The Eyes of the Inca

The Peru of a Hundred Years Ago Through Peruvian Eyes

Martín Chambi Jiménez (1891-1973) was a Peruvian photographer who was active until a 1950 earthquake destroyed much of his beloved Cuzco. In his studio, he took pictures like the above musical group with their traditional instruments. But he also traveled around, photographing the altiplano of Peru, the city of Cuzco, and such sites as the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Cuzco Street Scene

In 1979, the Museum of Modern Art in New York displayed an exhibition of Chambi’s photographs, which traveled to other cities and inspired other shows displaying his work. Chambi was a native-born speaker of Quechua, the language of the Incas, and he saw the people and the landscape as only a native could see them.

Quechuan Woman Chewing Coca Leaves

Below is one of the many images he shot at the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu As It Was 100 Years Ago

Photographers like Chambi are a rare link to the past in faraway places that were not in the mainstream of Western European Civilization.

The Indigenous Eye

Inca Photographer Martín Chambi Jiménez

Inca Photographer Martín Chambi Jiménez

One of the problems with photography as an art form is that the viewpoint is usually that of a European or North American. It would have been wonderful to have photographs taken by native Navaho or Tibetan or Zulu photographers so that we could see the world from their unique perspective. One rare exception is the work of a native of Cusco, Peru, the indigenous Inca Martín Chambi Jiménez (1891-1973). Through his eyes, we see the locals of Cusco, the ruins of Machu Picchu, the back country natives, and whatever caught his eye. Below, for instance, is portrait of four young Quechuan campesinas:

Peruvian Campesinas

Peruvian Campesinas

And here is an eagle’s eye view of the ruins at Machu Picchu:

Overlooking the Ruins

Overlooking the Ruins

If you would like to see a collection of his photographs, you can find some interesting examples on Google Image.