July 16, 2024

■  Ofelia C. Empian 

Eduardo Masferré in 1981

For his great contributions to photography and documentation of the indigenous peoples and cultural communities, the municipal council of Sagada, Mountain Province passed a resolution nominating the legendary photographer Eduardo Masferré as a national artist.

In a unanimously signed resolution, the municipal council commended Masferré for his decades of work and it authorized Mayor Felicito Dula to formally nominate the photographer for the Order of National Artist before the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

“Mr. Masferré’s unwavering dedication and exceptional skill have resulted in a remarkable body of work that transcends mere images. His photographs breathe life into the cultural heritage of the ICCs/IPs in the Cordillera region, not only preserving it for generations to come but also illuminating it for the entire world to witness,” the resolution reads.

The municipal council also said the works of Masferré has fostered a deeper understanding and appreciation of the unique way of life of the people of the highlands.

“He has shone a light on their traditions, fostering a bridge of cultural exchange and igniting a flame of respect,” it added. 

In October last year, the municipality enacted an ordinance institutionalizing the creation of the Municipal Council for Culture and the Arts, which aims to safeguard and preserve the life, history, art, culture, beliefs and practices of Sagada, including the photographs of Masferré.

The Order of National Artists (Order ng Pambansang Alagad ng Sining) is the highest national recognition given to Filipinos who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts.

The order is jointly administered by the NCAA and the Cultural Center of the Philippines and conferred by the President upon recommendation by both institutions. National artists are given a grand collar symbolizing their status.

Masferré, regarded as the father of Philippine photography, was born on April 18, 1909 in Sagada from a Spanish soldier-turned farmer father and Kankana-ey mother. 

Between 1914 and 1921, the Masferré family lived in Spain, where Eduardo began his education.

After completing his education in the Philippines, Masferré followed in his father’s footsteps and became a missionary teacher and then a missionary administrator in Sagada.

The self-taught photographer began photographing the mountain people in 1934, documenting traditions that he feared would be lost.

His marriage to Nena Ogues blessed him with six children: Roland, Jaime, Nena, Pancho, Leonor, and Eivira.

After World War II, he opened a photographic studio in Bontoc, selling studio portraits as well as photographs of nearby villages.

In 1988, a book of his photographs, E. Masferre: People of the Philippine Cordillera, was produced. His works were also exhibited in and out of the country throughout the 80s.

The Smithsonian Institute purchased 120 original prints of his photos and exhibited them. His photos were now archived at the Institute for preservation and appreciation.  

He died peacefully on June 24, 1995. He was 86 years old. (Photos by Thomas urray)