Relationships between Filipino males are more “open” a century ago such that father and son, male siblings or friends are more carefree to show their affection toward each other, according to historian John Silva.
“With these photos, it is clearly established that males were more affectionate in during the first half of the 20th century,” said Silva, during the opening of the exhibit “A Token of Our Friendship: Philippine Photos of Male Affection” at Silverlens Gallery.
“They do not find it less manly to exhibit physical affection or closeness such as a father to a son, among male friends, or even maybe, those with romantic relationships.”
These poses strike a contrast to the conservative take which men in the modern times who consider “affectionate poses” to be less macho or manly.
Aside from studio family photos, the exhibit also feature photos of men in uniform who joined the war, also in affectionate poses with friends.
“In the course of collecting and researching vintage photographs for the past 30 years, I would chance upon two men in embrace, holding hands and projecting a feeling of friendship and affection.”
“Their poses set them apart from photographs of men stiffly arranged with space between them, and that caught my eye, and this lead to this exhibit and the book,” said Silva, whose book, bearing the same title as the exhibit, features his photograph collection.
Usually the photographs have a dedication or written message at the back and reveal that the photos are tokens of friendship often accompanied with entreaties about remembering one another.
In a few rare cases, love is declared.
“I was drawn to rare images of men who posed for the camera with the intention of conveying affection. Being gay, I strongly felt that such images acknowledged, if not celebrated male love,” Silva said.
From the National Hero Jose Rizal, who had numerous solo portraits, to sailors far away, photographs were sent with beseeching messages to be remembered and not forgotten, Silva said.
Photographs were exchanged in the 19th and first half of the 20th century when someone moves from the province to the city for work or study, much like how people today exchange mobile numbers or email, or maybe communicate via Facebook to keep in touch with each other.
In the exhibit, Silva also pointed out that the iconic image of the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino in the old P500 bill – with his chin resting on an arm - has been immortalized first by a certain Fernando Flores. In a postcard, dated December 2, 1912. bearing this iconic pose – his chin resting on an arm - Flores dedicated it to a male friend.
The handwritten dedication by Flores on the postcard read: “For 'Palaspas,' you are sexy and smooth, and a sweet talker, this (picture) is proof of my admiration.”
“It is humbling to know that through these photos, we have much to learn from people who lived centuries ago. For example, most people do not know that people pose ala Ninoy like before,” Silva said.
The book “A Token of Our Friendship: Philippine Photos of Male Affection” sells for 800 pesos. Part of the proceeds will be donated to an education campaign on HIV AIDS, Silva said.