Martín Chambi

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Martín Chambi - Self Portrait in Studio, Cusco 1921

Martín Chambi Jiménez, (Puno, Peru November 5, 1891 – Cuzco, September 13, 1973) was a photographer, originally from southern Peru. He was one of the first major indigenous Latin American photographers.

Recognized for the profound historic and ethnic documentary value of his photographs, he was a prolific portrait photographer in the towns and countryside of the Peruvian Andes. As well as being the leading portrait photographer in Cuzco, Chambi made many landscape photographs, which he sold mainly in the form of postcards, a format he pioneered in Peru.[1]

In 1979, New York's MOMA held a Chambi retrospective, which later traveled to various locations and inspired other international expositions of his work.

Beginnings as a photographer[edit]

Martín Chambi was born into a Quechua-speaking peasant family in one of the poorest regions of Peru, at the end of the nineteenth century. When his father went to work in a Carabaya Province gold mine on a small tributary of the River Inambari, Martin went along.

There he had his first contact with photography, learning the rudiments from the photographer of the Santo Domingo Mine near Coaza (owned by the Inca Mining Company of Bradford, Pa). This chance encounter planted the spark that made him seek to support himself as a professional photographer. With that idea in mind, he headed in 1908 to the city of Arequipa, where photography was more developed and where there were established photographers who had taken the time to develop individual photographic styles and impeccable technique.

Chambi initially served as an apprentice in the studio of Max T. Vargas, but after nine years set up his own studio in Sicuani in 1917, publishing his first postcards in November of that year. In 1923 he moved to Cuzco and opened a studio there, photographing both society figures and his indigenous compatriots. During his career, Chambi also travelled the Andes extensively, photographing the landscapes, Inca ruins, and local people.[1]

His work and photography[edit]

Chambi began his work as a photographer as an apprentice to Max T. Vargas in Arequipa, Peru.[2] During this time as an apprentice, Chambi learned different ways of manipulating light for portraits in the studio.[3] His daughter, Julia Chambi, is quoted as saying, “my father was enchanted by light.”[4] His studio in Cuzco included a set of blinds and shutters made specifically so that he could alter the natural lighting to best suit his photographs.[5] Furthermore, most of Chambi’s photos of indigenous people were taken outside so that he could use only natural lighting.[6]

Chambi produced a variety of works over his career as a photographer.[7] Within the studio, he took many portraits of both wealthy and elite members of society, as well as the indigenous people; he also took many self-portraits. Chambi is well-known for his work in documenting the indigenous culture, including Machu-Picchu and other ruins. In a magazine interview in 1936, he is quoted saying “in my archive I have more than two hundred photographs of diverse aspects of the Quechua culture.”[8] He took pictures of ruins and architecture, but also tried to capture the events of everyday life. With regards to Chambi’s diverse work, Jorge Heredia once said, “He has been the photographer of whites who seek after his images, but also of Indians and Mestizos.”[9]

In addition to taking photographs for individual commissions or for his own personal interests, Chambi also used his photographs in other publications. One such publication was the use of his photographs in postcards.[4] The other main use for his photographs was in a weekly Argentine newspaper called La Nación (“The Nation”) where he contributed photographs of artists, writers, and any other assignments he was commissioned to do.[10]

Chambi's Representation between Chile and Peru[edit]

Chambi traveled to Chile to exhibit some of his artworks, and used his artistic skills to allow the audience to understand how the photographer prioritized the indigenous outcome that relates to the Peruvians and the Chileans.[11] There were some arguments that the two countries disagree with each other when involving with the differences of races, indigeneity, and civilization. The photographer manage to redevelop the process through his artwork, letting the viewers and art critics to understand these types of political issues that concern between the Chileans and the Peruvians.

The Peruvians were able to accept indigenous people from various countries, but the Chileans did not accepted them because of the 'pacification' campaigns of the late 19th century. The Mapuche leaders discuss about educational benefits;however, they were dealing with some problems with governmental authorities that involves between Chile and Peru. Chambi was determine to debunk racial stereotypes, but often up reinforcing them. El Sol, La Nacion, and other news critics prioritize the photographer's artwork because it would enable them to discuss national boundaries and open up ideological debate.

Critical response[edit]

"It is wrong to focus too much on the testimonial value of his photos. They have that, indeed, but, in equal measure they express the milieu in which he lived and they show (...) that when he got behind a camera, he became a giant, a true inventor, a veritable force of invention, a recreator of life."

- Mario Vargas Llosa


  • 1891 - Born in Coaza, Puno (Peru) to a Quechua-speaking indigenous family.[12]
  • 1905 - Father dies. Travels to the banks of the Inambari to work in the gold mines, meets photographers working at the Santo Domingo Mine owned by the Inca Mining Co.
  • 1908 - Apprentice in the photographic studio of Max T. Vargas, in Arequipa.
  • 1917 - Opens his first photographic studio in Sicuani, Cusco.
  • 1920 - Establishes himself in the city of Cusco, photographing in the "painterly" style he learned in Arequipa.
  • 1927 - Beginning of his mature photographic style.
  • 1936 - Travel to Chile to exhibit his work, and how the Chileans and the Peruvians became different from each other.
  • 1938 - Opens studio gallery
  • 1950 - Cusco earthquake. End of the "Cusco School". After this, he gradually ceases to work actively as a photographer.
  • 1958 - Exposition in his honor on the occasion of 50 years of his career as a photographer.
  • 1964 - Chambi Exposition en Mexico ("Primera Convención de la Federación Internacional de Arte Fotográfico")
  • 1973 - Chambi dies in Cusco, in his old studio on Calle Marqués.
  • 1976 - Documentary, El arte fotográfico de Martín Chambi, by José Carlos Huayhuaca.
  • 1977 - First work in cataloguing and restoring Chambi's photographic archives, financed by the Earthwatch Foundation (Belmont, Massachusetts) marks the beginning of international recognition of his work.
  • 1979 - Retrospective exposition at MOMA in New York City.
  • 1981 - Latin American photography exhibit in Zurich.
  • 1986 - BBC Arena film "Martin Chambi and The Heirs of the Incas" distributed on television worldwide.
  • 1990 - Exposition dedicated to Chambi at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. Book of his work published to coincide with exhibition.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hopkinson, Amanda. Martín Chambi. Phaidon Press 2001.
  • Peden, Margaret Sayers. Martín Chambi, Photographs 1920-1950. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993. ISBN 1-56098-244-6 (originally published in Spain by Lunwerg Editores, 1990
  • Martín Chambi and the Heirs of the Incas. A documentary film by Paul Yule and Andy Harries, originally made for the BBC in 1986.


  1. ^ a b Martín Chambi, Photographs 1920-1950, pp16-18
  2. ^ Coronado, 141
  3. ^ Hopkinson, 5
  4. ^ a b Thomson, 91
  5. ^ Thomson, 92
  6. ^ Hopkinson, 13
  7. ^ Coronado
  8. ^ Thomson, 88
  9. ^ Serpost
  10. ^ Hopkinson, 14
  11. ^ Crow, Joanna (February 2019). "Photographic Encounters: Martín Chambi, Indigeneity and Chile–Peru Relations in the Early Twentieth Century". Journal of Latin American Studies. 51 (1): 31–58. doi:10.1017/S0022216X18000342. ISSN 0022-216X.
  12. ^ Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, Veronica Passalacqua (2007). Our People, Our Land, Our Images: International Indigenous Photographers. Heyday Books. p. 71. ISBN 1-59714-057-0.


Coronado, Jorge. “Photographs at the Edge: Martín Chambi and the Limits of Lettered Culture” The Andes Imagined. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Press, 2009. 134-162. Print.

Hopkinson, Amanda. Martin Chambi. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2001. 3-15. Print.

Martín Chambi Jiménez. N.p.:n.p., n.d. Serpost. 2011. Web. <> (in Spanish)

Thomson, Hugh. “Machu Picchu and Its Bones.” The White Rock: An Exploration of the Inca Heartland. New York: Overlook Press, 2003. 87-94. Print.

External links[edit]