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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Addendum Part 9: the First Photography Studio in the Philippines

Photography was first introduced in the Philippines in the 1840’s. The first recorded working photographer in the country was Sinibaldo de Mas, the Spanish diplomat to Asia. He was the inspiration for the often misquoted and frequently distorted dress code edict passed, regarding wearing clothing like the Barong Tagalog, that distinguished natives from Spaniards and other classes. De Mas’ pay from the Spanish government was not enough to live on, so he took photos of natives and places he visited and sold them. None of his pictures survived.

In the 1860’s, photography became more common in the Philippines as cameras were more easily shipped in from Europe. Photography studios began to open in the country, the first known one was established by British photographer Albert Honiss in 1865 on Escolta Street in Old Manila. Honiss was popular and known for making “visiting cards” and “aesthetic” picture portraits. This portrait of a young Filipino boy selling lottery tickets was the subject of one of Honiss’ visiting cards from 1868.

Studio portrait of a young lottery ticket boy in a work barong by Albert Honiss, Escolta, Manila 1868

The boy wears common working class clothing from that time: striped work barong with rolled up white pants, both likely made of durable, breathable and comfortable fabrics like cotton, ramie or linen. He carries his straw hat, lottery tickets and pencil.

Honiss’ studio remained active until 1874, which is also the year he passed away.