Martín Chambi

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Martín Chambi Jiménez was a photographer who came from the south of Peru. He was also known as Martín Chambi de Coaza. He was the only well known indigenous Latin American photographer of his time. He was born November 5, 1891 in Puno (a city in Peru) and died September 13, 1973 in the city of Cusco.

He is considered one of the great figures of American photography.

Chambi is famous for the historic and social value of his photographs. He was a portrait photographer in the cities and the countryside of the Peruvian Andes. He was the leading portrait photographer in the Andean city of Cusco. Chambi also took many landscape photographs, and he sold these photographs as postcards. He was one of the first to use the postcard format in Peru.

In 1979, MOMA in New York had a Chambi exhibition. The exhibition later moved to various locations. It inspired other international exhibitions of his work.

Quotations[change | edit source]

"It is wrong to focus too much on the testimonial (historical) value of his photos. They have that, indeed, but, in equal measure they express the milieu (society) in which he lived and they show (...) that when he was behind a camera, he became a giant, a true inventor, a force of invention, a recreator of life." - Mario Vargas Llosa

"I've read that in Chile they think that the indigenous South American peoples have no culture, that they are not civilised, that they are intellectually and artistically inferior to European white peoples. The artworks are a graphic testament that is more eloquent than my own opinion, always. I hope that this testament will be examined fairly and objectively. I feel I am representing my race; my people will speak through the photographs." - Martín Chambi, 1936

Early Life[change | edit source]

Martín Chambi was born in a poor Quechua family. He was born in one of the poorest parts of Peru, at the end of the nineteenth century. His father worked in a gold mine by the River Inambari. Martín sometimes went to work with his father too. He saw his first photographer there at the mine. Chambi learned the basic techniques from a photographer at the Santo Domingo Mine. This meeting fired his ambition.

Chambi tried to work as a professional photographer after this. He traveled to the city of Arequipa in 1908, where photography was more developed. Many professional photographers lived in Areqiupa. They had developed individual photographic styles and professional techniques.

Chambi was an apprentice in the studio of Max T. Vargas. After nine years he created his own studio in Sicuani in 1917. He published his first postcards in November 1917.

In 1923 he moved to Cusco and opened a studio there. In Cusco he photographed rich society people and poor indigenous people. During his career, Chambi also travelled all over the Andes. He photographed the landscapes, Inca ruins, and local people. Chambi was with the American explorer Hiram Bingham when Bingham "discovered" Machu Picchu, the great Inca monument.

Chronology[change | edit source]

1891 - Born in Coaza, Puno (Peru) to a Quechua-speaking indigenous family.

1905 - Father dies. Travels to the banks of the Inambari to work in the gold mines, meets photographers working at the Santo Domingo Mine owned by the Inca Mining Co.

1908 - Apprentice in the photographic studio of Max T. Vargas, in Arequipa.

1917 - Opens his first photographic studio in Sicuani, Puno.

1920 - Establishes himself in the city of Cusco, photographing in an artistic "painterly" style that he learned in Arequipa.

1927 - Beginning of his mature photographic style.

1938 - Opens studio gallery.

1950 - Cusco earthquake. End of the "Cusco School". After this, he gradually stops working actively as a photographer.

1958 - Exhibition in his honor after 50 years of his photography career.

1964 - Chambi Exhibition en Mexico ("Primera Convención de la Federación Internacional de Arte Fotográfico")

1973 - Chambi dies in Cusco, in his old studio on Calle Marqués.

1976 - Chambi is the subject of a video documentary, El arte fotográfico de Martín Chambi, by José Carlos Huayhuaca.

1977 - Chambi's photographs are archived and restored for the first time, financed by the Earthwatch Foundation (Belmont, Massachusetts). This marks the beginning of international fame.

1979 - Retrospective exhibition at MOMA in New York City.

1981 - Latin American photography exhibition in Zurich.

1986 - BBC Arena film "Martín Chambi and The Heirs of the Incas" is shown worldwide.

1990 - Exhibition dedicated to Chambi at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. A book of his work is published to honor the exhibition.

Publications[change | edit source]

Martín Chambi, Photographs 1920-1950 (Smithsonian Institution Press 1993) ISBN 1-56098-244-6 (originally published in Spain by Lunwerg Editores, 1990)

Martín Chambi and the Heirs of the Incas (A documentary film by Paul Yule and Andy Harries, originally made for the BBC in 1986)