1986      TAFOS

Returning to 1986, Gregorio Condori, a friend and leader of the Accocunca Community in the high region of Ocongate, requested the photography work we were doing in Pachanta, for his community.

This was not possible, but then Gregorio asked me for a camera to do the photography work himself. I lent him a small half format completely automatic Ricoh camera. After a time, Gregorio approached me with a reel of pictures he had taken where I found surprising images on the mediation of a land judge in a border dispute.

Soon after in 1986, we created inside the Ocongate Human Rights Committee the first social photography workshop with participants from eight communities in Ocongate, and soon they began taking pictures. The results were surprising and we soon began to create mural newspapers and exhibit them at the Ocongate market. Work was conducted on the dissemination of images in neighboring communities, as well as in assemblies and schools, always addressing and “talking” about the problems and conflicts within the District.

In 1987, the work of the Ocongate workshop was awarded by the Casa de la Américas de La Habana (Cuba). We later founded a second workshop together with Jesuits working in the District of El Agustino in Lima, and established TAFOS (Talleres de Fotografía Social).

These initial workshops, one in a rural mountainous area and another in an urban coastal area progressively led to others at base organizations, communities, peasant federations, labor unions, young peoples neighborhood organizations, university unions and women’s neighborhood organizations. We were seeking for these workshops to be recognized, or in the best of circumstances, co-organized by their federations at the national level. The workshops were also recognized by the guild of graphical reporters, which was positive both to motivate their work and recognize there was something more urgent: the country was at war and the only suspicion of possible suspects were villagers, Quechua speakers or those using mining helmets, and even worse, those that would photograph atrocities from both sides of the conflict, or disseminate their own culture with the pride it merits or their problems with the corresponding responsibilities.

We soon organized workshops at the mines together with the Federation of Mine, Metallurgical and Iron and Steel Workers of Peru. Initially, workshops were conducted in Morococha and La Oroya in the central highlands. Taking advantage of a mining strike in this sector, the right for syndicates to officially rely on a workers photographer was included on the complaints sheet. It was accepted in the negotiation, and from then on, mining photographers were allowed to take their cameras into the tunnels.



At the end of the 1980’s, the country entered a difficult phase. Government economic policies were insane and led the country to 5,000% inflation in 1989. At the same time, on the one hand Sendero Luminoso was about to seize power declaring “power is born from the barrel of a gun” and a photographic camera was a middle class and aligned tool, that would not contribute to changes in the country as promoted in workshops. On the other hand, the military were killing, torturing and disappearing people, particularly Quechua speakers.

One of the conclusions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission suggests that there were nearly 70,000 killed during nearly twenty years of political violence, 70% came from the Southern Andes. In this space, TAFOS emerged and proliferated. It was a challenging task for more that twenty professionals who accompanied a total of two hundred folk photographers dispersed around the country, to maintain open communication channels and ensure there was no extreme violence with them. In regions such as Puno, the heights of Cusco, the jungle and mining zones it was important to dodge Sendero Luminoso and simultaneously maintain a position of enough local power to neutralize the Armed Forces, who were trying to apprehend photographers solely because they were taking pictures.

All the hard work had paid off and the result was astounding. By seeing the same culture in front and behind the camera, -the photographer and photographed-, strong and solid images were generated with the message and conviction that the Andean, Coastal and Amazonian culture can overcome these challenges, and the graphic testimony of TAFOS would be the present promoter of resistance and assertion of their own ways of doing things and organizing life at the national, regional and local levels.

The action with photographic images captured by organized groups, that began in the Southern Andean Highlands, after a few years turned into the image of resistance to war and the proposal for a different change in cities such as Lima, Cusco, Puno and Huancayo, through exhibitions, publications in the media and what was so called “dissemination hand in hand”. This was important for many Peruvians who were seeking to identify themselves with something and have their own proposals while they opposed the barbarity of the two sectors under fire.

In 1987, Marco Zileri of Caretas magazine visited TAFOS in Cusco, accompanied by the master photographer Óscar Medrano, who couldn’t believe what he was seeing while touring one of the first TAFOS exhibitions in the city. There was also international press media, such as Der Spiegel, The Guardian, Geo, New York Times, Newsweek and other media from Japan, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, etc., who published the work of TAFOS, claiming it as an independent voice during complicated moments the country was living.

What TAFOS[1] did was to empower base leaders to tell their stories and disseminate them among their own people, villagers from towns and cities and to the world in general, in order to explain that there was a group of base organizations, at the national level, that had their own proposal of resistance, of self-affirmation and of social change. Through their work, these sectors normally excluded by the massive media at the time, were able to participate for the first time in national debates with their own image, with their history and own proposal, different to that of the State or Sendero Luminoso. At the same time, they have left a visual memory that allows one to understand the difficult past of those decades at the end of the XX century, that new generation must not forget.

Today, many of those who were photographers in TAFOS are leaders of their organizations and have a strong experience with self-affirmation and proposals. Their way of taking hold of their own image was an important step towards the use of communication, as a construction tool for the organizations unity and recognition from the outside, and strengthening of their own identity and identification with their group and other social groups in the country.


TAFOS was the second phase in Peru where photographic images intervened, accompanied and documented a difficult moment. It was done more than fifty years ago by the famous photographer Martín Chambi and other photographers and intellectuals since Cuscos romantic indigenistas of the 1930s.

At present, TAFOS is an archive with more than 200,000 negatives, conserved, supported and promoted by the Faculty of Science and Arts of Communication of Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP),[2] where members of the TAFOS professional team are now part of the teaching staff. This archive is a key referent for social sciences and graphic arts of Peru’s image, captured by social actors during the 1980s and 1990s.

[1] For an overall perspetive of TAFOS, see the book País de luz (2006, Lima: PUCP-CAL).

[2] See: Ver: “Archivo fotográfico TAFOS/PUCP”