Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Elusive Essence of Peru

It’s become a habit that whenever I leave the house there’s usually a camera in my pocket. I’m not looking to photograph anything in particular. It’s just that after six years I’m still trying to capture the essence of Peru… still hoping that I’ll get lucky and stumble upon THE SHOT. It hasn’t happened yet. It’s not conscious choice, but mostly I seem drawn toward taking photos of people involved in their daily activity. And for me that’s hard to do. There are two recurring problems…first is the time lag. Between the time I recognize that there is something worth shooting, and finally get the camera out of my pocket and turned on, the opportunity is gone. The second problem is trying to get a candid photo of a Peruvian. Peruvians are always aware of what’s going on around them. The second they see the camera they either quickly disappear, or turn into a somber faced statue. I don’t care if they’re 100 yards away; that’s what happens. I’ve tried the ruse of seemingly taking a photo of Maribel while actually focusing the camera on them but that doesn’t work. They know….they always know.  Which is why some of my favorite photos (of those that I’ve kept as opposed to the thousands I’ve deleted while muttering to myself) are of people sleeping.

I’ve got a file in my computer labeled ‘character shots’ where I store photos that seem to me to catch a glimpse of Peruvians doing what they do. There aren’t many photos in that file. I’d like to share some of my favorites.

Slow news day in Chiclayo - There are street corners that have been occupied by the same vendors for many years.  Whether its bakery or fruit or pottery or newspapers or everything else under the sun, you can count on them being there. There is an understanding that no other vendor will encroach on that location. Sitting and waiting for a customer is boring. Sleeping is the only other option. Theft is normally not a problem, and there is no need to worry about lost sales; customers will wake them.   

Father’s Day 2014 in Pimentel - Maribel and Brian surprised me last Father’s Day by taking me to Pimentel where we walked on the beach and on the newly refurbished pier. The weather wasn’t too hot, the sun was shining and we had a good lunch at one of the outdoor boardwalk restaurants. Following lunch we took a slow walk through the town and came upon this man. It strikes me as a bit sad…it’s Father’s Day and he appears to be alone. Of course it may be that inside that house is a large family who gathered to help him to celebrate, and that he just stepped outside for a moment to get away from the noise, but somehow I don’t think so. Perhaps he’s dreaming of Father’s Days gone by.  

Open 24 hours – Trujillo - From a distance I thought this guy was in a costume but as I approached I realized he was probably in his normal clothing and just decided to take a nap. His clothing plus sleeping under a sign that reads ‘open 24hours’ is what caught my attention.

Mystery Lady - This isn’t really a favorite photo, but the story behind it is in keeping with the title of this post. Unless we’re busy, usually between 2:00 to 4:00pm I’m sitting in my easy chair reading. And that’s about the time the mystery lady walks past our apartment, and has been doing so for over two years. She is always carrying one or two large plastic bags, and sometimes the bags are full and appear to be so heavy that she literally staggers under the weight. We don’t know what she does with her time. We’ve seen her in only one other location – sitting on a busy side walk with her back against a building and her bags beside her. She didn’t appear to be begging, nor did she seem to be selling anything. She apparently has just two dresses that she wears on alternate days. Her long silver hair is always tied back, and she carries either a red or green sweater. She is at least 80 years old.

I feel foolish admitting this, but I followed her one day. My curiosity was killing me. She stopped in a park two blocks from our apartment, where she organized the contents of her bags and ate something from one of them. From the park she walked a winding route for over a mile before stopping and knocking on the door of a private residence. After a few minutes the door opened; the woman was handed something that she put in her bag and continued on her way. Her next stop was at a restaurant on a busy street. She reappeared a few minutes later with her second bag bulging. She was packing a lot more coming out than she did going in. From the restaurant she walked down a side street that has several abandoned buildings. It was getting late in the afternoon and I felt sure that she would enter one of them…that I had discovered where she slept at night, but she walked past them to a busy intersection where to my surprise she flagged down a taxi, got in with her bags and away they drove. I have no explanation for what I saw, and for what she is apparently doing on a daily basis. She remains the mystery lady.

On the way to Tûcume - This woman and hundreds more like her leave their homes in small villages throughout the Lambayeque Region in the still dark early morning to ride a combi to a district in Chiclayo where any and every type of food can be purchased direct from the growers at very low prices. By 6:00 or 7:00am they’re back on a combi heading home. They usually have one bag in their lap and several more tied to the top of the vehicle. It amounts to a lot of food but it’s not just for their family. They are either buying for several families or they have a small grocery store where the items will be resold. I don’t remember if this woman rode all the way to Tùcume or, as often happens got off the combi seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Fresh fish – Monte Hermoso - It’s been several years since we last visited Monte Hermoso but I remember this day vividly. After giving us a tour of his school the school director volunteered to show us the town, which takes all of ten minutes to walk from one end to the other. I don’t know if it was because the school director was escorting us, or if these villagers are different than other villagers but the initial shyness we usually see didn’t happen. Wherever we walked people came out of their houses to greet us. And seeing my camera, they weren’t shy about asking to have their photos taken. There is a hint of pride in the faces of the women in this photo. I had the feeling they are an enterprising family, mostly because in addition to selling fish there is a moto-taxi and popcorn stand in the background.

Shelling corn – Monte Hermoso - This man was insistent about inviting us in to his house. I have no idea why it was so important to him that we see him and perhaps his grandson shelling corn. The corn is being packaged for sale as poultry feed. The cobs will be ground up and fed to livestock.

Grandmother in Monte Hermoso - It was mostly grandma’s face and posture that inspired me to take this photo, but there’s also a three generation thing with her granddaughter next to her and I assume her daughter peering out the window. Notice that one of grandma’s sandals is held together with a plastic tie.

I enjoy taking photos. I’d enjoy it even more if I knew how to take better photos. But who knows, maybe someday I’ll get THE SHOT.


  1. These are very interesting. Thanks

    1. Hi Doug - It's good to hear from you again. I'm glad you like the photos.