Machu Picchu & the Camera
27th Jan 2004 - 14th Mar 2004
Photographs of a mysterious ruined city of incredible beauty filled the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts when, Machu Picchu & the Camera, opened on Tuesday 27 January 2004.
Party of visitors at Machu Picchu
On the summit of Huayana Picchu.
The classic view of Machu Picchu
The exhibition Machu Picchu & the Camera presented the 'lost city of the Incas' as a twentieth century phenomenon, discovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham on July 24 1911, and made known to the world through photography. Hiram Bingham's first few hours at Machu Picchu were spent taking photographs. The camera's long love affair with Machu Picchu had begun. After that first afternoon he did not return to the site until 1912 but sent some of his colleagues to Machu Picchu in September 1911, most notably Herman Tucker who took many of the most important early photographs.
In 1912 Bingham returned with a much larger expedition funded by Yale University and the National Geographic Society to clear and document the site. During these months Bingham took over 2,000 photographs including some of the spectacular panoramas shown in this exhibition. The following April, for the first time, a complete issue of the National Geographic Magazine was devoted to a single article 'In the Wonderland of Peru' containing 250 photographs by Bingham and his colleagues. Bingham made a brief visit to Machu Picchu in 1915 and he continued to explore the surrounding area and found it, once again, completely overgrown.
In 1917 the Peruvian photographer Martín Chambi who lived and worked in Cuzco almost all his life made his first visit to Machu Picchu. In the following decades he made many visits to Machu Picchu with his friends, sometimes acting as experienced guide as well as photographer. While there is a serious side to his photographs in that he belonged to the generation of indigenistas, the Peruvian intellectuals who wanted to reclaim the Inca patrimony as their own, he was also 'enchanted by light' as his daughter Julia remembered, and many of his photographs have a playfulness and sense of fun. His reputation as a photographer of international importance grew after his death with the discovery of his archive of 17,000 negatives and has resulted in exhibitions and acquisitions of his prints by major museums all over the world.
The joy and sense of wonder that Chambi experienced in his visits to Machu Picchu are shared by many of today's visitors who also reach for their cameras in an instinctive response to its visual impact. The Incas may have experienced Machu Picchu in the same way. Professor Richard Burger has suggested that Machu Picchu was a royal estate used by the Incan royalty in the Andean winter to relax, hunt, and entertain visitors. It was a luxury for the elite and when the socioeconomic system underlying it collapsed it was abandoned.
The beauty of Machu Picchu is still enjoyed by the 500,000 people from all over the world who visit Machu Picchu each year, bringing life and colour and their own exoticism to these remote ruins high in the Andes. They are inspired to visit Machu Picchu through the photographs they have seen and return home with their own photographs of one of the most photogenic places in the world. Their experience is recorded in the photographs of Charles Chadwyck-Healey and Hugh Thomson taken in the first years of this century.
Machu Picchu & the Camera was organised and curated by Charles Chadwyck-Healey with assistance from Hugh Thomson.