When I had just turned 10, a schoolteacher invited me to take part in a workshop he was conducting for older students. The focus was to take pictures considering photography as a social tool. I decided to participate, although I hadn’t a clue of what he was talking about. My mother kindly lent me her photo camera, a Kodak Retina II, with two black and white films.
While I participated in this workshop and under the red light in the laboratory, among the scent of fixing agents and acids, a passion grew inside me that has lasted until today, five decades later. I had definitely found my means of expression through photography. Later on, I would spend my afternoons in the schools laboratory with a Leica M camera. I slowly became the person I am today: a documentary photographer, seeking to intervene in social processes using images.
Years later, when I turned 19, in 1968, I entered the Staatliche Fachakademiefür Fotodesign (State Academy for Photographic Design) in Munich. I sent them a sequence of images of interns at the psychiatric hospital where my youngest brother, who suffered from severe schizophrenia, was hospitalized when he could not cope with the real world. (place images). I then began to study photography officially.
The same year, I lived through the student movement that took place in Munich, Paris and many other places in Europe and the United States. In those days, the Catholic Church went through changes internally, which led to the II Vatican Council (1962 – 1965), and later, in 1968, the Liberation Theology in Medellin was born.
It was a curious coincidence that after arriving in Peru in 1978, when in Cusco, I met representatives of this tendency and leaders of the Popular Movement organized by Revolutionary Left Parties. Years later, I worked for the German Magazine Der Spiegel, which gave voice to the student movement in Germany when I was studying in Munich. This double militancy, through documentary photography and social processes in favor of change, continues to trap my convictions to this day.
Since arriving in Peru at the end of the 1970s, I have lived through troubled decades. Initially due to the lefts chequered search for revolution, and later because of terrorism by the extreme left “Shining Path” (Sendero Luminoso) terrorist group and State terrorism conducted by the Peruvian Armed Forces. Nearly seventy thousand people were killed by violent guerilla groups, armed forces and the police, along with daily reports of torture cases and missing people; mainly natives, Quechua-speakers, member of the Ashaninka native communities and leaders of socialist/left movements.
Meanwhile, the State was pursuing precarious democratic experiments -with autocratic systems such as the “Fujimotao”-, the implementation of erratic neoliberal designed economic policies, and beginning a maelstrom of corruption. This weakened the political and social institutions. As a result, the moral and social crisis remains to this day.
Nonetheless, or maybe at the same time, the year’s between1980 to 2015 have been useful for my way of being and use of photography. This type of communication has helped to empower and reaffirm citizens in their sociocultural identities and political convictions amidst chaos and violence, mainly until 2000.
During this process I was fortunate to work most of the time directly with those who received the images, without having to negotiate with contacts or intermediaries. This allowed photography to be understood and used as a tool, and a means for processes of social change. In the processes conducted I never worked alone: both the communication processes and results where the goal of teams, groups with different disciplines, with photography as a means.
During the ten years I worked with Der Spiegel in Latin America, I was fortunate that they were interested in real people rather than fiction. Thus, there was no need to translate Latin American “magical realism” into complicated visual creations for the German public, because simple Latin American realism is magical. During this decade, I had the chance to visit nearly all Latin America together with great people and journalists.
Also during difficult years and the autocratic Fujimori regime in Peru, left-wing parties and organized people’s movements, including the Liberation Theology, lost their validity. Together with free market policies, radical conservative insights came to dominate the State, diminishing it more and more, leading to a State unable to provide for a large and complex country such as Peru, whose population was growing rapidly.
All of this was not good for the present phase, initiated with the new century, where a world situation is based on the consumption of raw material produced in Latin American regions, with a very high social cost due to the mining “boom”, tropical forests exploitation, agro-exportation, fishmeal production, and rising informality, facilitated by high corruption inside the State.