Martín Chambi

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Photograph by Martín Chambi of a man at Macchu Picchu, published in Inca Land. Explorations in the Highlands of Peru, 1922

Martín Chambi Jiménez or Martín Chambi de Coaza, (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]

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.[2]
  • 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.
  • 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. ^ Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, Veronica Passalacqua (2007). Our People, Our Land, Our Images: International Indigenous Photographers. Heyday Books. p. 71. ISBN 1-59714-057-0. 


External links[edit]