Archive for March, 2012

Miscelánea (todo se queda en casa)

March 31, 2012

The most diverse exhibit I’ve seen so far in the Lima Photography Biennial has been the show, Miscelánea (todo se queda en casa). The show was organized by curator and critic Jorge Villacorta. He inviated 30 odd artists to create works that would be shown in a 1940s mansion in the swanky neighborhood of San Isidro that will soon be demolished to make way for an apartment tower. A lot of the works deal in various ways with nostalgia, the past, and the architecture of the site.

Casa Inmobiliari

The show is being sponsored by the real estate developer of the property. The crazy zebra design on the house’s exterior is actually their’s, and not one of the works of art. Presumably they feel this design will make the house (which they are using as a sales office prior to the commencement of construction) more visible but, isn’t the point of zebra stripping meant to be a form of camoflage?

Interior hall

Entering the house you come into a large, light filled hall dominated by a large boat-like structure. While this show is technically part of the photography biennial, many, if not most, of the works are mixed media or have nothing to do with photography (not that there’s anything wrong with that).


As you wander through the house, every nook and cranny of the sprawling masnion is filled with art, including the bathrooms and closets. It made visiting feel a bit like a treasure hunt. I combed through each floor, making sure I didn’t miss anything.

Art in the closet

One of the rooms was darkened and had various projectors showing family vacation slides from several decades past. I liked how the vintage photos looked on the vintage (and highly textured) wall paper. That’s my hand shadow there in the picture:

Slide projection

This one room had cyanotypes on the wall.


They also had various objects scattered on the floor, also blue:

blue objects on the floor

dyptich by Flavia Gandolfo

I really liked these pictures by Flavia Gandolfo wherein she doodles a small, subtle element in the second of otherwise identical pictures. The picture on the right has a couple of race cars in the oncoming lanes.

I wish I could identify more of the artists in the show. Nothing was labeled. Instead, there was an architectural layout plan that was available at the entrance. I was a bit confused by it and only realized after I left the show that my flyer only had the first floor.

Arts website limagris made a walk-through video the night of the opening. It’s a good way to see the space as well as some more art, including some giant photos of naked women that were pasted on the bottom of the outdoor swimming pool.

Sujeto de Derecho

March 28, 2012

El Comercio is Peru’s main (only) broadsheet newspaper. They are participating in Lima’s Photography Biennial with a show of high minded photojournalism called Sujeto de Derecho (the name means something like “legal person” but there’s probably a second meaning that I’m missing). The show collects various photo essays by current and former photographers for the paper that deal with disadvantaged people struggling (and succeeding) to make a better life for themselves. I’m very jealous of photojournalists in Perú because they get to take pictures in such a visually spectacular country.

Sujeto de Derecho at Casa Rimac

The show is being held at the Casa Rimac in downtown Lima. It looks like an old bank building. The lobby is filled with huge hanging prints by Karen Zárate about a project building a resevoir for herders to water their fields of grass so that their cows can graze and produce milk year round. I felt like the ginormous prints cluttered the space and were a little pretentious but you have got to hand it to paper for going big. The rest of the show meanders through the ground floor of the building with different rooms showcasing the various essays.

La maloca de Babel by Leslie Searles

I was interested in this story by Leslie Searles about a center for indigenous university students in Iquitos that takes the shape of a traditional shelter called a maloca. Here’s a video for the story.

The best part of the show was the flyer. El Comercio, being a newspaper, printed up an insert with all of the stories. They look great–maybe even better than they do on the wall. This is not a dig since this is photojournalism. These photos belong on newsprint.

Newspaper insert for the show (I still have flip-flop tan lines from my two months in the jungle)

Sujeto de Derecho, Pascuala y el Pozo de Agua by Karen Zarate

Sujeto de Derecho, Los Ojos de Parán by Rolly Reyna

The show and insert are sort of the ideal world for photojournalism. All the stories are uplifting and visually compelling. There’s no boring press conferences, celebrity gossip or crass advertising. The show affirms the talent of the paper’s photographers. I wish these essays were on El Comercio’s website (they have an inactive blog of photo essays, Mírate, which hasn’t been updated since Sept. 2010). It would at least make my life easier as a blogger. Here’s a list of all the participating photographers with their website, where I could find one: Karen Zárate, Antonio Escalante (Cerro Cachito), Sergio Urday, Juan Ponce, Ana Cecilia Gonzáles Vigil, Dante Piaggio, Polly Reyna, Sebastián Castañeda, Giancarlo Shibayama, Musuk Nolte, Leslie Searles, Daniel Silva, Enrique Cuneo, Miguel Bellido and Richard Hirano.

Daniel Pajuelo – La calle es el cielo

March 23, 2012

Upstairs from El Incidente at Casa O’Higgins is another fantastic exhibit of photos by Daniel Pajuelo. It’s titled “La calle es el cielo,” which I’ll translate as “Heaven on the Streets.” Pajuelo was a photojournalist in Lima in the 80s and 90s and his gritty black & white photos capture a time when the city was suffering from multiple crisis of hyperinflation, terrorism, political instability, and runaway urban growth.

Daniel Pajuelo - La calle es el cielo

There’s a large hall with blow-ups of his photos hanging on wires.

Daniel Pajuelo - La calle es el cielo

Daniel Pajuelo - La calle es el cielo

Then there are several other rooms each with a couple of dozen prints.

Daniel Pajuelo - La calle es el cielo

Daniel Pajuelo - La calle es el cielo

My picture of the picture isn’t good but the prints in the show are fanstastic. They’re really high quality ink jets which look to have been done specifically for this show. As Pajuelo, I’m guessing, was out on the streets hunting for photos, rather than stuck in the darkroom perfecting his printing technique. I’ve been to a lot of shows where print quality is skimped on (paper, ink, glass, frames are expensive!). It’s really great to see that they went all out for this show. It’s a great way to honor the photographer and really brings his work to life.

A display case shows some of Pajuelo’s personal effects:

Pajuelo's personal items

Let’s see: press passes, leather jacket, Rollei 35… is there much more one needs in life?

Pajuelo passed away in 2000 at the young age of 37. A final room in the show display photos from his nights out on Lima’s rock scene. A text in the room notes, “A rock photographer is not the same thing as a photographer who rocks…”

Daniel Pajuelo - La calle es el cielo

Daniel Pajuelo - La calle es el cielo

El Incidente – 1940s Street Photography in Lima

March 21, 2012

Another fascinating exhibit right now as part of Lima’s Photography Biennial is a show called El Incidente. In it, the curator shows snapshots taken in Lima from the 1940s to the 1960s by street photographers working for local photo studios.

El Incidente

The game/business worked as follows; a guy working for some photo studio would snap a photo, typically without permission, and then ask the person if they would like to pay for a copy. If the answer was yes, someone from the studio, or the photographer himself would go the next day to the person’s house and deliver the photo.

As a type of vernacular photography I find it fascinating that something like this ever existed. It could only exist in a city that was big enough to be anonymous but not so large as to be dangerous and chaotic, as Lima was soon to become. The photos themselves are don’t break ground aesthetically. There were no Winogrands or Friedlanders lurking in Lima in the 1950s (at least not in this show). Still, the photos offer a fascinating glimpse of  a society and city in transtion.

El Incidente at Casa O'Higgins

El Incidente at Casa O'Higgins

The mounting of the show is fantastic. It’s housed on the ground floor of the gorgeous, restored 19th Century home of Chilean independence leader Bernardo O’Higgins.

El Incidente in Casa O'Higgins

The front room has large blow-ups of some of the photos next to small displays of the original photos themselves. In the back is a giant table with hundreds of photos on display under glass.

El Incidente at Casa O'Higgins

The curator, Daniel Contreras, collected these photo albums himself at various flea markets over the last several years. It wasn’t clear to me if these photos came from the customers or if the photographers themselves kept their own albums. In any event, the show does a masterful job of bringing this genre to life. A display case at the entrance shows a jumble of decaying albums from which some of the photos in the exhibit came.

El Incidente at Casa O'Higgins

As a type or genre of photography, this is totally new to me and fascinating too. I wonder if other cities in other or in other time periods something like this has existed.

My two favorite shows of the biennial so far, this one and Memorias Visuales, both deal with different expressions of vernacular photography in Peru. Both in their own way, as exhibits, do fantastic jobs of bringing to life an era as well as a genre of photography.

Retratos Pintados – Painted Portraits and the Lima Photography Biennial

March 20, 2012

I’m very lucky to be in Lima right now because kicking off this week is Lima’s first ever Photography Biennial. As part of the event there are over 30 official shows, about half a dozen of which opened last night. My first stop was at a show of painted photo portraits entitled “Memorias Visuales, el retrato iluminado y la historia cotidiana” (Visual Memory: the Illuminated Portrait and Daily Life). The exhibit, which is curated by Carlos Sánchez Giraldo and  Sofía Velásquez Núñez contains painted photo portraits from the 1920s to the 1970s.

Installation view of "Memorias Visuales, el retrato iluminado y la historia cotidiana"

The wall text mentions that the curators were inspired to mount this show because they themselves had grown up with the constant gaze of these portraits (of grandparents, great grandparents) in their houses. Painted portraits were very common across Latin America. The involved painting directly on black and white photos. They have this weird way of bringing the subjects to life (in color) but also sucking the life out by removing the photo-ness of the image.

There seems to be a lot of interest in retratos pintados today. Photo historian Geoffrey Batchen has written about fotoesculturas in Mexico as part of his interest in vernacular photography. Yossi Milo Gallery in New York did a show of Brazilian retratos pintados in 2010. In Argentina, Florencia Blanco did a series of photos placing retratos in different contexts. While I was in Iquitos recently, nearly every house I went into had one of these portraits hanging on the walls.

The curators did a fantastic job of mounting the show, decorating the space with vintage wall paper and furniture, making the gallery into a cozy, domestic space. It allows the visitor to appreciate the domestic function of these portraits and makes visiting the show an experience that cannot be reproduced in a book or website (or blog post!).

Installation from "Memorias Visuales, el retrato iluminado y la historia cotidiana"

Installation from "Memorias Visuales, el retrato iluminado y la historia cotidiana"

In viewing some of the portraits I was reminded of the Fayum Portraits from ancient Roman Egypt, some of my favorite works of art. I was particularly fascinated by a few of the portraits where the paint was laid on very lightly in places.

Retrato Pintado

There is an interesting play between the painted surface and monochromatic undersurface. Where the paint is light, it’s like the flesh is dissolving away. This is cheesy, I know, but I was reminded of the end of Terminator, when Arnold’s flesh is gradually stripped away in places, revealing the silvery robot underneath.

The front room of the exhibit has painted images from the last 20 years. The practice of directly painting on black and white photographs has died out and one of the many current vernacular practices of family photography involve making painted versions of pictures, often snapshots.

Installation from "Memorias Visuales, el retrato iluminado y la historia cotidiana"

It’s weird to see these pictures all hung together. I haven’t paid much attention to these recent photo-paintings before. They lack the formal stiffness and nostalgic charm of the retratos pintados and sit in this sort of uncanny valley of being too recent to be revered. Still, I appreciated their inclusion for showing the ongoing customs of vernacular photography in Peru.

Installation from "Memorias Visuales, el retrato iluminado y la historia cotidiana"

The show is up until April 28, 2012. If you are in Lima, do go see it.

Christian Bendayàn – El Paraíso del Diablo

March 20, 2012

I try not to write about shows that are already down but given that I’m in Lima and you probably aren’t, it’s a moot point, so I’ll go ahead. I had the luck recently to see a show by Christian Bendayán, a Peruvian painter from Iquitos. I posted about him last year and it was a real pleasure to see his large scale paintings in person. His work has been a huge influence on me in photographing in Iquitos. The paintings were on view at the Sala Luis Miró Quesada Garland.

El Encuentro del Amazonas by Christian Bendayán

The show is called El Paraíso del Diablo or The Devil’s Paradise and deals with the contemporary culture of the Peruvian Amazon, but also with the dark history of exploitation and the loss of memory and culture. The center piece of the show is a painting entitled El Encuentro del Amazonas. It’s update of a mural by Amazonian painter Cesar Calvo de Araujo which was destroyed in 2009 when the old city hall of Iquitos was (illegally) demolished. The mural depicted the discovery of the Amazon by Francisco de Orellana in 1542. In Bendayán’s painting, he follows the general composition of Calvo’s painting but updates the people with types from modern-day Iquitos. The natives become transvestites in native drag, a catholic priest becomes and evangelical preacher, and so-on.

Detail of El Encuentro del Amazonas by Christian Bendayán

I also quite liked this painting, Fila India, which combines two images from the turn of the century, the background of the Iquitos waterfront by Otto Michael and a photograph of girls from the Boras tribe by Manuel Rodriguez Lira.

Fila India by Christian Bendayán with Carlitos

I asked my friend from Iquitos, Carlitos, to stand in the photo to give a sense of its scale, although Carlitos is only 5′ 3″, so keep that in mind when judging the size. Here are the two source images which were on the wall next to the painting.

Muchachas Boras,by Manuel Rodriguez Lira

Iquitos waterfront in 1910, watercolor by Otto Michael

Also present in the show was this painting, El Curandero del Amor for which Bendayán used flourescent paints commonly used is bars and discos in Iquitos.

El Curandero del Amor by Christian Bendayán

In this interview, in Spanish, Bendayán talks about the link between neon painting in working class pubs (bares populares) and experience of colors and visions of psychoactive drugs like Ayahuasca. He also talks about the distinct culture of the Peruvian Amazon and  the historical cycles of exploitation and corruption.

Juan Manuel Castro Prieto – Perú

March 12, 2012

After two months in Iquitos, I flew back to Lima yesterday morning. Later that same afternoon, I was killing time in a book store just off Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, waiting for a friend who was late. I came across the recently published book, Martín Chambí & Juan Manuel Castro Prieto: Perú. I stood there for a good half hour devouring every page of the book and ended up being late myself.

© Juan Manuel Castro Prieto

© Juan Manuel Castro Prieto

A bit of background: Martín Chambí was a studio photographer in Cuzco who was active from around 1920 to 1950 and is known for documenting the daily life of the city as well as the traditions and peoples of the highland indigenous cultures, to which Chambí himself belonged. Castro Prieto is a Spanish photographer who first came to Perú in 1990 to make prints for an exhibit of Chambí in Spain. For this project he returned to Peru in 2009, and using an 8×10 camera (like Chambí), traveled through the highlands around Cuzco photographing in the spirit of Chambí. Rather than follow in his literal footsteps, Castro Prieto casts a similarly wide net, capturing formal ceremonies, public events, initimate interiors, and portraits, all in a way that’s open to the contemporary daily life of Perú, filled as it is with signs of globalization but still unique as a culture.

© Juan Manuel Castro Prieto

© Juan Manuel Castro Prieto

© Juan Manuel Castro Prieto

© Juan Manuel Castro Prieto

© Juan Manuel Castro Prieto

Martín Chambí

The book alternates between photos of both Chambí and Castro Prieto in a way that emphasizes the diversity of their interests as opposed to direct comparison of images. It’s inspiring the way Castro Prieto wields the 8×10 camera so fluidly. Plus, I love the way to photos look—80 square inches of Rochester Love—even if he’s overdoing it with all the tilts and swings. Castro Prieto, who is a big deal in Spain, belongs to Agence VU which has a huge number of his images from lots of different projects. The slideshow for the Perú book is very extensive and worth a look. Chambí also rocks. His foundation has some images and there’s also a few books out.

Rodrigo Rodrich

March 9, 2012

I’ve had the good fortune of hanging out a couple of times with the photographer/correspondent in Iquitos for El Comercio, a major newspaper based in Lima. His name is Rodrigo Rodrich and he maintains a great blog with up-to-date work of his stories and freelance jobs here in the Amazon.

Rodrigo Rodrich - Los Maijunas