Event—Scholarly Seminars

Rick Halpern, University of Toronto

Leveraging the ‘Kodak Zone’ Photography and the Making of Race and Class in the American Occupied Philippines

Leveraging the ‘Kodak Zone’: Photography and the Making of Race and Class in the American Occupied Philippines

Between 1898 and 1914 American occupiers tried to make sense of their new Filipino subjects, both in the Pacific archipelago and back home in the United States. Clearly racial “others,” the precise status of the polyglot Filipino population was confusing to colonial administrators and a wider public accustomed, at the height of the era of Jim Crow segregation, in seeing race in terms of a simpler black/white binary. This paper, drawn from a larger study of race and class in twentieth century American photography, shows how colonial authorities connected to the Bureau (later Department) of Insular Affairs used visual culture first to make judgments about the suitability of different sorts of Filipinos for various forms of labor and then, through the medium of photography, to claim scientific status for their findings. In particular, the paper devotes close attention to the photographic work of anthropologists Albert Jenks, Daniel Folkmar, Robert Bennet Bean, and their complex – even tortured -- relationship with zoologist and colonial administrator Dean Conant Worcester. Hundreds of technically sophisticated photographs shot in Manila and the more remote highland regions north of Luzon received wide circulation in government and scholarly circles, concretizing notions about ways race and class could be read through the body and through material culture (jewelry, musical instruments, weapons, etc.). Soon, these images were saturating the United States, allowing Americans first glimpses at their new colonial subjects, and conditioning the ways they thought about both race and the project of empire. The extension of the “Kodak Zone” to the occupies Philippines thus marked a key moment in the development of racial thought.[1]

[1] The term “Kodak Zone” was first used by Francis Davis Millet in his 1899 The Expedition to the Philippines. As a scholarly construct, it was pioneered by Benito M. Vergara, Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in the Early 20th Century Philippines (1995). Vergara argued that photography played a key role in legitimizing the American colonial enterprise in the Philippines, and shows “how photography, as a privileged mode of obtaining knowledge and expressing reality, was unusually effective for the presentation and justification of colonialist ideology” (4).