This Guy is Changing How We See Philippine History (Literally)
History is something we learn from our textbooks—something far-off and disconnected from the present. We learn names and numbers, places and battles, but never on a level as personal as that of Philippine History in Color, a project by Ivan Bilugan.
Bilugan is a digital artist dedicated to breathing life into Philippine history. In Philippine History in Color, old photos are restored and colorized. The goal is to throw the spotlight on history, so we can promote the values and lessons of our past. When we see the stories we've only read about before, it feels much more relatable. As Bilugan says, “We need to study our history to be able to understand our society.” Philippine History in Color aims to retell the story and ensure historical authenticity and accuracy.
The idea began when he found 35mm sepia photos in his mother’s old album a couple of years ago. When he showed his parents the photos, they’d reply “Noong araw,” followed by tales of the country’s history. What started out as a nostalgic project grew into something more. “In my own little way, this can be an opportunity for me to do something worthy for our country,” he says.
“When I’m given a chance to explain my work to students, I always tell them that we are next in the history books. What we do now will be our legacy, and so I encourage them to not waste their time doing something that may lead to nothing,” says Bilugan.
Like scenes out of an old movie, Philippine History in Color narrates our nation’s story of war, revolution, peace, and prosperity. In the photos, we’re given a peek at a country with near-empty streets, pristine landscapes, Spanish-style buildings, and cultural eccentricities of days long gone. This is all very far from the bustling metropolis we know now.
Bilugan’s project is not merely a creative hobby—it’s a huge contribution to recording Philippine history that undergoes a process of research, restoration, colorization, and delivery. Spending more time on technical research than creative work, accuracy is a priority. Archives, libraries, internet, and personal narratives are the main sources of information. From the location, light source, year, month, time of day, clothes, costumes, buildings, environment, skin tone, facial expressions, culture, context, shading, and so much more, each detail is scrutinized and double-checked before colorizing so as to not mislead viewers with inaccurate interpretations.
Neither are the photos merely about the photos, but the story within them. Each caption under a photo on the project’s Instagram profile is a fascinating history lesson on its own.
Colorizing has had its fair share of criticism, both globally and locally, but we can’t deny that projects such as Philippine Color in History bring us closer to the past than we’ve ever been before. Bilugan isn’t the first Philippine history colorist (another popular colorist is Kinulayang Kasaysayan), and he hopefully won’t be the last, since history wasn’t just meant to be collecting dust on our shelves. There’s far more color to it than that.
The Philippine History in Color exhibit, titled Color in History, was previously held at Ayala Museum, De La Salle University – Dasmarinas (the artist’s alma mater), and is currently at De La Salle Santiago Zobel School. The travelling exhibit hopes to bring Philippine history to different schools, companies, and galleries around the country soon.