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Julio Cordero, Bridal Portrait [Matrimonio],
La Paz, Bolivia, c. 1925

Julio Cordero (1879-1961)
La Paz, Bolivia

In 1899, after the Liberal Party’s victory over a Conservative oligarchy, the legislative and executive branches of Bolivia’s government were transferred to La Paz. The city of 52,000 became the de facto capital of Bolivia, supplanting the historic colonial capital of Sucre in the south. After the new regime settled long-standing territorial disputes with Brazil and Chile, there was a period of relative political stability in Bolivia.  The country’s earlier isolation from its neighbors ended with the expansion of rail links to Peru, Argentina and Chile. Foreign markets opened, and the start of a legendary boom in tin mining brought a rush of money and immigrants to La Paz. 

During the course of a long and prosperous career in La Paz, Julio Cordero created an unparalleled record of early 20th century Paceño life and culture.  Born in the town of Pucarani, near Lake Titicaca in the Aymara Indian region of the Bolivian Altiplano, he moved to nearby La Paz in 1895, to find greater work opportunities in Bolivia's fastest-growing city.  He started his career as an apprentice in a studio run by two Peruvian photographers, the brothers Valdéz.  Five years later, at the age of 21, he opened his own studio in the heart of the city. 
 
From 1904-1920, Julio Cordero held the appointed position of official presidential photographer. As photographer to two Bolivian presidents, he documented countless military parades, civic ceremonies and political events. He photographed factories, mines, offices and the bustling boulevards of La Paz.  In his work for the police, he recorded everything from fingerprints to firing squads.

Julio Cordero did studio portraits of the city's famous "cholas" – the elaborately dressed mestizo women who continue to play a dominant role in the economic and cultural life of La Paz.  He did wedding portraits and first communions, as well as individual portraits of magicians, musicians, dignitaries, diplomats, vaudeville performers, sideshow performers, society matrons and many groups associated with Bolivia’s Carnival fiestas.  

He died in La Paz in 1961 at the age eighty-two. His extensive archive was carefully preserved by his grandson and namesake, Julio Cordero, a photographer in his own right. Until the archive of original glass plate negatives was digitally copied on site by The Photographic Archive Project of Houston, Texas, Julio Cordero’s work had never been seen outside Bolivia.