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LAILUDDIN, Marc Laurence Z.

IS218
Reflection Paper

“PHOTOGRAPHY AS RAPE”

The article expresses Resil Mojares’ take on the introduction of photography in the

Philippines. Throughout the article, he compares the photographs of the ilustrados or the

Spanish community to that of the Tinguian, a Philippine tribal group. The Spanish

community was clothed in European garb and posed for Posterity. On the other hand, the

Tinguians were photographed as if they were criminals or lab rats. The portraits were of

them half-naked, positioned and lined up. According to Mojares, they were stereotyped.

Mojares emphasized the important difference between how their portraits were

taken. The ilustrados had a form of control over their bodies thereby controlling their self-

representation through clothes and the freedom to pose. However, the natives seemed

to be assaulted without freedom. As Mojares puts it, “the camera has ‘stolen’ their bodies.”

This was the Spanish strategy of colonization – the Linnaean project of classifying “other”

life-forms as if they were not humans for “scientific” purposes. Overall, Mojares sees the

use of photography in this context as some sort of rape and conquest. It is judged by

either what it takes away or gives back.

Unfortunately, I do not share the same perspective as that of Mojares’ as I have

something to add of my own. I agree that photography gives or takes something from its

subjects. However, I would like to add that photography shares something as well. It is

not as simple as either give or take but rather a mix of both. As art is complex and depends

on the eye of the beholder, photography is as difficult to judge. For example, the dull

photos of the Filipino natives by the Spaniards may have taken away their dignity and
honor (as some sort of rape as per Mojares) but it gave them something photographs

would always give – immortality. By taking photographs of the natives, their culture is then

framed onto a blank piece of paper giving it color. The culture then lives on as long as the

paper can live. Memories may fade, oral stories may vary, but photographs are forever

(especially today when they can now be digitalized and sent to the cloud).

I believe that what Mojares refers to as rape or “exploitation” may be avoided by

having respect for the subject at hand. One must understand that not all photographs are

factual and objective as some are subjective to the audience. The purpose of photography

depends upon the photographer – it may be to inform, to entertain, to persuade, to inspire,

and many others. The photographer must be careful as to how he utilizes his photography

skills to convey a message, thought, or idea. He must be able to distinguish the good

from the bad as photographs, in a snap, could be as powerful as sharpened swords and

sign pens. The use of photography as “exploitation” can be avoided by using it for the

right reasons. What Mojares used as an example was the use of photography as a form

of conquest wherein the subjects were treated as ‘mere objects of taxonomic interest.’

Their identities were controlled without their consent. They were ‘raped’ because their

dignity was taken away just like in the actual physical form of rape.

As photographers of this generation with the introduction of mobile photography

(where almost anyone can take a picture), we must be careful as to what we photograph

and why. Photography is still a very powerful art. We must use our moral narratives to

direct our photography in a more peaceful and positive light without compromising the

means to do so. According to Mojares’ we are judged according to what our photographs

take away or give back.