Chambi, Martín (1891–1973)

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Chambi, Martín (1891–1973)

Martín Chambi (b. 5 November 1891; d. 1973), Peruvian photographer. Although all biographical facts about Chambi are currently under scrutiny, it is safe to say that he was born into a modest peasant family of Indian stock in the village of Coaza, near Lake Titicaca, in the southern highlands of Peru. His first experience with photography occurred when his father was working for the British Santo Domingo Mining Company, near Carabaya. The curious boy eagerly sought to help the company photographer, who was taking survey views of the area. Around 1908, Chambi moved to Arequipa, where he allegedly pursued a high school education and until 1917 was an apprentice at the studio of the then famous photographer Max T. Vargas. That same year he married Manuela López Viza; they had six children.

In 1917, seeking to establish his own business, Chambi moved to the thriving town of Sicuani. Some three years later he moved on to Cuzco, where he sought out Juan Manuel Figueroa Aznar, a former pupil of Vargas. For a while Chambi and Figueroa shared a studio in Cuzco. At the time, that ancient capital of the Incas was undergoing a cultural renaissance and the beginning of an economic recession. Indigenismo became a major intellectual and political force in Cuzco. Chambi befriended such leading indigenista intellectuals as José Uriel García, Luis Valcárcel, Gamaliel Churata, Roberto Latorre, and Luis Valesco Aragón. Chambi's work was published in illustrated magazines like Variedades. Politically, he sympathized with the early APRA party and contributed to the radical avant-garde magazine Kosko by taking ads for his studio in it.

During the 1920s Chambi's prestige as a photographer peaked, and his clientele included wealthy families such as the Lomellinis and the Montes. Some of his most memorable images are commissioned portraits to which he added a social commentary. Yet, his ethnographic work and documentation of Cuzco's colonial and Inca architecture is probably his most systematic. Many of the images for which he is famous today were never shown in the exhibitions curated by Chambi himself. The American photographer Edward Ranney, largely responsible for Chambi's rediscovery in 1977, has played an important role in the appreciation and perception of his work.

See alsoPhotography: The Twentieth Century.


Roderic Ai Camp, "Martín Chambi: Photographer of the Andes," in Latin American Research Review 13, no. 2 (1978): 223-228, and "Martín Chambi: Pioneer Photographer of Peru," in Américas 30, no. 3 (March 1978): 5-10.

Edward Ranney, "Martín Chambi: Poet of Light," in Earthwatch News 1 (Spring-Summer 1979): 3-6.

Fernando Castro, Martín Chambi: De Coaza al MoMA (1989).

José Carlos Huayhuaca, Martín Chambi, fotógrafo (1991); Martín Chambi: Photographs, 1920–1950, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden (1993).

Additional Bibliography

Hopkinson, Amanda. Martín Chambi. New York: Phaidon, 2001.

                                     Fernando Castro