The Power of Photography, The Philippines, 1945

My grandfather visited the Philippines in 1945 after the country liberated itself from Japanese occupation. As a military photographer the Army Air Corp tasked him with shooting images to convey maximum emotion. He chose images familiar and foreign during his visit.

He took this image looking down down Padre Burgos Avenue. The legislative building is on the left while the City Hall clock tower is to the right, behind City Hall.

Manila, 1945 (Photograph: Staff Sgt. W. R. Allen)

Many Americans would have been familiar with the devastation we now call the Battle of Manila.

From February 3 to March 3 1945 Filipino and American forces fought to liberate the capital city from Japanese occupying forces.

Rather than surrender, the Japanese pillaged the city and destroyed buildings. In an effort to force capitulation, American Army Air Corp planes continuously carpet bombed Manila and artillery barrages contributed to the citywide devastation seen in this photo and helped usher in bloody close-quarters urban fighting.

Manila was the second most devastated city in World War II after Warsaw, Poland.

Experts estimate 100,000 to 500,000 people lost their lives, the majority of them civilians.

My grandfather understood the power of a visual image and what it could evoke in a viewer.

Americans lost their sons in a war tens of thousands of miles away. My grandfather’s images, like that of so many military photographers, sought to convey a sense of mutuality between Filipinos and Americans.

Americans understood through these photos of what their sons had been fighting for and what that fight had cost the great Filipino people.

My grandfather photographed a young Filipino infantryman doing what needed to be done using traditional transportation methods. This young man was like countless infantryman around the world, doing the hard, dirty work necessary to win the war and stabilize the country after the fighting ended.

Filipino infantryman on oxen, Philippines 1945 (Photograph: Staff Sgt. W. R. Allen)
Filipino infantryman on oxen, Philippines 1945
(Photograph: Staff Sgt. W. R. Allen)

While in the Philippines, my grandfather met many Australians. The Australians fought with Americans and Filipinos in the battle to liberate the Philippines. Throughout the Pacific War, the Australians provided military intelligence and Army and Navy support, filling in the ranks of American forces.

Through this photograph my grandfather reminded Americans of the sacrifices and support of Australians.

Australian soldiers, World War 2
Australians soldiers, Philippines, 1945 (Photograph: Staff Sgt. W. R. Allen)

My grandfather possessed a great eye for candid photographs. In this lovely candid photo of Filipino children and American servicemen I particularly like the young boy and girl holding the buckets who stare into the camera.

And what is the young girl on the left handing to the American?

Filipino children play amongst American service personnel after liberation
Filipinos and American servicemen, Philippines, 1945
(Photograph: Staff Sgt. W. R. Allen)

Below, I’ve included the wide border my grandfather chose when he self developed this photo.

I don’t know who this woman is or how she met my grandfather. But given the the way he photographed and developed her image, I suspect she had more than a passing impact on him.

In no way do I mean anything illicit; perhaps something more like a translator or temporary assistant or daughter of an important person my grandfather interacted with during his time in the Philippines.

Filipino woman leans against lattice in black and white photo shot by W. R. Allen
Filipina, Philippines, 1945 (Photograph: Staff Sgt. W. R. Allen)

Another candid from my grandfather’s military archive. The determined look in this man’s eyes and the firm position with which he holds and positions the rooster for my grandfather’s camera reflects the man’s resolve.

The ease with which the man faces the camera also speaks to my grandfather’s easy going nature. He was someone who easily blended in a crowd and was rather self-effacing in person.

Filipino with Rooster, 1945 (Photograph: Staff Sgt. W. R. Allen)
Filipino with Rooster, 1945 (Photograph: Staff Sgt. W. R. Allen)

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