In 1900, the United States Government Board of the Pan-American Exposition appointed Frank F. Hilder to travel to the Philippines and gather material for the government's exhibit on American colonial territories at the exposition in Buffalo, New York, the followng year. Hilder was a former British army officer, writer, and at the time employed by the Bureau of American Ethnology. Working under Smithsonian officials who were also exposition officials, Hilder was directed to "obtain such articles and information as will illustrate the natural resources of the islands, the characteristics and mode of life of the inhabitants, and the principal features and methods of government, past or present." Early thinking about the exhibit included the use of lay figures to represent the Philippine non-Christian tribes; and, accordingly, Hilder was instructed to collect a variety of photographs of these people.
When Hilder arrived in Manila, he engaged the services of Penoyer Levi Sherman, a chemist and associate of Dean C. Worcester of the Philippines Commission. Sherman had graduated from the University of Michigan and moved to the Philippines with the Bureau of Goverment Laboratories, for whom he wrote The Gutta Percha and Rubber of the Philippine Islands in 1903. Hilder hired Sherman to make photographs for the exhibition, which he did using Worcester's camera and darkroom; as a result of this loan of equipment, Worcester was then allowed to make his own copy negatives of Sherman's images.