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Carlos and Miguel Vargas,
Nocturne: Vargas Bros. Studio [Nocturno: Estudio de Arte Vargas Hnos., Portal San Agustín]
Arequipa, Peru, c. 1925,

Carlos Vargas (1885-1976)
Miguel Vargas (1887-1979)
Arequipa, Peru

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the Andean cities of Cusco, Arequipa and Puno in eastern Peru were centers of a sophisticated indigenous culture that mixed with avant-garde art and technology from Europe.  In the early decades of the twentieth century, Arequipa became the center of a sophisticated cultural awakening that incorporated the latest styles, art and technology from Europe.

In Arequipa, as elsewhere, photographers earned their living by taking portraits of the local bourgeoisie. Peruvian studios in the late nineteenth century were modeled on their U.S. and European counterparts. Technical limitations, including the slow speed of photographic emulsions, dictated static poses, and soft lighting minimized shadows.  The photographic conventions of prestigious studios in Lima spread to the provincial studios as well with their use of elaborate painted backdrops and ornate furniture to bolster a client’s status.

As the focus of artistic activity in Peru shifted from Lima, to the Andean cities of Arequipa and Cusco, the studio of Carlos and Miguel Vargas became a cultural oasis, where artists, poets, writers, musicians and performers gathered to share their work and discuss the leading issues of the day. For nearly 50 years, El Estudio de Arte Vargas Hermanos (The Art Studio of the Vargas Brothers) was one of the most famous photographic studios in Peru.

Carlos Vargas and Miguel Vargas were remarkably innovative photographic artists during a period of great technological innovation worldwide in photography.  While students at the Colegio Salesiano in Peru they were awarded a silver medal 1900 for constructing a working camera.  The Vargas Brothers started working as assistants at the studio of the commercial photographer Max T. Vargas in Arequipa and later managed one of his studios.

In 1913, the Vargas Brothers staged their first exhibition and opened their own photography studio, Estudio de Arte Vargas Hnos, in Arequipa.  In 1915, the brothers participated in their first international group show in San Francisco. In a later exhibition, they presented for the first time, portraits taken in artificial light.

The Vargas Brothers achieved fame and success in Arequipa between 1918 and 1923. In the 1920’s, they had close artistic and professional relations with many politicians, artists, writers, and celebrities.  Their work received a number of awards and their exhibitions included the 1st Salon of Photography in Buenos Aires in 1925, the Ibero-American Exposition in Seville, Spain in 1927, among many others.