Social photography is a way of practicing documentary photography 1 emphasizing the intervention in social processes. This occurs when a photograph, a photographer or a movement of theirs feels the need to manifest through images. It is not only easier to transmit complex concepts with images, but also on certain historical occasions, social photography provides many people the access to communication with society in general, even when they do not master the official language, writing or the capacity to speak with complicated concepts. 2During the short history of photography, there have been moments of development for social photography, basically at the beginning of the XX Century in Europe, mainly in Germany, Holland, England and Russia.
An example of this was Willi Münzenberg, an activist of the German Communist Party, who joined Comintern (Communist International) in 1992 -between the two-world wars-, where the Worker Photographer Movement was organized through the Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (Workers Illustrated Newspaper). Years later in 1934, Münzenberg inspired The Film and Photo League in New York, leaning once again on the structures of organizations at the international level, in this case the Workers International Relief (WIR), based in Berlin, Germany. Years later, the photographers Paul Strand and Berennice Abbot renamed the group The Photo League (TFL).
At the beginning of the 1940s, this organization was integrated by many recognized photographers or relied on their support. 3 Besides his documentary photography work, TPL was in charge of safeguarding the collection of the famous photographer Lewis Hine.During the Great Depression in the United States between 1936 and 1943, the Government had organized the Resettlement Administration (RA) and Farm Security Administration (FSA), whose job was to provide support to landless farmers and restart their agricultural activities, lifting them out of poverty, given the economic collapse they had endured. Roy Stryker, an economist and photographer, who turned the FSA information office into a movement of documentary photographers, directed this initiative. Therefore, FSA earned an important place in the history of photography and also in the United States. Their slogan was “Introducing America to Americans”. Some photographers who participated in the FSA were Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, Russel Lee and Arthur Rothstein.A group of photographers less committed in a political sense and with more of a humanist motivation, since the beginning of the last century until today, were denominated based on this name and currently known as the Humanist Photography Movement. Their greatest demonstration was the photographic exhibition “The Family Man”, organized by Edward Steichen at the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in 1955, bringing together many works of well-known documentary photographers of the time. The Movement is also known as “Concerned Photography” or “Social Documentary Photography” and many known photographers have participated and participate such as Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, W. Eugene Smith, Werner Bischof, Sebastián Salgado and many more. Institutionally, this was represented by the Magnum Photographic Agency and International Center for Photography, ICP, under the direction of Cornell Capa. Socialdocumentary photography in PeruPeru, as well as other pluricultural countries -like Mexico and Guatemala-, has a rich history of documentary photography committed to the population and a long experience of camera intervention in social processes. Although the first photographers in the country at the beginning of the XX Century were European, soon -with the replacement of daguerreotypy for the collodion wet plate process and later on by the negative- Peruvian photographers involved in different causes, particularly in different regions and not in Lima emerged.Photogrpahers Miguel Chani, Juan Manuel Figueroa Aznar and the famous Martín Chambi from Cusco, 4as well as other artists and intellectuals were part of the Cusco Indigenous Movement during the 1930s, initiating a period in which anything Andean or Indian was glorified by the urban middle class and landowners. An example of this are the intellectuals Uriel Garcia in his book El Nuevo indio, and Luis E. Valcárcel with Tempestad en los Andes. Subsequently, José María Arguedas, a small town writer with Indian roots emerged. Simultaneously with the intellectual indigenists, dialect took place with Haya de la Torre and José Carlos Mariátegui, leaders of political Indigenism, which would later conclude with the formation of the Socialist Party, also in Cusco, as well as the first rural workers syndicates in Lauramarca (Quispicanchis) and Tocroyoc (Espinar).
In this context, the work of Martín Chambi stood out as he interpreted and documented the utopias of this movement with great skill, oriented towards a non-indigenist public. The dissemination of his work crossed borders from the Andean South reaching Lima, as well as Argentine and Chile. His ideas generated into images is what undoubtedly influenced many subsequent intellectuals and politicians such as, Efraín Morote Best, Óscar Núñez del Prado, Laura Caller, Gustavo Alencastre Montúfar, -public official of the Office for Indigenous Affairs, Ministry of Labor- and others. The utopias and messages transmitted by Chambi influenced and partially reflected the reforms undertaken by the military government of Juan Velasco Alvarado. It was the first case in Peru by which photography accompanies a social and awareness process in order to bring about their demands at the local level and society in general.
Years later, during the 1980s, once the Velasco regime ended and with the implementation of the new Constitution in 1979 -resuming many of the previous demands- a frightening political turning point takes place in the country, strongly influenced by a revolutionary left that -as witnessed in the elections of the 1978 Constituent Assembly- had succeeded in convening approximately 40% of the electorate and was a part of a widely popular organized movement at the national level. However, in practice, the left did not understand the revolution as an armed process, but was seeking a democratic revolution from a broad basis, with proposals such as the so-called “Vía Comunera Campesina” 5in the South Andes, that chartered their political course in working with labor and mining unions, and student federations.In response to this discrepancy between discourse and action in terms of interpreting the revolution, a leftist maoist-polpotist group emerged that quickly secured followers who felt frustrated by the electoral option and unrealized revolution. This group was Sendero Luminoso -whose complete name is Communist Party of Peru known as Shining Path founded by José Carlos Mariátegui-, who initiated his armed conflict in Chuschi, Ayacucho, in May 1980, before Fernando Belaúnde took office as President of the Republic of Peru, after being democratically elected.Initially, Sendero Luminoso was a repressive military political movement, but developed into a terrorist group who assassinated civilians, State Officials and the military, mainly in areas with Quechua speakers such as Ayacucho, Puno and other regions in the Southern Andes.Sendero Luminoso confronted the Army and Navy, both trained by the Armies of the United States and Argentina, the military schools that least respected Human Rights in the Western hemisphere. A brutal confrontation unraveled, with the organized population in the midst of it as the main victims, some being viewed as traitors to the cause and others for terrorism. This caused the weakening of leftist groups and the organized popular movement. However, they did not cease to seek a way of uniting and revive the joint causes that may have lost relevance in other circumstances. Thus, organizations all over the country strengthened in the search to defend themselves from the aggressors. A challenge in this search was to identify a listening ear willing to hear their proposals, as the media and NGOs, as well as political parties turned their backs on the fields in search of protecting themselves from the violence.In this context, an initiative for a social photography workshop arises in the Ocongate Human Rights Committee -the beginning of what would later be TAFOS- in order to provide communities with graphic tools that would allow them to publish their images both in their communal halls –in search of unity amongst them- and in Cusco, Lima and other places. This workshop was awarded a prize by the Casa de las Americas de la Habana, Cuba.Workshops were soon created by youths from El Agustino in Lima, followed by groups in Puno and Cusco, in mining syndicates of Morococha, women’s organizations in Villa El Salvador and in many more organizations. This resulted in the Movimiento de Fotógrafos Populares capable of disseminating and defending proposals for democratic changes, and promoting the second agrarian reform promised by Alan García.The rest is familiar history: in 1990, Alberto Fujimori won the elections and throughout his authoritarian government, thanks to many illegal decisions under the 1997 Constitution, he managed to destroy the popular movement and syndicates, and intervened the universities. At the same time he began an economic model based on individualism and free market dominance.Nevertheless, once ideas have been thought through they cannot be erased, and the proposals presented and vindicated by TAFOS organizations took place progressively. If you travel these days to areas that worked with the Talleres de Fotografía Social, you will notice traces of the advances claimed and the processes initiated.TAFOS was created in the Southern Andes, and after Chambi, has been the second effort of documentary photography in Peru to actively accompany a movement, and is a moment of history for the country. Like Chambi, TAFOS has become a visual reference of its time.
1 “The term documentary applied to photography precedes its own mode or gender. With this term, photographers seek to accurately describe places or circumstances that were otherwise unknown, of difficult access, hidden or forbidden” (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_photography).
2 See: II Jornadas de Fotografía Social (2016; https://jornadasfotografiasocial.com/).
3 They included for example, Margaret Bourke-White, W. Eugene Smith, Helen Levitt and the photographers of Farm Security Administration (FSA), Arthur Smith, Beaumont Newhall, Nancy Newhall, Richard Avedon, Weegee, Robert Frank, Harols Feinstein, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minot White.
4 Besides Cusco one must consider Sebastián Rodríguez in Morococha and many local photographers from Puno to Iquitos.
5 Proposed by the Peasant Confederation of Peru, CCP (see: “Refundar la federación de campesinos”, de Juan Rojas Vargas (2015; Puno: Los Andes; http://www.losandes.com.pe/Opinion/20151220/93506.html).