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An Overview of the Trip to Bolivia and Peru
August 2001
Bolivia and Peru are both Andean countries with dramatic climactic and topographic differences. Although very different culturally and economically, they have significant indigenous populations that strongly influence their culture and society today. Bolivia has the highest percentage of pure indigenous population in South America, perhaps any country in Latin America except Guatemala. Both countries have elected leaders and a long background of political conflict and change in recent years. Both countries are attempting to follow neoliberalist economic policies that are causing difficult social adjustments. Bolivia's economy was heavily based on mining, first silver then tin. Through much of the past 25 years, cocaine has been an important part of the Bolivian economy particularly among campesinos and mineworkers displaced because of the massive closings of mines. Market changes and the declining prices of these metals have necessitated restructuring of the economy. In Bolivia, the harsh altiplano area of the country is the most populated outside the cities. Near the capital of La Paz, the Ayamara Indians are the largest indigenous culture.
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We spent most of the time In Bolivia. In La Paz, we concentrated on the Julio Cordero Archive, which we will feature as one of the classical exhibitions at FotoFest2002, and the archive work being done by The Photographic Archive Project. The Photographic Archive Project, headed by Peter Yenne from Houston and Adelma Benavente from Peru has been working since the late 1990's to preserve important Latin American historical photographic archives. They began with Andean archives in Peru and they are currently working on this Bolivian archive. They are doing the project with the support of EarthWatch Institute, a U.S. organization supporting scientific and medical projects with international volunteers who pay for the opportunity to participate in their projects. The Photographic Archive project grew out of a Peruvian exhibition that FotoFest helped organize in 1992; it was subsequently traveled and is part of the Image and Memory Latin American book. The exhibition in 1992 was very important for cultural and photographic history because it demonstrated that Martin Chambi, one of the few known Latin American artists at the time, was not an isolated Indian genius, but a talented artist who was part of a sophisticated and cosmopolitan culture, including a number of photographers, centered in the Andes - historically important cultural centers of pre-Columbia Indian cultures and subsequent Spanish settlement.

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The work of the Photographic Archive project is important for similar reasons. The project is helping to preserve and make visible important parts of cultural history that has remained unknown to industrial U.S. and European centers of culture and commerce. It is an important part of many cultural efforts to break down deeply embedded, post-colonial hierarchies. FotoFest has also made this one of its priorities over the years with its international perspectives and programming.

The EarthWatch Institute is a remarkable story in itself because it fields hundreds of volunteers throughout the world. In Bolivia, the Cordero project had three teams of volunteers, each working for a week -- cataloguing, and scanning under supervision by Adelma and Peter.
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The importance of this work and the quality of the Cordero itself is why we are interested in exhibiting and supporting this work. The project's work is an illustration of one of the great advantages of computers. It allows old glass plates and acetate negatives, that shouldn't be handled very much and probably haven't been stored properly, to be copied in situ. Thus the owners, often family members, do not have to give the works away or have them taken away to be preserved, Through computers, scanners, the plates can be scanned at low and high resolutions and preserved on CD-Roms for future use and replication. In many cases, there are no vintage prints. To do this kind of copying and preservation work traditional darkroom processes would take twice as long at double the cost. Moreover, it would require more handling of the glass plate negatives. The owners of the archives are given a copy of the CDs.

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The Cordero archive of 10,000-15,000 glass plates is important because it is high quality, extensive, and well preserved. Not only the glass plates, but also catalogues, invoices, cameras, and hardware have been preserved. It provides remarkable insight into working life of an early photography studio as well as the society around it.

We went to the laboratory of Julio Cordero in La Paz. He was he grandfather of the current Julio Cordero. The lab has been preserved almost intact from the past. .
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The archive is a good reflection of Bolivian society of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with formal portraits of individuals, couples, and families, architectural views of La Paz, fiestas, political leaders, architectural views of La Paz, theaters, even police mug shots. A very interesting cultural phenomenon particular to Bolivia are the 'cholas' or 'Cholos' - a terms whose origins has been much debated. These are the women, often market women that people have seen with wide hooped skirts and bowler hats. They are actually a part of society that was named in Spanish legislation of the 18th century for a mestizo (Spanish and Indian) parent who married an Indian. It was a kind of classification system. These people look very Indian but they actually straddle both worlds. The angle that the famous hats are worn and their quality vary and designate status and wealth. The famous Italian hatmaker, Borsolino, began making these hats for Peru in the late 19th Century. The cholo people are now said to be a very potent economic force in Bolivia not only in the marketplace but also because of their control of infrastructural and logistical aspects of the economy such as trucking and taxis. They are also beginning to make their presence felt in politics as well.

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The images will be reproduced digitally. We are going to exhibit these in a way that will not only show the aesthetic objects, but also have small text blocks so that there is historical and contextual information available for people looking at these images.

In addition to the Cordero Archive, we are also looking at the possibility of showing work by Gismondi, a Peruvian born of Italian parents. His work is very different and the studio portraits are not as strong as Cordero, but he has some remarkable landscapes and architectural monuments that show the nature of the Bolivian landscape and provide yet another context for the Cordero show. We also visited the studio of his granddaughter.
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These archives show the ubiquitousness of economic globalization over 100 years ago. The genre of studio work and the technology were brought and bought from Europe; predominantly France and England, later Belgium and the U.S. Backdrops were bought from Europe and later Argentina. Late 19th and early 20th century catalogues for camera equipment were as elaborate and diverse as computer equipment today.

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In Peru, we visited with directors of two cultural and photographic organizations suggested by Fernando Castro: One was The Instituto Cultural Peruano Norte Americano, (ICPANA) one of the most successful language institutes started privately in Latin America in the early 20th century to teach English These institutes are very well known in many countries and most are self-financing because of the revenues from the English-language schools. The other was the Centro de la Photographic, a relatively new center of photographic education and exhibitions. The ICPNA has a beautiful gallery space in Miraflores as well as downtown Lima. We met with the director, Fernando Torres, a friend of Fernando Castro and Pedro Pablo Alayza Tijero who is the curator for visual arts. They are both very interested in developing exchanges with FotoFest through exhibitions and/or other programs. We have sent them catalogues and discussed the possibility of their coming to FotoFest 2002. They are also involved in a new effort to do a photography event between in November 2001 between 5-6 cultural Lima-Miraflores cultural centers and galleries.

The Centro de la FotoGrafia is also involved in this event. The new center is an outgrowth of an older project that had to close several years ago. The current center is the creation of Peruvian photographers and a successful businessman in Pharmaceutical business. It serves about 1,000 students a years in photography classes and 10-11 exhibits a year. As well as catalogues… It is a very nice space and has a lively clientele.
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In discussing possibilities of exchange with Roberto Huarcayo, one of the directors, it turned out serendipitously that a group of 10 young photographers had come to him several days before to ask how they could get involved with the Meeting Place. They wanted more information about it. We discussed this possibility of some special outreach that we have been planning to do for special situations. We talked about providing a scholarship for registration to the Meeting Place to one young photographer. The Centro and its directors would choose the photographer. The photographer would have to pay his/her own way to Houston and lodging in Houston. In turn, the photographer could bring several other portfolios with him/her and would be responsible for doing a discussion and/or article about FotoFest in Centro's magazine for other photographers in Lima.

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Wendy Watriss
Artistic Director/Co-founder

Fred Baldwin
President/Co-Founder



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