporal transformation is asserted not only for an individual but also for a people, where not just this individual but “fellow-tribesmen” evolve from “head-hunters” to the “well-disciplined” Philippine Constabulary.

To demonstrate Worcester’s widespread use of entextualized image sequences, I will present two more for discussion. Figure 5 is captioned: “THE METAMORPHOSIS OF A BONTOC IGOROT. Two photographs of a Pit-a-pit, a Bontoc Igorot boy. The second was taken nine years after the first.” It first appeared in Worcester’s 1914 book, The Philippines: Past and Present, the title of which also asserts a temporalization of the Filipino. Figure 6 is captioned: “THE EFFECT OF A LITTLE SCHOOLING. The picture to the left shows a typical Ilongot girl as we found her. The picture to the right shows an Ilongot girl who has attended school for a time.” It appeared in Worcester’s 1913 article, “The Non-Christian Peoples,” in National Geographic.4

Figure 5. The Metamorphosis of a Bontoc Igorot; from Worcester 1914:frontispiece.
Figure 5. The Metamorphosis of a Bontoc Igorot; from Worcester 1914:frontispiece.

Figure 6. The Effect of a Little Schooling; from Worcester 1913:1229.
Figure 6. The Effect of a Little Schooling; from Worcester 1913:1229.

These three sets of images from Worcester’s photographic collection share a visual poetic configuration of repetition of an individual before and after American imperial intervention: from unclothed to clothed (Figures 4–6), from untrimmed to trimmed hair (Figures 4–6), and from slouched to erect (Figures 4 and 6). The captions further contextualize these image sets as demonstrating ontogenetic transformation—“evolution,” “metamorphosis,” and “effect”—across the lifespan, whether within what is taken to be the same individual (Figures 4 and 5) or a “typical” one (Figure 6).

By the time Worcester took, arranged, and published these photographs, the image sequence had been enregistered as a recognizable genre across the U.S. and Europe. Indeed, the image sets in Figures 4–6—which depict “wild” Malays at the turn of the twentieth century—and the image sets in Figures 1–3—which depict poor, black, and indigenous persons in the late nineteenth century—share a visual and linguistic configuration of temporal and incorporative uplift. Thus, Worcester’s entextualized image sequences interdiscursively link to each other, to other image sequences, and to the image sequence genre as both example and expansion of the supposed transformability of personhood within a new era of American empire.

Philippine elites expressed outrage about the dominance of this imagery, worried that observers would believe that all Filipinos—including elites—were unclothed and uncivilized a mere few years ago (Rice 2014; Balce 2016). This elite anger over entextualized image sequences was most evident at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904, which I turn to next.

Distinct Racial Types with Distinct Paths of Evolution

If the 1898 issue of National Geographic and Worcester’s photography promoted the first racial logic of one type with one path of evolution, the 1905 Census and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair gestured to the second racial logic of distinct types with distinct paths of evolution. As mentioned earlier, this second logic relied on a primary distinction between two Philippine types in what Paul Kramer (2006) calls the “bifurcated racial state.” In this racial logic, evolution becomes reconfigured such that there is not a single narrative of progress, but parallel lines of progress of different kinds at different paces for two main social types: “civilized” Filipinos and “wild” Filipinos. Unlike the image sets above, the images I discuss next are primarily contextualized as—though not always taken up as—images of distinct social and physical groups on different paths of evolution. I argue that this second logic largely failed because the enregistered image sequence genre, which Worcester’s influential photography participated in, helped organize perceptions of images into sequences, that is, helped entextualize images as sequences through the semiotics of type-token interdiscursivity (Silverstein 2005).

The St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 took place after the American victory over its war with Spain and as U.S. empire was realizing its overseas expansion not only in the Philippines, but also in Puerto Rico, Guam, and Hawai‘i. As with other modern international exhibitions from the second half of the nineteenth century—most notably the 1851 Great Exhibition in London and the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris—the 1904 World’s Fair combined grandeur, transience, and excess in a technological spectacle of the internal evolutionary hierarchies of imperial political orders, placing metropole and colony within a single analytic field (Breckenridge 1989; Gunning 1994). The World’s Fair presented an opportunity for the U.S. to display and advance its global ambitions, and to create potent analogies between populations inside and outside its expanding borders. This was particularly the case for comparisons between Native Americans and Filipinos through an education model designed to pacify and subjugate both populations (Rydell 1984; Breitbart 1997).

Together with other major expositions in the U.S., such as the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair coordinated the production of ethnological knowledge with the professionalization of American anthropology (Hinsley and Wilcox 2016). Describing how the 1904 World’s Fair’s “Anthropology Department”—headed by anthropologist W. J. McGee, who was President of the American Anthropological Association at the time (and also an Associate Editor of the 1898 National Geographic issue discussed above)—assembled ethnological displays of peoples from many parts of the world, Wexler (2000:279) suggests that the World’s Fair itself might be construed as one giant before-and-after image sequence of the world under U.S. leadership:

The Anthropology Department aimed to invest the ideology of white American supremacy with a persuasive material form. Side-by-side comparisons of one “primitive lifestyle” after another – a kind of monotonously repeated “before” to a tantalizing climax of “after” – allowed fairgoers to reach the inevitable conclusion: just as the United States had organized this greatest of all fairs, which brought so many of the “peoples of the world” peacefully together in one space, so too would it organize the world on a higher plan once it had secured its territories.

Drawing on the late nineteenth-century practice of displaying “human zoos” alongside other colonial possessions at international expositions (Mathur 2000; Hinsley and Wilcox 2016), the 1904 World’s Fair featured a Philippine Exposition that could be situated within a global model of benevolent imperialism. Although the Philippine Exposition Board had two ilustrado members—Pedro Paterno and Dr. León Guerrero, both of whom served under President Emilio Aguinaldo of the First Philippine Republic (1899–1901)—many Philippine businesses and political elites were reluctant to participate due to emerging tensions between the insular and provincial governments. Yet collaborating elites were critical to the Philippine Exposition as both display and spectator—that is, as civilized representatives of the Philippine people, which could demonstrate for an American audience the outcome of colonial tutelage, and as observers of the technological wonders of American empire, which could inspire Filipino awe and devotion (Kramer 2006).

The Philippine Exposition was the largest and most frequently visited site at the 1904 World’s Fair (Afable 2004). Populated with people brought from the Philippines to live on-site in reconstructed villages, the Exposition aimed to produce an “ethnographic authenticity” (Kruger 2007:19) for American viewers as they encountered “many native types, who had reached varying stages of civilization” (Banta and Hinsley 1986:18). According to the brochure (Figure 7), the Exposition was a 47-acre living display of “1200 natives” organized into “40 different tribes” across “6 Philippine villages.” On the front and back covers of the brochure are two images that seem to demonstrate the second racial logic: the “wild” Igorot (on the front cover) and the “civilized” member of the Philippine Scouts, a military unit of the U.S. Army created in 1901 and active through World War II (on the back cover).

Figure 7. Philippine Exposition Brochure: Front (Left) and Back Covers; from Philippine Exposition Brochure, 1904 World’s Fair.
Figure 7. Philippine Exposition Brochure: Front (Left) and Back Covers; from Philippine Exposition Brochure, 1904 World’s Fair.

On the one hand, the Exposition was organized around the bifurcated racial state, displaying “wild” and “civilized” Filipinos as distinct types in distinct sites. For example, Visayan Village was advertised in promotion materials as representing “the refined and educated people of the islands,” and thus stood in stark contrast to Igorot Village—which was described as comprised of “head-hunters”—and Negrito Village—which was described as representing “primitive man.” On the other hand, the Exposition was criticized by Philippine elites for impressing upon audiences that all Filipinos were uncivilized. Lauro Mataas, for example, wrote in 1903 in El Renacimiento, a Spanish-Tagalog newspaper in Manila, that the plan to represent “savage” populations at the 1904 Philippine Exposition in St. Louis would lead to the same undesirable outcome as the 1887 Philippine Exposition in Madrid (Kramer 2006:249–51). Mataas reminded his readers that as ilustrados were gaining momentum in their movement for reform, the 1887 Exposition displayed “savage” Philippine populations for the Spanish public, which thwarted their political progress. At the 1904 Philippine Exposition, visitors indeed flocked to the “wild” spectacles of Igorot Village, such as nudity, dog eating, and spear throwing, while largely ignoring the lackluster sites of the “civilized” Visayan Village, such as a model schoolhouse and church (Vaughan 1996). Despite the World’s Fair’s attempt to display distinct Filipino types, the Igorot often stood for the whole of the Filipino because of the disproportionate amount of attention they received.

When confronted with the various figurations of the Filipino, then, any self-evidence of the image or its contextualization seemed to collapse. For example, a promotional booklet for the Philippine Exposition explained that “[t]he Igorot represents the wildest race of savages, the scouts stand for the results of American rule” (Kramer 2006:262). This quote places two groups in a contrast: Igorots as “wild” and “savage” and scouts as the “results of American rule.” Yet the relationship between these two groups is unclear. Are the Igorot now and always distinct from the scout? Or will the Igorot soon be the scout; and was the scout once the Igorot? That is, is the “result” of U.S. intervention the transformation of Igorots into scouts, or the creation of scouts to pacify or replace Igorots? As Kramer (2006:269) explains, when “[p]resented with the imagery of contrast, audiences [at the Philippine Exposition] tended to place its parts into a narrative, evolutionary sequence.” That viewers could perceive images of purported distinct types, like those on the brochure cover in Figure 7, as instead the before and after of an image sequence, points to the interdiscursive mechanisms that entextualize images as sequences, that is, as tokens of the enregistered image-sequence type.

Another example of this is in a 1904 article about the Philippine Exposition in The World’s Work, a monthly business magazine published by Doubleday, Page and Company from 1900–1932. The author, Alfred Newell, visited the Exposition and wrote about his experience in his article, “The Philippine Peoples,” which represents an account by the “perceiving subject” (Inoue 2006; Rosa and Flores 2017). Included in his piece is the image in Figure 8, which depicts differentiated types: a “Negrito” on the left and a “Pilipino scout” on the right. Newell dedicates sections of his article to each type. In his section on “The Negritos,” Newell claims that they are undergoing both extinction and assimilation: on the one hand, they “will be extinct before a half-century,” and on the other hand, they “are not slow to adapt themselves to civilized ways” (Newell 1904:5138). In his section on “Philippine Soldiers,” Newell claims that the Philippine Scouts, like the Philippine Constabulary, show “the real work accomplished in the Philippines—the bringing of law and order and discipline out of insurrection and ignorance—the lesson of good government” (Newell 1904:5142). These differentiated types are placed together in Figure 8 with the caption: “THE FILIPINO OF YESTERDAY AND OF TODAY.” Under the “yesterday” image is the sub-caption: “A Negrito, one of the aborigines of the Philippines.” Under the “today” image is the sub-caption: “A Pilipino scout, trained by American soldiers.”

Figure 8. The Filipino of Yesterday and of Today; from Newell 1904:5133.
Figure 8. The Filipino of Yesterday and of Today; from Newell 1904:5133.

In one sense, these images depict two types of Filipinos that conform to the bifurcated racial state: the Negrito of the past (on the left) and the Pilipino scout of the present (on the right). Here, Negritos are depicted as either becoming extinct under evolutionary logics or excluded from the colonial state that the scouts are building. In another sense, these images share a poetic structure with the enregistered image sequence discussed above: two contrasting images, in the same frame, left to right, the first image of a crouching, shirtless Filipino with bow and arrow, the second image of an upright, uniformed Filipino with military sword. The deictics, “yesterday” and “today,” anchor “The Filipino”—one kind, not many—as temporally situated as this-then, on the left, and that-now, on the right. That audiences perceived these two figurations as the latter—that is, not as distinct types but as one type undergoing ontogenetic evolution (Kramer 2006)—indicates the activation of interdiscursive links that establish these images as tokens of the image sequence type, making them just like Worcester’s explicit before-and-after images, most notably his “Igorot sequence” (Figure 4), which also depicts a Philippine soldier as the “after” image.

Considering together all of the photographic sets in Figures 1–8, the enregistered image sequence helps place into sequence not only images but also conceptualizations of destitution, blackness, and indigeneity that provide frames of reference for a new era of U.S. expansionism. That is, the twinned contexts of American Reconstruction (Figure 2) and Indian Removal (Figure 3) facilitate an identification with the project of U.S. imperialism as another rehabilitative project of racial uplift. For example, type-token interdiscursivity draws together “The Filipino of Yesterday and of Today” (Figure 8) and Private Hubbard Pryor (Figure 2) to make legible the American occupation of the Philippines through conceptions of black rehabilitation and allegiance. Poetic parallelisms of racialized incorporability come to frame the Negrito as also undergoing assimilation (not extinction) through American tutelary colonialism: “formalizing for the public imagination the picturable prospect of a new national subject, one fully assimilable into the imagined body politic” (Wallace 2012:245).

Included in perceiving subject reports like Newell’s in The World’s Work are Philippine elite accounts of the Philippine Exposition. Elites recognized that images of Filipinos were not being perceived as representing distinct types. They claimed that visitors were left with the impression that Philippine elites were the same racial type as the “wild” non-Christian, as having evolved from the Negrito or Igorot in a few short years. That this one-type racial logic persevered at the Exposition angered the Philippine elites. For example, two St. Louis Post-Dispatch news articles in August 1904 reported that Visayan villagers at the Philippine Exposition were “very angry to be called savages,” and that a pensionado (a Filipino student scholar serving as a guide at the World’s Fair) complained of visitors asking him “if I liked wearing clothes” (cited in Kramer 2006:273–74). Such accounts support that the Exposition left visitors with the impression that all Filipinos were unclothed and uncivilized, and thus incapable of self-rule. Furthermore, just as Isabelo de los Reyes predicted, accounts by Philippine elites forged links between the 1904 Philippine Exposition in St. Louis and the 1887 Philippine Exposition in Madrid, which elites also accused of emphasizing depictions of shirtless Igorots with spears as standing for the whole of the Filipino. Many Philippine elites claimed that both Expositions deliberately misrepresented the Philippine people to undermine their efforts for political representation and sovereignty (Aguilar 2005).

Philippine elite reactions thus reveal a tension between temporal and spatial conceptions of race. McClintock (1995:40) discusses this tension relative to European empire: “The stubborn and threatening heterogeneity of the colonies was contained and disciplined not as socially or geographically different from Europe and thus equally valid, but as temporally different and thus as irrevocably superannuated by history.” Through its use of the image sequence to support the first racial logic, U.S. empire also activated a temporal conception of race, that is, one based on evolution, where “wild” Filipinos could evolve into elites. Philippine elites, in contrast, asserted a spatial conception of race, that is, one based on geography, with already “civilized” elites in the lowlands and “wild” Filipinos in the highlands. Invested in this two-type racial logic that relied on a distinction between “wild” and “civilized” Filipinos, elites spatialized race in order to create an internal other against which they could locate themselves as modern, sovereign subjects.


Conceptualizing images as events emphasizes “the contingent, multidirectional ‘taking place’ of images propelled by their unpredictable pathways and reverberations” (Strassler 2020:25). This article explored the eventfulness of the image by considering the semiotic and political processes that entextualize images as sequences. In the last half of the nineteenth century, as the image sequence emerged as a recognizable photographic genre demonstrating uplift of the poor, formerly enslaved, and colonized within national borders, the U.S. used the image sequence genre as a key semiotic technology of empire to pursue its interests overseas.

This article considered the question of the image sequence as it related to two main racial logics of the Filipino during this era of American expansion. Whereas the temporal conception of the first racial logic recognized only “wild” Filipinos when justifying war and colonization, the spatial conception of the second racial logic recognized both “wild” and “civilized” Filipinos when building the colonial state. The image sequence helped support the first logic, portraying ontogenetic evolution of the “wild” Filipino as a result of American imperial benevolence. Despite the second logic’s efforts to undo the first, the “wild” Filipino continued to stand for the whole of the Filipino as the enregistered image sequence genre organized perceptions of images as sequences: linking them together and to other sets that appeared in academic and popular venues, from Worcester’s publications to the St. Louis World’s Fair.

Forming image sequences constructed not only the perceived Filipino subject but also the perceiving subject of colonial governance. The American imperialist position was built in no small part through anthropological knowledge creation: as that which documents, creates taxonomies, exhibits information, and offers benevolence. Because Philippine elites could be both the perceived subject and the perceiving subject—that is, both a figuration of the colonized and a figuration of the colonizer—they desired to assert themselves as fully-formed political subjects not requiring American imperial intervention. Elite concerns to distinguish themselves from the “wild” non-Christian demonstrate how what is viewed as central to efforts for political sovereignty is the recursive reactivation of colonial hierarchies, what I have called “colonial recursivity”: the continual creation of nested interior alterities of colonial subjectivity (Reyes 2017).


Portions of this work were presented at the Roman Jakobson Symposium at Harvard University in 2019, the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada in 2019, and the Seminar in American Studies at Columbia University in 2020. At these events, I benefited enormously from the thoughtful feedback and support I received from organizers and participants, including Tanya Agathocleous, Steve Caton, Elaine Chun, Jen Deflino, Aurora Donzelli, Kyle Fraser, Nick Harkness, Erika Hoffmann-Dilloway, James Kim, Paul Kroskrity, Khanh Le, Adrienne Lo, Miki Makihara, Mike Mena, Marcy Morgan, Costas Nakassis, Janet Neary, Jonathan Rosa, Matt Sandler, Krystal Smalls, Stan Thangaraj, and Kristina Wirtz. I am very grateful to Luis Francia and John Silva, who generously shared their insights on the Philippine history of images and arranged my visit to the splendid Ortigas Foundation Library in Manila in 2020. I also thank Meghanne Barker, Paul Manning, Costas, and two anonymous reviewers for their close reading and critical guidance on written versions. All remaining weaknesses are my own.


1. The categories of Negrito and Igorot, in particular, were deeply informed by U.S. racial discourses about African Americans and Native Americans (Baldoz 2008). For example, Negritos were described as: “Their color is black, their hair is woolly and bushy, their toes are remarkably prehensile, and they can use them almost as well as their fingers” (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1905:532). Igorot were described as: “These people differ widely in development, ranging from the partly civilized down to the wildest of head-hunters ... physically well built, strong, and active. They are quick, amiable, cheerful in disposition and industrious” (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1905:533).

2. Negrito, Malay, and Indonesian were hierarchically arranged through racialized assessments of supposedly distinct physical and cognitive traits: Negrito as “disappearing remnants of a people ... They are, physically, weaklings of low stature, with black skin, closely-curling hair, flat noses, thick lips, and large, clumsy feet. In the matter of intelligence they stand at or near the bottom of the human series, and they are believed to be incapable of any considerable degree of civilization or advancement” (U.S. Philippine Commission 1900:11); Malay as “not found pure ... medium size, with straight black hair. ... The skin is brown and distinctly darker than that of the Indonesians, although very much lighter than that of the Negritos. The nose is short and frequently considered flattened” (U.S. Philippine Commission 1900:12); and Indonesian as “physically superior not only to the Negritos, but to the more numerous Malayan peoples ... They are tall and well developed, with high foreheads, aquiline noses, wavy hair, and often with abundant beards. The color of their skins is quite light. Many of them are very clever and intelligent” (Ibid.).

3. Worcester also showed the Igorot sequence in his public lectures after 1913 and at his senate testimony in 1914. The Igorot sequence was more widely seen after Frederick Carleton Chamberlain (1913) reprinted it with altered captions in his general interest publication, The Philippine Problem, 1898–1913. Chamberlain’s captions were: “EDUCATIONAL VALUE OF THE CONSTABULARY. 1. Bontoc Igorot on entering the service, 1901. 2. After a year’s service, 1902. 3. After two years’ service, 1903.”

4. Before it was transformed into a “before” image, the image on the left appeared without the image on the right in Worcester’s 1906 article in the Philippine Journal of Science in order to demonstrate types of ornamentation worn by Ilongot women (Rice 2014).


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