By Ma. Isabel Ongpin/The Manila Times

ON the subject of the earliest Philippine photographs of which I have written before and for which Prudencio Mateos Perez, a journalist and antique bookseller from Madrid, got in touch with me, there is new information. And that is thanks to the painstaking research of Sr. Mateos Perez, who is also the custodian and cataloguer of an extensive library of documents of the Spanish governor-general of the Philippines from 1844-1850, Narciso Claveria y Zaldua. The library owns one of the two surviving collections of early Philippine photographs.

There are two known extant collections of earliest Philippine photographs (daguerreotypes). One is the collection of Manila and Marikina photographs from the 1840s attributed to Jules Itier, a French diplomat based in Beijing, who visited Manila in 1844, together with his diplomatic superior, a Monsieur Lagrene. The other collection consists of three portraits in a studio setting of three Philippine tribal chiefs taken by Col. (of the Spanish Artillery) Jose Maria Peñaranda, who served as secretary to Governor Claveria and who sent them to him in Madrid as gifts as demonstrated in a letter of June 6, 1850 in Manila to Claveria from Peñaranda. These photographs are like the Itier ones from the 1840s. Since the earliest known Philippine photographs before the above discoveries are from the 1860s, they are certainly worth analyzing.

Since daguerreotype photography was only invented in 1839 by Louis Daguerre, a Frenchman, it is quite astonishing that the machine was already in Asia in the 1840s given the cultural gap between continents because of the only means of communication then, which was by sea.

Perhaps for Itier, the French photographer, whose photographs are in the Hispanic Society of America Museum and Library in New York, it is not unreasonable to think that coming from the country where the daguerreotype was invented, he would have been one of the first to know and acquire its technique, especially since he was a diplomat and would be expected to record his travels. In the case of the Philippines, it is something of a mystery. Colonel Peñaranda (1806-1850) had been assigned to the Philippines in 1828 and never left the country. He died of a sudden illness at the age of 44 in Manila after a trip to the Ilocos Region. How did he acquire the daguerreotype camera?

Sr. Mateos Perez has done extensive research on Peñaranda, describing him as "un polifacetico," which the Spanish dictionary defines as "versatile, diverse, many-sided."

Indeed, Peñaranda who came to the Philippines as an aide to his uncle, Governor-General Pascual Enrile (term 1830-1835), considered to have been one of the most upright and accomplished Spanish governor-generals of the Philippines with a legacy of communications, boat-building and naval bases. Peñaranda himself never left the Philippines. He became at one time governor of Albay, member of the Real Sociedad Economica de Filipinas and a contributing member of the Natural History of the Philippines with reports and maps made from his manifold travels through the archipelago (Batanes, Ilocos, the mountain provinces of Luzon, Mindanao). He was a soldier who was an engineer and displayed an interest in the country's resources and environment. It is said that on the basis of his research in geography, the postal service was put in place during his time. Let us hope that someday, somewhere, perhaps in our own archives, we will find some of his work. With this background, he was a natural for the post of secretary to Governor-General Claveria (whose term covered 1844-1850), took part with him in the Battle of Balanguinggi in Mindanao (for which he drew maps and sketches). Peñaranda and his uncle, Pascual Enrile, posed for miniature portraits on ivory, by Damian Domingo, the first eminent Filipino painter and the founder of the first academy of art in the Philippines. So, it may be concluded that Peñaranda was a close and active participant in Philippine society of the time.

The mystery of the daguerreotype camera and the photographs and their provenance remains. But Sr. Perez Mateos provides some facts. From Claveria's files, there is an account of the visit to Manila of Monsieur Lagrene and Itier and their entourage in 1844 where Colonel Peñaranda was assigned to show them around. They took exploratory trips to Bulacan and Pampanga. So, it is clear that Itier and Peñaranda had met. Can we deduce that is when he came across the daguerreotype camera?

But there is also a description by Narciso Claveria of the camera in his papers prior to coming to Manila. He knew about the daguerreotype and described it; could he have brought it then? There is no known record of him taking photographs. But there is also Peñaranda.

The three Peñaranda photographs are taken in studio settings, which is a puzzle considering that there was no known photography here in the 1840s. But again, Sr. Perez Mateos has dug up correspondence from Claveria's archives that shows letters from the Nueva Vizcaya governor, Mariano Oscariz, requesting permission to send some tribal leaders to Manila to show these "unpacified" tribals the extent and strength of Spanish power. Perhaps either to charm or to intimidate them to behave. For this purpose, a certain Dominican friar who worked with the tribes, Remigio Rodriguez de Alamo, was asked to gather them to make the trip. The date given is 1849.

The three Peñaranda photographs of these tribal leaders that came to Manila are of Poutot, identified as a Gaddang from Alamo (a town founded by Fr. Remigio for tribals to be within a governance). Poutot poses with a spear on one hand and an axe on the other. He has a basket hat and a blanket over his shoulders. The National Museum has determined he is a Bontoc tribesman from his hat, axe and Cordillera blanket, not a Gaddang. The three subjects are all referred to as Gaddangs from Nueva Vizcaya at the back of the photographs. Nueva Vizcaya which at that time, and probably up to now, had porous borders, with the mountain provinces. So, they could have been collectively termed Gaddangs.

Next is Agapit from Camarag, Nueva Vizcaya. An Agta, holding a bow and two arrows. He is definitely from Nueva Vizcaya, or maybe what is part of today's Isabela.

Last comes Menguet, holding a spear and arrayed in an elaborate headdress of feathers and bird beaks. The National Museum has identified Menguet as Ifugao because of his elaborate headdress, his necklace.

Dr. Ana Labrador of the National Museum has commented that these photographs of the three tribal leaders show them in dignity and with respect, unlike the usual colonial photographs that do not.

Anyway, Sr. Perez Mateos tirelessly researches and helps us understand the background of the photographs, the personality of Peñaranda, the photographer, the interaction of Spanish officials who came to the Philippines among themselves and with its inhabitants. We thank him.

It also gives depth and context to Damian Domingo's miniature portraits of Governor-General Pascual Enrile and Col. Jose Maria Peñaranda, previously little-known Spanish officials.