By Stefano Romano
A testimony important not only to Filipinos but all those who love Asia
and are interested in knowing what those countries were like a century earlier.
“I have in the harp that guides my song. The languid enchantment of the sound of the sea. The intimate notes that draw forth the tear, Those which for a time make one feel sad and later rejoice.”
(Anonymous Visayan Poet)
There are some books that have a unique value. Not only for their content but also for what they represent. I believe that if you have these kinds of books they should be shared and their stories told. Such is the case of the photography book of Felix Laureano “Recuerdos de Filipinas”. It was published in 1895 in Barcelona, a compilation of 37 photographs, each one with an accompanying essay. The book and Laureano’s other photographs were exhibited in the Exposicion Regional de Filipinas in Manila the same year. The book is currently out of print. It is, however, on its way to its third reprint.
I had the immense honor of receiving this book from the person who edited it. It was a personal gift from my dear friend Felice Noelle Rodriguez. who was on mission in Rome then and is now an Associate Professor of the Department at the Ateneo de Manila University. Before leaving Italy and as an expression of true friendship, she gave me the last copy of the book in her possession. I feel in constant debt to her for this gesture. And as the law of the gift teaches, what you receive must be circulated.
“Tipos Indios” (Indio-Bisaya Types)
The book portrays the daily life of the people…pensive faces, riverboats, churches, and other scenes from more than a hundred years ago. As Noelle aptly phrased it, “a photograph allows us windows into the past, letting faded moments through the lensman’s prints.”
“Baño de Mar” (Bath in the Sea)
I totally agree with Noelle’s point of view. These images tell of the same blood and flesh of her people. It is true that every photograph always carries part of the past in which it was taken in its “DNA”. In addition to bringing the past to present time, it also carries part of history with them. To me, as an Italian, they have a great charm and I can well imagine their emotional load for a Filipina.
“La Mestiza” (Female of Mixed Parentage)
In Laureano’s book, it is impossible to ignore the fact that he owes a lot to Spain where he worked and which gave him honors and titles. What transpires is that, without taking anything away from his deep love for his country and his people, a certain subjection to western values. In retrospect, a century earlier, it can be felt that there was a sense of inferiority towards one’s roots and appearance which leads me to quote the OPM song of Hebert Bartolome entitled “We are Filipinos”,” don’t feel ashamed if your nose is pinched”.
By Stefano Romano, Photographer
Cultural Mediator through Photography