From your Eyes: Chambi, the Poet of Light

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If there is any way that you can elucidate the history of Cusco and its surroundings, it is through the photographic legacy of Martin Chambi. Landscapes, buildings, portraits and celebrations have been immortalized through the lens of Latin America’s first indigenous photographer. Thanks to Chambi’s work, we can bear witness to Cusco past–its streets, its people, its daily life, and above all, the essence of the culture that survives to this day.

Martin Chambi was born into a family of farmers in the town of Coaza, in the Puno Region. He started working in a mine at the young age of 14, not knowing that this would be the place where he’d see a camera for the first time, discovering his true passion. Once he settled in Cusco, he opened a photography studio where he would alternate between photographing Cusco’s aristocracy and his true passion: photographing indigenous peoples and their customs.

Today we can see Martin Chambi’s work at a permanent exhibit in the gallery of Cusco’s Scotia Bank called Martín Chambi, Fotografías 1920-1950, where some never-before-seen photographs by Chambi are on display.

However, there is a place in Cusco which is a dream come true for any photographer today–a house which contains the complete photographic archives of Martin Chambi, zealously protected and managed by his grandson, Teo Allain.

A few weeks ago, we had the chance to visit Teo Allain’s house, a place full of history, memories, culture, and most of all, secrets kept away in glass plates retouched by Martin Chambi himself. We were able to see his camera, case, metal flash, and other tools which have remained intact and immune to the passage of time.

Credits:
Photographs by M. Chambi and Information: Teo Allain Chambi
Studio Photographs: Gary Manrique

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