Selling Imperialism: Photography at the St. Louis World’s Fair

Dublin Core

Title

Selling Imperialism: Photography at the St. Louis World’s Fair

Description

By Abigail Weaver
Photography was an important component of the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. Visitors could document their time at the fair by purchasing guidebooks, souvenir postcards, and picture albums.1 Anthropological photographs were on display at the Philippine Exposition to educate the viewers. All of these photographic materials were designed to sell and justify United States imperialism in the Philippines.

Official fair photographers portrayed the Filipinos as uncivilized in contrast to the American metropolitan public.2 The meaning of each photograph was manipulated by the photographer through careful framing, the poses of the figures, and captions.3 Image 1 captures the differences between fairgoers and Igorots. The clothing and skin tones draw visual distinctions between the two groups. The title “The Extremes Meet – Civilized and Savage Watching Life Savers’ Exhibition, Igorote Family at World’s Fair, St. Louis, Mo” instructs the viewer to see the Filipinos as ‘uncivilized,’ encapsulating the distinction in the familiar language of civilization.

Anthropological photographs included staged pictures of traditional rituals that seemed exotic or savage to viewers. For example, Image 2 shows Igorots performing a traditional dance, which occurred hourly for the amusement of fairgoers.4 Anthropologists used these photographs to divide Filipinos into “types” based upon measurements, skin tone, and other physical features.5 Portraying the Filipino peoples in that manner reinforced the imperial message that suggested they needed to be educated and civilized by the American government in the Philippines.6

1Benito M. Vegara Jr, Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th Century Philippines. University of the Philippines Press, 1995: 123.
2Danika Medak-Saltzmann, “Transnational Indigenous Exchange: Rethinking Global Interactions of Indigenous Peoples at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition.” American Quarterly 62 no. 3 (September 2010): 598.
3Vegara, 9-11.
4Vegara, 119.
5 Vegara, 115.
6 Kenton J. Clymer, “Humanitarian Imperialism: David Prescott Barrows and the White Man’s Burden in the Philippines.” Pacific Historical Review 45 no. 4 (November 1976): 498.

Creator

Left Image: Gerhard sisters, Iggerote Dance, Gerhard Sisters, 1904, St. Louis, Mo. Photographic print: Platinum. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91480757/

Right Image: Wasson, Charles L. The Extremes Meet – Civilized and Savage Watching Life Savers’ Exhibition, Igorote Family at World’s Fair, St. Louis, Mo., International View Company, Decatur, Il. Photographic print on stereocard. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2013647940/

Publisher

Left Image: Gerhard Sisters
Right Image: Library of Congress

Rights

Left Image: © Gerhard Sister, 1904
Right Image: No known rights restrictions

Files

Citation

Left Image: Gerhard sisters, Iggerote Dance, Gerhard Sisters, 1904, St. Louis, Mo. Photographic print: Platinum. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91480757/ Right Image: Wasson, Charles L. The Extremes Meet – Civilized and Savage Watching Life Savers’ Exhibition, Igorote Family at World’s Fair, St. Louis, Mo., International View Company, Decatur, Il. Photographic print on stereocard. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2013647940/, “Selling Imperialism: Photography at the St. Louis World’s Fair,” History Corps, accessed April 24, 2018, http://dsph-dev.provost.uiowa.edu/historycorps_sandbox/items/show/241.