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Originally published in ‘National Surveys: Southeast Asia’ in Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Editor John Hannavy, Routledge 2008

South-East Asia 19th Century Photography:

Malaya, Singapore, and Philippines


Malayasia in 2006 comprises in the west: the southern Malay Peninsula (former Straits Settlements of Penang, Province of Wellesley and Malacca), Singapore and in the east, the states of Sarawak and Sabah on Borneo and the Philippines.

Early photography in the British Straits Settlements was concentrated around Singapore the prosperous port built in 1819 by the English East India Company. Munshi Abdullah in his 1849 narrative Hikayat Abdullah reports seeing a daguerreotype view of the city possibly as early as 1841—made by a doctor aboard a visiting American warship. The first resident photographer in the region was the undistinguished French portrait painter Gaston Dutronquoy (c.1800-c.1857) who set up his 'London Hotel' in Singapore in March 1839, installed a photography studio and in December 1843 advertised his services as 'complete master of the newly invented and late imported Daguerreotype' in the Singapore Free Press. His practise may have continued till 1849 but may also have been an occasional activity. French customs expert Jules Itier (1802-1877) did succeed in making daguerreotypes in Asia between 1843-1846 while on a business mission to China. Some plates survive including portraits and views from Singapore, Borneo, and Manila made in 1844-1845. Eliphalet Brown Jr. (1816-1886) official photographer on the U.S .Perry Expedition to Japan, seems also likely to have made plates in Singapore in 1853.

The first generation of photographers in Asia were itinerant and the few established studios lasted only a few years; daguerreotypist H. Husband operated in Singapore in 1853 then C. Diiben from Batavia who had also visited Hong Kong, Shanghai, Macao and Manila, offered superior improved portraits from 1854 until his return to Batavia in 1857 and in May 1855 daguerreotypist L. Saurman also from Batavia, briefly worked out of the London Hotel. Calotype work popular in British India, is unknown in the Straits and Manila.

In the first decades most photographers in the Asia-Pacific region were European but J. Newman based in Singapore from 1856-57, advertised many refinements and "permanence" for the products of his American Photographic Rooms. He made a side trip to Malacca—the first photographer to work on the Malay mainland.

It seems likely that across the Asia-Pacific hundreds even thousands of daguerreotypes were made even in the 1840s. Englishman J.W. Newland for example, travelled west to east from South America via Australia to India and claimed to have made over 200 daguerreotypes on the way. The number of extant daguerreotypes however, is tiny. This paucity appears to apply equally to the succeeding format of cased ambrotype portraits and views.

By February 1858 Edward A. Edgerton was the first professional to introduce photographs on paper to Singapore but moved on to work as an editor by 1861. He was followed by Thomas Hermitage and O. Regnier offering the new wider range of products; both views and portraits and places. The quest for images to send back to Europe where they would be widely disseminated redrawn as graphic illustrations propelled the growth of the views trade. Stereographs led the way and in 1860 Negretti and Zambra in London pioneered publication of Southeast Asian stereographs. They took the bold step of dispatching Swiss photographer Pierre Rossier to China in 1859 and instructed him to go to Manila where he made images of the Taal volcano. The ease of making multiple prints facilitated the production of albums and panoramas extolling the progress of colonial cities.

The earliest panorama in the Straits region was a view of Singapore in ten parts made in 1863 by Sachtler and Co. The firm also made one of the first published albums; Views and Types of Singa­pore. From 1864 the firm was run by August Sachtler and Danish-born Kristen Feilberg (1839-1919) and they built an extensive stock of views from across the region including images from an expedition to Sarawak in 1864. Feilberg, operating alone from 1867, had a feel for picturesque views that he exhibited in the Paris International Exhibition in 1867. J.M. Nauta, operated in Penang and Singapore and had branches in Medan, Achin and Sumatra between 1868-1888. He exhibited Penang scenery at the Colonial and Indian exhibition in London in 1886.These shows enabled the public to see large format Asian images first hand.

With improvements in exposure times portraiture continued to grow and Royal courts in Asia were in often enthusiastic and discerning users of photography exchanging images with their foreign counterparts. Views trade work soon merged into reportage and Feilberg also recorded events such as the Penang riots in 1867 and later the visit of the British Duke of Edinburgh in 1869. Other events particularly the increasingly fashionable Royal tours by European and non-European rulers and Vice Regal residents were a stimulus to photography in the Asia-Pacific but more strongly it seems in Hong Kong than in Singapore and Malaya.

The outstanding figure of the period for breadth of coverage in the 1860s and model of the 'travel photographer' was Scot John Thomson who set up a studio in Singapore in 1862 with his brother William but spent most time travelling to Penang as well as Sumatra before departing in 1865 for Thailand and Cambodia. He returned briefly to Singapore in 1867 and published his first book Cambodian antiquities before settling in Hong Kong where he illustrated a publication on the Visit of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1869.

John Thomson used Indian assistants on his Straits journeys in 1862 as the Chinese would not go near the processing. Chinese (and a few Japanese) photographers however were among the earliest non-European photographers at work in Southeast Asia mainly, Sun Qua in 1867 and Yuk Lee a portrait painter from Canton, who advertised briefly in Singapore in 1861-1862, and Koon Hin had a studio there in 1880. Hand-colouring however, a distinctive genre in 19th century India and Japan played only a small role in Southeast Asia.

Photography associated with expeditions and government agents was a factor in the 1870s. Professional photographer and painter Austrian Wilhelm Burger (1844-1920) was part of the Austrian mission in Asia from 1869-1870 and later marketed rather prosaic stereoviews of Borneo, Singapore, Sulu and the Philippines. James W.W. Birch (1826-1875) the first British Resident in Perak in 1873 an amateur photographer, who sent views of his tours in Perak and Selangor to the colonial office in 1874 was murdered in 1875. British Major J.F. A. McNair used illustrations drawn from photographs in his 1878 book on Perak and the Malays. His countryman Civil Servant Leonard Wray (1852-1942) a prolific amateur also documented Perak peoples and places in the 1880s-1890s and was much valued for his efforts. In 1883 J.F. Stiehm in Berlin published their "Marine" series including views of Singapore and the Philippines made by Gustav Riemer the purser on the Austrian S.M.S.Hertha expedition of 1880.

Established studios become more common in the late 1870s and expanded their inventory of views and also trained a new generation of professionals. Henry Schuren worked for Woodbury and Page in Batavia before settling in Singapore in 1874 and was soon after appointed official photographer to King of Siam, settling there in 1876. From 1883 August E. Kaulfuss (1861-C.1909) worked for J.M. Nauta studio then became a travelling photographer gathering views from all over and was also official photographer to Sultan of Kedah.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 increased trade and tourism through Asia which benefited firms such as that established by G.R. Lambert 1846-after 1886) a professional from Berlin who advertised his services in Singapore in 1867 but effectively commenced in 1877. During 1879-1880 Lambert was in Bangkok taking over Henry Schuren's stock and his position as official photographer to the King of Siam. Lambert left the business operations by around 1886 and the work was continued under Alexander Koch who recorded such ceremonies as the Kuala Kangsar durbar in 1897 to mark the creation of the Federated States of Malaya.

GR Lambert and Company built the most extensive inventory of views of the Malay Peninsula, Borneo and Sumatra including making the earliest images of Kuala Lumpur and covering all major Malayan ceremonies and events and also kept up with new developments in instantaneous and dry-plate photography. The dominance of such large and mass production studios in Asia as elsewhere was checked by the emergence of the snapshot family photographers including the amateur photographic societies of the 1880s-1890s (Singapore Photographic Society was established in 1887) but compensated for in the new century by the profitable postcard craze.

Images of the Philippines were regularly reproduced in British and French magazines such as The Illustrated London News from the 1860s but relatively little is known of the earliest photographers. A Spanish Government agent Sinibaldo de Mas took up portrait work in 1841 to earn extra income. Jules Itier was in the Philippines from December 1844–January 1845 (where he surprisingly records buying 25 new plates in Manila) then in Mindanao, Sulu and Basilan until March. A daguerreotype of the Intramuros is the earliest extant Philippine view. Daguerreotypist C. Diiben is known to have been in Manila before 1853.

The GBR museum at Cavite holds a daguerreotype portrait of William W. Wood an American who worked in China as a clerk and newspaper editor from 1827-33 before relocating to Philippines in 1833 where he later operated a photography studio in Manila by the 1870s. His own work in daguerreotypy is unclear. The earliest surviving Philippine images on paper include a cdv of two Indio musicians in La Union by Pedro Picon circa 1860; a group of stereographs from an Oceanle series with French captions of the Tinguian people of Northern Luzon made in 1860 and a later group of stereos by an unknown photographer of the 1863 earthquake. Swiss born Pierre Rossier was sent to Manila by Negretti and Zambra to photograph the volcano but would have taken other subjects. T.W Bennett also marketed an early stereograph series of views under the Spanish title vistas filipinas.

Studios were established in the 1860s benefiting from the increased commercial activity in the region. From the mid 60s until his death in Manila in 1874 the British photographer Albert Honiss sold a wide range of well-composed views to magazine publishers in Europe; any connection to W.H. Honiss in Singapore in 1862 is unclear. The Dutch photographer Francisco Van Kamp who had exhibited in Amsterdam, took over the Honiss studio in 1874 and later produced a set of views of the1880 earthquake.

Ethnographic subjects were a staple for resident and visiting photographers. The photographers aboard the British Challenger Expedition of 1872–1876 made or gathered a number of photographs of ethnographic and scenic photographs in Manila and the archipelago in 1875. William Wood made ethnographic cdvs and examples with similar backgrounds appear in Belgian author Jean de Man's 1875 photographically illustrated book Souvenirs d'un voyage aux lies Philippines. In 1881 French ethnologist Alfred Marche (1844–1898) photographed Negritos on his Philippines expedition of 1879–1885 and the photographs were used for illustrations in the journal Tour du Monde in 1886.

One of the most extensive ethnographic records was undertaken by German A. B. Meyer (1840-1911) on his own and by use of other photographers work. His Album von Philippinen-Typen of 1885 included Luzon and Mindanao people in a mixture of studio set ups and natural settings.

The turbulent revolutionary years at the close of the century also inspired the growth of reportage. Spaniard Manuel Arias y Rodriguez (1850–1924) took up photography in 1892 and ran the Agenda Editorial bookshop at Escolta with his brother Vincente. The firm sold a wide range of photographs of urban and landscape views of the regions but was quietly subversive selling under the counter banned books by nationalist Dr Jose Rizal whose execution in 1896 Manuel photographed.

Afterwards Arias took on the role of war correspondent of the Philippine Revolution against Spain 1896–1897 and supplied images to the Barcelona journal La Lustration Artistica from 1897–1900. Arias ended up as Spanish ambassador to Tokyo and died there in 1924. Documenting war proved perilous for Francisco Chofre y Olea and Augusto Norris y Olea who were killed in 1896 while photographing during the Philippine Revolution. Their portraits and their photographs were included in two albums on the war Tristes Recuerdos l896 and 1897 published posthumously by their firm Chofre and Co. in Manila.

The Spanish-American war resulted in American rule in the Philippines from 1898 prompted a flood of illustrated publications including, F. Tennyson Neely's Fighting in the Philippines: authentic original photographs 1899, many stereograph series and distinctive solder-portraits wearing their scout-style outfits and striking poses reminiscent of the Old West. James Ricalton (1844–1929) an American teacher who photographed for Underwood and Underwood recorded grisly images of the 1899 casualties (the greater death toll of locals from starvation and disease however, going largely unrecorded).

Gael Newton 2008


See also:

My other entry: South-East Asia 19th C Photography: Thailand, Burma, and IndoChina (Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos)

Related entries in ‘National Surveys: Southeast Asia’ in Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Editor John Hannavy, Routledge 2008: Woodbury, Walter Bentley; Itier, Jules; Castro Ordonez, Rafael; Lambert & Co., G.R.;

Further Reading

Falconer, John, Vision of the past: a history of early photography in Singapore and Malaya: the photographs of G.R. Lambert & Co., 1880–1910, Singapore: Times Editions (1987), reprint 1995.

Groenveld, Anneke, Falconer, John, and Wachlin, Steven, Van Bombay tot Shanghai/ From Bombay to Shanghai, Amsterdam: Fragment Uitgeverij, 1994.

Liu, Gretchen, SingaporeA Pictorial History 1819-2000, Singapore: Archipelago Press, imprint of Editions Didier Millet, Ministry of Information and the Arts, National Heritage Board, 2005 reprint of the 1999 original.

Moore, Wendy Khadijah, Malaysia: A Pictorial History, 1400-2004, Singapore: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2004.

Perez, Christian, Catalogue of Philippine Stereoviews, Quezon City: Christian Perez, We-Print, 2002.

Silva, John, Colonial Philippines: Photographs, 1868–1910, Lowie Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, May 9–July 11, 1987 (exhibition catalogue).

Silva, John L., 'Remembering a Glorious Past: The GBR (Geronimo Berenguer de los Reyes, Jr.) Museum, Philippines, Photographic Collection,' Arts of Asia, Jan-Feb. 1998.

Tristes Recuerdos Manila (Manila: Chofre and Co, 1896—97): reprint, Manila: National Historical Institute, 2004.

Feito, Mario Lopez, webpage of 14 June 2006, 'Los primeros y ultimos de Filipinas' Fotdgrafo de Baler: Manuel Arias Rodriguez: una aproximacion al fotografo del 98 espafiol en Filipinas' accessed 19 August 2006.



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