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"Self-Portrait of a Nation" Highlights Peruvian Experience

By Nicole Schaller 

A large crowd squeezed into a small gallery on a Thursday evening for a glimpse of Peruvian life. Images of market streets, beach scenes, forests, children and locals from Peru filled the walls. The images transported visitors to breathtaking landscapes such as the photo of a double rainbow that halos a Peruvian mountain range. While they could easily pass as professional shots, the images were in fact all taken by local Peruvian amateur photographers.

The Peruvian Embassy’s “Self-Portrait of a Nation” exhibit showcases photography taken by Peruvians who range in age from 9 to 59 years old, with many of the photos taken by teenagers.

“This is a way for the villagers themselves to have the opportunity to focus on the strengths of their surroundings and to prevent it from falling into the oblivion,” said Peruvian Ambassador Carlos Pareja at the March 1 event. “I would like to highlight in this evening the importance of cultural diplomacy events such as these that provide an opportunity to share with the public the history and culture of our country.”

Visitors read about the mission and purpose behind the Self-Potrait of a Nation exhibit and the Ojos Propios. (Photo: Nicole Schaller)

The exhibit is part of the “Ojos Propios” project directed by Andres Longhi. “Ojos Propios,” which translates to “through their own eyes,” allows Peruvian natives to capture aspects of their own land to convey to foreigners. Digital cameras are handed out to locals in different regions of Peru, including some of the most remote places, through “Ojos Propios” workshops.

William Gentile, a professor at American University and visual journalist, spoke at the event about the evolution of photography since he began working in the industry and what it means to the field. Gentile worked as a photographer for Newsweek starting in 1977 for seven years. Based in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, Gentile photographed newsworthy events in the regions of Central America, South America and Caribbean.

“There was a time that that I was one of a handful of men and women running around the world taking pictures,” said Gentile. “And my responsibility was to respond mostly to news and take pictures and explain what was happening in these countries to the rest of the world on the pages of Newsweek magazine. As the 1980s ended and the ’90s rolled on to the 2000s, our work changed largely because of smartphones. People were able to communicate instantly, globally, and in a language — the visual language — which we all understand no matter what other languages we speak.”

People mingled in the gallery sipping on pisco sours and eating hors d'oeuvres. (Photo: Nicole Schaller)

The changes in technology and communication affected photography by giving more people access to equipment, and therefore allowing nonprofessionals a chance to explore their surroundings and what they know best.

Gentile said the photographers in the exhibition “were able to join this global conversation … and not have the images of their country solely created by foreigners like me, who rolled into their countries on occasion and then back to their bases,” he said. “So that was a very important thing to happen.”

Visitors view some of the photos hanging in the gallery at the Embassy of Peru. (Photo: Nicole Schaller)

This shift in who is behind the camera lens is apparent in “Self Portrait of a Nation,” which is seen with the relaxed nature of the Peruvian locals in intimate images. The images show a level of comfort between subject and photographer that enhances the authenticity of work.

“Imagine what happens when the people who made these images, or some of the people who are featured in these images, are appearing in places like the Peruvian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and on the internet,” said Gentile. “What an extraordinary experience. They not only earned a place at the table, but they’re empowered to continue that global conversation.”

The exhibit is currently open to the public during the Embassy of Peru’s normal work hours until the end of March.

Nicole Schaller is an editorial intern at The Washington Diplomat.




Join us for a one-on-one interview with Ambassador of the Republic of Congo Serge Mombouli and The Washington Diplomat’s Managing Editor Anna Gawel for an evening of food, discussion and networking. Thursday, Feb. 28th from 6-9 p.m. at the Embassy of the Republic of Congo, 1720 16th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20009. Tickets are $65; foreign diplomats: $25; limited free tickets for Capitol Hill staffers. Click here for more information.

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