The Photography of Masferre

One last discovery we made in Sagada has nothing to do with hiking through mountains or crawling through caves but rather with amazing art: the black-and-white photography of Eduardo Masferre.

Eduardo Masferre's photography book: People of the Philippine Cordillera

The local artist, who passed away in 1995 at the age of 86, has left quite an anthropological legacy. In 1934, Masferre started documenting life in the Cordilleras, the mountainous areas of Northern Luzon, beautifully capturing the spirit of the region in his photos. He covered everything from village life to landscapes to architectural styles, but his ultimate collection was that of the native Igorot people many of whom were proud headhunters. Today, 60 years later, almost all of the tribal groups have modernized and are increasingly integrated into mainstream Filipino society.

After working as a photographer for 22 years, Eduardo Masferre returned to farming in 1956 to support his growing family while his son took over the photo studio in Bontoc. Part of Masferre’s photo collection can be seen at the fantastic Bontoc Museum, an ethnological treasure trove, as well as in several of Sagada’s restaurants and hotels. His wife Nena Masferre still lives in Sagada and it is said that whenever the door to her house is open, she is open to receiving visitors. Unfortunately, while we were there, her front door remained closed.

Read more about Eduardo Masferre’s life and his vision at the National Gallery of Australia. His amazing book titled People of the Philippine Cordillera: Photographs, 1934-1956 is available on Amazon (just click on the title).

Another great book with more fantastic photos is Masferre’s A Tribute to the Philippine Cordillera. You can click on the title and browse through it online. It’s also available on Amazon (just follow the link). Both books on Amazon are out of print and are therefore quite expensive. They may still be worth the investment, though.

19 responses to “The Photography of Masferre”

  1. avatar Thomas says:

    If you want to see more fantastic photos, check out this online book: Masferre’s A Tribute to the Philippine Cordillera. It’s also available on Amazon. Just follow the link.

  2. avatar alex rafanan says:

    Wonderful pictures.Maestro Masferre anthropoligically monitored the vanishing Cordillera Tribe. He is the Father of Philippine Photography.

    • avatar Tony says:

      He most certainly is the father of Philippine photography – and quite a father at that. His work is magnificent. He was YEARS ahead of other photographers, and anthropologists for that matter, in understanding that tribal culture was in transition and that many traditions were being lost. His photography will help keep memories of Cordillera tribal culture alive for future generations.

  3. avatar Mark McEvoy says:

    In 1982, when I was travelling through Bontoc in North Luzon, I stumbled across Mr. Masferr̩s photographs on postcards and was immediately blown away by his beautiful photography. A photographer myself, when I found out that he was alive and living nearby I asked around to see if I could meet him and soon found myself sitting with him and Nena drinking tea at his house! They welcomed me with such warmth and hospitality РEduardo was such a lovely, humble presence, talking enthusiastically about his work and interested to hear about mine. We spent an couple of hours together and he kindly signed his book to me, something I have cherished to this day. It was only tonight, during a packing session for a house move, when looking through his book again years later that I wondered what became of him. Reading about him, it was sad to hear he had died by I was reassured to know that his work is being valued and appreciated around the world.

    • avatar sheila cuartero says:

      I envy you for actually meeting him. I first encountered his work in 1992 when I visited a friend who lives in Bontoc. She brought me to Sagada to see her sister’s place – Masferre Inn. That was where I saw those beautiful photographs of Eduardo Masferre. I really had no clue as to who he was until the time I traveled back to Manila. while on the bus I was reading a newspaper and an article about him was on the lifestyle section. had I known that he was still alive that time, I could have asked my friend to help me meet him.

  4. avatar mila says:

    @alex rafanan: We are not vanishing! We have existed for centuries and we will continue to exist. We are visible.

    • avatar Tony says:

      @Mila, So true. You are still there. What I think he meant to say is the vanishing traditional clothing and traditional practices.

  5. avatar john coulson says:

    can anyone help me as I would like to buy the book of masferre photography

  6. avatar Thomas says:

    @John, I believe the book is out of print. When you check on Amazon, people are selling new and used versions of this book, they are quite expensive though.

  7. avatar Tina says:

    I visited his shop/studio in the spring of 1977 and was amazed. It was very small but had all of these beautiful photographs and some reverse negative photos which he could no longer produce because of the chemicals needed. I have 4 8×10 photos and a number of the postcard size.

  8. avatar Miguel Pastor says:

    Masferre’s photographs speaks to the soul. You can feel the intensity of his subjects. Would anyone know where to get hold of his original works?

    • avatar Thomas says:

      I believe his books are out of print. Some of them are available on Amazon, but are quite expensive. I wish I had one of his books in my collection. 🙂

  9. avatar sheila cuartero says:

    I am actually looking for a copy of his book. The one that was printed for distribution to public schools – which I believe is already out of print. I found something from amazon, but not sure if its the same book I’m looking for and it’s quite expensive. I have a copy though of a recent book about his work which I recently bought in one of the shops in Sagada – last copy from that store’s shelf.

  10. avatar Inigo Masferre Sana says:

    Hi Thomas, thank you for including the works of Eduardo Masferre’ in your blogs, great job indeed! My name is Inigo, I am one of Eduardo’s grandsons. I am trying to get in contact with people who might be able to help us put up a museum for the works of our grandfather in Sagada. I know it’s a long shot but we are desperate to preserve his original photographs. Looking forward to hearing from you. TIA

  11. avatar Ray Pearce says:

    I met him in 1994 the year before he died. Went to the house and his wife said he is having his bath, I thought I’d misheard her but it turned out he was indeed just finishing his bath. He was very frail but I got to shake his hand and thank him for his wonderful photographs. They are works of art, I still have some original prints.

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