July 16, 2024

The Philippines boasts a vibrant kaleidoscope of artistic expression, and photography plays a crucial role in capturing its soul. Among these visual storytellers, Eduardo Masferre stands out not just for his captivating images, but for the story behind them. This is a story that goes beyond the frame, a testament to the transformative power of self-education and unwavering passion.
Masferre’s journey began in Sagada, Mountain Province, where his heritage was a beautiful blend of Spanish and Kankanai influences. While formal education didn’t lead him down the traditional university path, a far more profound learning experience awaited. At 15, while assisting Father Walcott with printing photographs, a spark ignited. This wasn’t just a job; it was a calling, awakening a deep fascination with freezing moments in time.
Fueled by an insatiable curiosity, Masferre embarked on a self-directed odyssey. Books became his professors, meticulously dissecting the technical secrets of photography. But his dedication wasn’t just about theory. In 1933, a mail-order Kodak camera arrived, symbolizing not just a tool, but a pledge. Alongside this prized possession, a nine-volume set of photography encyclopedias became his constant companion.
The absence of a formal degree proved inconsequential. Masferre’s thirst for knowledge, his unwavering focus, and his ability to translate theory into practice laid the foundation for his mastery. This self-education wasn’t a shortcut; it was a testament to his intellectual curiosity and a foreshadowing of the groundbreaking work he would create. Inspired by Father Walcott and armed with his self-acquired knowledge, Eduardo embarked on another extraordinary feat – building his own photo studio. This space, complete with a makeshift darkroom and homemade chemical solutions, became a testament to his resourcefulness and an embodiment of the profound education he had nurtured within himself.
Masferre’s story transcends photography. It’s a powerful reminder that the fire of passion can forge its own path. His journey serves as a guiding light for aspiring artists, demonstrating that the greatest education often lies within the wellspring of unwavering curiosity and self-directed learning.
But Masferre’s impact extends far beyond his own development. His lens became a portal into the soul of indigenous cultural communities/indigenous Peoples of the Cordillera. A significant portion of his 153-photograph donation to the Smithsonian Museum offered a glimpse into their lives, traditions, and cultural richness. His work didn’t just stay within Philippine borders; it captivated audiences in prestigious venues worldwide, from France and Denmark to Japan and Singapore. Never forgetting his roots, Masferre ensured his work remained accessible to Filipinos through national exhibits.
Even after his passing, Masferre’s legacy continues to inspire. His title, “Father of Philippine Photography,” is well-deserved – a moniker granted by known photographers in the Philippines. But there’s another title that would solidify his place in Philippine art history: National Artist. Masferre’s dedication to his craft, his groundbreaking work in capturing the essence of the Philippines, and his unwavering commitment to showcasing the beauty of the ICCs make a compelling case for this recognition. By acknowledging Eduardo Masferre as a National Artist, we not only honor a photographic master, but also celebrate the transformative power of self-education and the enduring value of cultural documentation.