Reading Photographs

Framing The Golden Years, Picturing The Truth

“Old Photographs are an aggressive cultural item.”

– Marian Pastor Roces

The Online Exhibit


If a photograph paints a thousand words, how many thousand more does it leave outside its borders? What happens to the image a photograph portrays when the meaning of the words that once described it changes? When such images serve as devices for memory, what past do they invoke where that past was staged-managed and manufactured?


These questions continue to preoccupy me as I observe the reactions of local audiences to the touring photo exhibit I curated, Golden Years Weighing Philippine Martial Law 1972-1981. Designed to be a blank slate on which hyperlocals can develop their conversations, the exhibit has provided guidance for forums, materials for workshops, contexts for reflections, and where disbelief arises, proofs and clarifications. It has intersected with Filipinos in diaspora – especially those that experienced the years it portrays — but also with other minority groups, other nations in exile and their children, and the international community who knows little or none of the history the exhibit covers.


History and its abstract twin memory are constant sites of conflicts. Battles persist between preserving data and accommodating evolving interpretations. Locating facts where fiction has entered the narratives becomes necessary. And critical as well is a pushback to fantastic fillers where gaps in chronicles exist. In these scenarios, a photograph becomes less of a passive object upon which meaning and interpretation are projected. It becomes an active tool of witnessing, framing information with weight and consequence and where needed, it can be brandished as a weapon of resistance.

But how does one read a photograph when the language one uses is itself being altered? Yellow, which stood for solidarity and resistance has been rebranded as naïveté, elitism, and conspiracy — all at once. Discipline, decoded and defied as programming word for control is once more invoked to censure the pasaway as disruptive, dissident, and counterproductive. Cronyism, one of the destructive features of the Marcos Sr. rule, is now unceremoniously thrown around to label their former oppositions.     


The photographs selected here represent some of one hundred pieces currently touring U.S. cities. They illustrate several aspects of Philippine society before, during, and right after the 20-year rule of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. These photographs were taken în situ, transmitted by technology available at that time to American newspapers, where they were published without political intervention or governmental censure. The captions used in the online exhibit are copied verbatim from the original captions published with the photos. The photo and the caption are frozen documentation of the moments they captured.


Still, in an age where everyone is a content-creator, where the visual is instantaneous and transient, targeted and widespread, algorithmic and profligate, how does one retain the intent of photographs? How does one preserve the context of the content, safeguard the veracity beneath the visible, and protect the proofs from partisan revisionism?


A downloadable reading guide provides additional information about the photos.


Download the Reading Guide

Golden Years, the Touring Exhibit


Golden Years Weighing Philippine Martial Law 1972-1981 was launched at the Glenn Hubert Library of Florida International University North Miami on August 21, 2022. It ran until September 21, 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Philippine martial law.


Initially planned as a local event for less than a month, the exhibit had since toured several U.S. cities. As of February 2024, it had made stops in New York, San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, and Jersey City. Future stops include Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Baltimore, Tampa, and others; with Austin as a last stop in July 2025.


The show’s title is an ironic take on how the Marcos family branded their rule as the golden age of Philippine economy and society, in direct contrast to the reports and documentations from that period. Local hosts of the exhibit are encouraged to develop programming that suits their hyperlocal, contextualizing the photographs to their community’s experience, knowledge, resources, interests, and responses to historical and contemporary events.


Comprised of around 100 pieces, the photographs were assembled from various sources, though all came from the archives of U.S. newspapers. Original and vintage, the prints were stamped with the newspapers that published them, the agency that distributed them, the photographers that took them, and in most instances, the caption that accompanied them when they first came out in publications. These captions were used as labels in the exhibit.

Project Team: 

Victor Velasco (Independent Curator) | Miko Aguilar (DAKILA, Web Designer) | Elvin Jay Macanlalay (DAKILA, Creative Director) | Floyd Scott Tiogangco (DAKILA, Communications Director) | Julie Jamora (Malaya, Project Proponent)

Project Sponsors: 

Malaya Movement USA | DAKILA | Active Vista | Albay Arts Foundation | BAYAN USA | Tuloy ang Laban Coalition | Interfaith USA

Take back our names and stories. Contribute to the building of Filipino history with integrity. We urge you to do the following:

Organize a Screening

11,103 by is available for screening to communities, schools, and organizations. We will help you organize one.

Learn more about Authoritarianism

Arm yourself with the knowledge on what authoritarianism is towards being able to engage in meaningful discussion on poltiics.

Showcase the Filipinana

The Filipiana is a great conversation starter and centerpiece for learning about the Martial Law era. If you are interested in exhibiting this artwork in your schools or communities, let us know.
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